Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Uninvited Guest: Successfully Introducing a New Cat into the Household – or Not

FROM CAT CHAT WITH CAREN AND CODY:This is a guest post by Nancy Peterson, Cat Programs Manager for The Humane Society of the United States. We thank Nancy as always for her super contributions to our blog!

Photo Courtesy of Nancy Peterson

My sister and I adopted 1-year-old sisters Zubi and Luna in September 2002 and our home in Maryland was all theirs for seven and a half years. They were cuddle cats – mostly with each other –and although I loved them, I yearned for a cat to cuddle with me. My sister knew that I met wonderful shelter cats at my job, so before I left for any trip my sister would say, “and don’t bring home any cats.”

In January 2006, I visited a shelter in Florida and had the opportunity to choose three shelter cats for that day’s filming of a CD about caring for adopted cats. As soon as I entered the cat enclosure to meet the cats, a brown tabby flew across the room and leaped into my lap. He immediately started licking my face, kneading my arm, and purring up a storm. I chose two other friendly cats and we went to the studio.

The brown tabby popped out of the first carrier I opened, walked all around the room, and greeted everyone – unlike most cats I knew who would probably hide or slink around when confronted with a new situation.

After the cat made his rounds, I was directed to play with him, brush him and feed him. Then, I was asked to trim his nails. As soon as I sat down, the cat was in my lap, licking my face, kneading my arm and purring. Once filming wrapped up, the cats were returned to the shelter.

I could not stop thinking about the friendly brown tabby and immediately called the shelter when I woke up the next morning to say that I wanted to adopt him. Then I called my sister who said it was okay. The shelter told me the cat, Tobias, was 10 years old, but I did not care because I loved his personality.

Photo Courtesy of Nancy Peterson

I renamed the cat Toby and confined him for several weeks on the first level of our house in order to introduce him properly to Zubi and Luna. Fortunately, I could keep them apart because a glass door separated the first and second levels. Since I did not want them to see each other, I covered the glass with newspaper and fed them for several weeks on opposite sides of the door so they’d associate each other with good things. One day, I tore away a teeny corner of the newspaper. When Zubi and Luna saw Toby, they hissed and fled upstairs. They never came down again.

During the years, I tried to gradually introduce Toby to the girls. I took him upstairs, initially on a harness and leash so I could control him, and offered them food bribes and catnip, filled the air with the sounds of a cat-calming CD and calming scents, and played with them so they’d associate one another with good things. I couldn’t make it work, so I put a bell on Toby’s collar to let the girls know when he’d escaped the first level and was headed their way.

Animal shelters and rescue groups have cats of every age, size, color and activity level. They can help you choose the right cat so you’ll have a better chance of a harmonious household. If you think you’ll ultimately want two cats, adopt two at the same time – adults who are already strongly bonded or kittens.

When you adopt a cat from an animal shelter or rescue group, they‘ll likely know about the cat’s personality and activity level, which, if similar to your cat’s, can improve the odds that they’ll get along. Another benefit of adopting from an animal shelter or rescue group is that the cat will likely have been examined, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered. Adoption will also save that cat’s life and make a cage available for another homeless cat.

If you adopt a stray, have him or her examined by your veterinarian before you bring the cat into your home. In addition to confining the new cat for a proper introduction, confining him or her for quarantine is important in case he’s incubating an illness that could be passed to your other cat. Wherever your new cat comes from, be sure your current cat or cats are up to date on their vaccinations as well.

When you add a cat to your household, it’s important to increase resources – such as water, food bowls, litter boxes, toys, vertical space and beds. Fill your cats’ indoor environment with opportunities to hunt (toys), relax in the sun (on a window perch), and scratch (a post or pad). Preventing cat behaviors you don’t want is easier than eliminating them. Reading The Humane Society of the United States’ Cat Answer Tool before you introduce cats will be helpful since most cats are quite territorial and dislike change.

Introducing cats improperly, such as allowing them to “work things out,” punishing, yelling at, or scaring them, can lead to years of bad blood between cats or a cat’s return or surrender to an animal shelter or rescue group.

You can also increase the chance cats will get along by spaying and neutering them because unsterilized cats are usually more territorial and aggressive. Spaying and neutering pet cats before puberty at four to six months of age has many health benefits and plays a critical role in reducing cat overpopulation. If you’re feeding community (feral and stray) cats outdoors, find an organization that supports Trap-Neuter-Return programs, which attempt to curb overpopulation through sterilization. The Humane Society of the United States has a free online Supporting Community Cats webinar series, which has lots of information about how to best help community cats.

Photo Courtesy of Nancy Peterson

If you have unsuccessfully tried to make peace between your pet cats, keep them separated and consult a local shelter or rescue group, your veterinarian, or a cat behavior specialist for assistance sooner rather than later. There are no winners in cat fights.


