Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow reveals how you can carefully introduce cats.
In this week’s behaviour focus post, Cats Protection Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow explains why two cats may not get along and how to gradually introduce them to one another.
I’ve got a new cat. I introduced them to my other cat really slowly but they still don’t get on. What can I do?
Congratulations on your new cat! During the excitement of having a new cat, it can be very tempting to power through the introduction process, and this is the biggest reason that Cats Protection has cats returned to the charity – as they didn’t get on well with the resident cat and vice versa.
So what can be done for two cats that aren’t getting along? It varies between situations and the individuals involved. Firstly, are both cats healthy? If either cat has an underlying medical condition, this needs to be addressed first. If the new cat is still quite new to the house and the intensity of the tension is quite low, then it may be best to re-introduce the cats to each other. Some may just need to go back a step; others need to go back to the beginning.
Every cat will vary but adjusting to new surroundings can take at least a week, so they should have no contact with the resident cat at all in that time, as well as during the scent swapping phase (see below).
When adding a new cat to a household that has other cats, it’s worth bearing in mind that they are naturally solitary creatures and do not require the companionship of other cats. They can also be very territorial which means that careful considerations need to be made when introducing a new cat. However, if there is no competition for food or sleeping places, cats will usually tolerate each other and some can become good friends. It will take patience and understanding, and always work at the cats’ pace.
Intertwined sleeping can be a sign of cats in the same social group; photo by Jackie May
Important resources for cats
Step 1: If you have an existing resident cat, ensure that all his routines remain the same where possible. Place the new cat into a room that the resident cat uses the least.
In each space, provide each cat with the following essential resources:
- food and water (cats like to drink away from where they eat, so place the food and water bowls in separate areas)
- somewhere to hide (it is very important for cats to have somewhere to hide particularly while they are adapting to a new environment, such as a cardboard box on its side or under the bed)
- somewhere to get up high to view surrounds in safety (on top of a wardrobe, shelves, window sills, stools)
- somewhere to sleep (igloo beds, cardboard box, blankets in elevated places)
- toys (be aware that the cats may not want to play while they are settling in)
- a scratch post (try placing near to where the cat sleeps as cats often like to stretch and scratch after they wake up)
- litter tray (place this away from food and water)
You can install a pheromone diffuser, such as Feliway, to make the environment more reassuring for the cats. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone diffuser that reproduces certain reassuring properties of cats’ facial pheromones, which convey a message of wellbeing and a feeling of security. It mimics the scent left behind when a cat rubs its face against furniture or its owner’s legs. Plug the diffuser in about a week before your new cat arrives and leave it on all the time until it runs out. It is worthwhile having one diffuser in the room the new cat will be in and one in the area of the house that the other cats will be in.
Introducing cats to cats
Step 2: Before introducing the cats physically, mix and spread their scents by stroking each cat with a separate soft cloth and leaving the cloth in the other cat’s environment to sniff when the cat is ready to investigate.
Step 3: Keep swapping scents until the cats are showing no reaction to the smell and both cats have settled in. Then you can progress to allowing them to see each other, but not touch or meet one another. Try placing a glass or mesh door between the cats, and allow each cat to approach or hide as they choose. Do not progress to a face-to-face introduction until the cats either ignore each other or show positive feline social behaviour (such as blinking at each other, tail up greeting behaviour, attempting to rub heads on each other through the barrier and sleeping near each other by the barrier).
Cats are more likely to get along if they are related, such as litter mates, although this is not a guarantee; photo by Martin Dewhurst
Step 4: When your cat has settled in (which can take some cats weeks) make introductions at feeding time; cats form social bonds best around this time. It helps to:
- ensure easy escape routes are available for both cats
- start in a fairly large room where they can choose to stay at a distance from each other
- supervise the cats when they are together
- work at a pace that the cats are comfortable with and go back a step if necessary
- only introduce for short periods of time
- gradually start to fuss or play with the cats for a short time, so their attention is on you, before putting the food down
- if this is tolerated, then gradually increase the time they spend together
It can take anything from a day to many weeks for cats to tolerate each other. Do not chase or shout at the cats as this will only lead to them associating each other with bad things.
Step 5: As they become more comfortable in each other’s company, try giving them tit-bits to encourage them to come closer. Finally, try feeding them in the same room with their bowls far apart. Over time you can move the bowls closer together. However, do not aim to feed the cats next to each other; lowering their head to eat or drink can make a cat feel vulnerable, so place food and water bowls slightly away from the wall, so the cat has space to sit with its back to the wall and the bowl in front of them, so that they can survey the room while eating or drinking.
Step 6: Once both cats are relaxed while feeding, start including short periods of time where the cats are not distracted by playing or fussing. Supervised time spent together can be extended. The aim is for the cats to associate each other with pleasant happenings.
This video shows you the steps outlined above.