Introducing your new cat to resident pets
Some cats are more social than others. For example, an eight-year-old cat who has never been around other animals may never learn to share its territory with other pets in the household. But an eight-week-old kitten separated from its mother and litter mates for the first time might be glad to have a cat or dog companion.
Cats are territorial, and they need to be introduced to other animals very slowly so they can get used to each other before a face-to-face confrontation. Slow introductions help prevent fear and aggression from developing. Here are some guidelines to help make the introduction go smoothly.
1 Confine your new cat to one room with its litter box, food, water, and a bed. Feed your resident pets and the newcomer on opposite sides of the door to this room, so that they associate something enjoyable (eating) with each other’s smells. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until your pets can eat calmly while standing directly on either side of the door.
2 Swap the sleeping blankets or beds used by all the cats so they each have a chance to become accustomed to the other cats’ scents. You can even gently rub a towel on one animal and put it underneath the food dish of another animal.
Once your new cat is using the litter box and eating regularly while confined, let it have free time in the house while confining your other animals to the new cat’s room. This switch provides another way for the animals to experience each other’s scents without a face-to-face meeting. It also allows the newcomer to become familiar with it new surroundings without being frightened by the other animals.
3 Next, after the animals have been returned to their original designated parts of the house, use two doorstops to prop open the dividing door just enough to allow the animals to see each other, and repeat the whole process over a period of days – supervised, of course.
4 It’s better to introduce your pets to each other gradually. You can expect a mild protest from either cat from time to time, but don’t allow these behaviours to intensify. If either animal becomes fearful or aggressive, separate them, and start the introduction process once again with a series of very small, gradual steps, as outlined above.
5Try to keep your resident pets’ schedules close to what they were before the newcomer’s arrival. Before bringing a new pet home, check with your veterinarian to be sure all your current pets are healthy. You’ll also want to have at least one litter box per cat in separate locations. Make sure that none of the cats are being “ambushed” by another while trying to use the litter box, and be sure each cat has a safe hiding place. If small spats (hissing, growling, or posturing) do occur between your cats, you shouldn’t attempt to intervene directly to separate the cats. Instead, make a loud noise, throw a pillow, or use a squirt bottle with water to separate the cats. Give them a chance to calm down before reintroducing them to each other.
6You’ll need to be even more careful when introducing a dog and a cat to one another. A dog can seriously injure and even kill a cat very easily, even if they’re only playing – all it takes is one quick shake to break the cat’s neck. Some dogs have such a high prey drive that they should never be left alone with a cat. Dogs usually want to chase and play with cats, and cats usually become afraid and defensive. In addition to using the techniques described above to begin introducing your new cat to your resident dog, take these steps:
7 If your dog doesn’t already know the commands “sit,” “down,” “come,” and “stay,” begin working on them right away. Small pieces of food will increase your dog’s motivation to perform, which will be necessary in the presence of a strong distraction such as a new cat. Even if your dog already knows these commands, work to reinforce these commands.
8 After your new cat and resident dog have become comfortable eating on opposite sides of the door and have been exposed to each other’s scents as described above, you can attempt a face-to-face introduction in a controlled manner. Put your dog’s leash on and have it either sit or lie down and stay. Have a second person offer your cat some special pieces of food. At first, the cat and the dog should be on opposite sides of the room. Lots of short visits are better than a few long visits. Repeat this step several times until both the cat and dog are tolerating each other’s presence without fear or aggression.
9 Next, allow your cat some freedom to explore your dog at its own pace, with the dog still on leash and in a “down stay.” Meanwhile, keep giving your dog treats and praise for calm behaviour. If your cat runs away or becomes aggressive, you’re progressing too fast. Go back to the previous introduction steps.
11Although your dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with your cat is unacceptable behaviour, it must also be taught what is appropriate and be rewarded for those behaviours, such as sitting, coming when called, or lying down. If your dog is always punished when your cat is around and never has “good things” happen in the cat’s presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat. Never allow the dog to chase as once this behaviour is initiated by the dog it changes from play to hunting and the outcome can be very unpleasant.
12 You may want to keep your dog at your side and on leash whenever your cat is free in the house during the introduction process. Be sure that your cat has an escape route and a place to hide. Until you’re certain your cat will be safe, be sure to keep the two separated when you aren’t home.
13 Kittens are in more danger of being injured or killed by a young, energetic, or predatory dog. A kitten will need to be kept separate from an energetic dog until it is fully grown, except for periods of supervised interaction to enable the animals to get to know each other.
Seek professional advice immediately from a veterinarian or animal-behaviour specialist if introductions don’t go smoothly. Animals can be severely injured in fights, and the longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve. Punishment won’t work and could make things worse. Most conflicts between pets in the same family can be resolved with professional guidance.