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How To Successfully Introduce Cats: The Ultimate Guide

Feb 14, 2015 · Updated Sep 22, 2016 · ·
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  1. Anne
    Many of our members will tell you that "one cat just leads to another", and that "cats are like chips, you can't just stop at one".

    People get a second (or third, or fourth...) cat for many reasons. Cat lovers cherish the thought of having yet another feline in their lives; they may want to provide their resident cat with companionship; sometimes the new cat just adopts them. Whatever the reason, the new cat needs to be introduced into your household and to your resident cat or cats.

    Cat introductions are always a challenge. Cats are territorial by nature and an intruder in their territory will stress them out. Some cats will hide away in fear but most will respond by attacking the newcomer. Both cats will suffer from the interaction and you will find it extremely difficult to have them live together peacefully in the future. Moreover, territorial stress as a result of poor introductions can cause other behavioral problems such as re-directed aggression, litterbox avoidance and territorial spraying. The conclusion is simple:

    If you bring home a new cat make the introductions properly.

    Don't just place the two cats in the same room and expect them to be friends. It is up to you to conduct the process in a very gradual and patient manner to get the desired results.

    Setting the Expectations

    Speaking of desired results, we all want our cats to be best friends. When bringing in a new cat, especially when the motivation is to provide the resident cat with a companion, most owners visualize something like this -


    It certainly can happen. However, it doesn't have to. Sometimes, even with the best of introductions, cats just don't like each other. Just like humans, they have their own personalities and temperament which do not always match up. Imagine if someone brought a stranger to live with you. It's possible that you'll become best friends, but it's also entirely possible that you never will. You may just not be a good match for each other. The best you can hope for in such cases, with humans, or cats, is to avoid fights and aggressive behavior and for both cats to tolerate each other's presence, at least most of the time.


    You can increase the chances of finding a good feline friend for your resident cat by trying to find the right match for him or her. Read more about choosing the right cat and remember to keep your expectations reasonable.

    Before We Start

    Before any introductions can begin you have to bring home the new cat. That's not as simple as it may sound. You need to prepare a sanctuary room where the new cat can spend the first few weeks in peace, away from the resident cats. Read more about bringing home a new cat and follow the advice given for setting up the newcomer's room.

    Make sure both cats are healthy and free of parasites before introducing them to each other. The new cat should be seen by a vet and infectious diseases need to be ruled out before you bring him or her home.

    Give the new cat a few days to settle in. The move itself created plenty of stress as it is, so there's no need to add the stress of introduction sessions at this point. That said, be aware that the introduction process has in fact begun. The cats will smell each other off you and possibly through the closed door. If one of the cats is vocal, that's another way for them to learn about each other's existence. That's fine for now but don't try to bring them together just yet. Wait for the new cat to adjust to his or her new surroundings first.

    During these first days, make sure you bond with the new cat, but don't neglect the resident cat. There is no need to comfort the resident cat, just keep up with your regular routine of food, treats and playtime. Be calm and casual and don't be alarmed if the resident cat hangs around the door of the newcomer's room, possibly displaying signs of aggression. It's perfectly natural. Just make sure he or she doesn't get into the room by accident as you step in and out.

    The Key Principles of Cat Introductions:

    Desensitization through Gradual Exposure and Positive Association

    There are many techniques for introducing cats. They are all based on the same principle:

    Desensitizing

    the cats to each other's presence so they no longer feel threatened.

    This is achieved by -

    1. Making the exposure gradual.

    Gradual exposure decreases the cat's "fight or flight" responses in the presence of an intruder, to the point that it is no longer triggered and he or she can learn to accept the presence of another cat in their territory.

    2. Creating positive associations.

    Many techniques rely on distracting the cat with positive stimuli while in the presence of the other cat. This creates a positive association with the other cat, reducing aggression levels.

    While on the subject of positive associations: Make sure you don't end up creating any negative associations during the introduction process. No matter what the cats do, or how the process goes, keep your tone of voice calm and avoid scaring the cats in any way.

    Introduction Techniques

    The following techniques utilize at least one of the principles detailed above and sometimes both.

    1. Scent Desensitization

    Scent is central to your cat's perception of the world. Take a clean sock and put it on your hand, then pet the new cat with your sock-clad hand. Focus on rubbing the cat's face, chin and cheeks. You are in fact lacing the sock with the scent of that cat. Next, leave the newcomer's room and return to your resident cat's "territory". Place the sock within the cat's reach. Don't call the cat over or initiate any interaction with the sock. Allow the resident cat time to find the sock and investigate the new smell. He or she may react with fear or aggression. Just let the cat be and make sure the environment around them is calm (yourself included!)

