Need Suggestions For Introducing 5 Cats! (And a rabbit)--XXL (Sorry!)

littleangel7700

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Sorry this post is so long; I didn't know how much background info is needed. Feel free to just skim.

Long background story made as short as possible: I lived with my mom in a 2 story, 4-bedroom house with our 3 cats. When I met my now-husband 6 years ago, I moved out of my mom’s house, and he and I have been renting a 1 level, 2-bedroom condo since. I did not bring any of the cats with me. My husband and I have adopted 2 cats of our own. We also have a rabbit that he had when we met. Our landlord recently gave us 60-days notice that she is not going to renew our lease, and we have to move out by July 1. (40 days from today.) The housing market sucks because of the pandemic. So, the plan is that my husband and I will move into my mom’s house with her, and she is going to look for a new house/condo (since she wants to downsize anyway), and we will buy her house. If a miracle happens and she is able to find a house before July 1, great. She moves out, we move in, no problem. But that is looking less and less likely each day. So, we are going to have to introduce our cats to hers.



Let me tell you a little about all the cats. My mom has 3 spayed females: Skylar, 9y; Oreo, 11y; and Gretchen, 15y. All three of them were strays that we brought in from our backyard. (Thus, ages are approximate.) All of them lived at my mom’s house while I was living there.

We had just brought Oreo in about 8 months before I moved out, and she was truly feral. She was just getting to the point where she would sit at the other end of the couch when I was sitting there, when I moved out. Since then, she has warmed up very much to my mom and is a total lap cat with her. But when strangers come over (and that includes me), she runs and hides until she’s sure everyone has left. Otherwise, she is a sweet girl and gets along well with the other two. She is on a dry food urinary diet to try to prevent and hopefully reverse a developing problem that was caught early. (She refuses to eat wet food).

Gretchen is the oldest and we think is actually Oreo’s grandmother. She is super sweet and loving, always looking for attention. She likes to curl up with the others at naptime. She is still quite active, but she doesn’t like to engage in play with the other cats. She prefers a human with a toy. She has some health problems that are being monitored. As long as we’ve had her, she’s had a slightly irregular heartbeat, which she is on medication for. She has always had stomach issues, which cause fairly frequent vomiting, so she is on a sensitive stomach diet (dry and canned). Also, because of this, she is very skinny and only weighs about 6 lbs. And, anytime she gets stressed, she rips the fur out of her back. Day-to-day this isn’t much of a problem, and she’s usually okay when I come over. But if anyone else, including my husband, comes over, or there is any change in her routine, she starts pulling fur out. It’s a bit odd that she does it around my husband, considering she actively seeks out his lap as a nap spot.

And finally, Skylar, the “baby” of the group. She is a very sweet cat, loves people, loves attention. She likes to try to engage the other two in play sessions, but the other two generally aren’t interested. She's the one that scratches everything and gets into all kinds of mischief. And, she is one of those cats that has a never-ending appetite and is overweight, even though her food intake is closely monitored. She is the largest of the girls at 9 ½ lbs.

All of my mom’s cats are on different diets, and they are meal fed a set amount twice a day, usually at 5 & 5. They each have their own spot they go to eat.



As far as the two my husband and I have, they are both neutered males: Sandy, 6y; and Kai, 4 ½. Sandy was born at a no-kill shelter, and we adopted him at 7 mos old. He really likes being around people and other cats, and though he is a little wary at first, he warms up pretty quick if he doesn’t sense a threat. We adopted Kai from a local animal control, where he was picked up wandering the streets as a stray. He was neutered and EXTEMELY friendly, so we think he must have belonged to someone at some point, but there was no chip, no collar, and no one claimed him. They thought he was about a year old when we adopted him. He literally wants to be picked up by any person as they are walking in the door, whether or not he’s ever met them. He is super chill and very easy to handle. He became best buds with Sandy almost immediately. These two are both big boys (both weigh around 16 lbs., and they are not overweight), and like boys, they like to have a couple rough and tumble play sessions together each day. My two boys both eat the same diet (which is completely different than anything my mom’s cats eat). They get meal fed a set amount twice a day, usually at 9 & 9, and they both have their own spots they go to eat.



(I will also note at this point our rabbit. He is a neutered male, Tater Tot, 8y, weighs 4 ½ lbs., and is very energetic and in great condition. However, he can sometimes be vicious. He has claws and teeth and not only knows how to use them, but will not hesitate to use them. Our 2 cats are scared of him. As long as he’s caged, everything’s fine. But whenever we let him for playtime, the cats either get as high off the floor as possible, or they run and hide in another room. Tater Tot doesn’t take crap from anyone, animal or human. He’s never drawn blood on the cats, but he has definitely let them know, in no uncertain terms, that he is the boss.)



Okay, so, there you have the situation and the players. Now help!!! I have had nearly a dozen cats in my life, so I’ve done the whole introduction thing many times, and I only had issues with the first one. I also worked in a cat-focused veterinary clinic for a few years when I was younger. And I know all the Jackson Galaxy tips. But I have never had to try to integrate two completely established households. I’m going to talk to our vet (who also sees my mom's cats), but the soonest we can get in is the third week of June, which is very shortly before we move. Like I said, I know all the tips and tricks to integrate one new cat into an established household, but I’m in very new territory here. So any tips, tricks, hints, or advice would be appreciated. I’m thinking I should start soon, maybe exchanging things from each household to get them all used to each others’ scents, although they have pretty much all smelled each other on the three of us humans for years. Part of my worry also, is that my mom will be moving out at some point, and taking her cats with her. I don’t know how much stress that will put them under. They’re living in their house just fine, then all of a sudden, all these new people and animals start living there, and then suddenly they’re back to just the 3 of them with my mom, but in a completely new house with new smells. Especially poor Gretchen, with her fur pulling. And Heaven help us if the boys become best friends with the girls; separating them could be a nightmare!



