Kittens not only face a new home environment, they also face a new family that includes other pets as well as humans. Some kittens may show fear and defensive postures toward other pets in the home, but most young kittens are simply playful and inquisitive around other animals.
In fact, existing pets that have an established territorial instinct for the home may pose more of an aggressive problem than the new kitty.
If you know or suspect that your current dog or cat might be aggressive toward the kitten, choreograph their introduction with safety in mind.
The presence of other pets in the house makes confining the kitten to a restricted area even more important for two reasons:
- First, the kitten needs personal space where he feels safe and secure.
- Second, the new kitten should not intrude on the personal space already claimed by the existing pets.
Feeding and sleeping should be in separate locations, at least for a while. With time, both the new kitten and your other pets will learn the other’s behavior patterns and signals while developing mutual respect and trust. When this happens, anxiety levels are decreased on both sides. Until then, the new kitten needs a place to avoid confrontation by climbing or hiding to remove himself from the situation.
Introducing Cats to Cats
The introduction period will usually last one to two weeks and will have one of three possible outcomes:
- The existing cat will remain hostile to the kitten. This is an unlikely occurrence if competition for food and affection are minimized during the first few weeks.
- The existing cat will only tolerate the kitten. Hostility will cease, but the existing cat will act as if the kitten is not present. This is more likely if the existing cat is very independent, has been an only cat for several years, or if marked competition occurred during the first few weeks. This relationship may be permanent no matter how friendly the kitten is, but it is not usually harmful.
- Bonding will occur between the existing cat and the kitten. They will play together, groom each other, and sleep near each
other. This is more likely to occur if competition is minimized and if the existing cat has been lonely for companionship.
Note: Many adult cats are fairly tolerant of kittens as long as their territory is respected and they don’t feel neglected. It is important to spend quality time with both the new and the resident cat. In addition to avoiding competition for attention, you must deter competition for food. If you follow the plan to provide the new cat with his own eating area, this should not be a problem, but monitor the older cat’s bowl to ensure that the new kitty doesn’t eat from it.
Phase 1 – Cat Smells Cat
Successful introductions take time. DO NOT try to introduce the new addition to your resident cat(s) immediately upon arrival. You may damage the new relationship irreparably and initiate fear, anger, aggression, spraying and litter box problems in the new cat and/or resident cat(s).
Successful introductions take time.
Let the cats sniff out the situation. Let “smell” be the first introduction as the cats sniff each other from under the “safe room” door. Within two to four days, begin exchanging the bedding between the new and resident cat(s) daily. This helps familiarize the cats with each other’s scents.
Phase 2 – Cat Continues to Smell Cat
Let the sniffing continue. If there are no marked signs of aggression from the cats, such as hissing and growling, the next step is to confine your resident cat to a room and let the new cat explore your house for a couple of hours each day for several days.
Phase 3 – Cat Sees Cat
Organize a carrier meeting. Place your new cat in a carrier and put the carrier in a location of your home outside of the safe room (for example, the living room). Allow the cats to look at each other and sniff through the carrier door.
Any signs of aggression? Keep the visit short and return the new cat to its safe room.
Repeat this phase 2 to 3 times daily (if possible), until cats appear to be more comfortable with each other.
Phase 4 – Cat Meets Cat
Let the cats meet at their own pace. If there are no signs of aggression between cats, leave the door to the safe room open a crack. This will allow the new cat to explore and/or your resident cat to visit. Supervision is necessary for the safety of both cats.
In case of aggression, have a spray bottle filled with water or a towel handy. Always stop serious threats and/or aggression immediately, as a serious fight may damage the potential for successful integration and relationship.
If over a period of weeks your integration plan is not going well, consider the installation of an inexpensive screen door from a building supply store. The screen door allows the cats to continue to get to know each other by sight and smell, while keeping both parties safe. Each cat can take turns in the screened room.
A Feliway diffuser may also prove helpful when integration is difficult.
Phase 5 – Integration Complete
You may notice some occasional hissing, swatting and grouchy behavior over the next few months (and years). This is normal.
Cats are hierarchical by nature and must establish and affirm the pecking order within your household.
Plus, much like humans, all cats have the occasional “off” day.
Please note: The 5 phases detailed above offer only approximate timelines. Some integrations may proceed faster or slower and integration is dependent on the personalities of the cats involved. Remember, you know your cat(s) best. Use common sense and patience when integrating a new cat or cats.
Introducing a Shy Cat Companion – The Exception to the Rule
If you’ve adopted a shy cat or kitten to provide companionship for your resident cat, a quicker integration may be best.
Shy cats are often used to and welcome other feline companionship.
They will be very lonely on their own, so we recommend that the integration be expedited (~3 days still following the steps above) unless there are significant problems.
Introducing Cats to Dogs
Phase 1 – Cat Smells Dog
Follow the steps detailed in Phase 1 of the How to Introduce Cats to Cats section above.
Phase 2 – Switch Spots
If there are no other cats in your home, confine the dog to one room and let the cat begin to explore the rest of your house for one to two hours each day until the cat is familiar and comfortable with the layout of your home.
Phase 3 – Cat Meets Dog
Introduce resident dog on a leash in your cat’s ‘new territory’ room. Once the cat is used to your home, let the cat roam loose in one room. Keep the dog on a leash and have dog treats ready in your pocket. If possible, have another person the cat is familiar with on the other side of the room to reassure and distract the cat from the dog.
Sit and meet. Keep the dog seated and focused on you as the leader. Try offering the dog a toy. If the dog focuses on or accepts the toy, reward the dog with a treat. If the dog tries to stand and move towards the cat(s), correct the dog slightly with the leash and reward him or her with a treat. If at any point the dog is not responding to your commands or the cat’s stress level appears elevated, remove the dog from the room. Keep repeating this process until the dog is responding to you and either ignoring or accepting the cat(s). This process helps teach the dog that cats are not prey, toys to be chased, or threats.
Watch. Never leave the dog and cat(s) unsupervised until you are absolutely sure they have built up a mutual, trusting and respectful relationship.
Make sure kitty has some space for alone time. Even once the cat(s) and dog(s) are comfortable with each other, cats still like having the option to retreat to a space away from the dog. Place a baby gate across the doorway of a room in the house where the cat or cats like to hang out, or buy or build a tall cat tower so they can retreat when needed.