Fixing an introduction between two adult rescue cats

KittyCat_chitchat

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I know there are already lots of threads and articles on introducing cats, but I'd like some opinions and advice on our family cats' specific circumstances.

The existing cat, Ozzie, is a very large seven-year-old male who we've had for four years. He is a sensitive boy who is extremely affectionate with us but nobody else. He's also so food-focussed that we have to watch his weight, and he only plays in short bursts. He was surrendered to a no-kill shelter who just gave him to us without a home check, which surprised us. When we asked if he'd be okay with my dog, they said they thought so. I wish now that I'd asked more questions, but he was clearly miserable in the shelter so we took him. As far as we know, he was surrendered by a couple who didn't want him near their baby because he kept coming in with fleas. We were also told he was used to other cats, but obviously that was when he was two. We soon found he seemed to have no experience with dogs and never got used to mine, although I realise now that we introduced them far to quickly. He went out all day and came home each night for meals. We tried to shut him in at night for his own safety, but he just demolished a series of cat flaps. He settled in his sanctuary room but never explored past the route between this and the cat flap. I asked the shelter for help, but they said there wasn't a problem.

This year my dog died and I was devastated, especially as my starting full time work and my father's dislike of dogs meant I couldn't get another one. I initially tried to focus on getting Ozzie used to the rest of the house, which would have been the sensible thing to do. However, it felt horribly empty without the dog, and I let selfishness overcome my common sense! Dad and I decided that we wanted a cat who'd be round the house a bit more. I decided off a kitten, which would have been the second most sensible thing, as for one thing I didn't think it would be fair to get a single kitten when all she'd have was a mature cat. For another I have mild allergies to some cats and can't tell which will affect me until they're adults, so getting a kitten is a lottery unless it's from a breed that's known to be hypo, all of which are very hard to find in our area. So we looked for an adult female rescue cat who'd be compatible with Oz.

Enter Cleopatra. The rescue organisation (a different one from last time!) said she was two or three years old and just wanted to be with people. She'd been found as a friendly stray trying to feed two kittens, so had presumably been abandoned after getting pregnant. She was in a foster home where she and the fosterers' cats had been highly curious about each other from either side of a closed door, so they were ideally looking for a home where she'd have cat company. All of that sounded promising, but when we met her we felt (as the fosterers did) that she was more like eighteen months old as she was still very kitteny and playful. We also fell for her beyond reason and the rest is history. Cleo has been with us for coming up for a month. She settled in quickly and turned out to be a typical tortie: bold inquisitive, and active - essentially anti-Ozzie!

The second night Cleo was here, Ozzie walked right across the kitchen, something he'd never done before, and sniffed round the door of her sanctuary room with his ears up and his whiskers forward. We thought that was promising so we started scent swapping by giving them towels to sleep on and swapping them over daily, and by rubbing them with clean socks and giving the sock to the other cat to sniff. Cleo sniffed Ozzie's scent but otherwise didn't react, and Ozzie scent marked things with Cleo's on initially but then just ignored them. We started letting Cleo explore the house when Ozzie was out and she got comfortable visiting his room. We also started getting Oz used to more of the house.

After about ten days of this, we put up a covered barrier in a place that allowed Cleo to come out into the kitchen and Oz to get between his room and the cat flap, and plugged in a pheromone diffuser next to it. That's where the trouble started, because the barrier turned out not to be Cleo proof! She climbed over it and got into Ozzie's room when he was in. Neither of them were ready or expecting to see another cat. Result: staring, hissing, and low growls and meows. We broke them up and put Cleo back into the kitchen, but the next day the blanket fell off the barrier and both cats ran up to it and started swearing at each other again, with their eyes wide and their tails fluffed up. A few days later I was woken up in the small hours by what sounded like Cat War III. I found Ozzie sitting on the outside windowsill of Cleo's room, Cleo sitting on the inside windowsill, and both of them swearing at each other. I broke them up again, but after that Cleo would run up to the barrier with her tail fluffed up, hissing and growling, whenever Ozzie went past to get out. We realised this had now gone from bad to worse, so we went back to shutting Cleo in her room whenever Ozzie is in.

