Met Your Match
You’ve found a new addition that you believe would be the perfect fit for your existing cat(s). This is an exciting time, but it can also be a bit nerve-wracking! Setting the stage for a smooth transition is crucial because, while cats are social creatures, they are also territorial. Introducing them requires finesse and patience. Here are some tips to ensure they coexist peacefully.
When you bring your new cat into your home, it’s essential to provide them with their own sanctuary room. This room serves as a quiet, safe space where they can orient themselves, relax, and avoid immediate encounters with the resident cat(s). This is not a mere suggestion; it’s an absolute necessity! The sanctuary room can be any room in your home with a door. The new cat doesn’t need a lot of space initially; what they need most is safety and security. While a bathroom may suffice in a pinch (for those in studios or open concept spaces), it’s not ideal.
Prepare the sanctuary room for the new arrival. Avoid leaving it empty, as there’s nothing more frightening for a cat than having nowhere to hide. In addition to existing furniture, ensure there are hiding spots like under the bed, in the closet, or a cozy cubby.
Once you’ve set up these hiding spots, provide essential items such as a litter box, a scratching post, a bed, and toys. Use new items, not those belonging to your resident cat(s). The new cat is already dealing with sensory overload from different scents and may feel vulnerable. Place their food and water on one side of the room and the litter box on the other, as cats generally do not eliminate where they eat. An uncovered litter box allows them to see their surroundings. For an even smoother transition, if you can discover the type of litter they were using before adoption, it’s ideal. You can gradually transition to your preferred litter over time.
The eagerly anticipated day has arrived. Bring the new cat, safely enclosed in their carrier, directly to the sanctuary room that you’ve prepared in advance. If it’s an adult cat, open the carrier and allow them to decide whether they want to come out immediately or take their time. Don’t be surprised if they’re hesitant; avoid trying to force them out. It’s essential to let them make this choice. If you’re welcoming a kitten, they may likely dart out to explore their new environment right away. Begin playing and engaging with them immediately to create a positive association.
After introducing the new cat to the sanctuary room, leave and check on your resident cat. If the kitten or new cat starts crying, this can unsettle your resident cat(s), so it’s a good idea to have a trusted person available to keep them occupied during this time.
During this initial period, there are several steps to follow before any face-to-face contact occurs.
Step 1: Sock/Scent Exchange
Begin transferring scents by gently rubbing the forehead, cheeks, and even the pads of the new cat’s feet to collect some of their pheromones. Leave these scented items, like socks, in each other’s spaces for them to investigate at their own pace. If the cats show no interest or exhibit signs of hissing, remove the items temporarily to let the scents fade a bit before trying again a few hours later.
Step 2: Meal Time or Treats at a Closed Door
Initiate meal times or treat sessions near a closed door. Never place their food too close to the door but rather keep it 4 to 6 feet away. If they appear uncomfortable eating during this initial phase, move the food further back. Gradually move it closer every few days if they show no signs of fear or anxiety.
Step 3: Exploring Time
After a few days of scent exchange and enjoyable closed-door meals, when the new cat appears comfortable, it’s time for some exploration. Place your resident cat in a separate room with some catnip or treats to keep them occupied. If you have multiple resident cats, ensure they get along without any redirected aggression before allowing them to be together in the same room. If there’s any tension, they should remain separated.
This exploration phase allows the new cat to roam around, depositing their scent throughout the main part of the home. It’s also an excellent opportunity to establish a scent trail. Keep this initial outing to around 30 minutes, or an hour if the new cat is comfortable being outside their sanctuary room. If they display any signs of stress, return them to their safe space and try again the following day.
Step 4: Gated Interactions
After several successful non-visual interactions without stress or fear, it’s time to progress to gated interactions. Repeat all the previous steps, but now use an opaque sheet instead of a closed door. Gradually expose them to each other for short visual sessions while associating these encounters with positive experiences like food, play, or praise.
The goal is to eventually achieve full visual exposure where both cats enjoy their time together, exhibit relaxed body language, and maybe even attempt to play. It’s even better if they show minimal attention to each other, indicating no perceived threat.
Step 5: Short Supervised Visits
Only after multiple sessions without any stress or frustrations, it’s time for short, supervised visits. Always conclude these visits on a positive note, leaving them wanting more.
Note: Every cat is an individual and progresses at their own pace, just like introductions themselves. Understanding their body language and interpreting their communication cues during these interactions will help you anticipate their needs and provide a safe and happy introduction.
Article by Krista Schulte
I am a fear-free, force-free, and positive reinforcement Cat Trainer and Behaviour Specialist in Canada. I volunteer in shelters and work on feline enrichment and socialization, and behaviour modification for TLC cases. I threw myself into the Cat Behaviour community and began a path of rigour study, gaining various certificates to attain this goal and will always continue my education. After helping get cats out of the shelters, I transitioned to a Behaviour Counsellor with Toronto Cat Rescue (still with them) to keep cats from going back to the shelter. I am passionate about these cats and their welfare.