Territorial Newcomer: Am I Going Too Fast?

coneja

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Hello all, looking for some advice/thoughts on cat introductions. I've been reading threads on here (including working through Furmama22's thread which has a lot of helpful info in it) and have also been trying to follow Jackson Galaxy's introduction instructions by watching his videos and reading his book. With all the information I'm gleaning, I think I might be moving a bit too fast but would love to get some insight on the process as my new cat, Little Moo, seems to be more territorial than my resident cat, Max and we've had a few setbacks...

I adopted Little Moo on 4/25 from a friend who runs a local rescue. She is a 5-6 year old female who was pregnant (she was spayed after being rescued so lost the kittens) and abandoned at a completely trashed trailer with four other cats. It sounds like she was territorial to the other cats (completely understandable) around the food neighbors were leaving out when they realized the cats had been abandoned and before the rescuers came. In the week before I got her, she was living in a small room with the other cats she was rescued with, and while I saw some tension between them when I went to meet her (cats keeping their space, tail flicking, nervous glances at each other, etc.) I didn't see any blatant warning signs that she wouldn't get on with other cats. She is incredibly sweet and loveable with me, loves her pets and snuggles and is just a very people-oriented cat.

My resident cat, Max, is 15-16 and has always been a shy guy. I adopted him at 11, and he and my first cat Luna (who I lost to transitional cell carcinoma last December) tolerated one another just fine. They weren't cuddlers but were very good at time sharing and aside from the very occasional swat, got on well doing their own things. Max isn't a cuddler and is easily overstimulated with petting but I can tell the warning signs and don't force anything on him. He is more independent, but still likes spending time near me.

When I brought Little Moo in, I kept her in my bedroom with all her resources including a cat tree. Max was curious, and there was some limited visual access when I opened and closed the door. We did the feeding ritual on either side of a closed door then progressed to a pet gate with a towel over it that over time I lifted/"cracked" to let them see each other. Little Moo gained a lot of confidence on her side of the door with play and has progressed to a quite playful cat who no longer "caves" under the bed but hangs out on the bed or floor.

I live in a one bedroom apartment, and though Max never slept with me, he used to come into the bedroom for his nightly pets and then leave. I have set up a floor bed on a foam pad in my living room, and every other night sleep in the living room with him so he doesn't feel "shut out". Whichever cat I spend the night with, I try to spend some extra time in the evening with the other cat. Little Moo is good at playing; Max is a bit more low-key. He likes to sit on his cat tree and smell the outside air or go on the patio. He will play with smaller toys like the laser or a small mouse on a wand, but larger things like feathers intimidate him somewhat. He also does NOT like being picked up, so while I did some scent swapping via blankets, when I tried to site swap he was VERY unhappy about being put in the bedroom even if I was with him. We tried a couple times to site swap and it just seemed like it was more stressful for him than it was positive so I stopped. Eventually I let Moo into the living room to meet Max, trying to keep her distracted with treats and toys. She is very treat oriented, but less focused on toys than Max. We had some positive/okay interactions when they were face-to-face, like nose sniffing before Little Moo pulled back and hissed then walked away (which was fine), and Max had some tail-tip twitching. These were short, supervised visits, trying to keep things positive but occasionally Moo would fixate on Max and start stalking him, and not in a playful way. Usually I could redirect her with treats (not toys though) and if it seemed like things were going to get out of hand, I'd either pick her up or lead her back to the bedroom and call it a day.

We WERE at the point where I was feeding them both about 6 or so feet apart in the same room, and doing twice daily treat sessions that way too. As long as they were both occupied that way, they were okay, though Max has never been a big eater (eats his raw over an hour or more). Little Moo eats all her canned food in one sitting generally. I think all of this had happened within the space of a little over a month (so, kinda fast, I am realizing now.) There were a couple instances of Moo chasing Max, one when he got too close to her food dish even though it was finished, and once we had a swatting/hissing match when Max was sitting under his cat tree and Moo, after making a completely normal circuit by him without incident, suddenly came back and beelined for him and the dust-up started. I picked her up and put her in her bedroom, door shut to reduce stimulus, and she immediately went after a toy mouse, before running under the bed. In this instance, it SEEMED like she redirected her aggressive energy with Max to play? We had another chasing incident when Max got too close to Moo's mostly empty food dish and Moo suddenly came out from the bedroom where she'd been hanging and stared down Max. I had turned away to grab my coffee mug, then looked up and she was staring at him over the food dish. When he ran, she chased.