We're now encouraging Ozzie to be more confident in the kitchen by feeding him there, and we're slowly walking his bowl towards the door of Cleo's room. He's already been over there a few times, and when he visits Cleo comes up to the other side. The first time one of them hissed (I'm not sure which) and Ozzie thrashed his tail a bit, but then settled down and eventually walked off. Cleo was still on the other side of the door and didn't seem all that bothered. They've now been on either side of the door at the same time on about three occasions and there's been no more hissing, just wary sniffing around. When Cleo is let into the kitchen, she sniffs all around the bottom of the door and checks all the other places where Oz has been.

The good news is that Ozzie is now way more confident in the kitchen. He's coming in and out through the cat flap more and has even played with a ball and chased treats that are thrown for him. The current plan is to slowly work towards Oz eating on one side of the door and Cleo playing on the other, and to open it a crack when there's no more reaction. However, I'm not sure how to proceed from there. I'm really worried that their different personalities and their negative first encounters mean they'll end up fighting if we put one foot wrong. I couldn't bare the thought of rehoming either of them, especially after all they've been through, and I feel they'd both benefit from feline company (even if they're never best friends), but I worry that they might just be too different from each other. I'm also not sure if what I'm seeing at the moment is curiosity or territorial behaviour, with the cats checking what they see as boundaries and/or a disputed zone. I'm especially concerned as Cleo needs lots of stimulation at the moment and I'd love to be able to leet her outside during the day, but obviously she and Ozzie need to tolerate each other using the cat flap before that can happen! It would be really sad if she had to wait years for that day. I've suggested getting hold of an animal behaviourist to my parents, but they don't think we need one, at least not yet.

I'm so grateful that I found this forum and would love to hear any advice from people with experience of integrating adult cats. It would be great to have my hand held during this process.

I'm really sorry that this post has been so long, but thought it was important to get all the details out there. Anyway, I'm sure anyone who's got to the end of this text mountain will want to see pictures! Ozzie is on the left, Cleo on the right.

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Mamanyt1953

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First, and most important, you are not doing badly at all. We've all seen introductions that took weeks or months, but that were eventually quite successful. And the fact that Ozzie is now MORE confident, even knowing Cleopatra is there, is HUGE!

This is the main thing to remember...you absolutely cannot rush this. You must pace it for the most reluctant cat, not the most eager one. And that seems to be what you are doing. You have, even if it doesn't seem like it, had several small triumphs. Don't let the hissing get you down. The ideal is to manage to time things so that no one ever hisses. The ideal. That rarely happens, but as I am fond of repeating, "Sometimes a cat's gotta say what a cat's gotta say." An occasional swear work is not a sign of failure! Unless, of course, you are priest, and in the pulpit!
 
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KittyCat_chitchat

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Thank you so much for the lovely and very reassuring reply! I'm glad you think we're doing things right.

As a quick update, this morning when I wasn't around, Cleo managed to get out of her room (she hates being shut in there) when Ozzie was in the kitchen eating his breakfast. According to Dad, she walked up behind him as he was eating, just being curious, with no signs of aggression. Ozzie just carried on eating. Dad thought it could have been because he hadn't had the chance to give her her food yet, and she was going "How come you've got food and I haven't?" I don't feel happy having them meet just yet, so we're sticking to the plan of bringing Ozzie's bowl slowly nearer and nearer Cleo's door, but Dad thought it was a good sign.
 

rubysmama

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Hello again. Just read your 2 above posts, and as Mamanyt1953 Mamanyt1953 posted, "you are not doing badly at all". Despite all the kitty swearing at each other, there's been no physical contact, right. No fur flying ? Or bloodshed? Those are the major signs of a cat introduction going badly. Hissing and growling are just cats ways of communicating, so though can sound shocking to us humans, isn't all bad.

Today's interaction sounds really promising. So you may be closer than you think.

Sorry if I've missed it, but about the door to Cleo's room, is the door totally closed, or open a jar. Can they see each other between the door and the floor?

One thing people do is stack baby gates at a door, so the cats can see each other and do pawsies, but not hurt each other. There's a example pic in this TCS article: How To Successfully Introduce Cats: The Ultimate Guide – TheCatSite Articles

BTW, a month isn't a long time in a cat's mind. So still loads of time for them to complete their introductions and become friends.

Condolences on the loss of your doggie. RIP sweetie. :angel3:
 
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KittyCat_chitchat

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Thank you so much rubysmama rubysmama . There has indeed been no physical violence or contact of any sort, only eyeballing and swearing. The door is kept closed at the moment. When the cats are eating/playing on either side of it and distracted/not reacting to each other, we'll open in a crack. Given today's developments I might start doing that, but I don't want to rush things.
 
