Cats are usually territorial creatures. Their sociability with other animals depends on several influences including genetics, whether they were raised by an experienced mother with siblings or alone, and whether they have had social contact with other animals from a young age. So it can sometimes be a rather unpredictable affair bringing a new cat home to live with an existing resident.
Introducing cats to cats
If you're bringing a new cat into a home that already has a feline resident, here are some tips to help make introductions safer and more successful for the cats (and for you!):
- Your chances of domestic harmony are greatly increased if one is a kitten or juvenile, and if both cats are neutered.
- Keep them apart to start with. Put your new cat into a separate room that will be her home for a settling-in period of a few days, with her own food and water bowls and a litter tray.
- After settling your new cat in her room, leave and let your resident cat smell your hands and clothing while talking softly and stroking her gently.
- Ask your vet about synthetic pheromone spray and plug-in diffusers to use around the house, especially in rooms where your cats are living, as these can help them relax and accept the presence of other cats.
- Accustom your resident cat to the smell of their new companion. During the first few days mix your newcomer's smell with that of the household. Swap bedding, back and forth over the first week and, if either cat reacts in an aggressive manner to the scent, offer reassurance by associating the new scent with a positive experience, such as a tasty treat.
- Once both cats appear comfortable with the other's scent you can allow them to explore each other's territory, but still not meet.
- Finally, when both cats seem relaxed in the other's area you can start formal introductions. Begin with having one cat securely housed in a mesh pen, or a carrying basket and allow the other free range to explore and sniff her through the mesh for a few minutes. The cat inside will be protected but will also be prevented from running away which might otherwise provoke an excitable chase. Expect a certain amount of staring, hissing and ‘fluffing up’ body language as they get used to each other, but don’t react. This is normal. Don’t let them try to come to blows through the mesh. If this happens, stop the introduction and separate them for a while before trying again.
- Repeat this procedure, alternating which cat is in the carry basket, in as many rooms around the house as possible, and only proceed to the next stage once they react to each other calmly.
- The best time for a first ‘free’ meeting is at mealtime. Put their bowls at far ends of the same room. The desire for food will hopefully override any wariness.
- Don't force them to approach each other, and allow plenty of room and high surfaces for them to keep apart if they wish.
- Separate your cats immediately after feeding them together the first few times, and keep them separated until the next meal. At subsequent feeds you can leave them together for progressively longer periods until they become relaxed in each other's presence. Slowly your resident cat will associate the company of the new pet with their favourite food and both will hopefully see each other as friends rather than competitors.
- Share your time equally with the cats so that your scent is also integrated with theirs.
Hopefully your cats will at least be prepared to tolerate each other. If you are lucky, they may become friends, playing with, washing and grooming each other, but such close relationships may take time to evolve.
If your cats are consistently aggressive towards each other, separate them and speak to your vet about your options, which may include being referred to a feline behaviourist for specialised help.
If, following this and despite your best efforts, you end up with two feline personalities that just don't mix, it may be kinder to both of them to consider re-homing your new cat with a family that can provide her with a warm welcome from every family member.
Introducing a new cat to a dog
Even if a resident dog doesn't get terribly excited at the sight of a new cat or kitten, great care should still be taken at first introductions. Over-exuberant play from even the smallest dog can harm a kitten, so mutual respect needs to be encouraged and the benefits of sociability and friendship discovered.
- Your first aim is to help both pets relax in each other’s company. Make sure your new cat or kitten is safely housed in an indoor pen and that your dog is safely restrained on a lead.
- Reward your dog when he is calm and stay calm yourself throughout, even if he barks excitedly.
- Introduce them under controlled conditions in a variety of rooms.
- Once they are calm and relaxed, allow the cat to walk out of her pen or basket but keep your dog on the lead. Stay calm, encourage tolerance and friendly investigations, and continue repeat introductions in as many rooms as possible on a regular basis.
- Supervise them until you know they will get along and only let your dog off the lead in the cat’s company once you’re sure that he won’t react or try to chase her. Make sure your cat has access to nearby high surfaces out of the dog’s reach.
- If you have more than one dog, it’s easier to introduce your cat to one dog at a time.
- Make sure your dog does not have access to your cat's litter box because as a scavenger, he may consume the contents.
- Separate cats and dogs at mealtimes so both can eat in comfort.
- Make sure your cat gets plenty of opportunity to chase, stalk and pounce on moving toys so that she leaves your dog's tail in peace!
The most important consideration is safety. Seek professional advice from your vet if your dog is persistently excitable or aggressive around the cat (or vice versa) and discuss a referral to a specialist canine behaviourist.