Introducing two cats to two cats

rosegold

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Haven’t posted in a long time, but Chilli and Clove are doing well! We’ve recently (2.5 weeks ago) moved in with my aunt and her two cats, and are doing a slow introduction process. Wanted to gain any wisdom from members here.

Some notes:
-The two resident cats here are older (~13), both females, littermates, and both have health conditions to be considered.
-Cat1 has IBD and can only eat prescription food, no treats. Cat2 has hyperthyroid and asthma (including asthma attacks whenever she hisses too much). Both are picky and underweight as it is, so my aunt prefers that we don’t use food in the intro process, to prevent them refusing to eat out of stress / being jealous of my cats’ “yummier” food.

We did scent / site swapping, etc. We’ve gotten to the point of supervised time looking at each other through a baby gate, and try to play/brush/distract each cat on each side.

Chilli—no worries at all. She’s always been great with new cats. I have not even seen her hiss once. She is chill, respectful, and a little timid. She politely watches and then nicely leaves if hissed at.
Cat1—also not really worried. She’s thrown a few hisses but is very chill and self-confident, and only cares about napping and being loved on by people. She barely even glances at the new cats, and does not seek out interaction or care at all when they’re looking at her.

Cat2 and Clove is where we’ve run into some problems. Both have much more active, investigative, curious, anxious, and interactive personalities than Chilli and Cat1. At first both were obviously scared and hissing/puffing/swatting at each other through the gate. Cat2 is still scared and mostly avoids interaction unless tempted over by play or brushing time. But as Clove has become more confident in her own room, she’s gotten much more dominant and pushy, and is regularly right up against the baby gate looking out. When they’re both adequately distracted, there isn’t usually any hissing. But when Clove gets bored of the toy and catnip, she does some pretty intense staring and growling/yowling that has been ending in her aggressively smacking the baby gate between them.

I think if we removed the baby gate at this point, Clove would definitely chase and harass Cat2 (and possibly vice versa, if they were in a different part of the house, as Clove can be a huge wimp). But I’m not sure if we should be allowing them to stare and smack and hiss at each other through the baby gate, or if we should be super intentional about only allowing visual access for them when there’s
ample distraction on both sides. I have worked a lot on making Clove feel confident on her side of the gate, with playtime and treats and catnip and praise, but I’m kind of worried it’s worked TOO well and now she’s an aggressor because of it.

I’m also wondering how Chilli and Cat1 should be included in all this—might it help for those two to have some supervised time without the baby gate, since they’re probably ready for that, so that the other two cats can absorb the calm vibes between them? Or should we take everything at the fearful/aggressive cats’ pace?

Anyway, I’d welcome any insight or ideas for how we should proceed. I know 2.5 weeks isn’t long at all; I just want to make sure we’re going forwards and not backwards.
 

Furballsmom

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Hi, it's been said that you can only go at the slowest cats pace, but honestly I don't know if that applies here.

The two calm cats probably won't have much effect on the other two.

You might try letting them together with supervision and see what occurs ... even if there's catly drama, it might not be as bad as you're thinking it might be, and if it is as bad, you can go back to the baby gate separation. You have all the time in the world :)
 

rubysmama

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rosegold rosegold : Long time no see, for sure. No bearing on your current situation, but just curious, are you back in the US now?

About the introductions, you're right, 2 1/2 weeks isn't long at all. And hissing and growling isn't always a bad thing, as it's just a way for cats to communicate. Is the smacking through the baby gate aggressive? Like puffed up fur? Ears back. Or is it possibly just a form of play?

You mentioned calm vibes, which made me think of Feliway? Some cat parents have found it helpful, though others find it does nothing. But it might be something to consider.
 
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rosegold

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Yes, back in the US!

Yeah unfortunately Clove’s smacking is definitely not playful; she yowls and is stiff and puffed up.

I’ve considered Feliway but my aunt is super cautious about anything that might trigger the asthmatic cat. Need to look into it a bit more.

We did just let Chilli and Cat1 (the two calm ones) meet without the baby gate for the first time, for about 5-10 minutes. They did great! Mostly ignoring each other, after a while carefully approached each other, exchanged a hiss, Chilli calmly walked a few feet away and laid down, and Cat1 walked the other way and resumed her regular routine. If only they could all be this easy!
 

rubysmama

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Awww... sweet Chilli. Always the loving peace maker. :redheartpump:

Again, it is still early times. I know your aunt doesn't want to use food to try to make being around the other cat a pleasurable thing, but maybe try playing with each of them on either side of the baby gate.

