A carefully planned introduction is everything. Most cats do not readily accept a new member of the family. They need time to get used to the idea. A certain amount of hissing, posturing and chasing is to be expected. It is important to have patience and not rush things along. Don’t chance an all out fight. When in doubt, wait a few more days before proceeding to the next step of the introduction. Preventing a problem is always easier than solving one.
Several factors need to be considered and balanced when introducing a second cat. Among them are age, size, sexual maturity and personality. Experience matters. Strays will be competitive and territorial while orphaned, hand-raised kittens may very well grow up to be an awkward and fearful adult. In addition, they commonly will be unable to adjust to living with another cat. The more the introduction deviates from the ideal, the more it becomes protracted. If there are sufficient grounds for conflict, the cats will become adversaries, rather than friends.
In an ideal world, the new cat (N-cat) would be younger and smaller than the existing cat (E-cat). The N-cat also would be a sexually immature or spayed/neutered member of the opposite sex. His personality would compliment that of the E-cat. Finally, the owner would take the time to interview all candidates thoroughly and be rational, rather than emotional, during the decision-making process.
The reality is that there often is no choice. Roommates, lovers and spouses with cats come as only part of a non-negotiable package deal. The people decide to cohabitate, so the cats have to manage. This type of introduction can be rough. Be prepared for a prolonged introduction, especially if the cats in question have lived alone since kittenhood and have no experience living with other cats.
Finding a stray on the street or falling in love at a shelter is another one of those unplanned events that can deliver a jolt to both you and your E-cat. Should you take the cat you’ve met home just because fate put him in your path?
[warning]A cat from a shelter or a rescued stray must be physically isolated from your E-cat for 10 days to two weeks to make sure he is not incubating a contagious disease.[/warning]
A cat with an unknown background must not only be thoroughly examined for parasites and disease, but tested for leukemia and vaccinated before it will be safe for him to come into contact with the E-cat (All RAIN cats are tested before adoption).
All introductions should start the same way. The N-cat should be isolated and the E-cat should be given the run of the house. Only the N-cat’s isolation area should be off-limits. It should be a room with a door that can be closed so there will be absolutely no contact between the N-cat and the E-cat. It is especially important for you to create an isolation area if the N-cat is a shelter cat or a stray. If his health record is known and space is severely limited, a large cattery or kennel cage with a blanket over it will suffice.
If there is no spare room, the bedroom or bathroom can be used as the isolation area. If the E-cat is used to sleeping with the owner, it may be necessary to use the bathroom. Remember, the E-cat’s routine should be disrupted as little as possible. Suddenly denying him the companionship he is used to will just complicate the introduction.
If the bathroom is chosen to be the isolation area and the E-cat’s litter box is currently located in it, move the box to a new spot or get a privacy screen. If circumstances permit, do this at least two weeks before bringing the N-cat home. Planning ahead will minimize the chaos for the E-cat.
The isolation area should be cat-proofed and well ventilated. In addition, a litter box, a water bowl and a cave-like hiding box lined with something comfortable should all be inside it.
How Will I Know if He’ll Fit In?
Smaller is Better than Larger
The visual impression made is important. Smaller is less intimidating to the E-cat. A physically smaller N-cat means that the E-cat will be less inclined to feel threatened. Size is based upon perception — both body size and hair length count.
Younger is Better than Older
Cats go through the same developmental stages that people do.
A kitten less than 12 weeks old is an infant who needs lots of care and supervision. He has no life experience to help him make decisions, and thus makes tactical errors. For example, he does not respond in a coordinated fashion when he needs to escape. You must be there to help an infant kitten cope.
A kitten between the ages of 12 weeks and 6 months is a juvenile. Full of energy and enthusiasm, he can be a downright annoying companion because of his constant testing of both physical and social boundaries.
A cat between 6 months and 2 years old is an adolescent. If he is an E-cat, he should be spayed or neutered before a N-cat is brought into the home. A sexually mature N-cat should be altered as soon as possible.
The stability of adulthood begins to show itself at about 2 years of age. Cats older than that have a fixed personality and may be somewhat inflexible. Adult cats should be carefully matched in terms of their sociability and activity level since they are not likely to compromise easily.
A cat more than 8 years old can begin to show signs of aging. He may be arthritic, sedentary and opinionated. If he is either the E-cat or the N-cat, you must be very careful not to stress him out. Ongoing anxiety can produce a variety of physical stress disorders, some of which can be life-threatening. Check with your veterinarian if you’re planning to surprise an 8-year-old E-cat with a N-cat.
Male/female combinations are the best. Cats who have been altered will bond as a couple, but won’t make babies in the process. Two un-neutered males makes for a volatile combination complete with chasing, fighting and spraying. A sexually immature N-cat is rarely perceived as a threat by the E-cat. Keep in mind that a cat who has been spayed or neutered is not sexually motivated, competitive, possessive or territorial.
