Introducing Your Cat or Kitten to a New Pet
Before bringing a new pet into your heart and home, ask yourself, “Why do I want another pet?” Two pets are not necessarily just as easy or just as much work as one. Another pet will require time, energy, expense and patience. Many people who do not have enough time for one pet think that two will be better because they will keep each other company. If you think a second pet will help alleviate loneliness, boredom or behavior problems with your resident pet, think again. If you don’t have time to spend with one cat, you surely will not have time to spend with two. Many cat owners end up with two bored and misbehaving pets instead of one. Furthermore, a second pet will not necessarily provide your cat with the companionship you have in mind.
If you are willing to put in the time, patience and expense of a second pet, then take a look at your cat’s desires. Does he want or need a companion? Is he happy to be the “only child?” Cats are by nature, highly territorial. A cat, especially an indoor cat can become extremely stressed if he thinks his territory is being invaded. Unless a cat has been raised with other pets and has been socialized with them, he will not readily accept them and will most likely be happier by himself. What is your cat’s temperament like? Does he welcome strangers coming into your home? Does he hide for days after they have left? Some cats are traumatized when a new piece of furniture is brought into the home! If this is your cat, you should seriously reconsider your plans. Read more about the territorial nature of cats.
OK, OK! You’re convinced you have the time, you want another pet, and you’ve decided your cat will definitely enjoy a companion. What are some second pet possibilities and what are the pros and cons of each?
These animals are an entirely different “beast” than cats. Unless you already have experience with them and knowledge of their needs and behavior, you must be willing to do some research and gain at least a basic understanding of rabbits. Their needs are similar to but at the same time, very different from a cat’s needs. A rabbit that is confined in a cage to prevent house soiling will not be much of a companion for your cat. Therefore, house training your rabbit is a must. Without supervision, behavior training and rabbit- proofing your house, a rabbit can and will chew your belongings.
Can you understand rabbit language? What does it mean when its ears are back, forward, only one ear back, to the side, etc.? What does it mean when the rabbit lunges, circles or begins furious thumping when it sees your cat? Do you know what these signs mean? Are these signs of affection or hostility? What will you do when you observe these behaviors? At least with another cat, you’re already familiar with feline language.
There are benefits to consider as well. While each can be extremely competitive with members of their own species, cats and rabbits can have harmonious, non-competitive companionship with each other. Introducing a half-grown or mature rabbit of a medium to large size breed is the recommended preference. A younger or smaller rabbit can trigger a cat’s predatory instincts.
Have a friend bring Bunny to your home in a carrier. Set the carrier down in a quiet corner of a room and let the two see and sniff each other while separated. If they seem to get along, find a permanent location for your rabbit’s cage. Make sure the rabbit has a secure place inside his cage to retreat to if he feels threatened. At least once a day, lock your cat in another room and let Bunny explore your home on his own. Watch both Kitty and Bunny get to know each other through the safety of the cage. If after about a week, they seem to like each other, then leave the cage door open and let them discover each other without a barrier separating them. Wait another couple of weeks before leaving them alone together.
A relationship between a cat and a rabbit can be very close. It is not unusual to find them licking and grooming each other. Cats and rabbits will often play together, usually with the rabbit chasing the cat. This game breaks up the daily boredom and gives them something interesting to do. Neither one takes the game too seriously, and neither feels the social pressures of same-species interaction.
Birds, mice, hamsters, etc.
Don’t do it. Cats are predators, and these creatures are their prey. In the home environment, their presence can frustrate your cat. Your cat’s presence will stress and terrorize them. One mistake or accident that leads to an escape of one of these little pets can be fatal.
When considering introducing a dog to your household, a puppy is usually the best choice. Since it has no history of chasing cats or teasing them, a puppy may more naturally and readily accept your cat as a resident companion rather than as an object of harassment. A puppy is also smaller and easier for you to control and train to be a friendly companion for your cat. But remember, unlike some other pet possibilities, a puppy requires a tremendous amount of care, attention and training. Depending on your cat’s age and temperament, a puppy can also be an annoyance or source of trauma to your cat.
When introducing a puppy to your cat for the first time, confine yourselves to one room. Be sure the room has plenty of places for kitty to run, hide and escape from what is sure to be a curious puppy. Sit back and relax. Your pets will tune into your feelings and attitude. If you act up-tight, they will sense something is wrong. If you act relaxed and natural, the chances are much greater that they will too.
Don’t force them to meet, but be sure to praise both for being good during their encounter. Your main concern should be for the safety of your puppy’s nose. A cat can strike out and scratch a dog’s nose three times before the dog even realizes what has happened.
In the beginning, bring your puppy and cat together three to five times a day for at least five minutes each session. Teach your puppy not to chase the cat, but don’t make too big a fuss when he does or he will think a big game us underway. Simply tell the puppy “Off,” in a stern voice and gently push him away from the cat. A lot of vocalization on your part might be interpreted as encouragement and reward for his behavior.
If you don’t have the time it takes to care for a new puppy, consider a full grown dog as a companion for your cat. It’s best to adopt one that has been with cats before. Each animal’s personality is important to consider. For an outgoing cat, most any dog will do. Look for a mellow pooch if your resident cat is shy and quiet.
