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Ask a Vet: How To Introduce a New Cat To Your Home

Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. They've enlisted their Co-President, Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, to answer your questions every week. Got a question for Dr. Scarlett? Ask away in the comments!

Adult cats are highly territorial by nature. Kittens are naturally less so, but would still benefit from the following steps to ease their transition into a new territory.

A few tips:

If this is your first cat:

You’ll want to start with introducing your new kitty to a small space like a bathroom or laundry room. Keep the cat in the carrier while you are setting up the room, allowing him to adjust to the sounds and smells. Make sure you have the basics: litter box, food, water (food and water placed far apart from the litter box), toys, scratching post, bed, etc. 

Open up the carrier and let the cat decide whether he wants to explore or to remain inside the carrier. Many times a cat will remain inside the carrier for hours, and that’s totally ok. Come back to the room to visit often but don’t force interaction — when he wants affection, he will ask for it.

Eventually, may be days or a week or more, you will sense that your new friend is ready for more, so open the door. Cats usually begin investigating at night, making short explorations interspersed with rapid retreats to their safe haven so make sure he always has access to the original room.

If you are bringing home a second cat: 

When a new cat is being introduced into a home where there is already a resident cat (or cats), it is especially important to provide that safe space for the new guy. They’ll start checking each other out with sniffs and paw swats under the door, but her, patience is a virtue.  We recommend waiting 7 to 10 days before letting them meet whisker to whisker.

The best way to let cats meet for the first time is to crack the separating door a few inches and let them sniff each other through this space. If one or both of the cats give a very intense hiss, growl, or swat at each other, close the door and repeat this process until the visits become calm. A little hissing and batting at each other is usually to be expected.  In the meantime, you can help the cats become used to each other by playing with interactive toys while the door is cracked, feeding the cats treats on either side of the door, and switching their bedding so they can get used to each other’s scent. 

If the sniff visits are going well, it’s time to start supervised interactions. Open the door and proceed as above, letting them strut in each others’ territories for about a half an hour. Then, separate them and repeat the process over the next few days, making each intro a little longer.  Never punish a cat for aggressive behavior towards another cat. Most owners do this thinking they will teach the cat that the aggressive behavior is inappropriate, but only end up making the cat more stressed and upset, prolonging the cat–to-cat aggression. What we most often perceive as fighting is actually their way of working out their territory. This is an essential part of how cats learn to live together in a multi-cat household and they must go through it. Intervention prolongs this process. So for the most part let them do what they will and stay out of it. Your anxiety about their interactions can feed their agitation so try to be calm and encouraging, letting them know that they are acting appropriately.

A Word About Cat Fights:

You never want to get in the middle of a cat fight. Cats in the heat of battle can redirect their aggression toward you. The only times your intervention may be necessary is if their exchanges with each other draw blood or if one is continually chasing/dominating the other one. 

And by the way, if you are thinking about adopting, now is the time.  We are in the heat of kitten season and shelters and rescues have cats coming out of their ears!  

While we can’t answer all of the questions here, please feel free to ask us during our Friday Twitter Ask the Vet Chat.  If your animal’s problem is of an immediate nature, please call your vet or you can reach the SF SPCA at 415-554-3030 to make an appointment.

Photo by London looks at Flickr