The E-cat and the N-cat must be compatible in order for them to become friends. Sociability, lust for adventure, activity level and tolerance all play a part. A living lawn ornament will not appreciate a companion with the energy of a small tornado, and a temperamental prima-dona will be offended by a spirited comic. The N-cat and the E-cat should compliment each other, rather than irritate each other.
Harry, Guess What…I Brought You Home a Friend…Okay?
Upon arrival, the N-cat should be brought directly into the isolation area. Don’t stop to chat with the E-cat. Remove the N-cat from the carrier and let him scope out the room. Don’t linger. Bring the empty carrier out with you. Put it down on the floor and proceed with your normal “just got home” routine.
Be sure not to plop the carrier down in front of the E-cat. Give him a chance to discover and explore the empty carrier and respond to it. Watch carefully, but don’t interfere. The E-cat’s response to the scent of the N-cat can be telling. Some cats will posture, hiss and even attack the carrier (rough seas ahead) while others will stalk and growl, run off and then return again and again (typical). Still others will approach the carrier curiously and sniff it with great excitement (prognosis: good). Remember that it is best to leave the carrier out until the E-cat looses interest in it.
Spend at least an hour with the E-cat. Resist temptation. Don’t go back and peek in on the N-cat. He’ll be just fine. He will need some alone time to explore. Studies have shown that cats respond to environmental challenges before they respond to social invitations.
When the E-cat winds down, slip into the isolation room with a small portion of food. Sit quietly. Talk softly. Do not actively solicit the cat. He’ll approach when ready. If he engages you, respond conservatively. Don’t rush forward and scoop him up. Remain for half an hour to 45 minutes. Wash your hands if you’ve been petting the N-cat, and then leave without ceremony. Visit the him several times a day, one hour at a time.
The E-cat may begin to hiss or growl at you. You smell like the intruder! Continue with your normal routine. Note how much time the E-cat spends sniffing around and sitting outside the isolation room’s door. Do not proceed to Step Two until all hostile responses to the scent, doorway and carrier have ceased.
Be sure to spend quality time with the E-cat. Talk to him. Tell him that although things are not the way they used be, he is still special. Play his favorite games. Groom him daily. Give him little bits of something yummy by hand. Make it intimate.
Now that the E-cat is accustomed to the N-cat’s limited presence, it’s time to move forward. The next step will be to allow the two to see each other without allowing them to make full-body contact. Stack two tension gates that are at least 36 inches tall in the N-cat’s doorway. Rigid plastic mesh baby gates are available at most children’s specialty and department stores. If there is reason to believe that either cat will get over the gates, use Plan B. It is very important that the cats not fight.
Plan B: Jam the door to the isolation room with two hard-rubber door stops. Place them on opposite sides of the door, and leave it open about two to three inches. Make sure that neither cat can fit his head through the opening. Check that the door is secure and will not suddenly open further or slam shut if a cat slams against it. The cats should be able to touch noses and whack each other with their paws, but not make full-body contact. When the owner is not at home or is unable to at least peripherally supervise, the door should be closed. Do not proceed to the final step until the cats seem relatively calm in each other’s presence. Hissing, posturing and growling should be at a bare minimum.
Finally, you get to open the door! While the E-cat is occupied elsewhere, take down the gate or open the door. Don’t make a big thing out of it. Let the cats happen upon each other. Stay on the side lines and don’t interfere. The E-cat may stalk and chase the N-cat. This is typical territorial behavior. The N-cat may do the same if the E-cat enters the isolation area. Be sure not to leave the two unsupervised.
If a fight breaks out, the owner should keep his hands out of it. He should not attempt to handle or pick up either cat. Instead, he should clap his hands and shout or bang a pot with a spoon. Cat fights almost always sound much worse than they really are. Cats yowl and scream, but if their nails have been trimmed, damage should be minimal. Declawed cats have no alternative to biting. When things have cooled down considerably, the owner should go over each of the cats’ bodies carefully and check for damage. Bites and punctures wounds can become infected and abscess.
The introduction can take anywhere from several days (kitten/kitten or juvenile) to several months (adult stray/adult prima donna). A lot depends on how far away from the ideal the situation is. Watch for signs of stress. Eating food quickly and then vomiting, and excessive grooming, sleeping and/or drinking are all signs that a cat is not happy. Spraying, mewling, hiding and indiscriminate urination and/or defecation also are associated with anxiety and stress.
Do not promote competition. Continue to feed in separate areas. Maintain two separate litter boxes. Many E-cats have been known to block doorways and deny access to a box or bowl. Don’t be in a hurry to consolidate. If a cat can’t get to his box, he will be left with no choice except to create a new toilet area!
Eventually, hostilities will decline. The E-cat will stop his chasing and stalking and the N-cat will stop his perching and scurrying along the edges of the room. The two will declare a cease-fire. They will start to groom each other and share sleeping spots. At worst, they will simply coexistence peacefully.
Hopefully, they will become best friends.