By Emma Allen, RVN DipFN, Severn Veterinary Centre.
Many cat owners, myself included, own more than one cat. Sometimes this is because we own siblings or a mother cat and her offspring, but quite often it is because we have made a decision to acquire another cat. New cat introductions can go well, with our resident cat seemingly accepting the new arrival with barely a twitch of their whiskers. However, all too frequently such introductions do not go according to plan! This can be distressing for both cats and owner, particularly if fighting occurs, the resident cat goes ‘missing’ or the new arrival has to be relinquished back to the breeder or rescue centre from where they were purchased.
Your cats may live with you for many years, getting the introduction right can make a huge difference to how their attitude to each other will be throughout this time. Thankfully, there are a number of things we can do to help increase the likelihood of acceptance. But first we need to understand a little bit about what makes a cat, ‘a cat’, and how this influences their behaviour around other cats.
What is a cat?
The domestic cat we love today has evolved from a solitary ancestor and currently, as a species, exists on a continuum from highly solitary to forming positive social relationships and coexisting successfully with other cats in resource-abundant environments. (This bit is really important!)
Cats are very territorial, and being a solitary species, rely heavily on chemical communication through scent marking. This is something we need to consider and utilise during cat introductions which I will talk about later on.
The likelihood of acceptance
It is very hard to predict likelihood of successful acceptance between two cats, but some factors have been identified that can help increase the chances of a positive outcome. Here are some factors to consider:
Managing new introductions: preparation is key. ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’
Before you consider the requirements of the new cat, have a think about your existing cats(s). Do they have plenty of separate resources throughout the house? Food and water bowls placed away from one another (cats do not like to drink near their food source), litter trays (1 per cat, plus one extra), quiet places to rest and sleep, scratching posts and raised areas to perch, help to enhance their feelings of security (cats love to be up high!). Ensuring they have enough places to hide and perch also enables them to feel in control, something that will be important when a new cat enters their territory.
Creating space for the new cat
This needs to be a secure area, containing all the resources your new cat will need. Confinement to a single room is ideal, preferably a room that the resident cat rarely uses and one you don’t need constant access too. Items that this room should contain include:
The importance of pheromones
Feline synthetic pheromone diffusers can help both cats feel more secure and at ease within their environment. The pheromone mimics the feline facial pheromone deposited by rubbing their heads on objects, helping them to feel secure within their environment.
Start using plug-in pheromone diffusers 5-7days before the new cat arrives.
Scent introduction and swapping
I mentioned earlier the importance of chemical communication and scent to cats. We need to introduce the cats to one another before they see, or even hear, each other. This is done by ‘scent-swapping’. Aim to slowly introduce and intermingle the new cat's scent with that of the resident cat to create a new ‘communal scent profile’ for the household.
How? Once both cats are in the same house, start ‘collecting’ the new cat's scent deposits on a cotton cloth or glove, by stroking them with it in the facial gland regions and along their flank, before rubbing this cloth on key areas around the house – door frames, table legs, the sofa and other items of furniture the resident cat may rub against. This should help the resident cat accept the new one but will also mean the environment will feel familiar to the new cat, helping them to settle in.
Next, continue scent swapping by taking one piece of each cat’s bedding (e.g. a single blanket) and placing it in one of the other cat’s beds. There should be ample bedding for both cats so this change in bedding does not leave either cat with limited sleeping/resting sites.
Once the cats are showing relaxed behaviour in the presence of the bedding, this can be replaced back into the original cat’s room, to allow further mingling of scent.
‘Hi there! Nice to meet you. Do you come here often?’
Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely to be the response when both cats meet for the first time! But once both cats are not reacting in a negative way (hissing, growling, ears rotated back and flattened) to each other’s scent, it is time for a visual introduction to begin – visual but with NO actual physical interaction.
Time, patience, toys and lots of high value treats will be required to help facilitate successful introductions after the scent-swapping phase.
Ways you can do this include:
If the cats react negatively, take a step back to scent-swapping before trying again a few days later. If all goes well (no negative reactions) then progression to the next stage may begin.
Allowing access to the wider home environment
With the resident cat secure in another room, or outside, the new cat should be allowed to explore the house to learn about hiding, perching and escape places.
Next, both cats can be allowed to occupy the same area, supervised, and with individual attention being given to them with treats and toys. They should not be forced to interact, use opposite ends of a good-sized room.
If the cats pretty much ignore one another, this is a good sign! Nose-touching and body rubbing is an excellent sign, but is not common on initial interactions. Providing there are no negative behaviours, they can be allowed to be together without supervision for short periods, gradually increasing in length until you are certain no negative interactions will take place.
(C) Emma Allen, RVN DipFN, 2018