Are you considering bringing home a new friend for your resident cat? Becoming a multi-cat household creates the opportunity for your cat’s life to be enriched through play, grooming, and other communal activities that they do not get to partake in as only cats. While many cat’s enjoy community with their own kind, this does not mean that they will instantly accept an intruder into their space. Making sure everyone is feeling good and integrating well can feel like quite a large undertaking, but we hope that some of these tips will help keep the process smooth and easy while keeping your feline friends happy and healthy!
● Managing first impressions. As with us humans, the first impressions that animals make with each other can have lasting consequences. If two cats meet face to face for the first time and it results in a lot of loud, aggressive vocalization, or worse, lunging or a aggressive reaction over sharing personal space, this can sour the beginning of what should be a good relationship. To avoid any initial shock or fear, we suggest setting your new cat up with a separate space from your resident cat, complete with food, toys, a litter box, and any other amenities you can think of to help them be comfortable as they explore this small piece of their new environment. We suggest using a room in your home like a bedroom, office, or even the basement. Keep the door firmly closed for the first few weeks that your new pet is home. Spend plenty of time with both cats during this time, this way they will be able to smell each
other through the door but also on you, and by proximity they will associate the sent of another cat with good things. You can also sprinkle catnip or treats on both sides of the door to further associate the smell/presence of another cat with good things.
● Letting the cats see one another. If all is going well after a week or two and there is no hissing or growling when the cats interact through the door or smell each other, you can begin the process of letting them see each other and interact through a more open barrier. The easiest way to do this is through two baby gates stacked on top of one another. You can stand next to or in front of the door and toss treats to both sides or you can employ the help of a friend or family member and you can have one person on each side of the door monitoring behavior and giving treats. Keep in mind during this time that some stiffness, puffing out, and even hissing or mild swatting is normal as the cats will be seeing each other for the first time. Their vocabularies are quite small, and they are allowed to express that they are uncomfortable. However, if you notice any loud growling, lunging or striking through the baby gate, or panting from either cat, that is a sign that you have moved the process forward too quickly and you should back up to step one. Most cats will come up to the baby gate and sniff one another through it. They may vocalize a bit or jump when the other cat moves, this is normal as they are just meeting and are unsure of each other. Many cat’s will sniff and then move away from the barrier, this is fine as well. Be sure to reinforce the cats with treats or toys heavily during that time to build that association of new cats meaning good things. Repeat this process as often as you would like, but be sure to keep to short, 5-10 minute session to keep things positive and help them to not be overwhelmed. Be sure to keep the door closed when the cats are not supervised at this stage. You will know that things are starting to come together when the cats start to come up to the barrier freely and rub against it, lay in front of it, or even try to initiate play through it.
● Letting the cats spend time together. If the cats are doing well after you have been performing step two for several days to a week, you are ready to move on to step three. While supervising, either on your own or with help from a friend or family member, remove the physical barrier and allow the cats to see and sniff each other freely. Even if things were going extremely well on step two, there is always a chance that they may vocalize or swat now that they have access to each other as this is a new, different scenario. This is perfectly normal and can sometimes happen for several days after this step has been reached. As long as they are not being openly aggressive with one another, they are simply talking and expressing boundaries with the limited vocabulary that they have. Allow them to interact while supervised and see what they tell you through their actions. Many cats will choose to sniff and walk away from each other in favor of exploring the environment, so expect your cat to initially be more interested in the room they have been shut out of and expect the new cat to be more interested in exploring the rest of the house. When they do cross paths or come together, monitor their reactions and reward them with treats and mutual play. Strict and fishing pole type toys are great for mutual play as you can easily let both cats play without getting your hands in the mix. If your cats are ignoring each other or still hissing a bit after a few days, don’t be alarmed! This just means that they are still settling in. Remember that you can always back up a step and take more time if they seem uncomfortable, and if aggression is present even after a proper introduction, Friendship APL always takes all of our animals back. We understand that sometimes its just not the right fit, and we always welcome you to try again with another cat who might have a different personality.
Some other things to keep in mind during integration are:
● Going at the cat’s pace is highly important. Stressing out a cat can lead to many
unwanted behavior problems which puts undue stress on you as you go through the
● Some cats prefer to be only cats. While most cats are communal, some of them just
prefer to be the only love in your life, and that’s okay!
● It takes time. Some cats can take several months to integrate to new family members
and it is important to respect that integration!
● If you have multiple cats at home, do separate integration sessions. It can be very
stressful for the new cat to be bombarded by several different resident cats, so
individualized time is best!
● Positive associations are your friend! Using toys, treats, grooming time, and catnip while
in the presence of a new family member teaches the cat that this new animal means
good things are going to happen.
Opening up your heart and home to another cat opens up a world of possibilities for both you
and your resident cat. We hope that this list helps ease at least a bit of the stress and serves as a small road map to the sometimes unknown territory that is cat integration!