For at least a couple of days, keep the dog on a leash when he’s around the cat. Praise and encourage all friendly behavior. Instantly correct the dog for any obnoxious behavior. Provide your cat with a resting and hiding place that the dog can’t reach. Walk the dog around the room, allowing him to go wherever he wants, but don’t let go of the leash in case he tries to lunge at or chase the cat. If your cat doesn’t want to be close to the dog, she will seek her place of refuge. Your cat should have the opportunity to approach the dog if she wants, but she must know she can escape if she feels uncertain. Repeat this exercise as frequently as you can, until both pets are comfortable and responding favorably. Don’t try to rush the introduction or force them to become friends. You will know and feel when the time is right to begin short supervised sessions with both pets unrestrained.
When selecting a new cat, try to find one that has lived with cats before. It is best to introduce a cat that is different in age and sex to the resident cat. Fighting usually occurs between cats of the same sex and age, especially between toms. While cats of the opposite sex get along best, they should be spayed and neutered. Generally, your cat will best accept a kitten. However, if your cat is a senior citizen, spare it the nuisance of a rambunctious youngster and get it a mellow, adult companion. Try to match personalities. If your cat is a spitfire, then she will probably love another active cat or kitten, not a couch potato.
Have a friend bring the new cat in a carrier to your house. Set the carrier down and see what happens. If the cats try to attack each other through the carrier, the relationship is probably not going to work. If they seem to get along or are cautiously curious about each other, it will most likely work.
Keep your new cat confined to a single room for a few days. This allows the newcomer the opportunity to familiarize himself with the room, which will become his safe haven and personal territory. Provide a litterbox, food/water dishes, toys, bedding and a scratching/climbing post in his room. It is essential that your new cat feels secure in his new territory and has bonded with you before meeting your resident cat and adjusting to your entire house. Read more about your cats social structure and behavior.
Spend some time alone with your new cat so the two of you can bond. Begin teaching him the rules of your house by rewarding his good behavior. Praise him profusely for using his litter box and scratching his post.
When your new cat seems to be adjusting to you and his new room, you can start to familiarize the cats with each other. Start off by letting them get used to the smell of each other. Bring a piece of the resident cat’s bedding into the new cat’s room. Take some of the new cat’s bedding and put it where your resident cat can smell it. Keep exchanging and rotating their beds or a towel that covers a favorite sleeping area. Let the cats sniff each other from under the door. Give both cats plenty of opportunity to adjust to each other’s scent. If neither cat acts like it wants to break the door down and kill the other, then it is time to begin leaving the door open.
The new cat will eventually creep out and meet the resident cat. What usually happens is that they both freeze, arch their backs, hiss, spit and even growl at each other. Then they both flee to safety. Should they have any squabbles, the newcomer can retreat to his own room. The resident cat will be less likely to enter because the room bears the scent of the newcomer. The security and familiarity of the newcomer’s own room will help rebuild his confidence to venture forth again.
Don’t force your new cat and resident cat to meet. They will do so on their own when they are ready. Don’t shower your new cat with attention in front of the resident cat until he is well accepted as part of the family. Don’t be upset if the new cat remains in hiding for several days. This is the cat’s normal way of dealing with stress and adapting to new situations.
Most of their first encounters may appear hostile to you, but it is best not to interfere. Let them work things out by themselves. They will understand and get to know each other much more quickly if you do not confuse the issues by taking sides or adding to the tension.
To prevent bringing home disease with your new cat make sure your resident cat is vaccinated. Vaccinate and check the newcomer for feline leukemia, upper respiratory infections and parasites. Ask your veterinarian for further advice about the prevention of disease transmission.
Health isn’t a major concern with dogs since few diseases can be passed between cats and dogs. Still, have your newcomer’s health checked by your veterinarian before bringing him home.
Many animals, including cats, carry the Pasteurella bacteria. This bacteria can sometimes cause insidious health problems in rabbits. If your cat playfully bites and scratches, be sure to monitor her when in contact with your rabbit.
Put the cat’s litterbox in an area where your new dog can’t get into it. Keep the cat’s food out of the dog’s reach, too. Cats and dogs have very different dietary needs and they should not be allowed to share food or they risk getting sick.
Before bringing your new pet home, give your resident cat a crash course in housetraining. Even if there have been no mistakes in the house for years, the introduction of a stranger may cause a temporary breakdown. Always profusely praise your cat each time she eliminates in her box. Clean each litterbox, once a day, everyday, refilling it with clean litter. This should be a standard practice anyway. If it isn’t, start this practice at least a month before introducing another pet. If you’re bringing home another cat, buy a couple of extra litterboxes. They can be extremely private property to a cat and a new cat can be leery about using another cat’s box. Once the cats become friends, they will probably share their boxes with no problem.
It is especially important to prepare your cat for the arrival of a newcomer in other ways too. Spend lots of time concentrating on, rewarding and praising her good behavior. When the new pet arrives, most owners make such a big fuss over the newcomer that the resident cat feels neglected and ignored. You should be doing just the opposite. Most of your attention should be given to your resident cat. She’s the one who is going to feel that her territory is being invaded. She may react by marking, acting aggressive or being destructive. Some cats get so upset over a newcomer that they pack their bags and leave, and may never come back. Make absolutely sure that your cat feels secure with you and her home territory before, during and after the newcomer’s arrival.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a companion for your resident cat. But, the number one consideration should be for the new pet and yourself. Do you have the time it will take to deal with not only being a matchmaker but also a caregiver and supervisor? By being realistic and honest about your needs and constraints, you will be in a good position to decide whether or not to add a second pet to your household.
The majority of cat owners I know who adopted companion pets were highly motivated to do so and now are truly delighted living as a two and even three-pet family. If you already own a cat, and are happy with her, a second cat will most likely be the “purrfect” choice for you and your resident cat.