Nose to Nose Cat Introductions - Combatting Cat on Cat Aggression
Fact: felines can be fussy. There’s no doubt about it. But, when it comes to welcoming a new cat to the house, can you blame them? How would you feel if a funny-smelling stranger from the street started sharing your dinner plate, toilet, and bed?
One of the top complaints I hear from pet owners as a certified animal behavior consultant involves cat-to-cat aggression. It often happens when a new cat is introduced to the home or to a preexisting clowder (bet you didn’t know that means a group of cats!). Unfortunately, it can happen other times as well. Yesterday, I consulted on a case in which two cat buddies became enemies overnight! In either case, proper introductions can prevent problems, reverse bad feelings, and build tolerance (or even love!). Kitty aggression can be complicated, so I’ll cover it in detail in future blogs, but a good rule of paw is to simply reintroduce arguing cats as if they’ve never met.
Create a Safe Room
When introducing a new cat to your home, always respect the resident cat’s feelings. Confine the new kitty to a single room so the resident pet understands that only part of his or her territory has been invaded. A safe room also protects the new cat from information overload and provides a familiar, comfortable retreat.
This works when introducing a new dog to a cat’s home, too. When eight-week-old Magic arrived, he was confined to the kitchen while Seren continued to have full access to the rest of the house. In the situation with yesterday’s cat buddy fallout, one cat was confined in a safe room while the other retained the run of the house.
Be sure to provide a litter box, food and water bowls, toys, a scratch post, and other kitty essentials in the cat’s safe room. Take your time and don’t feel rushed. Keep the door closed at least for the first three days—a week or longer may be required.
Use Scent for Good
Observe how willing the cats are to interact with sniffing and paw pats beneath the door. Felines identify their family group by a communal scent they share from grooming each other and sleeping together at night. Take advantage of this powerful introduction tool!
After each cat has had a meal, switch their plates temporarily so they can sniff the other cat’s bowl and become familiar with each other’s scent. It’s even better when a bit of food is left, as this helps cats identify good stuff—food—with their soon-to-be friend. Expect normal posturing, fluffed fur, and hissing. When that begins to fade, you’re ready for the next step.
After several days, give the new cat a chance to scope out the rest of the house for a couple of hours. Kitties have no interest in meeting new people or pets unless they feel comfortable with the environment. Segregate your resident cat to another room, then open the door so the new cat has a bit of private time to rub the furniture, find the perfect hiding spot, and check out the rest of the home. If you can manage it, it’s great to let your resident cat explore the “safe room” to learn about the new cat on the block, too.
When cats have had a falling out and need to be separated—and after they’ve both had a chance to calm down—you can swap the cats out of the safe room to give each a little private time to cheek-rub the rest of the house.
Make First Meetings Positive
Finally, you’re ready for a first nose-to-nose meeting. Don’t make a big deal of this; simply open the door, stand back, and watch what happens. If you have more than one resident kitty, introduce the friendliest cat to the newcomer first, so they have a chance to form a bond and offer a positive example to the others.
Be prepared to stop any all-out altercations, but allow hissing as long as the cats keep their distance. Distract them by feeding them or playing a game at the same time, but on opposite sides of the room. This helps associate fun, positive things with the other cat’s presence.
Cats may take to each other right away, or require days or weeks to accept somebody new into the family. Until you are satisfied no fur will fly, keep the new cat in the safe room whenever you can’t supervise. A baby gate in the doorway can allow interactions while keeping them safely separated. You may need to stack a couple gates to keep the cat from leaping or climbing over them. I have a tall gate with a tiny cat door that keeps Magical-Dawg in the kitchen, and allows Seren to come and go and thumb her nose at her barking buddy any time she pleases.