I felt I was damaging Max's confidence and their relationship by allowing them to interact this much, because it was getting hard to keep the experiences 100% positive, and Max started running away when I let Moo out of the bedroom for supervised visits and that was a huge red flag to me. I felt like I was failing them, and my stress was elevated, which I KNOW feeds into their stress too and is NOT helpful. This last week and a half, after talking with a cat-experienced friend, I walked things back. We are now back to being fed on either side of the pet gate with full visual access, though Max really prefers to be most of the room away from the gate and Moo. We've been doing twice daily treat sessions with the pet gate keeping Moo separate from me and Max, and those have been going well. No signs of aggression that I can see from either cat during these sessions, though Max is nervous and usually ends the session first. I am also giving Little Moo liquid Vetri-Science Composure in her food once a day (thiamine, L-theanine and colostrum calming supplement).

I have been occasionally letting Little Moo out in the evening, only after meals and play when energy is a bit reduced, and only when Max is already safely up on his cat tree, his chair, or the back of the couch. And this has been mostly fine, as far as I can tell. Moo will come sit on my lap on the couch and seems somewhat okay with Max anywhere from three feet (on the back of the couch) to 6+ feet away. She does do tail twitching and swishing and stares but by holding her and petting her head (full body pets induce more tail swishing) she eventually settles and they don't look at each other and fall asleep.

Like I said, I've felt a bit reassured reading others' experiences on here, but I'm unnerved by Little Moo's signs of aggression. The stalking, staring, and tail twitching/thrashing are all points of concern to me. Max is not a confident cat, and while I don't need them to be friends, I am hoping they can co-habitat without being separated. There have been some positive signs, like the same-room-sleeping-sessions, and on occasion, Moo has looked up at Max on his cat tree, chirped, then continued on her way without tail trashing or staring. They both rub their faces on a particular box corner at different times, mingling their scent. As I write this, Moo is on my lap in the living room, throat and belly exposed napping while Max has settled on a chair 5-6 feet away and is grooming/resting.

I guess after writing all this, I am wondering... am I still moving too quickly with letting them sit with me in the same room? Does Little Moo's territorial nature sound troubling or is this relatively normal and with continued positive exposure, it will be okay? I am hopeful we will get there but also afraid we won't. Trying to tell myself that it hasn't been that long (just reaching the two month mark since I brought her home) and we will get there. I guess I am looking for reassurance and guidance, if anyone has some. I will also continue to educate myself by reading other threads on here and trying to apply the advice I'm seeing there. Thanks to anyone who reads this, I feel better just reaching out and trying to organize my thoughts around these two kiddos.

Edit: Added photos. Little Moo is the black and white, Max is the polydactyl flame point.
 

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ArtNJ

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Hmmm. Introducting an adult cat to a senior cat is HARD, and doubly so in a one bedroom. A kitten wouldn't have been much better -- senior cats of this age just don't do well with newcomers. Usually anyway -- every cat and situation is different and one can get lucky. Frankly, I would have tried to talk you out of this. That said, it can work out ok with time, and its not clear to me how its going, because you are operating under the mistaken assumption that there is some perfect process where you have only short interactions that are positive. That just isn't true, and this isn't the purpose of an introduction process. The purpose is gradual desensitization, which means they get used to each other and see nothing terrible is happening. This takes time. Time with the gate there with total visual access, and when ready, as much time together as possible, only intervening if it looks like they are going to actually fight, not for hissing. Super short meet and greets, positive or not, are stressful for you, and I'm not sure they do anything at all.

I look at it this way. You know where else gradual desensitization is used? With humans that have phobias. Like the therapist gradually gets you used to spiders with say 60 minute sessions where he moves the spider closer each visit. What he doesn't do is 5 minute sessions where he has you eat ice cream so you link something positive to the spider. And I think 60 minutes is actually quite short when it comes to cats.

Look, I can't say that positive experiences don't help, or that short sessions dont help. However, I think they are a lot more trouble then they are worth, and based on a myth of a perfect process where the cats dont need to work through stuff. With adult cats, needing to work through stuff on their own at the end of your process is normal. You just need to get them to where they wont actually full out fight. Highly unlikely there is any process you can do where there wont be hissing and stress when unlimited face to face is allowed.
 
