Lasting Impressions: Introducing Your New Cat

 

A Proper Introduction is Critical!

To successfully integrate your new cat in your home, nothing is more important than a proper introduction. A rushed or problematic introduction can lead to behavior issues for your pets and stress for you and your family.  In the worst case, you’ll end up returning the cat to us.  This would be heartbreaking for you, your family, the cat, and us.  In the vast majority of cases, you can avoid this heartache by carefully following these instructions. We’re happy to support you throughout this process. You can get help at by contacting Director of Operations Danielle Rice at 908-237-5300 ext. 450 or dr@tabbysplace.org.

The Basics

  1. Don’t rush! Complete each step of the introduction fully and repeat it several times. Only proceed to the next step when all animals seem comfortable and are not displaying any signs of stress, fear, or aggression. There is no set time frame for the introduction. It’s entirely dependent on the individual animals and how quickly they adjust. Introductions can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Most problems with a new cat are caused by a rushed introduction, which can result in aggressive or fearful behavior that develops into a pattern. Investing the time and effort to do a proper introduction now will ensure your new cat makes a smooth transition.
  2. Understand that your cat thinks you’ve just brought an intruder into her home. Sure, you’re happy to have a new addition to your family, but your cat is not. As far as your cat is concerned, an enemy has invaded her territory. A proper introduction will help your cat accept the newcomer.
  3. Don’t assume pets will work out their differences on their own. This is a common misconception that can lead to severe behavior issues. Address behavior concerns immediately before they develop into lasting patterns.
  4. Don’t expect that what worked with one cat will work for all cats. Many of us have brought a new cat home, presented her to our pets, and hoped for the best. Maybe it worked; maybe it didn’t. Whatever your past experiences, this is never a good idea. Resist the temptation to give it a try.
  5. Understand the importance of scent. Cats’ lives are ruled by scent. This is how they recognize familiar animals and people, show ownership of their territory, and promote feelings of security. Scent exchange is a critical part of any introduction. A cat must get used to the scent of a new animal before visual and physical interactions are allowed.
  6. Recognize subtle forms of feline communication. Overt signs of aggression, such as growling, swatting and chasing, are preceded by more subtle, too-easily overlooked signs, such as staring, resource guarding and excessive chasing. Look out for these subtle signs of tension.
  7. Never force animals to be together. When the time comes to allow physical contact between your animals, let them do so on their own accord. Forcing them to interact will create negative associations.
  8. Provide vertical space. Many cats find comfort in being up high. Providing your cat with a tall cat tree and other vertical spaces can increase confidence and offer some separation from other pets when needed.
  9. Reach out for help. If, at any point, your pets’ interactions deteriorate, it’s important that you take immediate action. Problems that are allowed to continue will be harder to correct. If issues arise, separate the animals and contact us for advice on how to proceed with the introduction.

Bringing Your Cat Home

  1. Start your new cat in one room, with the door closed. Pick a small, quiet room with few hiding places. If you have another pet, choose a room that’s not an integral part of your current pet’s daily routine. Ideally, this should be a room in which you can keep a litter box long term. It’s important not to move the litter box around too much, as this may confuse your cat. You may need to restrict your cat to one room for an extended period of time before she feels completely comfortable. Staying in a single, familiar room encourages consistent litter box use and healthy appetite and establishes a place of security. This confinement should not be viewed as punishment. It will actually build your cat’s confidence.
  2. Set up for your new cat before bringing her home. This includes food and water bowls, scratching posts, a litter box, toys, treats and a comfortable bed or cubby in which your cat can hide and rest. Stressed cats will naturally seek out a hiding spot. Providing them with a cubby allows them to take in their new world at their own pace. The hiding spot you provide should afford the cat some privacy, but not make her totally inaccessible to you. Block off inaccessible hiding spaces, such as under beds.
  3. When you arrive home with your new cat, place the carrier next to the litter box. This allows your cat to see the litter box immediately upon exiting the carrier. Your new pet may be grumpy or frightened upon arrival, so allow her to come out of the carrier on her own.
  4. Give your cat ample time to acclimate to her new room. Some cats will hide in a small, dark spot until they feel secure enough to come out. Visit your new cat frequently and offer rewards, such as treats and playtime, when the cat shows interest in being social.
  5. When your cat seems comfortable in her room and is eating and using the litter box consistently, it will be time to move onto the next phase. If you have other animals, this will involve introducing your new cat to her new feline and/or canine family. If you have no other animals, allow your cat to begin exploring your home one area at a time. Do not force your cat to leave her room. Instead, leave her door open and let her quietly explore at her own pace. Slowly, open up new areas for her to investigate until she is comfortable in your entire home.

Cat-Cat Introductions

During the introduction process, keep your resident cat’s schedule as normal as possible and show both the resident cat and the newcomer lots of attention.

