Cage Introduction Method
The two ways to integrate multiple cats include the wire cage method and the boot camp method. This method will work best if you have no room available to separate a new cat for the purposes of socialization. Boot camp method is much more effective than the wire cage method because it is always best not to allow the cats to see each other in the beginning.
Scent swapping with both cats housed away from each other would be the preferred way to start out with any new cat as you don’t want to take too many chances of them not getting along.
The absolute best cage to use for cat to cat introductions is a multi level cat condo because it provides the cat what he really needs if he is going to be confined for any amount of time. One level cat cages are simply too small for the role of cat to cat introductions. Multiple level condos also allow you to add scratch pads, hammocks, beds, and a surplus of toys for the cat to enjoy.
Preparing In Advance
I like people to prepare in advance before they take a new cat home for the first time when possible. It is ideal to setup Feliway pheromone diffusers around 1 to 2 weeks prior to taking home a new cat. Purchasing some cheap Rescue Remedy may prove useful too. Have the diffusers setup in the locations that the new cat and the resident cat will be spending the most time at.
Setting Up The Cage
Have the cage setup in a corner of the room so the resident cat does not feel like the new cat is taking over their environment. Setting up the cage in the center of the room is what some people do but having a new cat in the heart of the resident cat’s territory can cause trouble for sure. Having the cage in the corner will also give you an easy way to block off the cage so the resident cat cannot reach the new cat during the socialization process.
Create a moat around the condo or cage so that the resident cat cannot get near the new cat or harm them in anyway. You don’t want the resident cat to be sticking his paws through the cage or hissing at the new cat through the bars. You can use anything for the barrier between the cage and your resident cat.
A U-style cardboard wall or cardboard gate which would be about waist high is a fantastic option for this. Or you can just cover the bottom portion of the cage and allow the top to be open so the cat can view the territory from the top perch. You can tape the cardboard wall with painter’s tape for the best results and without causing any damage to the walls or cage.
Everything you do in earlier weeks must be continued in later weeks for this protocol to be effective for getting your cats introduced properly.
Collect the following items for introductions:
- Clicker device for training
- Extra litter box
- Coop cup bowls
- Several wand interactive toys
- Leave out cat toys for the cage
- Several packages of socks
- Canned cat food and treats
Do nothing for the first 3 days and allow the cat to acclimate to his new environment or cage. If possible, have your cat cage completely covered so the cats do not see each other at all for the first week. It is so important to provide good things for the caged cat because they are likely to be bored while this protocol is in place. You can put your existing cat in the bathroom or another spare room for about 30 minutes a few times per day to allow your new cat time to explore the house and get exercise.
Use a sock by putting your hand into it and using it to rub your resident cat’s cheek. You can use hand towels or wet wash wags if you do not have any socks to use for this entire protocol. Leave this sock on the top level of the cat condo or away from essential resources if you are using a one level cat cage. Putting the scent laden socks too close to the main resources can be intimidating at first. Then use another sock and rub it on your new cat’s cheek to present to your resident cat.
Leave the sock in the middle of the room so your resident cat may inspect the pheromone rich sock at his leisure. Put some treats by the sock so there is a positive association with it that will really leave a good impression.
You may also present the socks to each cat by hand then see how they react to the smell of the other cat when they are directly smelling them. No reaction or indifference are considered good reactions. Give a treat following this if they do not react negatively. For a more powerful reinforcement you can click a ball point pen or a clicker device to mark the correct behavior then follow up with a treat. This is called clicker training and is very effective at marking good behaviors and improving their consistency. Just leave the sock in the cage if they react negatively as they might not be ready yet or simply do not like the scent of other cats on them.
Renew the scents every 12 hours of all socks. Only give the new cat a sock that has the smell of a single cat at first then work up to getting a group scent on the socks. Have color coded socks to keep better track of which cat’s scent it is if that helps. Return the socks after you have renewed the scents if there no negative reactions.