Here's a short TCS article on The Multi-Cat Household: An Owner's Manual for Healthy, Happy Cats - TheCatSite that you might find interesting.
 

emocatowner

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Hey I'm in a similar position! I have 2 resident gals and 2 foster fails that I need to introduce! Bonus complication that I also have the momma and siblings that I'm fostering and not planning on keeping 😅

I recently watched a webinar, I think it was this one, where someone asked at the end how to handle multiple cat introductions, they had 3 residents and 1 new cat, with one of the residents being more afraid than the rest. The advice was basically to take it at the scaredy resident's pace, and maybe put him in a separate room while the 2 braver residents get to know the new cat. It makes sense, it's an extra way for the scaredy resident to experience the scent of the new cat and make it feel more like "collective scent"

In your case, it would make sense to have first Chilli and Cat1 together and see how it goes, then Chilli with Cat1+Cat2, then Chilli+Clove with Cat1 (not sure of the order of these last 2, but I think it may be too scary for Cat1 to suddenly have 2 invaders in its new territory, as opposed to just the familiar one and acting like the ambassador between Chilli and Cat2)

Though in general, the way I understand it, if there is a staredown, those cats need to be distracted asap, and if they get to the hissing/swatting phase, that'll be a setback and the introductions need to be dialed back to the previous step. Any negative interaction will make everything take longer, cats tend to remember bad stuff longer and more intensely than good stuff (just like humans, really).

The way I understand it, what you need to do in your situation, is gradually extend the time where they can see each other and be distracted, until you can do at least 5-10 mins. Once you get to the staredown, if you can't distract them, screen goes down. The webinar also suggested training the cats in advance to come when called, so that you can call them as the staredown starts. Then bring them in the same room, for half the time that they were distracted in on opposite sides of the gate, and distract them. If that goes well, gradually increase the time. If it goes poorly, shorten the time and increase more slowly.
 
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rosegold

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Hey I'm in a similar position! I have 2 resident gals and 2 foster fails that I need to introduce! Bonus complication that I also have the momma and siblings that I'm fostering and not planning on keeping 😅

I recently watched a webinar, I think it was this one, where someone asked at the end how to handle multiple cat introductions, they had 3 residents and 1 new cat, with one of the residents being more afraid than the rest. The advice was basically to take it at the scaredy resident's pace, and maybe put him in a separate room while the 2 braver residents get to know the new cat. It makes sense, it's an extra way for the scaredy resident to experience the scent of the new cat and make it feel more like "collective scent"

In your case, it would make sense to have first Chilli and Cat1 together and see how it goes, then Chilli with Cat1+Cat2, then Chilli+Clove with Cat1 (not sure of the order of these last 2, but I think it may be too scary for Cat1 to suddenly have 2 invaders in its new territory, as opposed to just the familiar one and acting like the ambassador between Chilli and Cat2)

Though in general, the way I understand it, if there is a staredown, those cats need to be distracted asap, and if they get to the hissing/swatting phase, that'll be a setback and the introductions need to be dialed back to the previous step. Any negative interaction will make everything take longer, cats tend to remember bad stuff longer and more intensely than good stuff (just like humans, really).

The way I understand it, what you need to do in your situation, is gradually extend the time where they can see each other and be distracted, until you can do at least 5-10 mins. Once you get to the staredown, if you can't distract them, screen goes down. The webinar also suggested training the cats in advance to come when called, so that you can call them as the staredown starts. Then bring them in the same room, for half the time that they were distracted in on opposite sides of the gate, and distract them. If that goes well, gradually increase the time. If it goes poorly, shorten the time and increase more slowly.
Thanks so much for the advice! So we’ve been letting both Chilli and Clove out with Cat1 for long periods of the day (with a bedroom door closed since Cat2 likes to sleep in the bedroom closet). Those 3 are all totally fine! Cat1 is bombproof, haha.

Chilli has also been out on her own with Cat1 and Cat2. Cat2 still gets a little anxious and runs up to Chilli and hisses, but Chilli is very laid-back and gentle, and just calmly walks away or goes to sleep and ignores her. So I’m feeling pretty comfortable
about that as well.

