How to Integrate A New Cat into the Household

By:  Melissa Olivadoti, Kitty City volunteer

One of the most common questions we get in rescue is how to integrate a new cat into the household.  With just a little time and effort, you can integrate a new kitty into your household and decrease the chance of illness and aggression.  They type of activities required will depend on the amount and type of animals you have already (if any), as well as the personalities of the current and new animals in your home.  Here's a quick how-to for adding a new furry member to your family.  

 


 Before bringing your new cat home:

Make sure they have everything they need:  healthy food, a full water bowl, a nice comfy bed, and a place to hide (like an enclosed cat bed or cat tree cubbie).  Even better – a tall cat tree where they can hide.  Cats LOVE to be up high! That is where they feel most safe.  Amazon tends to have great deals on cat trees.

During this time of adjustment, please treat your kitty as the individual they are--they will tell you when they are comfortable and ready for the next step. You just have to be patient.

 For an only cat:

Cats are creatures of habit, so new environments may overwhelm them.  When bringing home an only cat to your home, we recommend putting your new kitty in a single, quiet room with everything it needs (food, water, litter, bed, toys, etc.) for a day or so to let them adjust, giving them love whenever you can.  Once they are comfortable, you can introduce them to more and more of the home.  If they begin to hide when you introduce them to larger spaces, you can either confine them to their old smaller space for a longer period of time, allowing for natural curiosity to take over, or leave them alone in the bigger space to adjust.  I know it is tempting to encourage your kitty to come out and play, but please DO NOT FORCE THEM OUT OF HIDING PLACES. This is their coping mechanism and they need time to adjust on their own.  Forcing them out will likely result in aggression toward the person (as they are hiding because they don't yet feel safe).  Also, if you force them out of hiding, they may be less likely to venture out on their own.  You can use treats to encourage them to explore their environment but always make sure they have their own quiet space to retreat to. 

 Slowly introduce your new kitty to larger and larger spaces until they are comfortable having the run of the home.  This may take a few weeks, or they may want to see the entire place on the first day depending on their personality.  We've heard of stories of cats that hid for months, but given time, love and encouragement, they turned into confident cats that roamed the house when they finally felt it was time for them to emerge.

 This may not be possible in small apartments, but if there's a way to make sure kitty feels comfy in their new space, it will allow them to show their personality quickly and feel right at home.

 In a multi-cat home:

Adjustments to multi-cat homes can be tricky, as cats can be territorial and have a hierarchy of who's in charge (alpha, beta, etc.)  A new cat coming in means that the new cat needs to find its place in the hierarchy, and the old cats need to readjust where they stand as well.  It is common to have fights and tussles with a new cat in the home, so these tactics will hopefully reduce any aggression.

Put the new kitty in its own space.  This can be a bedroom or even a bathroom.  This serves two purposes: it allows the kitty to adjust to smells and a new location with less stress.   Also sometimes due to stress or timing, kitties can end up with a cold (just like humans!) or show signs of health issues, and you want this to happen BEFORE you introduce them to your other kitties so they can be healthy and ready for the introduction (and reduce the spread of germs).  If kitty is nervous, you can add a Feliway diffuser (that contains happy cat pheromones that reduce stress) to their room.

In the first few days to a week, trade bedding from the new cat and old cat(s) so they smell each other.  Feed the cats on either side of the door so they smell each other under the door and you create positive experiences.  

If there's NO growling, swatting or hissing behavior after the first week, open the door and allow the kitties to see each other.  Give treats to each cat if possible to create a positive association.  If there is ANY aggression (swatting, growling, pouncing/attacking, etc.) close the door immediately and try again later or on another day.  It is easier to go slow at first.  Once aggression occurs, it is difficult to manage in multi-cat households.  If there is no aggression (just sniffing, chirping), allow them to intermingle under close supervision for a specific period of time (10-20 minutes), then leave the kitties in their respective spaces again.  Do this for a couple more days for longer periods of time, until everyone is happily intermingling.  After a couple weeks, hopefully all kitties will get along well and you won't see any aggression.

Every once in a while fights are possible, just make sure that no one is getting hurt (blood or breaking of skin or screaming/crying is not good, but playing/rolling around is normal).  If aggression occurs after the adjustment period, consult your veterinarian.  There may be other issues causing the aggression, or the vet may be able to prescribe anti-anxiety meds to make the transition easier.

Also as mentioned above, high cat trees and plenty of places to hide and sleep (multiple beds) are important for cats in multi-cat homes.  Make sure each cat has their own litter box (best ratio is # of cats +1, so if you have 3 cats, 4 boxes are needed).  These little tactics will reduce territorial aggression over beds, hiding places, or boxes.

 For natural calming agents, Feliway diffusers are a great way to ease tension in general, and are good for roughly 100 sqare feet (one per small room).  Other options are Jackson Galaxy remedies, Rescue Remedy and Zylkene (a natural calming supplement), or CBD oil. (Please consult your veterinarian before using these.)

 Also to reduce the negative consequences if any aggression occurs, you can put soft paw claw caps on the front claws of kitties and/or keep their claws trimmed.

NEVER get in the middle of a fight.  Use a spray bottle if fights break out and try to hit the aggressive cat with the water stream to reduce aggressive behavior with a loud "NO" right after the fight to associate negative consequences with fighting.

Thank you for rescuing your new family member, we are forever grateful for people like you who give homeless animals a place to be loved!

 

 

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