  1. This is a great post because many pet owners don't know the proper way to introduce new animals. Many also think that everything will be rainbows and unicorns and everyone will eventually love each other.

    I have had many successful and a a couple unsuccessful attempts of adding cats to our furry family. With one unsuccessful attempt, we tried all the common techniques: separate areas, scent swapping, swapping sides of the house, baby gates for visuals only, and pheromone diffusers. But after many weeks Raven was still terrified of the new guy and would cower & hide any time she saw him. Both cats were frustrated being confined to separate parts of the house. Raven was so stressed that she stopped eating and was losing weight. We decided to take the newest kitty back to the shelter (I volunteered there and could keep tabs on him). I would prefer to have at least one more cat but Raven is such a sensitive soul that it would be too stressful for her.

    Our other failure was adopting a sweet stray kitty from the local SPCA. She got along with our resident cats but we discovered that she was aggressive toward dogs - something I had never witnessed before. During an introduction session, she launched herself with teeth and claws aiming at the throat of my completely submissive kitty-loving 16-year old Golden Retriever. Luckily, he was on the other side of a screen door and was physically unharmed. I honestly think he was mortified that a cat would attack him. We returned that kitty to the shelter with the added information that she should not be in a house with a dog.

    I like to share my adoption failures because even when you have the best intentions and you do everything you're supposed to do, things don't always work out. I took some criticism from other shelter volunteers for returning the cat that Raven was afraid of. But I had to make a decision based on the factors we were dealing with and Raven's health was my top priority. I think when you've had some failures you're less apt to rush to judgement as to why someone might be giving up a pet. When a good faith effort has been made and all the techniques described in your article are followed but the situation just isn't working out, it's better that the pet be in a different home.

  2. As always, Nancy offers great advice! My human did not have to keep me separate from Binga and Boodie for very long, although it took several weeks after we were intermingled to actually become friends and playmates. Even Binga plays with me now! I, of course, attribute all this to my winning personality!

  3. Great post as always, although for a second there I though Cody had a new brother or sister!

  4. Wonderful post. I also thought you adopted a kitty when I saw the photos!!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  5. Very interesting. Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly.

  6. Such great advice. Introducing cats can be such a tricky business!

  7. Hi everyone. Thanks for your comments. Please feel free to share the information whenever someone you know is thinking of adding a new feline to their household.

  8. When we adopted Angel and Chuck ten years ago, I had to promise the hubby that there would be NO MORE. As the years rolled by, I became involved in TNR, and have my own feral colony in the backyard. But the hubby has been staunch...NO MORE inside cats! After last year's horrible winter, I worried myself sick about my now very friendly ferals, and although he says it's either him or the cats, he relented and allowed me to bring home a sweet, medium hair girl kitty from the local rescue group. At first sight, she launched herself at Chuck, and although we worked with her, and them, and her for almost two months, with site swapping, calming oils, and play therapy, I had to take her back to the group. My chance to add to my cat family, and it failed. Now, the hubby is even more dug in against adding to the family, so in my mind I plot and plan on ways to make him change his mind. Will someone leave a box of kittens on my porch, because I'm betting this is the only way he'll relent...

  9. That was a great article! Maybe I should let Sister Precious read it!

  10. What a great article. We know how tricky it is to introduce a new kitty and how easy it is. Gracie was our example of how simple. She just fit in boom right from the start. Once she got over her "quarantine" period and got the A-ok from the vet she just fit. Abby was the opposite. It took many months and countless stops and starts and finally she clawed her way to Queen Kitty and then everything was settled. Annabelle fit right in too.

  11. Very informative post. Some people have an easy time integrating another cat into the household...and then there's us.

  12. Another really great post!

    Noodle and crew

  13. A great guest post with lots of good points. At our house I'm always bringing home foster kittens. My cats see the carrier coming in and I swear, they roll their eyes and say "oh no, not again." Usually I go through the process of letting everyone get use to the house guests but one time I brought home an older kitten to foster as a playmate for my CH kitten Vinnie. After a couple of days I introduced them and waited to see what would happen. Marky, the foster, walked straight over to Vinnie, looked him in the eyes and in cat speak said, "forget the introductions, Let's Play". All my cats love Marky. I know it will never be that easy again.

  14. Gweat posty. sowwy yous had twubbles wiff Toby and da girls. Sumtimes no matter what yous do it dusn't make a diffewence. Mommy duz fings a little diffewent, but it works fur her. Hav a pawsum day.

    Luv ya'


  15. I had a house guest for a few months. The humans did the recommended introductions and it seemed to work, although I think we just tolerated each others purresence. Then "it" moved out (with her human) and I was so much happier. =^,,^=

  16. Our peeps have seen both sides to this coin...
    And even though Pipo (and Minko at the same time), came here as a very tiny kitten, and has only known this furmily, he despises our dog. Under the pretense of protecting Minko, who likes the dog. Go figure...MOL!