So you’re bringing a new cat home! It should be really easy to integrate her with your current cat – just open the box and let her go, right? Well, maybe. If both cats are young and well-socialized, it might be an easy transition. But if your middle-aged indoor cat has never seen another feline up close and personal, releasing that new kitten to charge into her space may not be such a great idea. And letting cats “just fight it out” is definitely ill-advised.
Cats have a long memory, so avoiding fights is essential. Go slowly, and set them up for success.
A year ago, we introduced our new cat, Pan, age 3, to our old cat, Kindi, age 8, who had a history of not loving other felines. Here are the steps we followed:
- Choose a safe area for the new cat. Pan moved into our spare bedroom with food, water, resting places, toys, scratchers and a litter box.
- Trade scents – rub a cloth on each cat, and then put it in the other cat’s territory and let them investigate. Don’t put the cloth right on the other cat’s bed or near their food, but allow them to acclimate to the scent of their new roommate.
- If your setup allows, have the cats trade areas every day or so – let them thoroughly investigate the other cat’s territory without seeing the other cat.
- Feed the cats on either side of the door separating them. With Kindi and Pan, I started with each bowl about three feet from the door. If there is hissing, the cats are too close.
- Every meal, gradually move the bowls closer to the doorway.
- When the cats are able to eat a foot apart with the door closed, put a baby gate between them and crack the door slightly as they eat, starting with the food bowls far apart again. If they hiss, you are too close.
- Gradually crack the door more and more, and then move the food bowls toward one another with each meal, continuing to swap scents and sides of the house.
- Keep the door closed when you aren’t around to supervise.
- Once the cats are showing friendly or at least neutral signs toward one another (playing “footsie” under the door is a nice sign), you can try letting them mingle. It may take a few days to integrate sociable or younger cats, but it took a month before Kindi was comfortable with Pan in her house.
Other tips to introduce your cat to a new cat:
Don’t leave cats together unsupervised until you are sure they are OK together.
Make sure both cats have plenty of places to hide and perch, if they wish to get away from one another. If there is a fight, have a thick towel handy to help you pick up one cat without getting hurt.
We introduced heated cat beds last winter, and slowly moved them closer together, near a good bird-watching window. Spending hours each day in a heat-induced coma has been a nice way for the girls to hang out without squabbling.
If there is a fight, separate the cats and start the feeding protocol again. If you would like help with this in person, contact me.
Trish McMillan Loehr, MSc, CDBC, CPDT-KA offers dog, cat, and horse behavior counseling at LoehrAnimalBehavior.com