Introducing a new cat to your household can be a real challenge.
We have always had at least one cat living in our household and have taken in various neighborhood strays over the years. I now volunteer with an animal rescue group in our community. The group runs a thrift shop, where we can introduce the cats we are fostering to our customers in a laid back, zen way and help find them new forever homes.
For the last month, we have had Mitzi Rose, hanging out at our house. She was adopted by our organization’s president a little over a year ago. Mitzi’s human mama is on vacation, and since we only have one cat in residence right now, we invited Mitzi to visit us here at Camp McMahon.
Introducing a new cat for the first time can be a bit rocky. Cats are extremely independent creatures and can be very territorial. The key is to be patient and give the cats time to settle into an acceptable household routine. Here are some suggested steps for a smooth transition when introducing a new cat to your home:
1. Let Your Current Pets Know There is a Change.
Whenever we bring a new animal into our home, we let our current pets see that there is someone new. We briefly let them see the pet carrier so both the resident cat(s) and the new cat recognize from a distance that there are other beings in the house.
2. Create a Safe Space.
Next, we bring the cat into a small room, such as my office or spare bedroom, and shut the door. The cat will live in this room for at least several days, so before bringing the cat home, we set up the room with fresh food and water, comfy bedding and a new litter box (so it doesn’t have the other cat(s)’ scent on it). Once in the room, we open the carrier and let the cat decide for itself when it is ready to come out into the room. Next, we hang out while the cat explores the room. Once it seems comfortable with the space, we will leave the cat alone for a bit to settle in.
3. Honor Your Other Pets.
This change is a big deal for everyone in the household, so be sure to also spend time with your other pets. We take the time to play with our current cats and feed them treats to let them know they are just as important to us.
4. Let the New Cat Explore.
Once your new cat gets comfortable with its one-room surroundings, open the door and invite them to now explore the house. Before doing this, remove your other pets from the area. We let our current cats go outdoors or close them into a bedroom when they are sleeping. We then follow the new cat as they wander about so they feel as safe as possible and to monitor their behavior. We don’t want them marking territory or getting into a hiding place where we can’t locate them later. The new cat may enjoy the larger space or want to escape back into their “safe room.” Allow them to have that liberty.
5. Make Introductions
Once the new cat is more comfortable with the lay of the land, you are ready to try introducing them to your other pets. You will have to judge whether to try this on the same day after you first let them explore the larger house or wait. Most likely, you will need to do introductions a day or two later. Being patient and taking baby steps is key.
Open the door to the new cat’s room and again, let them come out into the house at their own pace. They will see your other pets all in due time and most likely, no one will be happy. Let everyone observe each other from a distance and approach one another slowly. We usually have yummy food and supplies such as tuna, treats, catnip and string available. We also have a broom and a water spritzer bottle ready to go.
Cats, in particular, can be very defensive creatures. Many will try and establish a pecking order right away. Hissing is to be expected and they may try and slug each other when they approach one another. We allow a certain amount of this to go down unless it looks like the claws and teeth are going to come out in a big way. Then we carefully separate the cats and remove the new cat back to its safe room while letting the resident cats retreat to their own safer spaces.
You may want to wear long sleeves and/or gloves if you think the introductions may get aggressive so you don’t get hurt. Sometimes animals will attack at the moment there is a distraction, such as you stepping in, so be confident in your actions and alert. If the aggression gets out of hand, use the broom and or spray bottle to break up the argument, then remove the cats to separate rooms.
Some introductions go fairly smoothly. And even if they don’t, repeating the process of meeting over several days usually eventually works. We try feeding the cats tuna, catnip, and/or treats in the same room and use the food distraction to get the cats to warm up to each other. We also use toys, such as string or a kitty fishing pole to play with both cats simultaneously. Some will play with the same toy, whereas others will play in the space as long as they have their own toys.
6. Continue to Monitor Behavior
Usually, within a few days, the cats have enough tolerance of each other that you can leave the house open and let them all roam as they please. Keep an eye on behaviors. If they are trying to establish a pecking order, they sometimes get a little devious. One cat may block the other from safely getting to the food bowl or wolf their own food and then shove the other cat out of the way to eat their food too. One cat may block a key route such as the stairs that lead to the litterbox or chase them when they leave the litterbox. They may argue over a sunbeam or piece of furniture.
Try to establish yourself as the top of the pecking order. Don’t be afraid to use voice commands, clap your hands, use your water bottle or give your cats timeouts if you see undesirable behavior. While cats are not as trainable as dogs, and can certainly be more defiant, they are very smart and will eventually respect your house rules.
It can be stressful introducing a new cat to your household, but once you get past the initial steps and settle into a routine, having multiple cat companions can be immensely rewarding.