The issue is still with Clove and Cat2. :/ Yesterday I was encouraged, because Clove actually ate some food while watching Cat2 thru the baby gate about 10 feet away, and Cat2 was distracted by petting/brushing, and no hissing at all! I stopped that interaction after Clove ate the food to end things on a positive note.

However, today, their interaction wasn’t great (admittedly it wasn’t planned and probably should’ve been avoided). As soon as they caught sight of each other they both ran towards the baby gate, Cat2 hissing incessantly and Clove meowing loudly and trying to lunge forward at the gate. I immediately took Clove back to her room, but it is discouraging.

These cats are so similar in that they both want to seek out and investigate the threat, but both are too scared to calmly stand their ground afterwards (UNLIKE Chilli and Cat1, who don’t seek out the strange cats, and remain solid and consistent if the strange cats approach them).

Clove seems like more of an aggressor to me here, but I’m not really sure. It’s hard for me to read Clove because she almost never hisses. It’s like she skips the warning signs and goes immediately to yelling, haha. All her life, whenever she’s interacting with something new and scary—whether it’s another cat, a new person, a strange looking object, a loud noise—her immediate instinct has always been to just meow loudly about it.

I’m not sure what the next steps are. I am thinking maybe we should back up / slow down on the visual interaction between them, and instead do more frequent scent/site swapping, and get Cat2 feeling more comfortable with Chilli.
 
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rosegold

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Not sure what to make of the current situation. We’ve been doing ‘viewings’ for Clove and Cat2 several times a day, with two pet gates in between (for extra space, about 10 feet apart) and ample distractions on both sides. At first it seemed like it was going better—much less hissing and yelling, can look at each other quietly, eat snacks and play and get brushed while looking, etc—but Cat2 just does not want to approach the gate on her own. She does not seek out any interaction with Clove, and will only reluctantly and briefly come into view if lured by someone. Clove, on the other hand, is becoming more and more obsessively hyperfocused and frustrated about the other cat. She wants to jump the gate (and would, if I weren’t right there) and constantly cries/scratches at any doors that separate them. To me it doesn’t seem like she has friendly intentions… so I’m worried it’s going downhill. I’m not sure what to do next. Does anyone have any behavioral insights on how they’re acting, or any suggestions?
 

emocatowner

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Not sure what to make of the current situation. We’ve been doing ‘viewings’ for Clove and Cat2 several times a day, with two pet gates in between (for extra space, about 10 feet apart) and ample distractions on both sides. At first it seemed like it was going better—much less hissing and yelling, can look at each other quietly, eat snacks and play and get brushed while looking, etc—but Cat2 just does not want to approach the gate on her own. She does not seek out any interaction with Clove, and will only reluctantly and briefly come into view if lured by someone. Clove, on the other hand, is becoming more and more obsessively hyperfocused and frustrated about the other cat. She wants to jump the gate (and would, if I weren’t right there) and constantly cries/scratches at any doors that separate them. To me it doesn’t seem like she has friendly intentions… so I’m worried it’s going downhill. I’m not sure what to do next. Does anyone have any behavioral insights on how they’re acting, or any suggestions?
Ideally, they should only be able to see each other when they are distracted. At any other time, the door should be closed or the gates covered etc. The association we're trying to make is "good things happen when the other cat is around" (food, play, treats, pets, etc.), and if they see each other when you're not there to drive the interaction, it's more like "neutral or bad things (hisses, growls etc.) happen when the other cat is around, with the occasional good thing (that may not be worth the risk)".

So it's good that Cat2 isn't approaching the gate. That's what you want. For them to ignore each other completely, focusing on the "good thing" when they can see each other, and just going about their normal lives when they can't.

When they are both happy with just ignoring each other while doing "good thing" for 5-10 mins, for several days in a row, no tensing up, just perfectly chill, you can move on to having them do the "good thing" in the same room without the gates, and same thing, they stay together while the good thing happens, then you separate them again. Once they do the "good thing" in the same room with no probs, then you can let them roam for a bit, do their own things, and if they ignore each other, treats and separate (to end on a positive note). If they don't ignore each other, separate them, and the next day, let them roam for less, or stick to "good things" only for a while longer.

It's quite the process, and it can take months. I know it's a struggle, it's quite painful with my own 2v2 introductions, but progress is slowly being made.
 
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