by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Introducing a new cat to a resident cat can be a traumatic experience, especially when both are adults. This article looks at some steps to make an introduction easier and to keep the peace.
Preparation starts as soon as the decision to take on a new cat is made. As each situation is different not all of this will be appropriate for all situations; apply what is possible in your circumstances.
Reducing stress is the most important factor in any cat relationship. A thorough health check for both cats should be done. If any medical issues exist treatment should be started as soon as possible so that the cats are already used to the feeding and medicating routine.
Good nutrition is vitally important to health and behaviour. Feed the best possible diet that is appropriate to each cats’ age and health. If there is likely to be a change of food after the move, start with the new food before the move.
The new cat will be confined initially so will need to use a litter tray. While in his old environment add a new litter tray. When he moves, send the litter tray with him, including some litter that he has used. If a new litter tray is not possible or practical send some of his used litter with him when he moves.
Both cats should be as relaxed as possible. Natural and homeopathic remedies are good but may take a while to have an effect on extremely stressed cats. Feline-friendly flower essences and Valerian (Happy Cat) are also recommended, as is TTouch to relax and improve confidence
Initially the new cat will be confined in a restricted area in order to settle, learn the smells and sounds of the new house and become familiar with the people and routines. This isolation is for his safety; there should be as much interaction as possible by all human members of the family. It is important that this area is not of major importance to the resident cat; this will cause immediate unhappiness and start the relationship off on a bad footing.
The resident cat ‘owns’ all the existing territory and all members of the family. He won’t want to give up his territory without a fight. There are two possible options here; start restricting the resident cat’s territory or create new territory to make more space available. This can take the form of adding surface area or safe zones. New surface area is added by creating new levels. Where practical a catio can be created outdoors which encloses a safe space for the cats.
Safe places can be created in, under, behind or on top of existing items in the house. It is possible to incorporate these into the decor of the house with some planning; there are many examples on the Internet of interior designs for cats. Also look at outdoor options; interesting flowerpot stands, wooden benches, etc.
An important aspect of setting up the environment for multiple cats is to create alternative pathways to and from essential areas such as food, water, litter trays, access to the garden and favourite sleeping places. This is to prevent one cat from stopping the other from accessing these resources, which in turn will generate stress, potential fights and resulting ‘bad’ behaviour. The alternatives can be created by different levels or a number of different resource stations around the home.
Stimulation is essential to good behaviour. Toys, interactive play, a view of the garden are some ways to keep him occupied. Puzzle feeders are an excellent way of using physical and mental energy, using up time and getting a reward.
When the environment and cats are all set and the new cat arrives the resident cat should be kept confined away from the activity during the arrival. The new cat is immediately placed in his area.
When the new cat has settled in, this will vary from cat to cat, and the introductions have taken place, he will be allowed to venture out and explore his new home. At this time it is important to keep the cats as stress-free as possible as when the two cats start dividing and sharing territory there is likely to be some tension which may result in fear-based aggression. Clipping their claws will reduce some potential damage!
Movement is a wonderful way to reduce stress and expend energy. Play games with both cats; initially separately and later bring them together. High-value treats, not available at other times, are good rewards when they are calm in each others’ company.
Personality, confidence, early socialisation and previous experiences for both cats will dictate the way the cats relate to each other, as does the attitude of all members of the family. We can create the best environment and provide the best resources and food to minimise the need for intimidation and aggression; ultimately it is up to the cats to form a relationship. While many cats become friends sometimes the best we can hope for is a peaceful co-existence without violence.