- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Ever notice that it’s hard to have just one cat? Cats are like the opposite of socks: where socks seem destined to get lost, cats tend to accumulate in the homes of owners who love them.
As you add more cats, you don’t add much work, but you do add a lot of snuggles, laughs, and companionship. If you are one of those households destined to have lots of kitties, you’re probably going to face the question, How do I introduce a new kitten to my cat? Or even, Can my older cat handle a new kitten?
Here are some tips on how to best show your new kitten the ropes without causing your current housemate too much stress or angst.
Lay the Ground Work for a Good Transition
Before you even bring home your new kitten, consider doing some prep work. Cats are solitary creatures. They like their own things and their own space. PetMD recommends that you get the new kitten his own litter box, scratching post, and bed.
Already have a cat apartment or climbing structure? Your cat may not be too keen on sharing, at least at first. Many owners also find it quite helpful to cordon off space solely for the new kitten, PetMD says, as often a less-trafficked bathroom makes a great kitten room for the first week or two.
If you could see yourself acquiring multiple cats over a short period of time, PetMD suggests getting two littermates at the same time. This means you will only have to introduce your current cat to a new situation once, and the kittens can grow together, play together and hopefully expend their energy on each other instead of their older “sibling.”
The First Week
When your new kitten first comes home, both he and your current cat will need their own space. Your cat will certainly know something is up, so a slow approach can be a good thing. PetMD has a few words of wisdom on this approach, such as placing your new kitten in his open cat carrier in the room you’ve prepared for him and then shut the door to the room to let him get used to his new surroundings.
In the meantime, the Humane Society of the United States recommends that you present your older cat with something the kitten has played with or slept on so he can get used to the kitten’s smell.
Many owners wait an entire week to introduce their new kitten to the resident cat(s)—which is actually an approach that PetMD echos as useful. This way, the cats are used to each other’s smells, some of the curiosity has died down, and the kitten is comfortable with his new surroundings.
The Second Week
Don’t be dismayed if your cat hisses, arches his back and gets a fluffy, angry tail when he and the new kitten first meet. Remember, cats are solitary, independent (and sometimes territorial!) creatures. While many introductions don’t go well at first, it doesn’t mean your cats can’t learn to live with (and love) each other.
One way of maintaining control over the first encounter is to use a baby gate or a playpen to allow each cat to sniff each other through the gate while not allowing them to fully interact.
In many of the materials available from the Humane Society about adopting new kittens, they are very keen to remind new owners not to intervene if they do become aggressive with each other—you don’t want to get scratched in the process! The baby gate approach helps to keep the encounter under control, and you can just close the door if the first meeting doesn’t go well.
Use this technique for several days and observe your cats as they interact. Keep these meetings short and purposeful. As the week goes on, you may find that the cats stop hissing at each other (progress!), lose interest in sniffing each other (a good sign), or seem to look forward to these encounters (a great sign!).
It may take several days, or even a week or two before your cats are ready for full interaction. Again, monitor these initial interactions and be sure to let your cats set the pace.
Slow and steady should remain your mantra until your cat and kitten can occupy the same space peacefully. Vetstreet will caution the it may take several weeks for the transition to take place, but most times, the cats can compromise and may even start to enjoy each other’s company.
Depending on the personalities of your cats, you may have one that always remains dominant but not necessarily aggressive. Like many pets, cats establish and abide by their own pecking order. Slower, deliberate introductions can help to establish this compromise earlier.
From my personal experience, signs of a good transition include cats sharing a common eating space or perch, and exhibiting relaxed behaviors while in each other’s presence such as purring or kneading. When I see these behaviors more than some of the cautious behaviors mentioned above, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!
Other things to consider
There are a few important things to consider as you start and continue through this process. First, consider your current cat’s personality and try to select a kitten that has some similar traits.
If you have an energetic, young cat, you may be able to be more flexible with your choice of kitten.
If you have an elderly cat, PetMD suggests you consider an older kitten or a kitten who isn’t the most energetic of the bunch and consider how you might keep them separate if your older cat has trouble adapting. Homes with more space can sometimes accomplish this a little easier, especially if either of the cats is to spend any time outdoors.
As you transition, be sure to keep your eye out for signs that things aren’t going well. Your current cat may begin to exhibit behaviors that aren’t normal for him or show signs of “regression.”
According to the ASPCA, some adult cats who are having trouble transitioning may show signs of stress such as having trouble using the litter box or choosing not to use it at all in what seems like a protest.
These are signs that the transition may need some more attention, but remember that almost always, transitions can be successful. Don’t lose heart, but do be patient with both your new addition and your long-time roommate.
With a little planning and a lot of patience, most cat owners are able to sail through the transition period. After all, cats have a way of accumulating in cat lover homes—so it can be done!
If you are finding the process more frustrating than you had anticipated, the ASPCA and your local vet are great resources for new techniques to help you achieve a good transition, and keep your home (and your lap) happily populated with a couple of cats!