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FeebysOwner

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I think given the age of these cats - and, what would seem to likely have been a pretty ugly existence for Moo before you adopted her - 2 months is a short period of time. It doesn't sound terribly bad at this point, and it seems as if there are times Max doesn't appear overly-intimidated by Moo's presence. You want him to not feel unconfident and freak out over her presence, and you want her to understand she that it is a 'no-no' to attack Max.

I would keep 'control' of Moo when you are having the two cats in the same room. In other words, do what ever you can to keep her from going after Max. It would also be helpful if you could use something like a bathroom - a room other than Moo's "home" to place her in for a short time out (like a couple of minutes) when she has gone after Max. Using her home base as a time-out location can make her feel confused about understanding the difference between being removed from the area because she has attached Max vs. being placed back in her home base just because it is time to do so.
 

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Hello! I just wanted to thank you for reading my thread! My kitty Hawthorne sounds a lot like your Max (insecure and not particularly cuddly; easily overstimulated; but a good boy overall) and I want to say I understand what you're going through! The folks on this forum are very insightful and helpful and I wouldn't have made it this far without their help!

Our introduction has been a very slow process (as I'm sure you have gathered from the thread) and, even though I feel a bit of despair at times, really looking at it month over month I can see that changes have happened. It's just very slow, with two cats who both have some issues (Florie is declawed and insecure too, at least around Hawthorne). It has helped me to remove any thoughts of time-frame from it, and just say to myself "this will take as long as it takes."

I'm not always good at remembering my own wisdom, hahaha. And I know it's stressful! So just keep doing your best. It sounds to me like you're really trying hard to be conscientious and caring and loving and that's wonderful!
 

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Also I lost my first cat (and Hawthorne's companion) to cancer too, last August! It's an awful thing to go through!
 
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coneja

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First off, thanks for the replies, everyone!

ArtNJ, I had hoped Moo being around 5-6 (assuming she would be done with most of her "young cat crazies") would be okay with senior Max... I suppose I'll just have to see how it shakes out. Max and my previous cat were only a few years apart so maybe that's part of why they took to each other fine. I understand the idea of gradual desensitization, and I guess I was sort of thinking it goes hand in hand with the positive association? In that, they're seeing each other at the pet gate while getting treats and getting used to being relatively close to one another without something bad happening, since I am having control of the situation. But it sounds like you would lean more towards much longer sessions with them together? I've been able to do an hour or two in the evenings (though not everyday) with Max on his chair or favorite cat tree and Little Moo on my lap. They are not really interacting directly, but are sharing space, and Moo does her "circuits" around the room before settling in.

Feeby'sOwner, thanks for the reassurance. Max will venture up to the gate occasionally when I am in there playing with Moo, though not often to the point of being right there staring through. He seems mostly content with just doing his own thing for the most part. A couple of times, when Moo has settled in my lap in the living room, he has approached us and climbed on the back of the couch where we are sitting, just a couple feet away from us. He has also fallen asleep on my floor bed behind the couch with Moo on my lap, which I took as a good sign because its on the ground and not necessarily in a "safe" high space. But these are only occasional instances. And sometimes Moo seems like she wants to jump down and confront him, but just putting a hand on her chest has been enough to keep her in place and then she will settle back in once he's out of sight or settled down himself.

Moo is somewhat scared of the bathroom because it's a room she's not familiar with (doesn't go in there often) and she hides behind the toilet the few times I've put her in there for the lackluster/failed site swapping. But the bathroom is next to the bedroom, I can block off that area of the room with fire grate so she has access to the bathroom and bedroom but not the living room and maybe that would make her less frightened if I had to put her in there for a "time out"/calm down session?
 
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coneja

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Furmama22, I was surprised reading your thread how similar Max sounds to Hawthorne in that regard! 😄 I haven't finished your thread yet because there is a lot of info in there! I also felt this last week, taking a step back for a moment and just not trying to put a timeline on it (I recall from one of your posts that you were trying to look at it as a "WHEN it happens", not "IF it happens" and that's helpful... even if I'm not 100% sure it will work...) Just trying to let them take as long as they need but I am a bit concerned my place is too small even though it worked for my two previous kiddos (introduced in the same apartment some five or six years ago when Max came aboard.) Thanks for the kind words of encouragement! Hoping yours are doing well as well (sounds like some hiccups but nothing catastrophic when I "skipped" ahead a little in your thread but I'm wanting to read it start to finish!)

