“Kitty, Say Hello to Your New…Best Friend?”
By Catlanna from www.catlanna.com
Many of us who have one cat quickly grow to desire a second, or third, or even a fourth cat. Having a family of cats should be easy, right? Think again. We all know that resident cats are notorious for not getting along with newcomers. We must be mindful of their needs and desires when introducing a new family member, especially because they are social animals. If at all possible, I recommend adopting family members (sibling cats, mother-kitten, etc) because the bond is already established.
For an introduction process, you are going to need the following:
- Barriers: Conduct protected exposure sessions between the cats using a mixture of baby gates, crates, and/or harnesses/leashes.
- Hiding Places: Cardboard boxes work great for providing a place for the more timid cat to hide away during exposure sessions.
- Safe Space: Provide a private room complete with litter box, scratching post, food, water and toys, where the new cat can adjust to sounds, smells, sights, etc.
- Scent Swap: Gather a few clothing items (socks work great!) to gently rub on your one cat then leave the item in the other cat’s territory. One item for each cat.
- Reinforcements: Gather rewards that you can add to your cat’s environment to increase wanted behaviors. Examples include treats, meals, interactive toys, attention, physical touch, etc.
- Pheromones (Optional): Place in areas that you want to reduce stress.
- Mark/Reward Training (Optional): Use operant conditioning to further increase the desire of the cat(s) to become accustomed to one another.
- Time: Schedule time every day for at least 2 sessions between the cats. Sessions should start at just 1-2 min each and gradually grow to 10 or more minutes each.
Each introduction plan is based on the layout of the house, the temperament of the cat(s), history, and the pet parent’s time available to conduct exposure sessions. Remember to keep a journal of their behaviors each day. A simplified introduction process is as follows:
- When you first bring the new cat home, put him/her in the safe space.
- After a few days, introduce the scent swap.
- Shortly after, start scheduled protected exposure sessions using a barrier. Utilize food and other rewards during sessions to encourage a session without altercations, aggressive behavior and stress.
- After the previous steps go consistently well, then start swapping territories while supervised. Cats should not have any physical contact with each other yet.
- Utilize harness training to allow cats to be in the same room together during an exposure session. Condition your cat to accept the harness weeks before this step.
- Lastly, conduct exposure sessions where cats are in the room together until they can be unsupervised.
Introduction processes can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year. The less confident cat will determine the pace of the introduction process – not you! If you have any questions about how to implement an introduction process, please contact a feline behavior professional and/or veterinarian for more help.