Introducing your cat to other family pets
Now that you’ve committed to welcoming a new cat or kitten into your home, it’s important to consider how best to facilitate introductions with other family pets. This will help to ease the stress levels for both the newcomer, as well as your more established family members.
If you already have a resident cat in your home, it’s not generally a good idea to introduce a new feline to the mix. Cats are solitary animals and much better suited to living in single-cat households. Introducing a new cat is very likely to cause stress to both cats and this often manifests itself as an emerging behavioural problem in one or both cats. One may try to dominate the other and aside from the emotional stress that is caused, it can also lead to cat-fight injuries. Furthermore, the more fearful cat may start to urinate and toilet outside the litter box and in unacceptable locations. There may also be problems associated with feeding and if one cat dominates here it can lead to obesity in one and inadequate nutrition for the other.
If you do want to have more than one cat living with you, consider their needs and cater to them as best as you can. Generally speaking cats that are a similar age when introduced to each other or those that are siblings or parent and offspring combinations generally adapt better to living together long-term.
There are a number of well-established methods that can help to mitigate potential behavioural problems when introducing cats to each other:
1. Ensure you provide sufficient personal space for each individual cat. This translates to a litter box per cat plus one extra per household.
2. Individual food and water bowls for each cat
3. Separate safe places to escape to and hide where they each feel safe and secure.
4. Synthetic pheromone preparations are also available from your vet and they can help to provide a calm, relaxing environment for cats particularly during times of stress e.g. moving to a new home or adjusting to a new arrival.
When you do finally make an introduction between two cats or a cat and a kitten, it must be done slowly and gradually. Allow both pets the freedom and space to investigate each other safely. This can be done via a cat carrier or kitten pen, where the newcomer is contained and kept safe from attack. At the same time the resident cat can investigate at their own pace and have the opportunity for escape or to retreat to their own safe place at anytime. Build these introductory episodes gradually over time, but be aware that it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months for both cats to learn to live with each other. And always remain vigilant for any signs of emerging behavioural problems.
Introducing a cat or kitten to a resident dog can appear less stressful than introducing two unfamiliar cats to each other, but it is not without risk. Dogs as pack animals are generally more accepting of newcomers, but they can still be fearful of the unknown and can also exhibit aggression. It is vital to take the same level of care with introductions as you would with two cats and to allow a slow, gradual meeting to occur with one animal safely contained throughout the experience.
Finally, always remember to supervise every encounter between animals that are unfamiliar with each other. It is important to continue to do this until such time as they are clearly adjusted to each other. This means not hissing or growling at each other, running or hiding from each other and more importantly starting to sleep near each other, play together etc. If you have any concerns throughout any of this process, it is wise to consult your vet or a local animal behaviourist.