According to an article by the Animal Humane Society,
“The typical adult household cat will accept a new kitten much more easily than he will accept a new adult cat. Cats are by nature very territorial, and your cat may resent an adult feline intruder, attacking him or retreating under the bed as a result. He may, however, feel less threatened by a relatively helpless 8 week old kitten. Even so, you will want to monitor your cat’s behavior with the newcomer until you’re sure he will not harm the kitten. Follow the introduction protocol below for maximum success.”
Of course, I read this only AFTER introducing Remus Mewpin (Egyptian Mau mix- 2 months- grey) to my household, already occupied by Sissy- dog- 14, JoAnne- cat- 18 (or 16. Idk she’s old and hates everyone ), and Morgana-black cat- 1 yr & some months.
But I digress.
Let’s go back to how I came to bring Remus home.
Early last week, a friend mentioned that her neighbors had a litter of kittens they wanted to adopt out. Having consumed a couple of wines (or beer), I became putty, helpless against the charm that comes with four tiny legs, whiskers, and a tail. After texting my boyfriend (since a new addition would mean a grand total of 4 cats when I move in) and talking with my mom (since it would live with me in our house for a few months til I move), I confirmed the adoption. They say that the waiting game is the hardest. I’ll just confirm that right now. However, then the day came: yesterday, actually, when I could go pick up baby cat and bring him home. (except at the time, I thought he was a girl, so I was all ready to name her Rowena…SURPRISE.)
Once I brought him into the house, his curiosity was piqued. Unfortunately, so was Morgana’s. While she wasn’t aggressive or angry, she’d glare from afar and skulk around, hissing and yowling softly whenever he mewed (which honestly, was a lot. So tiny, so loud…). Since I wasn’t sure of his attitude around people or other cats, I set up temporary housing for baby Remus’ first night. A cat carrier, left from the early days of my childhood, when we had cats that outweighed most small dogs, was outfitted with a fluffy blanket, food, and water, then kept on the floor in my room. The blanket that was used to transport Remus home was set out in the middle of the floor for Morgana to investigate (see step 2 below), although she was more interested in the carrier & Remus himself.
The night was (happily) uneventful, with Remus sleeping away, occasionally waking up and mewing softly a couple of times, then falling back asleep. Morgana, wary of this invader, spent the night skulking around, making unhappy noises. After reading this great article from Modern Cat, I learned that her sounds weren’t out of the ordinary, and didn’t mean the introduction was headed down a bad path. Her hisses were soft and dry: there wasn’t any spitting, and she never bared her fangs, arched her back, or puffed up. She was also making a low, rumbling humming sound, which, turns out, is called a “yowl.” This is much better than a growl for a few reasons:
- A yowl (a longer, more drawn-out moan) denotes worry, discomfort, or territorial concern (or also mating issues, but that was obviously not what was happening here), where a growl is usually a sign of fear, anger or territorial threat.
- A growl is usually accompanied by defensive behavior in the cat: arched back, twitching tail, ears back, puffed fur. Morgana, on the other hand, was showing the feline signs of fear. Naturally timid, this didn’t surprise me: since Remus is a brand new cat, I was hoping Morgana would tend towards spooked than angry. It’s much easier to calm and comfort a frightened cat than an angry one. The Humane Society says, “If your cat is hiding, but healthy, leave him alone. He’ll come out when he’s ready. Forcing him out of his hiding spot will only make him more fearful. Make sure he has easy access to food, water and a litter box.” (Read this article for more info on stressed or frightened cats)
- Morgana didn’t continue to hiss or yowl, but only responded when Remus made noise. This basically means she’s responding to him, letting him know that it’s her turf. Remember that ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ Nike ad from the 90s? It’s sortof like that, but cat speak.
This morning was a bit tense (on me). Morgana yowled softly, glaring at me, and ran downstairs when I opened my door, taking a piece of my heart in her tiny paws. I took Remus out of the carrier and changed the blanket (he’d spilled part of his water all over it. Whoops. baby.), gave him fresh food & water, and followed Morgana down the stairs. After making coffee, I tried to lure her back into loving me, but to no avail. Glaring at me, she hissed and walked away, leaving me to collapse in the middle of the floor like I’d been shot. “PLEASE LOVE ME AGAIN.” My mother, coming upon this scene, me sprawled in the middle of the floor, Morgana shunning me in the other room, lovingly observes “You’re pathetic. She hates you. It’s all your fault.” Thanks mom!
Of course, she’s actually fallen in love with the grey ball of fluff, and I have a feeling that it will be a struggle to get her to part with Remus when I move in a few months.
