Congratulations! It’s time to bring a new four-legged family member home. While it’s definitely a much waited event for all human family members, it may not be that exciting for your existing cat.
Some cats are naturally easy going and will accept most other cats, while others are timid and assertive – it’s important to try to match personality types as very active and self-confident cats may overwhelm the timid ones.
Also, your new family members will need your help and support to adapt and adjust to their new environment so give them time and be understanding.
A check over of BOTH cats by a veterinarian is a good start to any new introductions. It is important to ensure both cats are healthy, up to date with vaccinations, preventatives (who wants to have flea infestation at home?) and showing no signs of illness. It doesn’t matter if your new cat comes from a dedicated cat breeder or has been rehomed – make sure you get all possible history, vaccination and preventative certificates.
Have a safe zone ready for your new kitty – a separate room with toys, bed, litter box and food would be best to occupy for the first few days. This allows your new cat to settle down and get used to the sounds and smell. Also, your resident cat can get used to the smell of a new kitten without the threat of it. Buy a diffuser called Feliway which imitates natural cat pheromones and helps cats feel more comfortable and relaxed, plug it in at least 24h before the arrival of your new family member. For adult cats you can also try Zylkene which contains a milk protein-derived molecule which adapt to change.
Don’t try to introduce the new cat immediately upon arrival.
You may damage the new relationship and initiate fear, aggression and anger.
Successful introduction takes time!
It is very important to allow both cats to get used to each other’s scents. Keep them separate for the first few days but gradually introduce the kitten’s scent into the household by swapping bedding, toys and letting them smell your hands – give them treats to create association between the new smell and something “good happening”. As soon as they are both comfortable, allow them to individually explore the other’s territory (but still keep them apart). Let the “smell” be the first introduction as they sniff each other from under the door.
Next step is to organise a carrier meeting which is a safe way to let them finally see each other. Place your new cat in a carrier (best would be the one with covered walls so the cat can still feel safe inside instead of being fully exposed) and allow cats to look at each other and sniff through the carrier door. Any signs of aggression? Keep the visits short, give both cats treats so they can associate these “meetings” with good memories and rewards. Repeat this phase 2-3 times a day until the cats feel comfortable.
If there’s no signs of aggression, leave the door to a ‘safe room’ slightly open so that cats can walk in/out and explore at their own pace. Have a spray bottle ready to use in case of aggression or serious threats. Have a Feliway diffuser on all the time. Encourage positive interactions by giving treats, using a calm voice and playing with toys so they focus on this rather than on each other.
IMPORTANT – be prepared for occasional hissing or swatting – this is normal. It’s not your responsibility to establish a hierarchy between them – they will sort this out between themselves naturally, you just need to help them to have a good start in their ‘relationship’. Have realistic expectations: first you want them to tolerate one another. If you’re lucky, they may turn out to be best friends!