    Do the same thing with the opposite setup. Use a clean sock (not the same one!) to soak up scent from the resident cat, and place that sock in the newcomer's room. Repeat this once a day for several days, until you see a reduction in both cats' reactions to the socks. If your cat is a fan of treats, you could try and offer one as she's sniffing the sock to create a positive association with the scent.

    2. Visual Desensitization

    Once both cats are desensitized to scents, you can move on to the next sense: vision. The challenge here is to allow the cats to view each other, without letting them engage in direct physical contact. Cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett suggests using three baby gates, one on top of the other, to create a gate the size of your door which you can use as an additional door to the new cat's room. A screen door works too. Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy suggests sticking with the regular door and just opening it up a crack, allowing the cats to view each other in a controlled way.

    Allow the two cats to see each other. Don't be alarmed if they show aggression, and stay calm. You can use treats to make the session more pleasant. Jackson Galaxy even suggests feeding the cats when in this situation. According to his method, you should limit feeding to the times when the cats see each other through the crack in the door, placing their food dishes far away at first, and bringing the dishes closer every day.

    3. Interactive Playtime & Treats

    You can vary introduction techniques a little bit, and change them based on what you know about your own cats. Some cats couldn't care less about food or treats when they see another cat and may prefer playtime instead. Remember the principles behind the techniques and you should be ok. If need be, create the positive association by interactive playtime with your cat. Read more on how to conduct playtime sessions with your cat.

    Keep in mind that some cats may be extremely tense in the presence of a cat they don't know or trust. Whether playing or providing treats, stay in control of the interaction and don't allow them to come into physical contact too soon. Watch out for re-directed aggression as well. A cat may become all worked up over the other cat's presence and lash out at you with no warning. When playing during introduction sessions, keep your hands out of reach and use only fishing-rod toys.

    How Long Should This Take?

    It really is hard to predict. A lot depends on both cats' temperaments. Generally speaking, it's much easier to introduce kittens to each other than adult cats. Some adult cats are very cat-friendly and will gladly accept the company of a new cat. Others may always prefer to be the only cat in the house and never fully accept another cat's presence.

    As you move forward with introductions, watch the cats' body language and try to assess their cues. Don't move forward before both cats are calm. It's better to take a few more days before moving on to the next stage than risk a cat fight.


    Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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  1. thiannawoo
    I just adopted my grandmothers 13 yr old female cat (cookie) and I have a 4 yr old resident female (kiko) at home and it’s hard :( at first the older one would hiss and attack the door whenever she heard my resident cat sitting outside the bedroom door or try and claw from under the crack of the door and they’d have a mini freak out (I had to stuff blankets on either side so they would stop this) so far it’s been a couple days and the 13 yr old is finally starting to be friendly with me like letting me pet her, stopped hiding under my bed it’s been nice so next step is scent introduction!! Hopefully it works out, my resident cat has been pretty good and basically just stands outside of my room wondering what’s going on, she only gets aggressive if the older cat lashes out. The only bad thing is that I’m trying to spend more time with the older one so she gets more comfortable with me, and my resident cat is very clingy to me and tried to open my door to get my attention and that freaks the older one out (hissing and growling) so I’ve been trying to divide my time equally between the both, wish me luck!!
  2. poegrl
    I have to introduce multiple cats into a new home in the near future, my three to my partner's one. I was thinking of doing one at a time over the next few months, but not sure if the continued disruption might make things a bit more stressfully than just bringing my three in all at once?
  3. tryingbutworried
    Lord Jesus help me. I have a tabby who is 4. She is extremely territorial. Adopted another male cat, the same age. It’s been two days and my resident girl has turned into the devil. Any time the new cat makes a sound in his room, she hisses, lashes out into the air or at us. It looks half like fear and anger. She is very small and we adopted her, thinking she may have been attacked at one point. She tried to attack him through the door. The poor new cat desperately wants out of his room. I am going to try the sock but the food bowls are out of the question. My resident kitty eats downstairs and the new cat is in an upstairs bedroom. Any success stories or advice would be greatly appreciated.
  4. nunnc84
    I have a resident cat that is beat up by the new cat. This has caused some litter box avoidance from the resident cat. The new cat bolts into every open door. I have to pull the new cat off the resident cat. The new cat vocally tells the resident cat what ever she is trying to say, they stare each other down, and then the new cat attacks the resident cat.
  5. Coffey4critch
    I have 2 kittens from different litters. We got one last night and is an 8 week female and one today who is a 9 week male. The male is very angry and hissing at the female whenever she tries to play with her. What do I do??
  6. nbthing1
    My boyfriend and I have a two year old cat, who is very attached to us I might add. We adopted a three month old kitten about three days ago. Our two year olds favorite room is our bedroom so we have been keeping him in there. Our kitten stays in a very large cage in the living room, when we aren't home and romps around the living room when we are home. We have separate food dishes and litter boxes for each. Is there any other helpful tips or advice that we could use to make this transition go smoothly?
  7. snjoyce
    SUCCESS STORY: I have a 7 month old female tabby cat, and I got a 10 week old male short haired kitten. My cat HATED my kitten at first, every time she got a wiff of his smell she would run and hide, and pouted for a solid week and a half. Any time I'd try to reintroduce them, my cat would attack the kitten and I would have to separate them. I kept the kitten in his own room just to make sure he was safe. I did keep a blanket in his room for 2 weeks, and then I brought the blanket out for my cat to smell, she would hiss and growl at the blanket for a couple days. But then once she got used to the smell of the blanket, she would stand outside my kittens door, and they would play with each other through the door. My cat then began getting mad at me, because she could smell him and not see him. Once she started getting curious about the kitten, I knew we were going in the right direction. When I left them alone the first time, they were playing for HOURS. My kitten learned to defend himself, and then after showing him who is boss, they are literally inseparable. It took a solid month for this to happen, but I learned that if they are not hissing and growling at their scent any more, they should be good to play and live cordially together :) Just be patient.
      tryingbutworried, Babypaws and nunnc84 purraised this.
    1. nbthing1
      That is awesome! My 2 year old and kitten don't hiss or growl at each other scents, they are just curious. However, they hiss when they see each other (not always, but occasionally). They are separated right now, but my ultimate wish is to have them be friends/siblings.
  8. Natcat278
    My 3 year old male cat watches my kitten then tries to play with him but goes to far and the kitten yelps. The older cat then runs away as if he is scared.
  9. Z-Katz
    Scent Desensitization. I have a problem. I took a sock with the scent of my female cat. Then placed it with the male cat. The male cat urinated on the sock. This has happened twice. Will this stop once they actually meet each other? I'm afraid that the male will continue marking his territory around the house. Need input. thanks
  10. Judy's cat house
    Three current senior cats, all female, awaiting introduction to newest family member, little boy 3 years old, tuxedo, some visual impairment, has eosinophilic keratitis, on meds for same.
    Has been stable in foster home, noticed he uses his paws a lot when you are near him, "helps" get gtts. by holding your hands, wants to hold brush, is able to chase red dot light around the room, has been here about 48 hours, very social at first, now think he is catching on foster mom not coming back. He is in safe room, radio on, likes window perch, has made his own favorite night bed out of a bath sheet crumpled up on chest high work table, under lamp light, probably a little warmer there.
    He may like to be close to bright light as well. Potential problem, he was described as following other kitties and finishing their wet food. Weight is light to normal. Put down what foster mom said was his preferred dry food, he is not eating it. Getting a little concerned about water intake too low. Have given him just now a second small can of Fancy Feast wet food for the day, as it will have some fluid as well.
    Two problems identified: 1. Gotta watch intake carefully,
    2. Razor sharp claws, he does not really like me handling feet,
    attempted trim aborted, just not ready for me to do that.
    3. Well, yes, one more. If he gets stressed will aggravate eye problem, cannot risk, have to be very patient, slow with
    introductions to three senior girls, all were feral/ unadoptable,
    have their own problems.
    Just posting introduction for today, have to follow this little guy carefully while not offending senior girls, tricky business!
  11. Judy's cat house
    Very helpful. I will be introducing 3 senior female cats, one blind,
    one declawed (not by me) and very timid, one shy but with some unwanted scratching behaviors, all these girls to a newcomer. Three year old very social and playful male with some visual impairment. Any thoughts additional to above very helpful article appreciated. Newcomer presently residing happily
    in saferoom, apart from girls, ages 11, 5, and 8.
  12. Babypaws
    I recently brought in a mother feral cat who was born in our yard last summer and over the winter was able to get her to trust me. But she won’t allow me to pick her up, she loves to be petted and brushed. She has three kittens who were born in our yard also and just recently they started to wander out so we were able to capture them and bring them inside on our enclosed porch along with mommy. I also have two indoor cats who I’ve had since they were kittens. (9 and 14 years) although these two cats have never gotten along. I’ve been able to let the new mother cat in part of the house by closing it off from where my resident cats are. Once the mommy cat has stopped nursing I plan on getting her spayed and get her shots so until all the new cats are vaccinated I won’t let them come in contact with other cats. My worse fear is not being able to get mother cat inside the carrier to bring her to the vet. She is going to go crazy and be very scared. It would be so nice if veterinarians made house calls. I’m also wondering how long the kittens will nurse. They are six weeks old are are eating on their own but it seems they are nursing somewhat (at least one) but it sometimes seems like they do it for comfort to cuddle up with mommy...how long should I wait to bring mother cat to be spayed? It’ll be hard to keep her away from kittens once she comes back from the vet..plus if kittens still try to nurse will they harm her stitches? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you
  13. Nikki_P
    Hello!

