Smoother Cat Introductions

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, shares tips for introducing cats to each other.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: May 13, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: My mother-in-law died two weeks ago. She had an 11-year-old Turkish Angora cat named Hannah. The cat is deaf, and has early onset thyroid disease. Because no one wanted to take her, we did. We have two pit-bull labs, an 8-year-old male tabby cat and a ball python. I brought Hannah home four days ago and put her in a huge kennel. I thought it would be a good way for all of the animals to see and smell each other. 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 them?

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.

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

Hannah needs her own sanctuary room with no other resident animals. Her room should be equipped with a litter box, feeding station, comfortable bed, toys and if possible a window to look out of. The sanctuary room will help Hannah adjust to her new environment, feel safe and will let her get to know you and your family before meeting the rest of the gang.

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.

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.

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

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!!!

O    PO, MA

5/24/2011 6:08:33 AM


Lisa    Daphne, AL

5/20/2011 7:31:01 PM

I have a similar but more complicated situation. I had to take in my daughter's four adult cats. I already had my own four adult cats, so I put her cats in my bedroom, bathroom, and office area on one end of my house. I tried introducing one of the new females to my four along the lines of what was suggested in this article, and she went after whoever was closest, so the newer cats are still separate from the others. I know I can't keep the two sets of cats apart indefinitely, and I've introduced rescues successfully into my home over the years, but I don't how to introduce that many cats to each other. I would love some suggestions for putting my two cat families together. Thanks.

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