Introducing a New Cat to Your Household

June 19, 2011

Q:  I would like to adopt an abandoned kitten from my vet.  I asked them if I could have a trial period to see if my adult cat would accept the new baby.  They seemed hesitant to do that, encouraging me to make the commitment right then and there.  Why is this?  A trial period seems a good idea to me.

A:  The problem is that a “trial period” would have to last for several months before you really knew how the two cats would interact.  And, by then, the baby kitten would be bigger and less adoptable.  Also, by that time, you have probably fallen in love with the new baby anyway.  Here is an article that I wrote on this topic a couple of years ago.  The content is very pertinent to your concerns.

You must have patience when you bring a new cat into the household.  Cats are naturally solitary animals, and they will hiss at each other when another enters its territory.  This type of behavior can last two weeks, and it does not mean that the two cats won’t become best buddies later on.  It makes me sad when someone adopts a cat just to return it two days later because “he doesn’t get along with my other cat”.  When you adopt a pet, you must be committed to do what it takes to be responsible for that pet from that day on.  There are no returns.  Hopefully the following will help you prepare your home and your cat so that you won’t be frustrated.

I have found that sex is not a factor in how well two cats get along. In the wild, groups of female cats, especially siblings, tend to live as groups and they may be resistant to a male trying to enter the group.  However, as long as your cats are spayed or neutered by the time they are 4-6 months old it doesn’t really matter what sex you introduce to your family.  If you adopt an adult cat, then the sooner you have it spayed or neutered, the better. If you adopt your new cat from the Charleston Animal Society or Pet Helpers, then he or she will be neutered before you bring him home and this will be one less worry for you to deal with.

Usually, adopting a small kitten is easier for your adult cat to accept, but he or she may still arch and hiss at the new intruder. Young kittens are used to being around other cats, so they often feel comfortable when they meet their older companion.

Despite the fact that adopting a kitten may be the easier route, I am a huge fan of adopting older cats who have been abandoned.  As long as you are prepared for the two-week rule, you can successfully introduce any two cats.  Eventually the pair will be inseparable or one will simply tolerate the other.  There is no way to predict the outcome.

Since I have now argued that sex and age don’t matter very much, then what does?  What matters most is how your potential adoptee feels about you.  You need to bond with your new pet.  You should meet and play with several different cats.  One will stand out as one that needs you or is attracted to your hair or maybe bats at your eyeglasses.  Do not adopt a cat because it looks sick and you want to help.  This could greatly endanger your healthy cat.

Before you bring your new friend home, prepare a room where the new cat can stay with his own litter box and food.  If your new cat is a kitten, pick up food for a growing cat, but be sure to feed him away from your resident cat.  Kitten food is very fattening for adult or older cats.  The new cat should have his own bed and toys.

When you get home, take the new cat directly to its new room and do not allow contact with your other cat. Immediately schedule a visit with your veterinarian to run a Feline Leukemia test, a Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) test, and a fecal examination. If your cat was adopted from the Charleston Animal Society or Pet Helpers, then your new cat’s first physical exam is free at many participating veterinarians (but this does not include tests or medications). Respiratory infections are common in cats that were housed with several other cats, so keep your new cat separated for at least 5 days while you watch for any signs of sneezing or runny eyes.  Wash your hands after feeding and playing with the new cat.  After 5 days, and if your veterinarian has given the “all-clear”, then you can start introducing the two pets.

Begin the introductions by bringing the new cat into the territory of your existing cat in a carrier.  This way, they can see each other but they each feel safe. Do this at increasing intervals for about 5 days. Then you can start opening the door to the carrier and allow the cats to contact each other.

After another 5 days, the hissing and grumbling should be over, and you can leave the two cats together at all times.

Some people advocate rubbing each cat with the other’s scent before you introduce them.   This is done by rubbing a cloth around one cat’s jowls and the rubbing that cloth on the other cat.  The theory is that once cats smell alike, they accept each other.

I would never go back to having only one cat.  Two cats are extremely entertaining to watch as they play and romp and yes, fight a little.  And they do seem to miss each other if one is away.  So, I encourage you to go out and search for that companion, but be patient and prepare for your new arrival.



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