    We recently brought home our kitty, Mi-Go, from an extended stay at the vet. To our surprise, our other kitty, Binx, became extremely aggressive towards Mi-Go. We have since learned that this is called feline non-recognition regression and should have taken steps to reintroduce the cats slowly, much like is suggested in the article above. Unfortunately, it's been three weeks since Sir Mi-Go has been back home and we're just now finding this all out.

    To further complicate matters, Mi-Go is an extremely emotional cat and would come undone if we cloistered him away for a few weeks. No exaggeration, this cat is extremely sensitive and is prone to depression over the littlest thing (eg: we didn't "invite" him to sit with us on the couch, or we dared to shut our bedroom door).

    Binx, however, would probably do fine if we shut her in the master bedroom for a few days. We've actually done that very thing in the past few weeks when neither my partner nor I have been home to referee between the cats, and she seems very at ease in there by herself (of course, taking care to give her loves, treats, and attention when we return).

    My question is, do you think this will work to sequester the aggressive/threatened cat, Binx, or will it cause more harm to keep her from roaming freely through her house? Is the only way for this to successfully work to have Mi-Go, the returning cat, be the one that's tucked away?

    Also to note: We really love our cats and give them all a lot of affection and play time, and try to use positive reinforcement as much as possible. Also, we've tried Feliway, but it hasn't seemed to help in this situation.

    Any advice appreciated!
  14. Dwell
    I brought in a stray that I've been taking care of at work. He's fine with me but I have 3 other cats and he got past me after a couple days and went straight after my male cat. I grabbed him and he bit into my arm that ended up with a trip to the ER. Two days later he got past me again (Totally my fault) trying to do two things at once. He went straight for the female sitting in the dining room and ended up biting her. This time I brought them up but didn't make the mistake of grabbing him. I just stood in front of him until he calmed down and was able to pick him up and put him back in his room. It's been about two weeks now and the female is healing from her wound thanks to vet and $220.00 later. I was going to take him to a friends house who has two small dogs but I'm afraid either he'll go straight for the dogs or the mean little dog will go after him. Or he will bolt out the door when my friend lets his dogs out to pee. So, I have decided to try again and see if I can get this to work. I'm going to cut a hole in the bed room door and install a screen guard so the cats can see each other without the chance of getting at each other. (More concerned about the new cat than my cats as he's been in the wild and probably had to fight other cats or racccoons and such) I'm hoping this with eventually work. I've spent 3 months feeding this story and I made him a shelter for the extremely cold nights and had him FIV tested and neutered. (another $300.00) I'm not worried about the money, I've just grown really fond of this cat and spent a lot of time getting him to this stage I feel I can give it some more time to see if I can make this work. I've read a ton of articles but any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

    BD
  15. Salios
    I'm just introducing a new cat today and aside from two mishaps when the new girl slipped past me into my bedroom with my older girl, they've been separated. My old cat is my support animal but she's used to a house with three people and a dog. Single apartment life has been stressing her out.
    I'm going to give this a go, but the yowling is a bit to get used to...my old girl is taking it like a champ. 10 years old and couldn't give less of a shit.

    Thanks!
  16. biscuchu321
    I have two adult cats at the moment, brother and sister, (they haven't had kittens) and I want to introduce a kitten to them. We're moving house, so I think it would be much easier to introduce them because they haven't set "territories" yet. My female cat loves to play, and has a kind personality, yet quite jumpy, and my male cat is more of a chill personality, and doesn't usually find playing entertaining. He also has a short temper, and he only likes me. Do you think they'd accespt the new kitten in this situation?
  17. gabriele33
    I have had cats with me for over forty years and have never yet introduced a new cat to the older one the way you describe. I have always just given them the freedom of the house and they have always become friends. They have all been females. Maybe it's different for males? Gabriele
      Babypaws purraised this.
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