Introducing a new cat to a resident cat
29 January 2019
Are you thinking of adding to your feline family but are worried about the reaction of the cat(s) you already have? Well, let us present a handy guide to introducing a new cat into your household. Cats are territorial and need to be introduced to other animals very slowly in order to give them time to get used to each other. Slow introductions can prevent problems and conflicts from developing. The incoming cat will rarely be a problem as it is going into strange territory, it is usually the resident cat who may display initial hostility to the newcomer.
The process can be divided into 3 stages: in the first stage, the new cat should be confined to one room, ideally a little-used room such as a spare bedroom, along with a litter tray, food and water bowls, a bed, a scratching post, and, of course, toys. The new cat should be left to explore the room on her own as it will become her comfort zone for the next few days. A cat's anxiety level is largely controlled by the confidence they have in maintaining control of their territory, so they will be less stressed if they are left alone at first and also if they only have to cope with a small environment to begin with. Once the new cat is relaxed enough to start eating and toileting normally, then another idea is to start feeding your resident cats and the newcomer on opposite sides of the door to this room. This will help them both to associate something enjoyable (eating!) with each other's smells. Gradually move the bowls closer to the door until the pets can eat calmly on either side of the door.
The second stage is the swapping of scents. Switch sleeping blankets between the resident cats and the newcomer, or even rub a soft towel on the new cat (without upsetting her) and then place it somewhere in the room where the other cats can sniff it. Once the new cat feels relaxed and at home, allow her to explore the rest of the house while at the same time allowing the other pets to visit the new cat's room, still keeping the door to the bonding room closed at this stage. To a cat, scent is more important than sight in the first few days.This stage allows the cats to experience each other's scents without a face-to-face meeting. It also allows the new cat to become familiar with his new surroundings without being frightened by the other pets.
The final stage should be the face-to-face meeting. This introduction should ideally happen during mealtime. All cats should be fed at the same time but their feeding areas should be in opposite ends of the room. Some growling and hissing should be expected at this point - this is quite normal as they figure out the new pecking order. If either cat seems upset or if a conflict looks likely, they should be separated immediately. Try another introduction when they are both calm. After the cats have finished eating they should be separated straight away. It's better to introduce the pets to each other gradually so that neither animal becomes afraid or aggressive, although mild forms of these behaviours are to be expected. During the coming mealtimes the amount of time that they spend in the same room and in each other's company should be gradually increased. Eventually they should be allowed to spend more and more time in the same room (always under supervision) until they are both happy and relaxed with each one's presence. Certainly, they should not be left alone together in the same room unattended (e.g. at night) until the cats have accepted each other.
With patience and perseverance, you can turn what might appear at first as an "armed camp" into a haven of peace for your integrated feline family.