Adding a New Cat to your Household

October 24, 2010

Question: I have a cat who is about a year old and I want to get a kitten for him to play with. Is this a good idea and how should I go about it?

Answer: I love having two cats, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Watching two cats interact is so much fun. But, it is hard to know if a young kitten will be accepted by an older cat. The younger the cat, the better your chances of the cat and kitten bonding. So, I recommend that you find a young, healthy kitten ASAP.

I don’t think it matters a whole lot whether you get a male or female, but if we look at the structure of feral cat colonies it might help with your decision. Most feral colonies are composed of females that are related to each other. They sometimes will accept other females into the colony if there is plenty of food to go around. Most of the male kittens are generally run off, in theory, to start their own colony, but the females usually allow one or two to stick around. If an unrelated male cat tries to enter the colony, he’s going to face a fight. Now, this is assuming that all of these cats are not spayed or neutered. Once we start spaying and neutering cats, combined with providing sufficient food, the instinct to maintain this structure becomes much less important. Since your older cat is presumably neutered, you are probably safe to get either sex, but based on colony structures, I’d probably recommend a female kitten.

While you are looking for the kitten, start to prepare the house for the new “intruder” – which is exactly how your older cat will think of the kitten at first. Get another litter box and another set of bowls. You will keep these in a room that can be closed off to the rest of the house. Bathrooms often work well for this. Get extra toys for both cats. Make sure your older cat has a safe place that he can call his own.

When you bring home the baby, put her in the bathroom and keep her there for several days. Give your older cat lots of extra attention. The cats will likely sniff at each other through the crack under the door. This is good. After a few days, you can use door stoppers to open the bathroom door a crack. Now the cats can almost see each other. There may be some hissing. When this subsides, you can open the door a little bit wider. If you can, it is nice to feed both cats near the door, so that they are eating near each other. This give them a positive reward for being near each other amicably. Use a dry cloth to pet one cat and then pet the other cat with the same cloth. This spreads their scents from one to the other.

After this period of 5-7 days, you can actually switch places. Allow the kitten to run around the house under your supervision while you keep the older cat in a room where he feels comfortable for a short time. Now their scents are really mixing and the baby is getting the lay of the land. If that is going well, you can start giving the cats supervised time together, with the bathroom door wide open. Do not force anything. Just watch. Keep your hands off. You cannot force them to like each other. It is normal for there to be some hissing and spitting and maybe even brief fighting, but with such young cats, this period may be minimal. After 2 weeks you can usually leave the cats together for extended periods. When the cats are out and about together, do not scold the older cat for hissing and do not give the kitten extra attention. In fact, you want to give your older cat extra positive attention during this time.

In multiple cat households, there will always be moments of quiet, moments of play and moments of hissing. Most cats eventually learn to live with each other. They may only tolerate each other or they may be cuddlers. You cannot predict this nor can you change it.

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