Introducing cats – the very thought makes my ears go back and my tail puff out like cotton candy at the county fair. Of course we felines are sweet and loving. To our humans. And sometimes our close housemates. But we also invented the phrase “stranger danger”. People often think of dogs as the most territorial animal. Please! Any respectable feline makes even the most territorial dog look like the kindergarten welcoming committee.
Have you ever shared your home with a darling kitty and thought, “He must be lonely! I need to get him a playmate,” only to discover that you were a delusional idiot when he came nose to nose (or claws to nose) with his new “playmate”? Then read on, friends! I’m about to reveal some tips to make the transition from single feline to multi-cat household much smoother.
But first let me tell you a little about my personal experience . I was the baby, used to my siblings, living in canine and feline harmony. When WHAM! Out of the blue I caught a whiff of an intruder. And my life has never been the same since.
Before we get to the real substance, my mom insisted on sharing Milton’s rescue story. She (at least thinks) she tells it better than me, so I am allowing her to guest post a (hopefully) brief retelling of how this little stranger came to be a part of the family.
“It was a hot summer morning, and I got up to make an early trip to Wal-Mart. Upon arrival I discovered a group of people surrounding a car in the parking lot. I was in a hurry, so I was just going to ignore it. Until I heard it. The sad little sound of a kitten in distress.
My brain insisted that I just keep walking. But somehow my feet betrayed me. Before I knew it I was at the car with the group of strangers. The people informed me that an employee had driven to work this morning without knowing that she had a little hitchhiker. The kitten had crawled under the hood of the car, and no one had been able to get him out all morning.
It took me, maybe, two minutes. Not because I’m that skilled. Just because I’m that much of a sucker, apparently. The veterinarian in me took over, and I saw that he was covered in fleas and had burns on all of his paw pads.
The store manager (thrilled to get this matter resolved) gave me a Cat Carrier to put him in while I shopped and let me leave him in the front of the store. Everyone was happy that I “saved” him, yet no one wanted to take him home. I knew Pebbles would disapprove, but by the time I got home he had already told me his name was Milton, and that he was excited to be a part of our family. Go figure.”
So that brings the story back to me. Oh, how clearly I remember. Mom had just gotten back from the store and had finished putting groceries away. I was taking a paw bath because mom always gives us a few treats every time she comes home.
When suddenly I froze, mid lick. My mouth slightly parted in the flehmen response. I distinctly caught the scent of an outsider! Of course I didn’t “see” her bring him in, but she had locked him in the bathroom, and I knew it! As I sniffed under the door I heard, clear as the bells of Christmas, the distinct cry of a youngster. I did not approve!
I made my feelings unmistakeably known with a low growl, and I quickly fled the scene, retreating to the safety of my cat cube. Then Mom came back with a few more treats. She offered them to me in an odd location, on the floor close to the door. I was still somewhat frustrated by this offensive turn of events, but they were delicious, so I ate them begrudgingly.
Baby Milton stayed locked in the bathroom for a few days as he became acclimated to his new environment, but every now and then Mom would lock me in the bathroom and let Milton wander around the house. Like, really, why do I have to go to jail? But she did make it somewhat better by frequently giving me treats near the door.
By the time I actually got to meet my new brother face to face I was already familiar with his sounds and his smell. We touched noses without incident, and he ran off to be wild somewhere. He still got on my nerves a little at first, being the pesky younger brother that he is. But because I am such a wonderful big sister, I took it upon myself to teach him proper sibling etiquette.
After the small adjustment period, we actually became best friends. He is still a little rambunctious sometimes, but don’t worry. I make sure to remind him that I am the older and wiser one who calls the shots around here. You can watch how we play together in this video.
Before bringing anyone new into the house make sure they have been examined by a vet, de-wormed, de-bugged, retroviral negative, and vaccinated as per the vet’s recommendations.
Obviously (like with Milton) before introducing cats, it isn’t always an option to prepare the house in advance. But if you know you’re bringing home a new friend, a little preparation can help tremendously.
First of all, I highly recommend getting a Feliway Diffuser. This is a plug-in that is infused with calming pheromones, and I am a big fan! It can help reduce stress in a multi-cat household in general, but it is great to put up before bringing a new friend home.
Also, make sure to have enough litter boxes. How many? Don’t object. I mean it. You need one per cat plus one. So, if you have two cats, three potties minimum. Yes, I’m totally serious. Have you ever used a nasty public toilet? I rest my case. Okay, fine. Don’t do it. But don’t blame your poor, sweet kitty when you slip into your favorite slippers and find that they are soaking wet.
As I mentioned before, we felines are very territorial. It is essential that we have our own safe space. Not much floor space? No big deal. To me the floor is only a surface that serves the purpose of getting from one perch to the next. Instead of more floor space, think up. Get scratching posts, climbers and trees, like this cat tower that sits in my living room. Safe space is essential.
One other thing, work on getting your feline on a regular feeding schedule with pre-measured food in an individual bowl. Don’t free feed, you lazy bones! Have you seen my gorgeous, lean physique? Yeah, that’s because I insist that Mom feeds me high quality, pre-measured food at regular meal times. By keeping us on a feeding schedule and amount there is no conflict over food when a sibling decides to be an enormous pig. And meal times will be used to help with scent swapping.
If you read about when I met Milton, you know a little about scent swapping. Smell is very, I mean extremely, important in feline communication. So, when you bring your new friend home, make a separate safe room for her, complete with potty, water, food, catnip, toys, some bedding, and the ever-important feliway diffuser. The two kitties should be able to hear and smell each other under the door. If this causes too much stress, then you’ll have to move the new friend into a more interior room
All set up? Good, then it’s food time! By now I’m confident that you have followed my instructions and got your felines on a feeding schedule. This makes this step so much easier. At feeding time, simply feed each cat on opposite sides of the door. They will tell you how close they will tolerate. If they eat happily at ten feet, try moving the bowls to five feet. If five feet is too close, back it up a little. The idea is to let the new friends associate each other with happy things! And what is happier than food time?
Now, time to swap territories. Before physically introducing cats to each other, introduce their smells. By this point, the new kitty safe room will smell strongly of the stranger. So (oh, the indignity!) allow the established cat to spend some time in the room alone, while allowing the new cat to wander the house and take in the sights and smells. This should be done at intervals for several days until everyone seems chill about the whole business.
Ready to meet face to face!! When they tell you they are ready, slow physical introductions can be made in a spacious room at meal times. Feed them as close together as they will tolerate, but as far apart as is necessary to avoid stress. At no time should theses interactions turn negative.
I can read your thoughts. This is ridiculous. How long will this insanity take? Well, dear friends, as long as is necessary. Ignore me if you want, but don’t come growling back to me if you try the “let them work it out” approach and find that your sweet little fluff balls come armed with teeth and paw swords!
All of this is well and good, you say, but it’s too late. We are living in a recreation of the American Civil War around here!
Not to fear. It is never too late. You can start this process over any time, even years later. In an established home, simply confine one kitty to a safe room and start the introduction process over very slowly. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure the kitties are checked out by a vet. You’d be surprised at how many angry kitties are just mad at the world because they are in pain.
Yes, it is madness. I don’t deny that felines can be temperamental, especially when it comes to strangers. I’m not ashamed. You are nervous around strangers, too, if you are being honest with yourself!
Truly if you put forth a little effort at first, you will reap the rewards of a harmonious (or at least tolerating) cat house. And that, my friends, is an invaluable reward that will last nine lifetimes.
Until next time, Keeping Pebbles Strong!
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