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KittyCat_chitchat

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Update as requested! Ozzie's food bowl is inching slowly closer to Cleo's door. He is now entering the kitchen fairly confidently, though still with some caution, and has spent time there exploring and getting cuddles.

We had some extreme stormy weather at the end of last week, which thankfully our area escaped the worst of. However, it did mean that Ozzie spent almost all day indoors, so we had to keep Cleo in her room. Being an active cat, she went a bit stir crazy and will now take any opportunity to escape when she's shut in there. The other night, she dashed out before we could stop her when Ozzie was eating in the kitchen. They stared at each other and Cleo hissed before we separated them, but there was no growling or meowing.

Both Ozzie and Cleo are curious about what's on the other side of the closed door. Both of them have been coming over to sniff around it and Cleo sometimes pokes under it with her paw. She's also definitely interested when she hears Oz being fed or talked to in the kitchen.

The current plan is still to get Ozzie's bowl very near the door so that we can feed them on either side of it. Then when they're not reacting to the sound and smell of each other, we'll open it a crack at a time when both cats are distracted by able to see each other. Let me know if there's anything else I should be doing!
 
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KittyCat_chitchat

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Yesterday Cleo escaped again and ended up being about six feet away from Ozzie while he ate. Ozzie looked at her and then went back to eating, with no hissing from either cat. We herded her back into her room.

This seemed promising, so this morning I gave them their breakfast on either side of the door, with it open a crack. Cleo was focussed on eating at first, but Ozzie was a bit unsure and just sniffed round the edge of his bowl (completely out of character!). Cleo then got curious and stuck her head round the door. They looked at each other, then Cleo backed up. Ozzie approached the door and looked through the opening and she gave one short, quiet hiss, but then stuck her nose through again with him right there. There was just a few inches between their faces and it looked like they were sniffing each other, with their heads low and their ears forward.

I thought they needed to be distracted while it was still basically positive, so I approached and shook Ozzie's bowl. He backed up a bit but kept looking at Cleo, who was clearly far more interesting than the food! He then turned and left the kitchen. I thought having another cat right there might have been a stressor and put him off eating, so I shut the door again and moved his food a bit further away. He came back and ate it all.

How do you think it's going? It seems they're more interested in each other than anything else at the moment, so how can we distract them when it's time to intentionally bring them into the same room?

Here are some pictures of the big moment. You can just see Cleo's ginger nose poking round the door! She seems determined to meet Ozzie but nervy when she actually comes face to face with him.

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KittyCat_chitchat

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This morning I tried to repeat the experiment! I was supervising Cleo on one side of the door, and Dad was supervising Ozzie on the other. I'm putting the bowls a few feet away from the door, not right up on either side of it.

Cleo sat and ate happily with her back to the door. After she'd finished she stuck her head through the crack and was clearly trying to get out.

Ozzie wasn't there as today he was not cooperating! He didn't eat or investigate the door, and went back to his room and asked Dad for tummy rubs. I'm not sure if this means he isn't comfortable with the set up and we need to get him used to eating there more gradually, with the door shut, or whether it he was saying "I did that yesterday. It is now boring." I'd be grateful for any opinions on this.

As of now I'm probably going to do a mixture of feeding with the door shut, to get Ozzie more used to eating in that place, and feeding with the door open a crack.
 

rubysmama

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It sounds like things are going really, really well. I'd say mostly "play it by ear", as you're there and see how they're reacting, but honestly, it seems like they don't have a problem with each other. Maybe, if Ozzie isn't interesting in eating his food at the door, try giving out yummy treats to both of them.
 

Mamanyt1953

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Try moving Ozzie's food farther from the door, and see if that makes a difference. That would give you a hint as to why he refused to eat by the door today. And, cats being cats, he may be fine with it tomorrow!
 
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Today my family were frazzled after all of us having a very stressful week for various reasons. This morning my parents kept saying that it would be better if we fed the cats on either side of the big oven with no door or barrier, and I was saying that I'd rather progress with either side of the door until I'd got an experienced opinion on whether what they were saying was a good idea. I was honestly a bit tired to process suggestions.

