Adoption tips: Cat-to-cat introductions

by | Cat Care |

Adjusting to a new home can be a frightening and anxious experience for a cat who’s not used to transitions. Then you add meeting a stressed-out resident cat and it may become even more difficult. Below are some tips and tricks to help your adopted cat to accept – and be accepted by – the rest of your furry family. We’ll also share tips to help your resident cat to feel more comfortable with the transition as well. 

Important notes 

Don’t be discouraged if your new and resident cat(s) do not become immediate friends. It can take many cats eight to 12 months to develop a friendship. Others may never become friends and simply learn to live together comfortably.  

While there is no definitive way to determine whether your cat will get along with a particular animal, often the cats that adjust easiest are those who’ve lived previously with other animals. 

Regardless of the age or background of the cat you’ve adopted they should be introduced to other animals gradually to help encourage appropriate and positive interactions. Prior to bringing a new cat home, check with your veterinarian to ensure all your resident pets are healthy. Your new addition to the family should also receive a clean bill of health before you bring them home.  

Note: Keep in mind that while some cats will be able to breeze through each step after a short time, other cats will require longer at each step before they are able to take the introductions further. Be patient and allow your cat the freedom to move through each step at his or her own comfort level. 

Step one: Creating a good first impression 

During the early stages of the introduction period, it’s important that your new and resident cats can smell and hear one another but not touch. Introducing a sanctuary space to the new cat and ensuring your previous cat also has safe spaces can be very important. To prevent accidental face-to-face confrontations, confine your cat to a medium-sized room or “sanctuary space” with their food, water, litter box and a bed. Plan for your cat’s arrival by ensuring your resident animals are temporarily confined until your new cat is in their room. 

To help your furry friends associate positive experiences with one another, start feeding their meals on either side of the door to this room so they are in close proximity. At first, their dishes should be placed at least a few feet apart on each side. If they remain calm, gradually move the dishes closer until they can eat comfortably standing directly on either side of the door. If either animal has a negative reaction, move the dishes further apart and repeat the process at a slower pace.

Allowing your furry friends to gradually become accustomed to each other’s scents is an important part of the introduction process. You can do this scent exchange by rubbing a towel on your new addition and putting it under the food dishes of the resident pets (and vice versa). You can also switch beds or sleeping blankets between your resident animals and your new cat. 

Once these methods have been used to familiarize your animals’ scents and your new cat is eating regularly and using their litter box, move to the next step.  

Step two: Allowing for sight introductions  

Once you’ve returned your animals to their original designated parts of the house you can start the visual process. Use two doorstops to prop open the dividing door enough to allow your new and resident furry friends to see each other while eating. Do this supervised to ensure they do not interact directly. Over a period of days (or longer if necessary) try feeding your animals at a distance from the door.  

You can gradually bring the dishes closer together if all cats display calm behaviours. Continue the scent swapping throughout. If either cat begins to display fear or aggression, attempt to distract them with higher value food or play and try again later at a further distance. Close the door when you are not there to supervise and ensure to remove all food. 

Step three: Making the introductions (cat-to-cat) 

When you first allow your cats to meet each other face-to-face, keep your resident cat distracted with play, food or pets and allow the other cat to enter the room. If you have two people, have the second person do the same. If either animal becomes fearful or aggressive, distract them away from each other or separate them, and start back at step one taking small, gradual steps forward again.

Continue to do small sessions together daily and slowly increase the amount of time the cats are together, using distraction when possible if they become uncomfortable.

When the cats are actively spending time together you can begin to allow them freedom when supervised, being sure to watch for fearful behaviours. Slowly allow them more time together until they can be left alone. If you are having issues with introductions, separate your pets and contact your veterinarian or a positive reinforcement-based animal behaviour expert immediately for assistance. 

To help ease the adjustment period for your cats, ensure that you have one extra litter box than there are cats (e.g. two cats = three litter boxes), this helps to keep the resident pets’ schedules close to what they were before the newcomer’s arrival and keep the out of box elimination that may occur with sharing of litter boxes. 

For tips on making cat-to-dog introductions, visit our blog here!