Why is my new kitten biting and hissing?

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, provides instructions for transitioning a kitten from a shelter to a new home with resident cats.

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Q: I foster abandoned cats and kittens until they are ready for adoption. Recently, I came across a 5-month-old male kitten in a vet kennel, waiting for a home. This particular male presented me with a problem that I have never dealt with before. He was very sweet all by himself, but when I brought him home, he turned on me. I can pet him one minute, and then he will hiss and try to bite me, as he does with my other cats. I have two very calm cats that I use to socialize the cats I foster, and it usually works well. However, I cannot get this kitten to relax. What should I do? If send him to a shelter they will put him down.

A: It sounds like this little one is biting and reacting out of fear. My assessment is based on your description of his sweetness at the shelter and then his subsequent metamorphosing into Cujo after bringing him home and introducing him to your resident cats. There’s too much activity and change for this kitten.

Many cats are frightened when they first come home from the shelter. Some don’t do well with change and need time to adjust to the unfamiliar sights and smells of a new home. Every cat is different. Some adjust within hours, and others can take days, sometimes weeks until they feel safe. Cats have their own schedules. Most of the time, their schedules don’t coincide with ours.

Instead of forcing the new kitten to interact with your resident cats, confine him to a room where there are no other animals. Make sure there are boxes or other places for him to hide. This confinement room will be his safe sanctuary for a while. Provide him with a comfortable place to sleep, plenty of food and water, two clean litter boxes, things to climb on and a way to look out of a secure window, if possible.

Don’t attempt to pet him or pick him up. He needs time to feel secure. Instead, sit in the room with him, talking, reading and singing to him. When he’s ready, he’ll come to you. Use bribery and coercion. Find a yummy, irresistible snack for him. Whenever you go into his room, toss a couple of treats in his direction. Eventually, he’ll associate you with the food and will come to you for treats and attention.

Hold off on introducing him to the resident cats again until he feels safe and he’s bonded to you. Take your time. It may take a few weeks until he is integrated in with your two feline social ambassadors.

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Why is my new kitten biting and hissing?

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Reader Comments

Pat    Rochester, NH

9/8/2015 7:53:13 AM

Helpful but the issue isn't the new kitten with my resident cat. They were OK with each other by the 4th day, playing through the gate closing off the sanctuary room for the new kitten (who is guessestimated at about 1 yr). The issue is it runs and hides from ME, as if it has no trust whatsoever with a human being! Brought her home 10 days ago from the SPCA where she resided in a large room of other cats and people going in and out all day. When I do get near her, she hisses and snaps at me - was bitten twice by her this weekend after I gave her freedom to the rest of the house and inside porch but needed to pick her up today to move back into the house (as she wasn't willing to come in on her own to eat and it was 24 hours since she had eaten). She hides every time I come into view; so I wonder if it would work for me to even sit in the room as you've suggested. She was willing to let me hold and then pet her the first day or so but now she is reacting more violently toward me if I try that than when I first brought her home last week. I put her back into the sanctuary room this morning with grates across the door so she and my current cat can continue to interact. Never had an adopted cat act like this when I've brought them home. Amy advice is much appreciated!

c    eugene, OR

7/29/2009 7:57:25 AM

THIS WAS SO HELPFUL. WE BROUGHT HOME TWO KITTENS, WE WEREN'T REALLY PREPARED TO TAKE ON, BUT OUR DAUGHTER'S FRIEND HAD 17 CATS AND KITTENS COLLECTED BY HER PARENTS AND IS TRYING TO GET THEM ALTERED AND UNDER CONTROL SO WE TOOK TWO OF 14 KITTENS.
WE HAVE ONE VERY SWEET OUTDOOR CAT WHO ADOPTED US AND LIVES IN OUR OFFICE, AND A RESCUED JACK RUSSELL MIX WHO ORIGINALLY THOUGHT EVERYTHING SMALLER THAN HIM WAS DINNER. HE HAS ACCEPTED OUR CAT AND OUR CHICKENS BUT HAS NEVER ACCEPTED OUR RABBITS. HOWEVER, WE ARE DETERMINED TO MAKE THIS WORK.
ONE OF THE KITTENS HAS BEEN VERY SWEET, BUT THE OTHER HAS ACTED AS IF SHE WERE FERAL HISSING AND BITING WHEN WE ATTEMPT TO SHOW HER THE LITTER BOX. FROM READING THIS, I FEEL CONFIDENT THAT IF WE ARE RESPECTFUL OF ALL OF THEIR MOODS AND NEEDS, AND MAKE EVERYONE FEEL SECURE AND LOVED, THEY WILL REALIZE THEY ALL HAVE A PLACE.
THAN YOU.

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