You’ve decided it’s time to add a new cat to your life. But what about the cat or cats you already have?
Whether a spunky kitten or a frisky adult cat is moving in, here's advice to help minimize the hissing and scratching during the transition and to help your new and present cat(s) become BFFs -- best feline friends.
Today, shelters are still visited by tearful mothers-to-be with cats in tow, having made their appointments after well-meaning relatives or old-school obstetricians have convinced them that keeping a cat risks the health and well-being of their unborn child. Don't succumb to these old wives' tales. Knowing the facts will help provide ways to safeguard both fetus and feline.
Before you get another cat, think about the personality of the cat or cats you already have. Diana L. Guerrero author of Resources for Crisis Management for Animal Care Facilities, says the decision to add a new cat should be based on your present cat's personality and its predisposition toward other animals.
Next, consider whether you are ready to be excluded (temporarily) from the pack.
Christine Pellicano, owner and operator of Aunt Christine's Little Dog House in New York, says, “Always be prepared to lose a bond with a cat that has been an only cat when you introduce a new one. The cats tend to seek each other out to your exclusion for a while -- sometimes an entire year. You can feel left out."
Prepare Your Home and Cats
Preparing your home and your other cats will take time, consistency, and patience. “Prep the home by selecting an area for a neutral zone," Guerrero says. "If you have a screened-in porch, this can be an ideal location because the cats can view and smell each other without the chance of an altercation.”
Steps to take include:
Provide room to retreat. Have cat trees and shelves on multiple levels as areas of escape and retreat for safety.
Add another litter box. This stops litter box avoidance and marking tendencies that may occur with the addition of a new cat.
Get scratching posts. At first, your cats may claw more. So have scratching posts available.
"Give the new kitty a towel or toy that belongs to your current cat. It should have your cat’s scent on it," says Michele Hollow of South Orange, N.J., author of The Everything Guide to Working with Animals.
"When you bring the new cat home, do so in a cat carrier," Hollow says. "When the carrier is empty, let the established cat explore it." Ignore any signs of hissing or attacking the empty carrier. Remain calm and relaxed.
Pellicano suggests reassuring your long-time cats by playing with them and giving them positive reinforcement with the new toys and tasty, vet-approved food.
Never leave a newer cat alone with an existing one during the introductory period. Most importantly, don’t change your routine.
“Cats are excellent at picking up nervousness," Hollow says. "Before you pet your present cat, wash your hands to get the new cat scent off your hands. Let each cat know how much you love them. When the hissing stops from separate sides, supervise an introduction.”
It takes several weeks for cats to acclimate to new surroundings, so have a separate space for the new cat to live for at least a week, Pellicano says. “Observe both cats. If there’s less growling and hissing and if neither cat goes off his litter box or loses his appetite, you can likely allow them to meet. Be sure you are present to observe for a day or two.”