The decision to adopt a new cat or kitten is a big one, especially when you’ve already got an adult cat or two in the home. Folks often say that adopting a young cat or kitten can help an adult cat who’s lost a feline companion or can invigorate an adult or even elderly cat but, often, this can lead to a strong stress response in the adult, resident cat. An adult cat with an unknown history with other cats, an elderly cat who’s been the only cat for a long time, or even a cat who’s lived with other cats happily at some point can all take issue with a new cat or kitten running around. It’s important that you take some time to think about the introduction process and the potential for some relationship management, deciding if this is something you’re able to commit to before adding a new cat to a household with adult cats already in residence.

How to get started

For the basics of introducing cats to one another, please see our handout, “Cat to Cat Introductions”, which will walk you through the basic steps of an introduction.

What’s really important with kittens, especially, is that their play needs be fully met before any interactions with the adult, resident cat happen. The same is true of any energetic cat that you’re adding to your home. When you’re letting the kitten or cat out of his acclimation room, it’ll be very important that you give him a good play session before doing so… wear that little guy out as much as you can!! Once out in the home, on the prowl for his new friend, we want to make sure that he’s in the calmest state he can be, and that might mean that he gets another play session once out of his room. Energetic play is the best way to put your kitten or energetic cat in a calmer sate of mind, use that tool as often as you can! The same can be true of your resident cat, if he’s the energetic one, make sure he’s getting tons of playtime prior to meeting his new buddy.

Control the meetings as much as possible

After your kitten or cat has had some good playtime, allow him to move through the home as naturally as possible. Allow your resident cat to do the same. Monitor all interactions between the two. Is your resident cat curious and engaging with the new cat or kitten? Great!!! Let them interact, play and have fun. Keep in mind that some cats and many kittens can play rough, and that’s ok, as long as your resident cat is responding with a similar energy.

Does one of the cats retreat, maybe hissing or growling? This is also ok, as long as the cat who is retreating is allowed to do so by the other cat. If the other cat continues to follow, maybe antagonizing or simply being too curious or playful, you’ll want to break that cat’s focus on the other cat and give that cat something else to do. This could be a good chance for a play session, some great treats or just some attention. It all depends on what that cat find the most valuable, and what will keep their attention long enough for them to forget about chasing or following the more fearful cat. Allow the more fearful cat to retreat and hide, following up with them when things are calmer, offering lots of attention and reassurance that everything is ok. You may need to repeat this process many times, consistently allowing one of the cats to retreat, while one is redirected into something else that keeps his attention on something other than chasing the more fearful cat. The more consistent you are with this redirection, the more the relationship can build as the more fearful cat can feel safe that their person will help out with the other cat and they won’t need to feel defensive or scared.

When things really aren’t going well

If one or both of the cats are intent on chasing and can’t be redirected into another activity, it’s time to take a step back. Work your way back through the introduction steps, really focusing on building a relationship through food and mutual play at the door of the new cat or kitten’s acclimation room. Using baby gates at the door can be a great way to allow the cats to see one another but limit their interaction in a safe but effective way. You may need to stack two gates in the doorframe to keep cats from jumping or climbing over them. Encourage the cats to eat near one another with the gates up, you can offer a game with a wand toy or balls under the gate. Every time you see one or both of the cats respond in a positive way, even looking at one another on either side of the gate, reward them with something really tasty. Find high value food motivators for this work, something that the cats really love and that you’ll really only use for this type of work. We’re working on helping them to see that really great things happen when they see one another, lessening the need for any type of defensive behavior.

During this time of reintroduction, you can do more extensive room swaps. Find a safe and comfortable space for your resident cat. It should be a room that they really enjoy spending time in, so that this isn’t seen as a punishment. Once secured in that space, give the new cat or kitten time out in the home, even as much as an entire day. Swap these spaces as much as possible, for a good amount of time, in addition to working with one another at the gate, this scent immersion can help to desensitize both cats to one another’s presence.

You can try to let the cats meet without the gate once you’re seeing some nice, calm and relaxed behavior at the baby gate. They don’t need to be best friends, but we want them to be accepting of one another at the gate, or at least to be in a place where they’re tolerant of one another. You’ll then let the cats meet naturally again, making sure that they’re both as calm and relaxed as possible when that happens.

Final thoughts

When introductions aren’t going well, it’s especially important to make sure that you have plenty of resources throughout the home. Adding litterboxes and feeding stations will be really important during this time, and possibly permanently. One of the reasons cats take issue with one another is due to lack of resources. It may seem like too many litterboxes or feeding stations to you, but if it keeps the peace, it could be the best solution. Make sure that there are plenty of safe spaces for both cats. Vertical spaces for cats that like that, safe spaces that are low to the ground for cats that like that and lots of good hiding spots for all of the cats in your home. Using a pheromone spray or diffuser like Feliway, Multicat, can also help some cats and is always worth a try.