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.
Make Sure You’re All Ready
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.”
Deciding to Add a Kitten or an Adult Cat
Older cats tend to be more territorial.
Experts often recommend pairing adult cats with kittens so the older cat can teach the kitten as it grows. “Kittens mature into better adjusted adult cats if they receive the proper behavioral cues from another cat or dominant figure (you)," says Los Angeles vet Patrick Mahaney, VMD.
Some experts, such as Pellicano, feel differently. “It just isn't fair to the elder cat who deserves all the quality time he has earned with his person," Pellicano says.
If a cat has always been shy, bringing a frisky new kitten home might have a negative effect.
"It is better to match energy levels of the cats," rather than focusing on age, Guerrero says.
Consult your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist about the cat match that’s right for your household.
What You Can Do to Help the Cats Get Along
It's up to you to structure the environment and set the groundwork for your cats to live a long, happy life, coexisting in harmony.
Guerrero says it's best to integrate slowly and stay out of the way. “Unless you fear injury, it is critical not to interfere because the cats need to sort things out without humans complicating matters.”
If fights erupt, Guerrero suggests squirting water at the cats’ faces to break up the scuffle -- but only from a safe distance. Never try forcing them together to get along.
When Another Cat Is a Bad Idea
Experts agree you shouldn't get another cat when:
- Your first cat is much older, sick, or antisocial with other animals or people
- Your finances are unstable
- You don't have quality time to care for the added cat
- You can't maintain proper sanitation and cleanliness
- There is no one to cat sit for vacations or emergencies
Adding another cat can be fun and enjoyable. But you should avoid the experience if you aren’t ready for the responsibilities required to care for another life.