Well, to cut a long story short, the cats took matters into their own paws! We were all tired and a bit grouchy, and the door discipline slipped. Cleo, who's now got a serious case of cabin fever, took the opportunity to escape into the kitchen and eat Ozzie's food. I admit that I just went "Oh, fine, let her run around. I'll keep an eye", because I could see she was bored. Ozzie then came in from his safe room and they cautiously walked right up to each other, touched noses, and gave each other a sniff. Cleo walked off and Ozzie sat down and pulled a flamen 'stinky face', then left.

I went up into Ozzie's room to tell him what a good boy he was, not realising in my tired state that Cleo's door wasn't shut and she was following me. She came up to the open door of Ozzie's room. The cats stared at each other, Cleo hissed, and Ozzie wagged his tail. I decided "Well, we're here now", so I tried to call my parents to come and help me provide a distraction, but neither of them responded. I got out a toy and tried alternating play between both cats, and they both got involved in the game. Then they seemed a bit stary and worried again, especially Ozzie, and I wanted to make sure they ended on a positive note, so I fed them on either side of the threshold to settle them down. They ate happily, and focussed completely on the meal, while about four or five feet away from each other. Cleo walked off while Ozzie was still eating, so I coaxed her back into her room.

What do you think I should do next? Should I feed them on either side of this door/Cleo's door, or on either side of the oven as my parents suggested (the kitchen being neutral ground)? Or am I rushing things and they're not ready for this yet?

Here they are eating on either side of Ozzie's open door, with my feet moderating!

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rubysmama

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I'll preface this by saying I haven't personally introduced cats, however, I have read many, many threads here on the topic, and I would say they are pretty much ready for normal interactions, as long as there's a human around to supervise / separate them if things got a little heated. So maybe at night, or if all the humans are out of the house, keep them in their respective rooms. But from what you've described, eating near each other, touching noses, they are far from being enemies and quite possibly just about ready to be friends.
 

Mamanyt1953

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I could not agree with rubysmama rubysmama more if I tried. These guys are ready to really get to know each other, at least while someone is at home and awake to monitor (but NOT "hover over") them. Separate when everyone will be out, and at night, at least for a few more days. I think you are very nearly there!
 
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KittyCat_chitchat

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This morning my Dad fed them at either end of the oven and they were fine. There was no staring or hissing. They touched noses again, then both got on with eating. Both of them are free to roam about the house when we're there, but we'll keep them apart when we're not around to supervise and intervene if things turn nasty. Thank you so much for all your help, guys! I'm really hoping they'll end up being friends.

EDIT: Cleo would like to correct me. Both bowls, and everything in them, actually belong to her, and she's going to sit here to make sure Ozzie and I know this (don't worry, I currently have no concerns that she's bullying or food guarding).

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KittyCat_chitchat

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We've been up and down over the last day or so. Yesterday Cleo kept following Ozzie around and running after him. I'm not sure if she was determined to be his friend or if she was being a bit over assertive, but he was clearly worried and got very jumpy, even at things that don't normally bother him. She also took to crouching by a corner he has to pass to get to the cat flap like she was trying to ambush him.

Ozzie had a vet appointment today, which always stresses him out, so I suggested that they were kept separate today and my parents agreed. This evening I came home from work to find Cleo with free range in the house again even though Ozzie was in. My parents said she'd just kept escaping whenever the door was opened.

She and Ozzie have been touching noses and sniffing each other, which is good news. But the bad news is that this evening they had a stare-off and Ozzie chased Cleo. Then they had another stare-off and were thrashing their tails. Then one of them meowed and one of them hissed, and Cleo chased Ozzie for a short burst before leaving off. Ozzie walked out of the cat flap and Cleo crouched a few feet away staring after him.

I keep telling my parents that they're stressed and we need to give them more space, and telling them that we need to control their meetings more and provide distractions, but my Dad keeps saying "They'll figure it out."

Advice very much appreciated.
 
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rubysmama

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I would say you're probably right to feel they need more space, as the absolute last thing you want is for things to escalate to a fur flying fight. Nor do you want to stress Ozzie out so much that he stops eats, or using the litter box properly, or develops a UTI, which can be caused by stress.

Here's a TCS article on stress in cats for you and your parents to read, just so you'll all know what to watch out for.
Stress in Cats – The Ultimate Guide – Cat Articles

All in all, I don't think things are going terribly, but you might need to take it just a bit slower, as it's better to go slow now, than to have to separate them after an incident and restart at the beginning again.
 
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