My husband thinks we should try taking our cats, one at a time, over for a few meet and greets before we move in, but I feel like that’s maybe not such a good idea, and it would just prove to be stressful for our cats. But then again, Kai is a seriously laid back dude, so I don’t know. The plan is that my husband and I will bunk in one of the spare bedrooms, and we’ll keep our boys in that room during the introduction period. My mom’s cats aren’t really allowed in that room at all, so it shouldn’t smell heavily of them. They don't sleep in there or anything. So maybe take our cats over to explore the room a few times, but not have any interaction with my mom’s cats? I don’t know. I need help. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and thanks in advance for any advice.
 

ArtNJ

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None of our guides (which are not so different from the Jackson Galaxy guides you have read already) really cover the complicated multicat intro. Nor have I every really seen any of us claiming to be an expert, although some people have done something like this. (I have not done anything more complicated than introducing two kittens at the same time to a grumpy older resident.) I think if there is no one pet likely to pose extra problems, it could be something as simple as using the standard process as though Group A and B were one cat each, although I would certainly keep the rabbit well out of it. If there was one particular cat that was likely to be a problem, maybe that is when you would want to get more creative and stage it more. In other words, if you can see a particular area of trouble coming, you could consider a more complicated multi-phase process taking advantage of the geography of the home to the extent you can, but failing that, maybe just try a standard process sans rabbit and adjust if needed. I mean, maybe cats are hard wired so that even a big aggressive rabbit won't cause stress like a dog would, but I would treat the rabbit like a dog just to be safe and assume it could make the process harder if not done separately at the end.

You are correct, meet and greets do not make much sense. Cats tend to travel poorly unless raised to it, and introductions always cause stress at first. Doing only a brief meet and greet would give you and the cats the stress with none of the progress. Who knows, maybe making a bad memory would even make the actual process harder, but I think its more just a pointless stress issue.
 
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Kieka

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I would personally not introduce the animals from the two households. Keep your cats in a room and, ideally, the rabbit in a different room and keep your Moms cats out of those two rooms. If her plan is to move out that will eliminate the potential fire keg of going through introductions. Its a little cramped for all the critters for a short term, but it avoids all the stress of dealing with each other. Even with the pandemic, homes and condos are being sold so I don't think it will take long. My neighbor sold her house and the new neighbors moved in just three weeks ago.There might be some space related stress but that is usually a quick adjustment.

My cats are good with my rabbit as long as there is a fence between them. My girl really does try to kill the rabbit without the fence while my boy just pats him repeatedly on the head to get him to play. So we keep a pet fence around his area so the rabbit and cats have a degree of separation. Once you are settled in the house I would either give the rabbit a room where the cats don't go or put a play pen fence around his play area to keep the two species separate spaces. He'd probably be less aggressive about his space if the cats aren't in it even when he is in his hutch. I know my bun gets very sensitive about his space so we don't let the cats into it.
 

gilmargl

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If there is insufficient space to keep the two sets of cats and the rabbit separately, you are going to have to play it by ear - which is what most of us have to do when it comes to introducing longer term fosters and strays to resident cats (rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, etc). At least you do have very good knowledge about the individual cats and the rabbit, which will serve you well as you watch how they interact.

I don't think the timing of mealtimes is too important to a cat whose just had to move home or to cats suddenly subjected to new members of the household. Ensuring that they only eat from their own dish may be a nightmare.

Perhaps, I'm the worst person to advise you - although I have had at least 100 cats and kittens who have come and gone during the past 5 or 6 years, I have only had one serious problem when I introduced a recently castrated senior cat who was tired of being isolated, to my ladies, one of whom became quite traumatised. He went to a new home and she recovered!

So, I wish you the very best of luck.
 

moxiewild

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I agree completely with Kieka. That was absolutely my initial instinct as well.

There’s simply no need to stress the cats out more than necessary - especially Gretchen and Oreo, who are already going to have to deal with an ongoing invasion of territory and drastic change in routine (followed by an eventual move). No matter what, this situation is going to be extremely stressful for those two, and measures to reduce that stress should be thoroughly considered.

It will be a bit stressful for your cats too, of course, and possibly your rabbit too depending on accommodations - but your guys seem much better equipped to handle it, and a commitment of effort from you and your husband to ensure everyone is receiving adequate attention and exercise (especially Tator Tot) will go a long way.

One on one introductions can take weeks and months. Multicat introductions are even more likely to take months. Throw in a another species with a diva attitude, and two cats with severe anxiety, and chances are high you’re looking at a long road ahead of you.

Given that, it seems the odds are that your mom would move out before introductions were even over or shortly after integration - in which case, you must really ask whether putting everyone through that stress is worth it.

Is there a reason you feel like you must integrate?

Also, have Oreo and/or Gretchen ever been medically treated for their anxiety? Have they ever been on Zyklene? Gabapentin? Kitty Prozac?

Your mom may want to speak to their vet about possibly treating them with something just temporarily to help them deal with you guys moving in, and then their move with your mother later on.
 
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