How do you successfully introduce a new cat into your household if you already have other pets? As cats can be territorial creatures, bringing a new kitty home to meet Fido or Fluffy can be a hair-raising experience for not only the owner but also the resident pets—if not handled correctly. A peaceful relationship between new and existing feline or canine housemates requires time, patience, and work. The introduction process generally takes a few weeks before the pets are all cohabitating peacefully. At times, though, it can take several weeks. The trick is to do it slowly and cautiously…and follow the guidelines below.
- Isolate the new cat in a separate room. That is closed off from the other pets. Make sure the door is securely shut and doesn’t open easily and you may even want to place a towel under space at the bottom of the door to keep noses from meeting initially. This smaller, private, confined area will help the new cat to feel safe and adjust more quickly to his new home. Provide a litter box, scratching post, toys, food, and water in the new cat’s room. This separation will also give your current pets time to get used to the new cat’s smell and the idea of having a new occupant in the house. During the first week, the cats should not have any interaction with each other. It is important that you watch the behaviour of both since sometime during the first or second week you can remove the towel and allow the cats to sniff and stick their paws under the door.
- Remember. cats like routine, not change Your resident cats’ behavior may initially change when you first bring the new cat home. Most common is hissing, growling, hiding or fighting among resident pets. Your current cats may even act differently toward you by displaying aggression or ignoring you all together. With your new cat in his “private room,” the new and resident cats will all have the opportunity to become familiar with each others’ scents while safely separated by a door. As they begin to acclimate to each other, the cats will feel less threatened and, with time, the negative behavior should dissipate.
- The new cat and resident cats should have no face-to-face interaction for the first week. This will allow the new cat time to get comfortable with his new environment and family. The stress of a new environment can cause a cat to show signs of an upper respiratory infection (watch for sneezing, eye or nose discharge, or diarrhea). Watch to make sure that the new cat is eating well, drinking and using the litter box. In almost every case, a cat that does not use his litter box is suffering from a medical condition. Any instance of inappropriate elimination (outside of the litter box) should be followed up with a visit to the vet.
- After keeping the new cat in a room of his own for the first week, start introducing the smells of each cat to the other. You can do this by brushing all of the cats with the same brush to get their scents on each other. Also, try feeding them each a special treat on either side of the door. Doing so will help each cat to associate the smell of the other cat with the positive experience of eating the treat (usually wet food works best). Use a towel or placemat under each cats food dish, then trade towels so that cat associates the pleasant experience of eating with the other cats smell. If the cats each have their own bed, you can trade beds as a way of introducing smells. You may want to have your resident cats go into the new cat’s room (and visa versa) when he is not there to help them get acclimated to his scent.
- After introducing smells for a few days or a couple of weeks, all the new kitty come out of the room on his or her own terms. If you have multiple animals it may be best to put all of your pets in a separate room and let one out at a time to meet the new kitty as not to overwhelm the new housemate and to keep tensions low. Sometimes it is best to allow the new kitty into the house while all others are put up so that it is already in the territory of your resident cat prior to the awkward meeting. Then allow your resident cats out one at a time to observe the interactions.
- Usually with this initial meeting there will be some hissing and/or posturing. If the interaction seems as though it could lead to aggression, you will need to put the new kitty back in their private room and give it a little more time before you try again. If the cats all appear to be curious or simply wary with no outward signs of aggression, then you can allow them time together with you close by to intercede in case of a change in attitude. Do not rush this process. It is very important to the long term harmony of their relationship that the introduction process proceed at a pace comfortable for each of the cats.
- Monitor all interactions closely during the first weeks. Do not leave the cats alone unsupervised until you are comfortable that there will not be aggressive behavior displayed by any of the cats. During the first few weeks, the new cat should stay in his private room when no one is home to supervise.
- If interaction among the cats deteriorates instead of improving, return the new cat to his private room. At this point you will need to start the introduction process again, this time, taking more time at each stage.
Introducing a Cat and Dog
- When you bring a new cat into your house, you need to set up a safe room where the cat can stay for at least the first week. The room chosen must have a door and should be in a quiet part of the house. You will need to provide access to food, water, litter box, and scratching post at all times (see first bullet point above for more details). I have found that it may be much easier to introduce the cat to the dog than it will be to introduce the cat to the resident cats.
- There should be no face-to-face interactions between the new cat and resident dog for the first week. Bring the cat into the house in his carrier and take him directly to his own room.
- Don’t introduce the cat to any other pets until he has settled in and seems to be comfortable with the human members of the household. This comfort will be evidenced by the cat becoming interactive with you when you enter his room. Many cats will initially hide for a couple of days when brought to a new home, but will soon become comfortable if given time and space.
