The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Making Friends: A 5 Step Process to Feline Introductions

By Lea Jaratz

How to introduce cats

I’m so proud of my dad for adopting his third cat from the local rescue. But, by the time I’d heard the good news, the rookie had already suffered some bullying from the oldest cat (aka - the queen diva). That came as no surprise to me. Many cat owners don’t realize that adding a new member to the clowder (yes, a group of cats is called a “clowder” or a “glaring”) is tricky business and should be done slowly.

But, before we get to introductions, here are three more facts you might want to know before you build a clowder of your own.

  • Cats are not inherently social with other cats. Even in the wild, competition for hunting territory is a primal no-no and cats often prefer to fly solo or with just the company of their direct family. If you are considering a multi-cat household, it is ideal to have a spacious area or multi-floored home, so that every cat can stake out their own turf. That’s not to say they won’t socialize eventually, but allowing personal space helps reduce a lot of stress and potential behavior problems.
  • With personal space comes personal belongings, and that is especially important when it comes to food and litter boxes. The rule of thumb: If you have 2 cats, have 3 litter boxes. 3 cats need 4 boxes, and so on. Same idea for food and water bowls. Personal property should be spread throughout the home so everyone has some privacy.
  • It’s often thought that disagreements occur more often between same-sexed cats, especially the fellas. But, that’s not always the way it goes. It is important, however, to consider your resident cat’s temperament and try to find a similar match in age and personality. Adults are more likely to accept kittens, but senior cats might not be up for the task of mentoring a youngster.

Now that you’ve picked out the perfect little buddy for your buddy...well, don’t get too excited. Stretch this process out as much as you can stand--two to three weeks at minimum, more if your cats are less social. Dropping two cats in with one another is almost guaranteed to cause a rivalry that could last indefinitely, so it’s best to take your time.

Step 1: Whenever possible, it helps to bring a blanket or toy home from the adoptee’s kennel, so that your resident cat can start adjusting to the idea of a new friend. (If the rescue group will allow it, bring one of your cat’s belongings into the shelter to introduce your cat’s smell too.)

Step 2: Once the new cat has arrived, keep letting them smell each other, but with everyone out of sight. Set up a quiet room, behind a closed door, for the new cat to decompress. This will be his or her sanctuary for a few days. It’s okay to encourage the cats to sniff or even paw each other underneath the door. Give a few treats or a bit of tuna to both cats while they are investigating one another to reinforce a positive vibe.

Step 3: Time to up the ante and let the new cat have a little more freedom for a day or two. You can either:

  • switch the cats, letting the new cat roam free and keeping the veteran in the sanctuary, where he’s sure to spend a lot of time sniffing and investigating.
  • confine the veteran to a different, but separate room and let the rookie move freely.

Step 4: Set up a baby gate or barrier so that the cats can see each other face to face, but cannot interact yet. They may try to initiate contact, but at this stage, no one should be able to cause harm.

Step 5: Now that the new cat is old news and everyone has had a chance to get used to the big changes, allow the cats to have some supervised face time. You may want to only do this a few minutes at a time to start. If you’ve been patient and followed the steps to this point, chances are good they’ll be at ease soon enough.

If you do see a fight erupt, startle the cats to break it up, move someone back to the sanctuary, and contact your shelter for some personalized advice about how to resume introductions.

Most cats will ultimately tolerate each other, which is probably why so many people just assume they can skip with formalities. But, if you’re hoping to have cats that enjoy each other’s company, and perhaps even become bonded, it’s best not to rush into things. 

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