Yeah the cancer was real rough. Still miss that girl a lot. It was a hard thing to go through. My heart goes out to you and Hawthorne too for also having to go through it. :redheartpump:
 

ArtNJ

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How long did you have the pet gate uncovered for before starting visits?

My general belief is that you go with full visual access preferably until you stop getting any signs of stress/hostility, and then when you pull the trigger and let them interact, you do so fully, only aborting if it looks like true violence is imminent. Maybe you do a few hours the first time, and decide they aren't ready for when you can't supervise, thats fine, but in general, when one pulls the trigger, if at all possible, the goal becomes to le them work through stuff.

My thought is that even if short visits might have some benefit, in practice there are problems. Like say there is some hissing growling and "charge swat" which is *not* the same as a fight -- the intent is usually to back the other cat off and gain space. If you let them work through it, then in time things can improve. If you terminate the visit, what have you accomplished? Are you going to backup even though the gate w visual access was no longer doing anything?

Another poster here has said "no blood no problem" which I think goes too far. Real fights erase progress, so you do want to work to avoid those. But I do think the reality is that its not realistic to think that a fully managed process can do all the work without the cats needing to do some work. They can eventually get past the stuff that is short of a real fight.

You are using the word territorial, but you are in a one bedroom. What is likely going on is that the 5 year old is not comfortable yet, and is trying to get some space by backing off the older cat. Sometimes cats do seem to truly act territorial, but here I wouldn't use the term, as in a one bedroom this early in the process, I think its fear/discomfort with the other cat being so close, in space the 5 year old thought was safe.

Whether you backup and do more time with a gate, I can't say without more information. Just saying, its not abnormal to have problems at the final step.
 
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coneja

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All right, thanks for elaborating. I would say they were restricted with visual access the first week or so, then we moved to a fire grate (which wasn't secure) so I went to a pet gate. Moo is not inclined to jump it, BUT when I'm not he or when I'm sleeping, I do shut the bedroom door. Maybe I put up one of those door screens so I don't have to shut the door and "shut down" visual access during good chunks of the day/night. Or heck, maybe I should just pull the trigger and buy a swinging screen door to install semi-permanently so I have security but they have unfettered visual access 24/7.

That is completely fair and a good point about typecasting Moo as "territorial". I will change my thinking around that. :)

Have to head out to work but will update more later, and will try and have them sharing some space tonight/this evening. Moo is pretty easily distracted by treats which is REALLY helpful.
 
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coneja

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I think one of my hang-ups is not wanting Max to feel pushed around or attacked because he is my old man... But I think some of that comes from guilt/worry of introducing another cat and changing his life to a massive degree... But like you said, they are going to have to work through some stuff, and there will be some discomfort on all sides. I am totally okay with hissing and the occasional swat; I have usually seperated them when there has been chasing and the one time we had both of them batting at each other in a confined space under the cat tree.
 

ArtNJ

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I think one of my hang-ups is not wanting Max to feel pushed around or attacked because he is my old man... But I think some of that comes from guilt/worry of introducing another cat and changing his life to a massive degree... But like you said, they are going to have to work through some stuff, and there will be some discomfort on all sides. I am totally okay with hissing and the occasional swat; I have usually seperated them when there has been chasing and the one time we had both of them batting at each other in a confined space under the cat tree.
This is unfortunately super common with senior cats, that rarely stick up for themselves and don't adjust quickly. On the plus side, once the five year old gets comfortable, she might just leave the older cat alone, which will speed up his adjustment. When the newcomer is a kitten, sometimes the problems really last for a long time and only get better very slowly, since the kittens don't necessarily stop trying to play, and the older cat doesn't necessarily adjust to that.
 

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I think one of my hang-ups is not wanting Max to feel pushed around or attacked because he is my old man... But I think some of that comes from guilt/worry of introducing another cat and changing his life to a massive degree...
It is a legitimate worry, and I would feel the same. Think of it like this - you have an 85 yo semi-disabled grandparent living with you, and then for whatever reason you take on raising your sister's 4 yo old child, who is thinks it is fun to play games on "great-grandpa". You aren't just going to wait for the child to grow up in the hopes they will stop on their own. You are going to try to work with the child to make them understand that they should be nice to 'great grandpa' and leave him alone when he doesn't feel like being bothered.
 
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coneja

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I am hoping she will leave him be- we will have to see. The stalking doesn't seem play based but I know it can be hard to tell with cats.

