One on One Cat Introduction
The two methods of cat to cat introduction include the boot camp method which will utilize an additional room that you are not currently using or the cage method which will require two large sized wire cages. I always prefer to use the boot camp method first since it is much more effective than the cage method. Always introduce one cat at a time to your new cat when you are able to or you risk overwhelming the new cat. This could create a multitude of problems for both of your cats.
The boot camp method will take an average of six to eight weeks for a successful introduction for cats who are known for having problems with other cats. I have listed what you should be doing for each week so you have a step by step guide on introductions. Keep in mind that everything you are doing on earlier weeks such as week one should be done on every week going forward until the introduction is complete.
The cage method has the potential to make both cats insecure and afraid of each other since both cats will have the inability to control their distance which can make them feel like they are in checkmate. I typically only use the cage method if there is no viable rooms to use for the boot camp method or if I am introducing a small kitten to an adult cat.
The time needed for a cat to cat introduction can vary based on many factors which include the house size, environmental enrichment, number of cats, age of cats, individual personalities and breed variations. An introduction can take anywhere from one week to 6 months or beyond. Sometimes the end result is simply that your cats learn to tolerate each other while some relationships blossom and result in life long companionship.
Preparation And Arrival Instructions
Preparing for a new cat about two weeks prior can set the stage for better introductions and a higher chance of success for both cats. Install pheromone diffusers in each part of the home where the resident cat will be and in a separate room where the new cat will be staying in.
What you want to do is to avoid either cat smelling the other for a day or two so that the new cat has time to adjust to her new surroundings. You can accomplish this by changing clothes and washing your hands in-between touching the resident cat and the new cat.
Below is a small checklist for items you might want to have:
- Canned cat food and cat treats
- Several packs of towels or socks
- Plenty of leave out cat toys
- Several wand type interactive toys
- Another litter box and set of bowls
- Clicker device for training
Starting On Week One
Start this when your new cat has calmed down and is receptive to you. Your job is going to be tantamount to a social facilitator in weeks 1 and weeks 2. You want to start by placing your new cat into a separate room which will be regarded as boot camp with cat litter, bowls, and plenty of fun toys. Enrich the room with elevated locations to perch and hiding spots to sleep. Your cat will feel secure when he is given the opportunity to monitor his entire environment but also given the option to hide if he is starting to feel overwhelmed.
Use a warm rag to run across the new cat’s cheek that you can present to resident cats, so they can slowly begin to accept the new cat gradually. Do the same with the resident cats that you can present to your new cat. Socks also work if you do not have any rags by putting your hand inside of it and using it to rub the cat. The cheek is the area where pheromones are most prominent which is what they communicate with. Do not put the pheromone laden rags or socks near critical resources but instead put them in the middle of the room and put treats near them.
Present the socks or hand towels to each cat in addition to leaving them in the middle of the rooms that they spend the most time in. If your cat sniffs the rag and does not hiss or growl in response, hit the button on a clicker device or a ball point pen to indicate this is good behavior, followed up immediately by a treat. This is called clicker training. Renew the scents every 6-8 hours in all rooms. It can be helpful if you have different colored socks so you can keep the cat scent exchanges easier to remember and know which sock belongs to which cat.
When you need to renew the scent on each sock – simply take the socks back and renew them but be cautious of any hissing that may occur when renewing them. It is for this reason that you should only give your new cat one sock to smell at first, from your calmest resident cat then work on getting multiple scents on the same sock that you present to your new cat which is referred to as a group scent.
Return the sock after renewing the scent if no negative reactions are seen. Indifference is a good sign if you are unsure. If hissing or growling is seen then I want you to use a new sock for capturing scents then leave them at the same place you did last time for both cats. I would like for you to do this until there is no negative reactions to the scent of another cat.
Starting On Week Two
Swap the cat in boot camp with the cat who is free roaming, three times per day to scent swap. Have one cat in the bathroom while exchanging cats to avoid them seeing each other and causing problems. You may use a pet carrier to swap them if needed. A cat fight can curb success so you want to avoid that at all costs. It is critical that they do not see each other yet or you could ruin the entire process of socialization and cause them to resent each other forever.
You can try brushing each cat using the same brush so you can create a group scent on the brush which can be used to introduce them all to one another. Do this twice daily. You need to make sure you brush the face and neck of the cat but be sure to avoid the hindquarters area and shoulder areas at first because stronger pheromones are released in these areas. It is absolutely important that you do this every single day without fail as not keeping the group scent on a brush and presenting it to each cat on a daily basis can create failure in accepting the scent of other cats.
This brushing technique will work great when you have multiple cats, as does the sock technique as it relates to creating a group scent. Present the brush to every cat with treats offered when you first start this process to create a good experience for them. Please note that you should not be discouraged if the brush method does not work as well as the sock method because some cats just do not like brushing or the feel of being brushed if they have never been. This can take time for them to get used to. While it is rare, some cats do not react well to another cat’s scent being placed on them so I recommend stopping that if they do hiss or growl at another cat’s scent that they are presented. Leave the brush in the middle of the new cat’s room with treats if he reacts negatively to your trying to use it on him with the scent of resident cats and resume the next day.
Allow the cats to get acclimated to each other making sounds and smelling each other under the door when you are home if they are doing well with scent introductions, one pair at a time near the end of the week two. The key to a successful introduction is getting each cat introduced to other cats one scent at a time so they do not become overwhelmed. You can use a toy right by the door or feed on both sides of the closed door so they can get meet each other by scent, sound, limited touch and limited vision. The cats will likely try to stick their paw under the door which is fine as long as they do not try to harm each other.
