Thinking of getting your cat a little buddy to play with? Then you’ll need to know how to introduce a kitten to a cat so that they can get off on the right paws.
In the best case scenario introducing two cats could take as little as a week, and in the worst it could take several months or up to half a year. But hopefully if you follow our guide, we’ll be able to keep the time down to a minimum!
Set Up a Kitten-Only Space
Waiting to bring your new pal home? It’s time to do some groundwork! Before introducing a new kitten to cats, you’ll want to set up a space for your new kitten in your home that’s just for them. They’ll need their own litter box, bed, some food and water, plus some toys and scratchers will never go amiss.
This kitten-only space should be just that: kitten-only, no big cats allowed! So try to think of an area in your home your first cat doesn’t tend to visit very often. Perhaps a spare room, second bedroom or dining room. That way your kitten can enjoy some peace, while your cat can continue to reign over her territory (for the time being!).
Introducing two cats can take some time, so it’s important that during the process each cat has their own place to go and feel comfortable. And you’ll need to take time introducing your kitten to her new surroundings too.
Beyond this, you’ll also need to ensure that you have enough resources for both cats dotted around the house, such as litter trays (one more than the number of cats you have is normally recommended), water bowls, scratching posts and hiding spaces. This will help to foster harmony between your two cats. Limited resources will amplify any stress.
Take Care of Any Kitten Vet Visits Beforehand
In order to avoid disease, it’s important to restrict your kitten’s contact with other felines before they’ve had all their vaccinations. While kittens do get some natural immunity from their mothers and their milk, this declines over time. So your vet will recommend setting up a regular vaccine schedule from around two to three months old.
The vet will also treat your kitten for worms and give you medication to protect against fleas, helping to avoid an infestation of either in your new two-cat household.
Pro tip: Another trick to consider using before introducing kittens to cats is to groom them and trim their nails beforehand. Since cats groom themselves as a stress response, brushing them will put them in a nice calm mood before meeting their new buddy. If both cats are feeling at ease on their first meeting, they will be in a better place to forge a bond.
Introduce Scented Items First
When your new kitten first comes home, your cat will certainly know something is up, so a slow approach is best.
In fact, when introducing kittens to cats, getting used to each other’s smell is really important. Cats have a sense of smell that is about 14 times that of a human’s and they have twice as many smell receptors in their noses as we do. So it’s no wonder that new smells can be overwhelming and unsettling.
Prior to meeting face to face, 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.
After about a week, however, both cats should be used to the new smells in their environments—signalling the next step…
Let Them Meet Behind a Baby Gate
A great way to maintain control over an initial face-to-face encounter is to use a baby gate or a playpen to allow each cat to sniff the other through the gate first. This will let them suss each other out before interacting fully.
Use this technique for several days and observe your cats as they interact. 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 start looking forward to their encounters (a great sign!).
Don’t be dismayed if your cat hisses, arches his back, or gets a fluffy, angry tail when they first meet. Before you start to worry that your cat hates your kitten, remember that 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.
It may take several days, or even a week or two before your cats are ready for full interaction—just be sure to let your cats set the pace.
Pro tip: As well as grooming, calming sprays can help your cat’s anxiety and put them in a better mood for meetings.
Use Food to Create a Positive Relationship
Treats are a great method of positive reinforcement for cats and kittens alike. So when your cats meet each other from behind the gate, reward good behaviour with a treat. This way they will begin to associate friendly interactions with a reward.
Meal times are also a good time for cat meetings, both with or without a baby gate. This way each cat will be occupied with their dinner, happily filling their bellies, whilst getting used to each other’s presence.
Of course, make sure each cat has enough space to enjoy their meal without the other getting in the way—having them both eat from the same food bowl is just a recipe for disaster! But the cats should still be able to see each other while they are eating so they start to associate seeing their new pal with eating a delicious meal.
Slow and steady should remain your mantra until your cat and kitten can occupy the same space peacefully. Introducing a new kitten to a cat can require a lot of trial and error, so it’s important to be patient until your cats feel comfortable.
Whether it takes a couple of weeks or a few months, your cats will usually reach a compromise eventually and hopefully start to enjoy each other’s company. Don’t be too dismayed if it’s taking longer than you’d hoped, and remember that if your cats don’t bond right away there’s nothing wrong with them, and you’ve not failed as a pet parent! Simply trust the process and see it through.
Keep an Eye Out for Warning Signs and Unusual Behaviour
While play fighting is normal (and pretty cute!) aggression or bullying from either side of your kitten-cat combo is not to be tolerated.
Pro tip: Notice your cat stalking, chasing or pouncing? Distract your cat from these negative behaviours with a toy. And remember to reward good behaviour with treats too!
Signs of aggression can include:
- dilated pupils
- ears flattened backwards on the head
- tail pointing up and straight
- hairs standing on end
- arched back
On the other hand, signs of fear can be:
- dilated pupils
- ears flattened and held outward
- flattened whiskers
- wrapping the tail around or tucked under the body
- holding head up while lying flat
If you’re noticing any of these behaviours, as well as more extreme stress—such as inappropriate urination, destructive scratching or overgrooming—it’s time to take a step back and reassess. You might need to start the process over again.
Should You Get a Kitten for Your Cat?
Maybe you’re reading this before you’ve brought your new kitten home because you’re unsure. Good on you for thinking about what your cat might or might not enjoy. Some cats prefer to be the king or queen of their household—and that’s okay!
To figure out if your cat will be stressed or delighted by the idea of living with another cat, check for these personality traits or behaviours:
- timidness or fearfulness
- marking territory
- history of hostility to other cats
Any of these signs may indicate that your cat will not enjoy another feline’s company, or may take longer to adjust to living with a new kitty family member. If your cat doesn’t show these signs, then the next step is to lean into the shelter or breeder’s knowledge of their kittens.
An adoption centre or a breeder can help identify which kitten in a litter is most suited to living with another cat. It will be much easier when introducing cats to each other if you ensure you’re getting a kitten who’s friendly with other felines and has an easy-going temperament.
Other factors you’ll want to take into consideration:
- Age: very elderly cats might be too set in their ways for a new playmate, or could find new introductions overwhelming.
- Energy levels: kittens can have oodles of energy, will your sleepy resident feline be able to keep up?
- Personality and routine: is your cat easygoing or territorial? Does she spend a lot of time outside of the house or is she always on your lap?
- History (with other cats): consider how your cat interacts with other felines in the neighbourhood before introducing one to your home.
When to Call In a Professional
If you are not having success introducing your kitten to your cat, you can always work with your vet to develop the best strategies. Vets are a fount of knowledge that you can take advantage of and will always be happy to help.
Looking to introduce two older cats? The process is exactly the same! Though some of the considerations might be different, such as energy levels for example.
And what about introducing a cat to a dog house? Well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish! But some of the same techniques can be used here too.