Kitten 101: Introducing a new cat into the home
Written by Small Door's medical experts
A kitten or cat of any age needs time to adjust and adapt to a new home. This is especially true when you introduce a new cat or kitten to your existing pets. While cats tend to be more solitary creatures than our canine friends, they are often found in familial groups in the wild and do enjoy company. It’s important to be patient and consistent when introducing a new cat to your feline family.
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Getting your home ready for a new cat is one of the first steps that you should take before introducing them to their new living space.
Prepare a designated safe room for your new cat. Think of this as a sanctuary as they’ll need a quiet and safe place while becoming acclimated to the scents and sounds of your new home. A safe room can be any size but make sure it has a door, ceiling and a place for your new cat to hide out. You should also equip the room with food, water, a litter box, and toys, so your cat’s most basic needs are met.
As your cat is likely to hide from you upon first coming home, help them get to know you by placing a t-shirt or a piece of your clothing that contains your scent in the safe room.
Just like people, cats have their own unique personalities. Some may easily befriend a new cat sibling, while others need more time to acclimate to a multi-pet household. Introductions that happen too quickly can lead to unwanted outcomes like aggression, stress, and even inappropriate behaviors like soiling outside the litter box.
If possible, isolate your new cat in the safe room that you set up for them. This will allow all pets, new and old, to be gradually introduced. Your new cat won’t feel overwhelmed or alienated, and your resident cats won’t feel territorial. You can’t predict how they will react to one another, so it’s crucial to prepare them properly.
Bringing your new cat home, especially if you have another cat, can take some adjustment. Below we cover some helpful tips to help your felines acclimate.
Swap the cat’s scents
Don’t let your cats meet face-to-face just yet. Use a common towel, brush, or other item between your pets to help them recognize and get used to each other’s scents. Don’t be alarmed if your pets smell each other through the door or swipe at the door and show other aggressive behaviors. If destructive actions like these persist, consider blocking the entryway while your cats get used to one another.
Your new cat should explore your household and surroundings with as little stress as possible. This means your other pets should not be present while the newbie gets familiar with the rest of your house. If you can, swap their places. Remove your resident cats for a period of time, or put them in your new cat’s room. Your new friend can explore alone, wander your home, and still smell and recognize your other pets.
To make your cat feel at ease, consider using pheromone sprays or diffusers. Use pheromone sprays on bedding, scratching posts, and other common areas; plug the pheromone diffusers into wall outlets around your home and near the litter box. These pheromones can help reduce stress and provide calming effects to your cat. Feliway is a popular brand that we recommend at Small Door.
Begin controlled cat-to-cat meeting
When your cats are finally ready to meet each other, be prepared for unexpected outcomes – good or bad. When introducing your cats, have towels, blankets, and a water spray bottle ready if you need to distract them. Additionally, if you have a dog, make sure they’re on leash or in a different room so you have more control during their interaction.
Control the first meeting by keeping your cats separate but near each other — typically having one in a room with the door closed and your second cat on the other side of the door. This is a good way for the two cats to smell and hear, but not see or touch, each other. Feed the cats near the door that separates them so they learn that coming together (even though they can’t see each other) results in a pleasant experience.
Introduce pets slowly. Gradually increase the duration of their interactions until they have adapted to living in the same space.
Keep a barrier between the cats
Your next step is to choose a barrier to act as a buffer. Use baby gates or a screen to introduce the cats while keeping them separate. This allows them to see, smell, and interact with each other without having physical contact. You can also use a cat carrier to introduce your two cats and keep them separate and safe from each other.
Remove the barrier between your cats
One your cats have gotten used to each other through the use of a barrier, it’s time to introduce them without. Start by doing so in small increments and increase the duration of their interactions until they have adapted to living in the same space. Continue to introduce and separate your pets until they are coexisting safely. You may need to feed your cats in different rooms for a prolonged period of time so that no food aggression arises.
If your cats become aggressive, stressed, or are not reacting well, do not attempt to physically handle them. They may become more distressed and even aggressive towards you. Use distractions like a spray bottle or toys, and make sure you have plenty of enrichment available to all your pets. Provide enough litter boxes, perches, scratching posts, and feeding areas to satisfy everyone.
Cats are territorial and even after being well introduced, it’s likely that they will want their own separate litter boxes. When they are doing something as private as elimination, sharing the same litter box can be stressful for some cats. Ideally, if you have a multi-cat household, you should have one more litter box than the number of cats you have. For example, if you have two cats, have at least three litter boxes. This will help prevent fights and prevent your cats from eliminating outside of the litter box.
When introducing cats without a barrier you may notice some occasional hissing, swatting and grouchy behavior during the first interactions and after. Don’t be alarmed as this is normal. Cats are hierarchical by nature and must establish and affirm the pecking order within your household.
In case the two cats exhibit more serious aggression, have a spray bottle filled with water or a towel handy to drop over your cats and block their vision, to stop any fights that may occur. We never recommend physically separating two cats as this can damage their relationship and in the heat of the moment your cat may show aggression towards you.
It can take anywhere from a week to a few months for cats to get used to each other, but this varies based on the cats' personalities. If cats are introduced as kittens or if you have two very social cats, this time period will be shorter.
However, your specific situation depends on many factors, such as age and temperament of the cats, whether proper introductions were made, and whether or not the cats click upon the first introduction.
Introducing cats doesn’t always go as planned and you may need to separate your cats for longer and re-introduce them in baby steps. While some hierarchical behavior is normal, there are some warning signs to look out for that may signal bigger issues, including:
Bullying behavior where one cat will not let the other one through a door, or have access to the food bowl, litter tray or other items such as scratching posts.
Swatting or hissing when the other cat tries to go to the food bowl or a designated area.
One cat avoiding certain areas of the home.
In some more extreme situations, you may need to seek your veterinarian’s help when introducing your cats. Some warning signs that would prompt additional help from a veterinarian include:
Injuries from fighting
Anxious behavior such as hiding
Reluctance to eat
Eliminating outside of the litter box
Urine marking or other territorial behavior
Unless your felines are kittens or you have two very social creatures, introducing two cats always takes time. Be patient with the process and with all your furry friends. Practice positive reinforcement and spend your time and attention equally. It can be a challenge, but if you are consistent and respectful to your pets, they will adjust. If you need additional support from a veterinarian to help introduce your cats, remember that as a Small Door member, you can contact us 24/7 via the app, and we also offer behavioral consultations that you may find useful.