Cats aren’t always as tolerant as dogs in welcoming new members to the household. How you go about introducing the new cat to the resident animals can make a big difference in how they will get along over the next few years. It is important to make sure that the animals are introduced to each other in a friendly, relaxed and non-threatening manner.
For cats, first impressions of others seem to be very important and can color their relations with other animals for years. As a result, first encounters must be carefully managed. Proper introductions of new cats to resident cats can prevent conflicts that will be much more difficult to resolve than to prevent.
Gradually Introduce Cats To Each Other
The most important rule is to go slowly. A general rule of thumb is that unfamiliar animals should never be left together unsupervised to “work things out” on their own. Do not just bring a new cat into the house and see what happens when the resident cats encounter him. In rare cases, this may work out, but more likely than not, the cats are likely to hiss and growl at each other, and be either afraid, aggressive or both.
A better strategy is to immediately confine the new cat in one room at first, such as an extra bedroom, with all the necessities (food, water, bed, scratching post, toys and litterbox). Encourage the new cat and the resident one to approach the closed door from either side so they can smell and hear each other. As they do so, offer each special tidbits or bring out a favorite toy. The idea is for each to associate “good things” with the other, and to become accustomed to one another gradually, rather than all at once. Next, switch who is where. Put the resident cat in the bedroom and allow the new cat to explore the house for several hours up to several days.
The next step would be to prop open the bedroom door an inch or two, and allow the cats to get a glimpse of one another. Continue to use treats and toys, and do not allow any closer encounters until the cats are relaxed while looking at each other, without being afraid or threatening. If either cat becomes fearful or threatening, stop the encounter and shut the door. Try the introduction again sometime later after they have calmed down, and don’t open the door as wide. After several of these sessions, the cats can be allowed together for brief interactions. With most cats, this technique of brief exposures works well.
Make Initial Introductions Brief
Make initial introductions brief (5-10 minutes) but let them go longer and give the animals more freedom with each other as they become more relaxed around each other. Don’t be tempted into leaving the animals together for long periods of time if the first few short introductions go well. Gradually work up to longer periods. Don’t punish animals for threatening each other or fighting. Simply remove them from the situation. The punishment may make them more aggressive with each other in the future.
Be patient. Several short introductions over a several days or weeks works better than a few longer sessions. If the animals haven’t been fully integrated within a week or two you may need professional help. Taking the extra time and effort in the beginning to insure that relations start off well may prevent fighting problems later that can be dangerous and difficult to resolve. As with most other behavior problems, prevention is the best medicine.
By Suzanne Hetts and Daniel Estep
Rocky Mountain News
Drs. Hetts and Estep can be contacted on the web at www.AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com or by phone at (303) 932-9095