I had for a couple months fostered a younger cat with Max before and yeah, just wasn't a good fit because the younger cat needed CONSTANT entertainment and play or he'd try and play with Max and Max wasn't having it. I should have known better but at the time sort of was hoping for the best and forgot how much energy younger cats have. The younger guy ended up going to a different foster parent before being adopted and that was much more fair for each cat. I had hoped Little Moo being 5-6 (best guess based on teeth wear, could be older or younger) would put her in a grown up enough state not to bother Max. She plays quite a bit with her wand when the energy level in the home spikes (in the morning and when I come home) but she settles pretty quick as well. I suppose time will tell, and there's no magic way to tell before then. Maybe I need to look into getting a two bedroom apartment and getting us some more space. (Not that I will expect everything to get suddenly better that way, but more space never hurts.)

I don't want the old man to be unhappy -and at the moment, he doesn't seem to be based on his behavior- but if I can get us to a space where they tolerate each other and Max is okay with that, that would be amazing because I would love to give Moo a great home too.
 
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coneja

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Let Moo out into the living room a bit this morning (still a short period of time, 10-15 minutes) keeping her focused on me with treats. Max, sitting on the living room floor, surprisingly didn't run when she came out, probably because instead of bolting out in excitement, she was following the treats I was dropping. Anyway he was fine with is sitting three feet away and both kitties getting treats. Max's tail tip was twitching very slightly and slowly. When he got bored of treats he made a little puff sound and walked away to the patio. I kept feeding Moo treats and he came back inside, sat a bit from is and did squinty eyes and a slow blink (which Moo never saw, she was completely focused on the treats in my hand.) During the treat feeding when they were close together, she did some quick glancing at Max then back to treats without staring. So at least treats > Max.

I won't be doing a lot of work with them over the next couple days because we are about to get hit with very high heat (for us in the PNW anyway) and I'm kinda freaking out about keeping the cats cool so my anxiety is high. I'll resume with more together sessions after this heat passes us by...
 
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coneja

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And as I was writing that post, I was in the bedroom with Moo on my lap, and Max came up to the gate sniffing. Moo started tail twitching and staring but didn't try to get up to charge him at the gate.
 
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coneja

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Our heat wave finally broke about two and a half days ago, so I'm turning my attention from wiping the cats with wet paper towels back to introductions! 😂

Starting slow again, still doing treat sessions still in AM and PM because even if it's not long enough to get them used to each other in a significant way, I still think it's good bonding between me and the cats and something they look forward to. I started leaving the bedroom door open at nights with just the pet gate in the door way (necessary due to heat) and Moo never jumped it and I never heard any disturbances.

Last night I let Little Moo roam the living room a bit while Max was up in his tree. Se didn't stay long, went back to loafing in her bedroom. (I THINK because an owl was making noise through the open window and she wasn't cool with that, though Max could care less.) Anyway, her demeanor seemed calm.

This morning she has been out in the living room where Max is a lot and seems to be doing well. She has made several circuits around, passing within 3-4 feet of him and doing the look-look away. Her tail has been about halfway up to three quarters up. The couple times she seemed to focus on him, I tapped her gently on the back and she redirected her attention to me and her tail went up. Max for his part is sitting still but seems okay moving between places cautiously while keeping an eye out for her, but he isn't running anymore. Both cats were comfortable enough to sit on the floor and groom themselves at random points as long as they were far enough from each other. Little Moo actually laid down on the floor (not sprawled or loafed but not crouched either- doing the sphinx lay) which I think is the first time she's done that? Whenever she "relaxes"/settles in the living room it's been in my lap only. She's also been chasing imaginary spots on the floor and doing short zooms in the "transition area" between the bedroom and the living room. Not quite ready to totally abandon herself in play in the main part of the living room but I will work on expanding that comfort zone with play, because I think feeling more comfortable in the living room will hopefully make her see Max as less of a threat. Them's the thoughts, anyway.

Oh and she also got in Max's new favorite bed and took a sniff. I think that was a good sign too.

Negative signs would include that she's still tail whipping sometimes when she's in the bedroom with me and she sees Max moving around out in the living room. But she also tail whips when she is getting lots of full body pets and she's in lovie-demando-mode, so I think it's an overstimulation outlet. But when she's in the living room her focus on him seems less intense.

After about an hour or so roaming around, she's gone back to the bedroom willingly on her own so I'm going to call it a morning. ☺
 
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