Introducing a new cat into the house

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M

Remember the old commercial jingle that invited you to double your pleasure, double your fun, by chewing a particular brand of chewing gum? Well, in my years in practice I have often had clients who decided to double their pleasure by adopting a second cat to live with them. In fact, sometimes people choose to have even more than two cats in their home. When people are considering an increase in cat numbers, they often ask about the best way to introduce the new cat into a household with already existing cats. Here are some things to keep in mind in an effort to make the process go a bit more smoothly.

When introducing a new cat, initially isolate it in a separate room with its own food, water, litter box and toys. This will allow each cat to gradually become familiar with the scents and sounds of the other cat. It is always a good idea, at this stage, to be sure a veterinarian examines the new arrival, whether it is a kitten or an older cat. There are a number of external parasites - fleas and ear mites, in particular - that you will want to be sure are not being brought into your home with the new arrival. There are a few other diseases and some internal parasites that a veterinary examination can rule out as threat to your cat from the newcomer. Once a veterinarian has deemed the cat healthy, limited interaction may occur under the door.

Continue the gradual introduction by exchanging bedding between cats. Also, try rubbing a cloth around one cat's mouth and face and then leaving the cloth in the other cat's space or rubbing a cloth alternately on each cat. Facial pheromones are secreted from glands in the mouth and face area and cats learn much about one another through these chemical messages. As cats begin to show curiosity about each other, you should reward friendly behaviour with treats and lots of praise.

At this point, short, supervised direct interactions can begin. A good way to do this the first time would be to have one of the cats in a carrier and allow the other cat to approach, on its own. Feeding both cats at the same time will also often assist in reducing stress of them being close to one another. After this, allow the cats to walk around, sniff each other and be ready to step in should any aggressive actions be demonstrated by one or the other. Continue to reward friendly behaviour. Gradually increase the supervised time the cats spend together.

It is best not to leave the cats together unsupervised until several supervised visits, with each other, without aggression, have occurred. The process of introducing a new cat may take several weeks. Much will depend on the individual personality traits and temperaments of the cats involved. Kittens are often accepted a bit more quickly than a more mature cat. Older cats, though, may need a quiet space away from kittens for an extended period of time. Kittens are high energy little creatures and can be very demanding and a bit of a nuisance, sometimes, to the older, more staid, sober cat.

Friendly, well-socialized cats may adapt to one another, quite rapidly. Usually, at worst, cats accept peaceful co-existence with each other. There are pheromonal products, available from your veterinarian, which may ease the introduction of cats but should be used in conjunction with gradual introduction process described above.

When the cats have accepted one another, there are a few things an owner can do to try and maintain a happy, healthy relationship between the cats. It will be very important to make sure litter boxes are readily available - always provide one more litter box than the number of cats in the house - and be sure they are kept clean and fresh. It's usually a good idea either to provide a covered litter box or be sure the litter is in a private, quiet location away from busy, noisy areas in the house. Cats often enjoy a bit of privacy at other times as well. Most cats will look favourably on having an area, perhaps elevated or in the sunshine, that they can call their own.

Contrary to popular belief, cats are quite social and usually quite enjoy living with another of their kind.