10 steps to make a newcomer welcome
Most of us have had the experience of adding a new kitten to our household. An energetic and adaptable little bundle of personality settles in very quickly and makes its own place in the home with little cause for anxiety. But what if the new addition you would like to bring in is an adult cat? Will your resident cat or cats accept it? What if the newcomer has been through a stressful experience, such as time in a shelter? What is the best way to tackle this introduction?
First, you need to protect your current family pets. Learn as much as you can about the past life of your proposed addition. Does it come from a home where it was loved and well cared for? Do you have veterinary records, including all vaccinations and any current medical problems? This makes the first step easy. If the cat is a stray or from a shelter, you may get some information about the cat’s past, but you almost certainly won’t get it all. Most shelters neuter or spay cats before releasing them, so at least you will know that vital step is done. It’s very important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to confirm the newcomer’s health. If there is no known vaccination record, you need to start one immediately. Your vet will want to confirm that the cat is not infected with a communicable disease and will probably want to schedule tests as a baseline. Should your new family member be declawed, please consider asking for an examination of the paws to confirm that the procedure was properly done. Pain is the number one cause of problems with declawed cats. If your cat still has his claws, make sure they are trimmed.
Create a “safe haven” for your new addition— a bedroom, office, laundry room or other area that can be closed to other pets where you can put a litter box, small scratching post, food and a comfy bed. Give the newcomer time to fully explore this area and determine that it’s safe. Try to visit often so the cat gets used to you and begins to trust you. At first, don’t try to pick up and cuddle the cat. Let it make the decision to come to you. This step may take a long time if the cat comes from a background where it has been frightened or abused. While a bedroom gives the cat a place to hide under the bed, it is also easier for you to come in and just spend quiet time reading or doing some work. Patience is your most important tool here. Don’t expect success in a few hours or even a few days. Once the cat has had an opportunity to do some bonding with you, only then it is time for the next step.
Observe the interaction between your newcomer and resident cat(s) that takes place through the closed door. Are either, or both, aggressively growling and hissing? Wait until this phase has passed before going further. If they try to play with each other under the door, be encouraged. Visual contact through a glass or screen door can be a helpful next move.
Arrange to let each cat explore the other’s territory so they become acclimated to the smells and pheromone markings of the other. Your resident cat especially needs to understand that the newcomer is there to stay. The newcomer needs to become comfortable with the resident cat’s smells and so he will feel less intimidated. Both cats need to accept the fact that they must share the same territory.
Be careful to pay a lot of attention to your resident cat, who may be feeling rejected. Some cats are more territorial than others and may be resentful of another cat taking over. In general, females are more inclined to fight for the top spot, so this introduction may take longer. Two neutered males may more readily accept each other as a friend to play with. Remember, your only child is now going to have to learn to share!
When growling and hissing has subsided through the closed door, allow supervised meetings. Sometimes putting the newcomer in a temporary cage, for example in the living room where they can smell and talk to each other, is helpful. Many pet stores sell inexpensive pop-up tents to use for a temporary enclosure. Be very alert if the cats are not controlled, and put the new cat back in its room immediately if they show signs of aggression. If there are several family members to help you, have each cat be held on someone’s lap. Treats will help to diffuse tension. Remember to trim those claws. Repeat these meetings until the cats move comfortably around the house. Do not expect them to become instant friends. They just need to be willing to share the territory. It’s okay if they just ignore each other.
Don’t expect the two cats to immediately use the same litterbox or eat together. One of the worst things that can happen is for the new cat to be attacked by the resident cat when attempting to use the litterbox. Forcing them to use the same box can lead to unacceptable toilet habits. Provide at least two, and preferably three, litterboxes in separate places. Make sure each cat is comfortable with its own food dish. Later, they may share or trade dishes, but leave this up to them. If the newcomer chooses to retreat to its “safe” room, then don’t force togetherness—just let it be alone in its calming, private place.
Until you’re sure both cats are comfortable with each other, don’t leave them loose together in the house when you’re not home. The “safe room” is still essential. Your veterinarian may suggest pheromone diffusers to relieve stress during this time.
Expect it to take weeks or months for the two cats to be completely at ease together. Give both equal affection and love. Time and patience are the keys here. Only the cats themselves will determine when they’re ready to live peacefully together in the same space.
One day you’ll come home to find the heartwarming scene you’ve been waiting for— both cats happily snuggled together in a bed or on a perch, washing each other’s ears. Congratulations. You’ve reached step 10—they’re finally buddies!