What Is a Scent Exchange? Will it Help Me Introduce Cats to Each Other?

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains how to introduce cats using a scent exchange method.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: March 30, 2012, 9 a.m. EST

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Q: I just adopted a sweet 3-year-old Domestic Shorthair cat named Tom. My other cat, 7-year-old Chloe, has lived with me her whole life. My friend said I could immediately introduce the cats to each other by petting each with a separate towel and then massage both cats with the other’s towels. I wanted to check with you before doing this. Right now the cats are separated, with Tom in his own room.   

A: I do recommend scent exchanges when introducing cats to each other — but not the way your friend describes. Rubbing each cat with the other cat’s scent can add stress to an already stressful situation and can prolong the introduction time because the cats cannot effectively retreat from each others scent.

Picture yourself dabbing on a new perfume that is pungent and cloying. You cannot escape the smell — it’s with you wherever you go. It is similar with cats. Cats need to have a choice of interacting with the other cat’s scent on their own terms and when they feel safe. Cats also need to have their own rooms, safe places where the other cat can’t go, until after they are successfully integrated. And, yes, there are always exceptions, but why take the chance?

An effective low-stress scent exchange starts with petting each cat on the cheek with separate soft towels or socks. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks that produce friendly pheromones, which help cats get to know each other on a non-adversarial basis. Exchange the towels or socks and place the pheromone-scented items in each other’s sanctuary areas. (Don’t place them near litterboxes or food sources.) When the cats feel secure, they will investigate the socks.

Make these types of scent exchanges twice a day, each time with a clean towel or sock. Keep the cats separated from each other. The only contacts the cats should have during this early introduction stage are through the pheromone-laced items.

Scent exchanges are the first phase in introducing cats to each other. After the cats accept each other’s smells, introduce another fun activity — eating on each side of a closed door. It builds from there, adding one activity at a time. There are four phases in the cat introduction process. Progression through the phases depends on how the cats respond to each other. Successfully introducing cats to each other can take one month or a few months. It depends on the responses from the individual cats.
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What Is a Scent Exchange? Will it Help Me Introduce Cats to Each Other?

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Reader Comments

Alaina    CATcity, CA

4/5/2012 9:24:58 AM

That is very helpful!

Bill & Lorraine    Manhattan, NY

4/4/2012 8:06:16 PM


Penny    Pable, IN

4/3/2012 7:51:40 PM

Very good information.

Cathy    Hubbard, OH

4/3/2012 4:27:44 AM

Great advice.

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