Friday, July 6, 2012

Have You Added A New Cat Recently?

Introducing a New Cat to Your Home

Shelters have been bursting with cats after a busy kitten season this spring, so many of us are introducing new felines to our household. But how does this affect the existing cats in our homes?

Many years ago, after I'd adopted my first cat from the local Humane Society, he seemed to be suffering from great separation anxiety when I went to work. A lady I worked with had a long-haired tortie she was trying to rehome for much the same reason, so I agreed to take her. She was called Sam, short for Samantha, and she was a beautiful girl.

I'd been told that cats need some time to adjust to each other when first introduced, so I gave them a week or so to work out who was boss, enduring the hissing, "squeaky-door" growls, and such. But while trying to move the new kitty over a bit in the windowsill one day, I felt something under her tail that only became worse upon further inspection: there was poop all matted into her hair because my big boy wasn't even letting the poor thing use the litter box!

That was it; this match was not to be. I had to cut out the poop from her long coat and give Sam a good bath. Then I called my co-worker to let her know it was not going to work out. But I didn't give up on Sam -- in putting out feelers among my network of friends, I found a friend of a friend who wanted her. Within a few weeks, this poor, timid cat who couldn't even relieve herself in my house was the queen of her new household, with a little boy for a companion who loved grooming and doting on her. The friend who had connected us reported that Sam's entire demeanor had changed. I was so happy for her, as she had a home where she could get the attention she craved, without being pushed around by another cat.

When I moved from that apartment a few months later, I'd decided to take in the stray cat I'd been seeing around and take both cats to the new place together, so there would be no invasion of anybody's space. While my boy-kitty also attempted to intimidate her, she was having none of it. She wouldn't hesitate to give him a good swat, claws unsheathed, and he learned quickly to keep his distance from her. That stray turned out to be my beloved little Vixen, my companion for 23 years until her death in there's an introduction that worked out pretty well! They are the two cats pictured above, at the top of this post.

Only one other time did I try introducing another cat to my home, and that was when I'd found a young kitten, probably about 3 months old, at the bottom of the stairs leading to my apartment. He insisted on following me to the parking lot and I was afraid he'd get run over there, so I scooped him up, ran back upstairs, and tossed him in the door, running late for choir rehearsal and unsure of what to expect when I returned.

That kitten seemed to get along fine with the other two, although I did feed him separately. He was a delightful little fellow who found a home with another friend of a friend who just adored him. A recent news article told another story about a couple who weren't as successful in introducing a new cat to their home.

Tips on Successful Cat Introductions

When introducing a new cat to your existing feline companions, there are a few steps you can take that will make it easier.

  • Talk to the cat(s) about it first. I know it sounds crazy, but we're all crazy cat ladies here anyway, right? So before you bring the new cat home, have a mental conversation with your existing cats, talking softly and calmly to them as you do. Tell them what you're going to do, and imagine all the cats curling up or playing together happily and peacefully.  Picture them enjoying abundant food, treats, and snuggles with you, with plenty to go around for all. Using the positive images in your mind is very important in "selling" your cats on the idea that this new introduction is a good thing. When you meet with the new cat, have the same kind of mental conversation, again picturing them together with your cats, happily and harmoniously living together.
  • Introduce the newcomer gradually. Don't just dump both cats together into the house and assume that everything will work out. Cats communicate with body language, but also telepathically and by scent. Put the newcomer in an adjacent room with the door closed between them. Gradually introduce a grooming mitt, T-shirt, collar, harness, bed, or other items from one cat's space into the other's so they can get used to each other's scents. See how they accept one another; are they growling or curious about the other cat hidden behind the door? You may need to do this for a few days, or a few weeks. You may be able to graduate to a screen door or gate in between the two rooms, if needed. The cats' individual personalities will determine the timeframe and progression. And if there are dogs in the mix, that's a whole other dynamic to consider.
  • Add another litter box. Standard wisdom is that you should have as many litter boxes as you have cats, plus one. So adding another cat means adding another litter box. Place them at various spots throughout the house, as the urge may strike when kitty can't get to her favorite box and she may need access to another one. Better to have litter boxes around the house than to find a "surprise" in your favorite shoes!
  • Make sure there are exits. This was a subject tackled on a recent episode of Jackson Galaxy's "My Cat From Hell" show on Animal Planet. The couple he was helping had a cat who constantly attacked the other, cornering her and making her life, well, a living hell! He helped them construct escape routes for the undercat, giving her a way out of the corners so she didn't get beaten up. Harmony was restored! If there are places in your home that are dead ends for one cat fleeing from another, see what you can do to add an exit to them. This could mean a cat tree, or a wall-mounted solution.
  • Let the cats work it out. Although it can be tempting to intervene, and if somebody's actually getting injured you should, give the cats a little time and space to establish their pecking order. You may need to make a few adjustments in where different ones are fed, add some cat furniture you didn't already have, or put a litter box in a new location. But observe their interaction to see what, if any, changes are needed. 
  • Know when to draw the line. Some mixes of cats just don't work, no matter what you do. If you find that all your efforts still don't help the new cat fit into your existing mix, look for a better-matching home for the newcomer. Don't just dump poor kitty at a shelter, as you (or one of your friends) surely know someone for whom that cat would be a good fit. Just like with little Sam, it could be the absolute best situation in the world for that cat.
Adding a new cat takes time and patience. But hang in there. Within a month or two, you should have a happy household, blessed with cats....plural!

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