Introducing Cats: 10 Tips for Best Results
A year ago we brought a new kitten home. We already had a 2-year-old male cat in the house and we knew that introducing a new cat won’t be easy. However, with a little bit of patience and a few, tricks we were able to avoid any major hurdles. Now the two cats are friendly, and groom and play with each other all the time. The process of getting them used to each other was challenging and can be stressful if you don’t know exactly what to do. Here I wanted to share 10 tips that worked great for introducing cats.
- Keep Them Separated for a Few Days
The first and most important thing you should do when introducing cats is to be patient. Expecting the cats to get along from the get go will lead you nowhere. If you immediately bring the new cat into your old cat’s territory, you risk hissing, growling, and fighting that may permanently damage their relationship. Increase your chances of successful introduction by keeping the cats separated for at least 2-3 days. This will allow the new cat to get used to its surroundings and scout out good hiding spots.
- Help Them Get Used to Each Other’s Scent
After a couple of days, start acclimating the cats with each other’s scent. Swap their favorite blankets, toys, and beds. The cats will probably be curious and keep sniffing the items until they finally get used to the smell. Try to create positive associations with the other cat’s scent. For example, you can pet and brush your old cat while he is resting on the new cat’s blanket.
- Keep Their Meetings Short and Supervised
One of the biggest mistakes people make when introducing two cats is letting them sort it out on their own. Instead, when you first introduce a new cat to your old cat, the meeting should be short and supervised. We used to only let them mingle for 2-3 minutes every 3-4 hours or so. These very brief interactions help the cats get used to each other without giving them enough time to get annoyed or aggressive. Supervise these meetings and pay attention to the progress your cats are making. Do not leave the cats unsupervised, as they may fight and hurt each other. This is very important especially when introducing a defenseless kitten to an older cat. As a general rule, unless the kitten is at least 3 months old, keep its interactions with an older cat supervised.
- Create Positive Associations
Place food on the two sides of the door separating the cats and feed them simultaneously. Give them treats during their brief meetings. These little tricks will help your cats create positive associations with each other and ease the transition.
- Give Every Cat Plenty of Space
Fights over food and litter boxes are quite common when introducing a new cat. Help your cats become friends by providing plenty of food and separate litter boxes. In general, a good rule of thumb we followed is have one litter box per cat plus an extra one just in case. So, for 2 cats we ended up with 3 litter boxes. Place your new cat’s litter box in a separate room so there is no confusion as to which litter box is hers. We also used different cat litter for the kitten, just to make sure that there are no hurt feelings over using someone else’s litter box.
- Reward Good Behavior
When your cats behave friendly, reward their behavior with treats and attention. This will encourage them to get along. In fact, we went a little too far with the treats and our old cat put on some extra weight, so we had to switch to healthier alternatives, such as blueberries and raspberries.
- Respond to Bad Behavior with Time Outs
Cats do not react well to punishment and negative reinforcement. Do not be tempted to yell or swat at your cat if things get a little rough with the newcomer. Instead, if the cats start fighting, clap, throw a light pillow, or spray a little bit of water to end the tussle. Once the cats start acting out, separate them immediately and don’t let things escalate. Wait for at least 5 minutes before letting them hang out together again. These short time outs will allow your cat to calm down and will de-escalate the situation.
- Provide Plenty of Entertainment
The thing that worked best for us when introducing our two cats was having plenty of new toys for them to play with. We opted for interactive toys that allowed us to observe the cats while playing (and yes, to be lazy on the couch during these cat shenanigans). An interactive laser toy, a small vibrating insect, and a flying butterfly were always present when the cats were hanging out in the same room. These toys distracted the playful kitten and prevented her from jumping all over to our mellow 2-year-old cat.
- Watch Out for Body Language Queues
Cat behavior can reveal a lot about your cat’s state of mind. When first introducing a new cat, you may hear hissing or growling, and even see defensive posturing (like when your cat’s fur gets all puffed up). Separate the cats if you see any of these signs. With time, you may notice cats bumping noses, lying calmly close to each other, or even grooming each other. All these are signs that you have been successful and your cats are getting along!
- Do Not Give Up
Introducing cats can be extremely challenging and takes a lot of time and patience. We all get cuteness overload when seeing furry felines snuggling, but in practice, getting to this stage takes a lot of effort and does not happen overnight. I have to admit, I was almost ready to call it quits and accept that our cats will never get along after about a month! Do not despair! These transitions take time, especially if you are dealing with grown up cats instead of kittens! Four months after we brought Nala home we were able to leave them together while out running errands. And a year later I have no doubts that both of them are happier when they are together!