This is where the step by step begins. While researching (I’ll post the links I found the most helpful below the article), I found that there are several stages of integrating a cat into a household with already established pets. From the cats’ perspective, the newcomer has just been dropped behind enemy lines, while the other cat sees an invader on his/her territory. The most important thing is to go by the pace of the most stressed-out cat. That would be Morgana, in this case.
- Isolation: Cats, while they are not solitary animals, are territorial. Bringing a new cat into another cat’s territory spells trouble. This is why you need to make it clear that the newcomer is not invading the entire space. Often times, this is called a “sanctuary room.” Giving the newcomer a separate room will help keep the current cat more comfortable with the other’s existence, as well as a way to keep the cats distanced until the new cat can be examined by a vet.
Before I left for work, I moved his litter box, toys, food/water, bed, etc. to the guest room across the hall from mine. This sets up the stage for the next three steps of the integration process.
- Familiarization-Scent: Pheromones! You know the rubbing thing that cats do? Twirling around your legs, rubbing their cheeks and face on things- They’re marking their territory with their pheromones. The “friendly” pheromones are located on a cat’s face- that’s why cats only do this when they’re comfortable. The goal of this step is to get the cats used to each other’s friendly scent. This can be done by switching the cat’s beds, blankets, or rubbing a clean piece of cloth or clothing (gently) on your cats’ faces and then switching them (ie- cat a’s blanket/cloth is placed in cat b’s room, and vice-versa). Like I said above, I left the blanket that Remus was wrapped in on the drive home in the middle of my bedroom floor last night. I’m going to do the same tonight, although this time, Remus will be in his own room, and Morgana and I will be in my room (as normal).
- Familiarization- Room Swapping: This is a more immersive form of scent familiarization. For an hour or so a day, switch the cats rooms. This allows the cat to explore on his/her own, and investigate the other cat’s scent.
- Training- Positive Association: Essentially positive re-enforcement, have the cats do something enjoyable while they’re within sound/scent of each other. For example, place their food bowls on opposite sides of a door, or place a small cloth with the other’s scent by the other cat’s food bowl. However, you want to keep this part short. You don’t want to leave the cloth by the food bowls, or leave their food bowls by the door. Otherwise, the cats may tire of it, and just not bother approaching to eat, which is an entirely different problem.
- Familiarization- Visual: Once the cats are used to each other’s smells and sounds, let them take a peek at each other: mesh, a gate, a cracked door, etc. Yesterday, Morgana and Remus briefly met face to face when I brought him home, and via the slats in the carrier overnight, but other than that, there’s been no physical meeting. It could take up to a week or longer for the cats to make it to this step. Keep these visual visits timed, a few times a day or so over several days or a week. Like I said before, it all depends on how the most stressed-out cat is doing. With Morgana and Remus, I’m going to leave this step til next week, keeping them scent/sound only for about a week, just in case.
- Short Visits (supervised): Once the cats are used to seeing and smelling each other, they should be ready to have short, supervised visits where they can actually interact with each other. These visits should be in a neural room. This will be hard in my house, since we have an open floor plan, but we’ll manage. I’ll probably end up using the bathroom. It’s located in between my room and the guest room, and is a high traffic area, so it’s neutral territory.
- Long Visits (supervised): From here, you can see the finish line! Once short visits are accepted/tolerated, you can extend them. While still keeping the cats supervised, always be on the lookout for aggressiveness. This also goes for the short visits- If one or both cats starts exhibiting anger or aggression, separate them back to their rooms, and try again at a later date when they’re calmed down.
- Short Visits (unsupervised): After the cats are used to being around each other and don’t show any signs of attacking one another, it’s alright to leave them alone. This is when it’s okay to leave the doors open, and have them mingle normally around the house shorter periods of time.
- Full Integration: Once the shorter visits are taken as more normal by both cats, you’ve made it! By this time, both of the cats should be able to act normally around the other, without perceiving any threats. While still needing to keep an eye on their interaction, it should be more casual, and not constant supervision.
I’ll be posting occasionally under the ‘Tail of Two Kitties’ series about how Remus & Morgana are doing, and letting you know how each of the steps are, or are not, working! For now, I’m just getting constant text updates from my sister on the attitude of my cats. Lol (For those curious, Morgana is cranky, but less spooked and more curious. Remus is still happily oblivious, eating and napping the day away.)
Here are some of the great resources I found while I was doing my research. Each of them vary slightly, because of course, each cat is different, so some might not need as many steps as others.
“How to Introduce a Second Cat.” Pam Johnson-Bennett. http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/how-to-introduce-a-second-cat/
“Adding a New Cat to Your Household.” Animal Humane Society.
“How to Introduce a New Cat to an Old Cat.” Animal Planet.
“Introducing Your New Cat To Other Pets.” Humane Society.