By following these steps* when adding another feline to the family, pet owners may be able to prevent the infighting and territorial behaviours that often lead to relinquishment:
- At first, the cats should only be allowed to smell and hear each other, not see or touch each other.
- This can be done by confining the new cat to a small section or one room of the house with all the necessities (litter box, food, water, toys, bed, etc.).
- Place towels with the scent of the other cat underneath each cat’s food dish and on resting places. Rub the cat toys with the scent of the new cat. The goal is to have this scent be associated with “good things.”
- After the new addition is comfortable in her room (anywhere from several hours to several days), confine the resident cat in this area and allow the new animal to explore the house, under supervision. This allows each cat to become more familiar with the other’s scent.
- Feed or offer both cats treats close to the door to this room (one on each side). This helps each to associate “good things” with the other’s presence. Use “to die for” treats such as small pieces of tuna, chicken, or salmon.
- Try slipping one end of a toy underneath the door to encourage the cats to paw at it or each other in a playful way.
- Repeat these procedures until there are no aggressive or fearful responses and both cats begin to show some curiosity about the cat who is on the other side of the door.
- Next, wedge the door open, from both sides, about an inch, with doorstops. This allows the cats to peek at each other, paw if they want to, but not have complete access to each other for things to go wrong. Do not progress past this step until the cats can see each other without fearful or aggressive responses. Continue to use toys, food, and petting as long as the cats aren’t threatening. Touching an agitated cat may result in a bite.
- Next, wedge the door open a little farther, but not so much that the cats can get to one another. Repeat the previous step.
- An ideal next step is to give the cats full view of one another behind a screen or glass door before being allowed together.
- When the cats are first together, keep the session brief, and continue to offer enjoyable things—food, toys, petting.
- If the cats are threatening or fearful when close to either side of the door to the confinement room, offer the tidbits at a greater distance from the door, where both cats can be calm.
- Do not move the introduction along too quickly. The cats should be tolerating each other well at each step before progressing to the next. One bout of fighting may set the introduction back for months.
- During initial time together, if any hissing or conflicts occur, try to distract the cats into another activity—dangle a toy, get the resident cat into the kitchen with the sound of food preparations, etc. If these reactions continue, back up a few steps in the introduction process.
- Avoid having the cats together in a small space, such as a car, until they have become comfortable with each other.
- Supervise interactions at home, and do not allow the cats to be alone together until they are consistently demonstrating friendly behaviors with each other for at least a week.
- Punishment is rarely helpful with cat introductions as it is counterproductive in creating the association of “good things” with each other’s presence.
- If a fight does occur, try a loud noise, such as an airhorn or ultrasonic device, or a water gun to break it up before either cat is injured. This should be used to interrupt the current interaction, not as a repeated procedure.
- Don’t try to pull the cats apart or use interactive punishment. If interactions consistently result in fearful, threatening, or aggressive behavior, either the introduction was too abrupt, or this is not a problem prevention situation but instead requires problem resolution.
- Keep the resident cat(s’) routine as much the same as possible by keeping feeding, play, and sleeping times and locations the same as before the new cat arrived.
*These steps are excerpted from Pet Behavior Protocols: What To Say, What To Do, When to Refer by S. Hetts, AAHA Press, Lakewood, CO, 1999.
Reproduced from the July-August 2002 issue of Animal Sheltering magazine.