By Suzanne Denk, CSB-C, Dip.FBST, Animal Enrichment Specialist
Properly introducing a new cat into your home can set the household up for lifelong success, but it could take days to months to see the progress. The most uncomfortable cat, whether it be your resident cat or the new cat, should set the pace of the introduction.
Your new cat should start out in their own room with everything they need, including time spent with you and your family members. Rub their cheeks with a sock to scent it with facial pheromones, which is a friendly signal to other cats. Do the same with another sock on your resident cat’s face and place each sock in the other’s space. This gives them the chance to get to know each other without pressure for direct interaction. Provide a treat if they interact with the sock, but do not rub either cat with the other’s scented sock. This can be stressful for them, so let them investigate the sock on their own terms.
Feed all meals at the closed door of your new cat’s room. If you must, free feed dry food, then only serve canned food at the door. Place the food at a distance from the door where each cat appears comfortable and will eat. If one of the cats will not eat, move their dish further back from the door. Do not move the dishes closer until they are eating comfortably at every distance. Each cat will eat on their side of the door but know the other cat is there. This will ensure they are sharing a pleasant experience.
When they are eating at the closed door without issue, use a baby gate to block the entrance. Now the cats will be able to see each other as they have their meal. If either cat is uncomfortable, move back a step in the process.
During the introduction time, give each cat a chance to explore the other’s space alone. Interactive teaser wand play with each cat at the closed door will also create positive associations before entering.
It is important to give your cats a chance to form a relationship and let them out together when they are ready. Have toys for distraction and supervise closely so that the experience is positive. Watch their body language for early signs of stress and separate them while the interaction is still positive. You can increase their time together as each cat becomes more comfortable. Taking the time for a proper introduction can ensure your cats live happily together and with your family!