 

Each cat will also need safe and separate feeding, resting and litter areas. If you have multiple cats, the general rule of thumb is one litter box per cat, plus one additional box. Provide multiple litter box locations throughout the house. The availability of adequate resources will reduce tension and conflicts between the cats.

  1. Do not allow your resident cat to see the new cat on your way into the house. The cats must get used to each other’s scent over time before they may see each other or have physical contact.
  2. Do a scent exchange by swapping bedding and toys between the cats. Allow them to investigate the items on their own accord, and observe each cat’s reaction.
  3. Create positive associations between the cats. Feed them treats or meals on either side of the door that separates them. If the cats are playful, tie two toys together using a thick piece of string and allow the cats to play with each other under the door. If the cats enjoy brushing, brush them the same brush.
  4. Allow each cat to explore the other’s area, in the absence of the other cat. Put your new cat in a carrier and bring her into another room of the house. Close the door and let her explore.  Next, allow your resident cat the option of exploring the newcomer’s room. Let him wander in on his own. After your resident cat leaves the room, retrieve your new cat and return her to her room.  Repeat this process until the cats are calm and accepting of each other’s scent.
  5. Permit the cats to see each other, while supervised, through a barrier. You can use a screen door, glass door, cracked-open door, or a very tall baby gate. (The Regalo Easy Step Extra Tall Walk Thru Gate available on Amazon works well, although some modification may be needed for small or skinny cats who could slip through the bars. You can also borrow one of these gates from Tabby’s Place.) Be sure that the cats cannot get through the barrier. If you don’t have an appropriate barrier, secure the new cat in a carrier and have the resident cat approach the carrier. Some mild confrontation in the form of hissing or posturing can occur. If this escalates into more severe aggression or fear, STOP and go back to the previous step. Repeat this several times, until the cats appear to accept each other’s presence.
  6. Supervise brief interactions between the cats with no physical barrier. It can benefit the cats to have a vigorous play session, followed by a 15 minute cooldown, before they have contact with each other. Open the door that separates them, and allow them to interact if they choose. Follow them at a distance if they wander throughout the house. You may notice your resident cat following very closely behind the newcomer to pick up her scent. Some hissing might occur, but be on the lookout for intense staring and other aggressive behaviors. Fighting should not take place; but, if it does, don’t try to pry the cats apart using your hands.  Separate them with a pillow or blanket to interrupt the behavior, and place the newcomer back in her room. Fighting is a sign that the introduction has moved too quickly for these particular cats. Go back to the previous step.
  7. Once you are confident the cats are getting along, begin short unsupervised interactions. Slowly extend the time the cats are together until you feel separating them is no longer necessary. If at any point you witness either cat displaying aggressive or intimidating behavior, separate the cats and begin the introduction process again.

Cat-Dog Introductions

Once your new kitty has grown accustomed to her home and feline friends, it will be time to introduce her to your dog. It’s important to remember most dogs can hurt cats easily, even if they are just playing. They shouldn’t be left unattended, possibly for several months, until you are sure they can coexist peacefully. This applies to dogs that are familiar with cats, as well as those being introduced to their first cat.

When preparing your house for the new cat, keep in mind that dogs often find cat food and cat litter boxes irresistible. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep these in a location the dog can’t access. Even after the cat is fully integrated into your home, she must always have a “dog-free” zone to which she can escape.

Prior to introducing a dog to a cat,  the dog should have a firm understanding of the commands “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “leave it,” and “come.”

  1. Follow steps 1-3 of the cat-to-cat introduction above.
  2. Perform short training sessions to acclimate the dog and cat to each other and establish positive associations. Take your dog for a long walk before each training session, so he is calm and ready to learn. Initial meetings should be conducted with your dog on a leash and your cat off the ground, in a carrier. Don’t allow your dog to approach. Instruct your dog to sit or lay down, and then reward him for obeying and being calm in the cat’s presence. Reward your cat when she is exhibiting calm behavior in the presence of the dog, too. Keep your dog’s attention on you, and do not allow him to stare at or otherwise intimidate the cat. If the dog shows signs of excessive excitement or aggression, firmly correct him. When his attention is back on you, give him a reward. If, at any point, the dog becomes uncontrollable, remove the cat from the situation. Conduct several short training sessions like this, and end each session on a positive note for both animals.
  3. Allow the cat to roam freely in the dog’s presence, with the dog on a leash. As in the previous step, reward your dog for proper behavior. If your dog becomes excited or aggressive, bring your dog’s attention back to you and reward him when he obeys.
  4. Put a baby gate at the entrance to your new cat’s room and open the door. Allow the cat to approach or hop over the gate on her own accord to interact with the dog. Provide your cat with plenty of escape routes and high places, such as cat trees, so she can seek refuge from the dog. Continue to allow her access to her room where she feels safe. During this step, it is imperative you supervise all interactions between the animals.
  5. When you are certain the cat and dog are getting along, allow short interactions with less supervision. Slowly extend the amount of time the animals are together until you feel confident separation is no longer necessary.