- When your new cat seems to be comfortable with you, it is time to start the introductions with your dog. During these introductions, the dog should always be crated or on leash, allowing the cat to approach the dog on his own terms. It’s best if the dog is lying down as to be in a submissive posture and also as not to be excited and jumping all over the new kitty. Allow the kitty to explore at his own pace and approach the dog if he is comfortable doing so. All introductions should be supervised and conducted during quiet times of the day. Never force, drag, carry, or corner the cat to meet a dog. It could turn disastrous for everyone involved.
- Carefully watch the first contact between cat and dog. Let them sniff each other. Be ready with a towel or squirt gun in case of any aggressive behavior. The situation should be fairly well controlled, though, because the dog will be confined in his crate or on a leash. If either animal displays aggressive or fearful behavior, separate them immediately. Try again later (possibly the next day) after things have calmed down.
- If the initial meeting goes well, you will still want to repeat the encounter several times under controlled circumstances before letting the animals roam freely in the house or leaving them together unsupervised.
- If your new cat is a small kitten, take special precautions whenever the cat and dog are together. A large dog may not intend to harm a kitten, he simply may not know his own strength or understand the fragility of a young kitten.
- Be sensitive to the fact that some dog breeds are naturally not good at cohabitating with cats—certain breeds may instinctually be driven to chase or act aggressively toward a cat. You will need to evaluate your pet’s personality and determine if he is an exception to the general rule for his breed. Take extra time and care when introducing the two animals—always under close supervision. Be aware that your dog may behave better when you are present, so allow ample time for supervised interactions before letting them to be alone together.
Tips to Encourage or Maintain Harmony
- To speed acceptance of a new cat, after following the above introduction processes, try feeding the cats at opposite ends of room. Gradually, over time, move the food bowls closer together. After feeding them side-by-side for a week, the cats should be ready to roam through out the house freely.
- Provide plenty of safe, comfortable sleeping/nesting places if you have several pets…cats especially need their space. They are not as social as dogs and often prefer isolation at times.
- Keep the cat’s food in a location out of the dog’s reach—either up on a counter or ledge or in an area that is barricaded so that the dog cannot enter.
- Maintain separate litter boxes (they eventually may share). The general rule is one litter box for each cat plus one.
- Make sure litter boxes are placed in quiet, easily accessible locations that do not present opportunities for a cat to be cornered by other pets. While litter boxes should be accessible to the cats, they should be out of reach of any resident dogs.
Unfortunately, in spite of your best efforts, sometimes the resident pets will not accept the new cat into their home. After a month of working through the techniques listed above, if your pets have not progressed past outward displays of aggression, it is time to consider the possibility that the new cat may not be able to integrate into your family. If this turns out to be the case, unless you are willing to maintain separate living quarters for warring pets, you may need to find the newcomer a new home. If you originally adopted the cat from Foster Paws, pursuant to the Adoption Contract, you are required to return the cat to the organization.
I Don’t Have Any Pets
If you don’t have any other pets in the house, you should still start your new cat in a small private room. Cats like smaller, more confined spaces. Your new pet will acclimate better if started in a single room instead of being given access to the whole house right away.
The private room should have a secure door and be away from the noise and activity of the rest of the house. Generally you want to choose a room that does not offer a lot of hiding places (like under a bed). The room that you choose should be a place where family members can easily interact with the cat– usually a den works best.
Set up the room before bringing your new cat home. The room should have food, water, litter box, scratching post and toys. When you bring your new pet home, leave him in the carrier until you get to the room where he will be staying. Once in the room, open the carrier door and let him come out at his own pace.
Remember, everything is very new and could be scary for your cat—new sounds and smells, separation from the familiar, etc. Give your cat time to settle into his new surrounds before lavishing him with attention. It may take a few or several days before he becomes comfortable with you… be patient and compassionate. It may help for you or other members of the family to just sit in the room with him and talk to him. After a couple of days, try playing with an interactive toy, such as a laser light or feather toy. Also, offering smelly fishy food is always a good way to go. To paraphrase– the quickest way to a kitty’s heart is through his stomach.
Once your new furry friend seems comfortable with family members, you can start introducing him to the rest of the house or apartment. In general, your cat should stay in his own room for at least the first week. When the cat seems ready to venture out of his room, let him explore at his own pace. He will probably walk around carefully smelling every nook and cranny. Kitty should continue to stay in his room when you are not home until you are comfortable that he feels at home outside of his private room. Usually two weeks will suffice for an adult cat, but longer for kittens.
Once your new pet gets free roam of the house, you will most likely want to move the litter box to its permanent location. Any time you move the litter box, you should put the cat in the box at the new location and let him explore from that reference.
Some cats will acclimate to a new home faster than others. Following the steps listed above, will ensure a smoother transition for any cat. Best to be safe and go slow than to rush things.