Starting On Week Three
We can start introductions with a baby gate at this stage. You put a cover over the baby gate and cover it completely. Raise the cover little by little each day, so the cats can see each other gradually without being overwhelmed. You can do this with a mesh screen if the cat tries to jump a baby gate. Stacking two baby gates might also be helpful for cats who like to jump one baby gate. The final thing to try if neither of those things work is using a door stop to keep your door cracked open only a bit. As a last resort, I sometimes have to use a glass door or multiple baby gates to split the house in two territories while they get used to each other over a long period of time.
Feed canned food on both sides of the door 6 feet away to build positive associations with one of the methods listed previously so they can see each other. Feed high value food when they are being introduced. I prefer that people only feed their cat scheduled meals so they will definitely eat when they are around each other. Increase distance of the bowls if they hiss and keep increasing distance until there is none. Mark this area so you know where to set the bowls each time.
Decrease the distance gradually from the point where there is no hissing which is what I call the challenge line. You may play with one cat using a wand toy while a friend plays with the other cat which is another method to get them desensitized through fun. Do short and supervised visits (3 visits per day) then let the cats rest by putting up the gate and closing the door with both cats going back to what they know as their safe place. Long visits can be stressful and even counter productive if you cannot maintain positive associations that long.
When both cats are separated from each other, I highly recommend providing 2-3 play sessions each day of about 15 minutes each session with a wand toy for all cats. Continue the brushing and scent exchanging as previous mentioned. You can do less play therapy if your cats play a lot when they are around each other. Best wand toys include the cat charmer, cat dancer, cat catcher, and da bird. The play sessions are ideally done prior to each feeding session or introduction session. This will decrease stress by providing exercise and mental stimulation. Having a happy and worn out cat is great for introduction sessions because there is less risk of any problems occurring.
Starting On Week Four
You may try restrained meetings where the cats are highly supervised and allowed to roam outside of the zone which is normally restricted. Using a harness type system for both cats may be a great way to have some grip on their movement. Try to have the cats at least 8 feet apart when they are investigating so they do not try to fight each other.
Do not allow the cats to confront each other face to face without direct supervision or some type of restraint device ready to break up a fight. It is best if you have two people. Breaking up cat fights is best done with a large towel or a laser pointer to distract your cat away from the victim cat.
Starting On Week Five
Move up to an unrestrained meeting. Start with each cat on separate corners of the room and allow them to investigate. This is when they can move around with even less restrictions and can meet face to face. If one cat attempts to chase, then return both cats to a safe place. Try again in 30 minutes. You can use canned food, treats, and toys to bring them together and socialize so you can build positive associations. Puzzle feeders work wonderfully for getting both cats to work as a team to get treats. I often have one toy in both hands to get them to play at a distance then slowly move both cat’s captures closer together which is a great way to desensitize the cats. Have places to retreat to if the cat is overwhelmed by this meeting. Cat tunnels, hooded cat beds, and cat towers with hidey holes work great.
If excessive hissing or fighting is observed during encounters, then I always instruct owners to back up one step. If there is hissing and fighting at that stage, then back up yet another step. It does not mean that you failed, or they are incompatible, you just need to move slower with them. If the face to face meetings are in chaos, then return to week one. Move at the speed of the most stressed out cat to facilitate lifelong companionship. If you have more than one cat, introduce them one at a time at first. If repeated attempts prove unsuccessful then crate introduction protocols can be considered.
Some Tips to Begin With For Good Introductions
Pheromone products or rescue remedy may be used to facilitate a less stressful introduction and psychotropic medications can be used in cases where there has been trivial improvement. Sentry calming collars are very useful for multiple cat households and so are the diffusers but they are costlier since they only work for one room each while the collar is always being worn. Medications are sometimes used temporarily like Prozac or Buspirone.
Avoid punishing any cat for not getting along or exhibiting behavior that is not desired. Cats learn best by positive reinforcement. Spray bottles or yelling will exacerbate the behavior problem rather than fix it. They will associate the negative experience with you and the other cat which will create a catastrophe. Always let the cat body language tell you how fast to move in the process. Moving too fast can push progress back 2-3 weeks.
Never use your hands to break up a cat fight. Use a laser pointer, soda can with pennies, or a large cover to break up fights. It might prove useful to redirect an attack with the laser pointer and reward with a treat for successfully attacking a toy instead of the cat if chasing becomes a regular issue for you. If a cat is staring at the other cat like they are frozen and stalking, then redirect with a toy and reward for breaking the challenging stare.
Always make sure there is enough resources for each cat such as litter boxes, food bowls, and water bowls. Each cat needs their non-hooded litter box with one additional box for the household to avoid resource related problems. One food bowl per cat and water bowl per cat is necessary if the tensions are high in your multi cat household. Make sure the food and water bowls are at least 12 feet from the boxes and each box is 6 feet from each other.
It is especially important for kittens to have many toys available to them, so they feel no need to pounce or jump on the new cat. Having leave out toys in addition to providing regular activity using wand toys is highly advised. Toys like a turbo track, catnip mice, puzzle feeders, light up balls, and kitten-sized stuff animals work wonders.
The more vertical space and environmental enrichment you can provide such as shelving units will make the process go smoother. Cats that fight are often at odds over territory and this can be remedied with cat toys, novel stimuli, and plenty of places to explore. If a cat is fighting up front and personal with another cat then this is one of the best solutions to this type of problem. A cat that is given the ability to observe from above will feel more much secure and be much less likely to defend the territory up front and personal.
When playing – bring the toy to life to make it fun. Move the toy fast then slow, slow then fast, suddenly freeze like it is being watched, and hide the toy being an object and slightly dangle it like a mouse slowly moving. Play like prey. You can even hide the cat toy inside of cat tunnels and dangle it to make it an exciting experience.