Whether you realize it or not, if you have multiple cats in your home already, they have established their own “kitty hierarchy”. There is one cat who is the boss of the pride and every other cat falls in line somewhere below them on the kitty totem pole.
When a new cat is introduced into the established pride it naturally upsets the hierarchy, and the cats will need to work out a new order. This process can sometimes be agitating to pet parents who want to keep the peace in their home and for everything to be Zen. We’re sorry to say that’s not going to happen right away. Cats, if left to themselves to work things out, will work things out. It can take a few days. It can take up to a month. Rest assured that they will find a new order where everyone can co-exist in relative harmony again. There are, however, a few things you can do to help facilitate the process.
It’s important to have realistic expectations when introducing a new cat to established home kitties. Some cats are more social than others. For example, an eight-year-old cat that has never been around other animals may never learn to share her territory (and her people) with other cats in the household. However, an eight-week-old kitten separated from her mom and littermates for the first time, might prefer to have a cat or dog companion.
Cats are territorial and need to be introduced to other animals very slowly in order to give them time to get used to each other before there is a face-to-face confrontation. Slow introductions help prevent fearful and aggressive problems from developing. PLEASE NOTE: When you introduce animals to each other, one of them may send “play” signals that can be misinterpreted by the other pet. If those signals are interpreted as aggression by one animal, then you should handle the situation as “aggressive.”
- You should isolate (ISO) your new kitty when they first arrive. Your established kitties will sense there is a new presence in the home. They will smell the new kitty on you even though they have yet to actually meet him or her face to face. Letting your new kitty as well as your established kitties smell your hands or clothing before washing them will allow everyone to gradually become familiarized with each other so that when they do meet face to face, it’s not a big shock.
- Try feeding your kitties and the newcomer on each side of the door of the ISO room. This will help all of them to associate something enjoyable (eating!) with each other’s smells. Don’t put the food so close to the door that the animals are too upset by each other’s presence to eat. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until your pets can eat calmly, directly on either side of the door.
- When the ISO period has concluded, simply open the door and allow your new kitty to gradually explore the world beyond the room he or she has been kept in. When the new kitty and the others encounter one another, there may be growls and hissing. Be sure there are elevated places in your home where your new kitty can jump to for safety. Be on alert if your foster kitty retreats back into the ISO room. Just close the door, allow them to de-stress for awhile, and then open the door for them again later. Keep repeating this process for as long as is necessary and until the growling, hissing and overall upset begins to dissipate.
- Once your new cat is using her litter box, eating regularly and out of ISO, let her have free time in the house while confining your other cats to the ISO room. This switch provides another way for the all the cats to experience each other’s scents without a face-to-face meeting. It also allows the newcomer to become familiar with her new surroundings without being frightened or threatened by the other cats in the home.
- Make sure that none of the cats are being “ambushed” by another while trying to use the litter box. Try to keep your resident pets’ schedule as close as possible to what it was before the newcomer’s appearance. Cats can make lots of noise, pull each other’s fur, and roll around quite dramatically without either cat being injured.
- Keep calm. Cats sense when we are stressed out. If you get agitated over the fact that they aren’t getting along yet, they will pick up on it and the process of finding harmony in the home will be prolonged. If you adopt an attitude of trust that they will work things out, they will actually work things out much quicker.
- Be sure to supervise your new kitty and your established kitties during the introductory phase to ensure no one gets hurt. Your calm presence will allow them all to find a state of calm and well-being with one another in a relatively short period of time.