Smoother Cat Introductions

Four tips from certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger will ease the awkwardness of introducing cats to each other.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Updated: August 13, 2015, 1 p.m. EST

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Q: We recently took in my mother-in-law's 11-year-old Turkish Angora cat, Hannah. The cat is deaf, and has early onset thyroid disease. We have two pit-bull labs, an 8-year-old male tabby cat and a ball python. I've kept the new cat in a huge kennel for the past four days, thinking all of the animals could see and smell each other that way. Every time I let her out of the kennel, she attacks my cat. My male tabby keeps trying to make friends and she goes after him. Is there a better way to introduce cats to each other?

A: I do not recommend introducing cats to each other by placing the new cat in a crate so that the resident animals can check out the newcomer. Confining the newcomer to a crate is highly stressful. Threatening sounds and smells surround the new cat that she can’t escape. Often cats, when finally released from the crate, respond aggressively toward the resident animals because they feel threatened and stressed. Additionally, confining the newcomer to a crate does not allow the cat to familiarize and adjust to her new environment.

Here are four secrets to stress-free cat introductions.

1. Confine the new cat to a room and then gradually introducing the cats to each other, one scent at a time. Stress-free cat introductions can take a month or longer while the cats remain separated from each other.

New cats need their own sanctuary room with no other resident animals. Equip the sanctuary room with a litterbox, feeding station, comfortable bed, toys and if possible a window. The sanctuary room helps new cats adjust to their new environments, feel safe and will let her get to know you and your family before meeting the rest of the gang.

2. Start introducing new cat Hannah to the other resident cat only after Hannah is comfortable in her sanctuary room and is bonding to you and your family. The first step in the introduction process is doing pheromone/scent exchanges. Use a couple of clean socks or small towels and gently pet Hannah on her cheek with one sock, and your resident cat with another. Place the socks with the other smells on it in areas the cats frequent. Don’t place them near litterboxes, feeding stations or in their beds. Do pheromone exchanges twice a day, each time with a clean sock or towel. It may take a week or so until both cats are comfortable with the other’s scent-laced items, not displaying any anxiety or aggression around them.

3. The next phase involves food. The goal is for the two cats to eat at the same time on each side of the closed door. Note that the cats are still separate from each other and have not physically met. Start by placing the feeding stations a distance from the closed door where both cats feel comfortable eating. Every day, gradually decrease the distance of the feeding stations to the door by one inch until the cats are comfortably eating near each other, separated by the door.

4. Introduce a new activity after the cats are happily eating all of their meals near each other with the closed door between them. Slip a double-ended toy under the door and encourage them to play with each other. If the cats aren’t the playing type, then extend the food phase and go to the next activity.

It may take a month or longer to get to the last phase. This is the phase where the cats see each other while they are eating something they both adore. Move both feeding stations a distance away from the door. Hannah’s feeding station should be at the far end of the room, but with a view out the door.  Move the resident cats’ feeding station away from the door as well. Give each cat their meals; open the door and stand next to it while monitoring them. As soon as they’ve finished eating, close the door. If there are no signs of aggression or anxiety, increase the time the door is open after the cats have eaten by one-second increments. Watch both cats’ body language, at the first sign of anxiety of aggression, close the door and proceed slower.

After Hannah and your resident cat are at least tolerating each other, gradually introduce the dogs to cats Hannah and your resident tabby. Hannah doesn’t need to meet your ball python.
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Reader Comments

Libby    Cocoa, FL

8/14/2015 5:46:51 AM

I recently got an 11 week old kitten from a rescue group where she was living comfortably with several other cats so she was used to being around other cats. I have a 6 year old fixed male who missed his sister whom we lost in March of this year. When I brought the kitten home I put her in a large kennel with a small litter box, a kitty cube so she had a private place, and her food and water dishes. There were hisses and growls for the 1st two days and on the 3rd day, I brought the kitten out and let her play for a short time. The two cats almost immediately began to play together. By the 4th day the hisses had stopped completely. By the 5th day the kitten would not tolerate being inside the kennel any longer. She screamed bloody murder whenever I put her in there. I still used the kennel during the day while I was at work until the 6th day and from then on, she was completely free to roam the house. That was a month ago. The cats are best friends now and play and groom together all the time. I think using the kennel made the introductions much easier than putting the kitten in a room all by herself.

Elle    san diego, CA

8/13/2015 7:22:47 PM

This makes good sense unless your clever cat Sally can open doors and she decided to go visit the new kitties at midnight! Sally loves other cats and she let the cats out! They all went for a gallup together. NOT the recommended method!

April    Portland, OR

11/25/2013 4:54:12 PM

I am taking care of 2 cats for just a month, I will have an empty room for only a week, what is the best way to do this within a week?

Barb    Milwaukee, WI

5/26/2011 6:52:51 PM

Perfect timing! I will be introducing my 12 week old maine coon kitten to my 2 older cats at the end of July. This information has given me some extra ideas that I have not used before in this process and I intend to use them. THANKS!!!

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