I would like for this to continue until there is no negative reaction before you move on to week 2 so you know they are ready for a bigger step. The next step will include getting a group scent which will help all of the cats bond together more.
This is different from the boot camp method because you do not want to do site swapping except for allowing the the caged cat out of the cage for 30 minutes a day who will then leave scents for the resident cat to smell. I never put the resident cat inside of the cage for site swapping. Since most places that would do a cage method have no such available rooms for site swapping, we won’t discuss it in too much depth.
Now you can move on to brushing both cats using the same brush. Brush just the face and neck areas but avoid the hindquarters and shoulder areas which are more sensitive areas for the cat. You can groom them all about twice daily to develop a group scent on the brush which will share the scents of everyone with everyone.
It is absolutely important that both scent swapping and grooming is done on a consistent basis and not allowed to decline because allowing it to decline could lead to failure. Do not be discouraged if one cat is very unhappy with the brushing because they may not be accustomed to being brushed which takes time. You can present the brush to each cat and give treats just as you did the socks then reward if a treat if they do not respond negatively.
Leave the brush in the center of the cage for the new cat or in the center of the room for the resident cat with some treats if they did respond negatively at first. Again, some cats do not like the scent of other cats being rubbed on them so you may need to rely on visual greetings rather than scent swapping if that is the case.
We can start introductions around the cage now with the use of interactive cat toys such as the cat charmer, cat dancer, or the cat catcher. You can use one toy per hand and allow both cats to play with their own toy a good distance from each other so they are desensitized to being in presence of one another. Do the play session for up to 15-20 minutes or as long as they are distracted. Do 2-3 sessions a day rather than one or two big sessions. You may have to play up to 20 feet away which will depend on the amount of hissing, growling, or signs of protest that both cats are displaying. Always move at the speed of the most stressed out or fearful cat.
Always feed canned food or give treats after the play session to mark the end of the hunt which will be another way that you start to build positive relationships. At first you want to feed the canned food to the cat while he stays in the cage and in a separate bowl but eventually we want to work on getting them both to eat on the outside of the cage even if they are a fair distance apart. Do around 2-3 supervised visits a day doing the play then the food as recently mentioned.
You may need to feed your resident cat a good distance away from the cage, about 10 feet so it does not make the new cat feel like he is too close. Increase the distance if hissing is seen until there is no hissing or growling. Gradually decrease the distance day by day until he starts to accept this as the routine. I want only scheduled meals to be fed so that the cats have a big reason to be around each other. If food has to be free fed then I want it in range of the new cat but not so close to the cat that either cat feels threatened then slowly move it closer to the cage.
You can now try restrained meetings when you are able to highly supervise the cats. You will use a harness system for these meetings so you have control over their movements and advancements. Do not allow the cats to confront each other face to face right now. Breaking up a cat fight is best done with a large towel or a laser pointer to divert their attention if needed. Never use your hands to break up a cat fight as this could lead to injury.
You may have to keep both cats a fair distance away from each other when you first start having them walk around in a harness. It is also a fantastic idea if you train them to the harness before week 4 so they are not having to struggle to figure the harness out while being introduced to a new cat.
Move onto unrestrained meetings. Start with each cat on separate corners of the room or in separate room then allow them to investigate at their own speed. Grant them less restrictions and allow them meet to face to face but be prepared to intervene if needed. If one cat attempts to chase, return both cats to a safe place and try again in 30 minutes.
Puzzle feeders work wonderfully for getting both cats to work together for treats. You may continue to use treats and canned food to build positive associations along with play sessions when they are together. Have places to retreat to if the cat is overwhelmed, vertical space to investigate, cat tunnels for fun and so on. You have a better chance of a successful introduction if you make the living area fun and full of cat related things that they can play with and own.
If excessive hissing or fighting is observed during encounters then I always instruct owners to back up one step. If there is hissing or excessive fighting at any stage, back up another step. It does not mean that you failed or that they are incompatible, you just need to move slower and try again. If face to face meetings are in utter chaos, return to week one and move at the speed of the most stressed out cat.
Additional Tips For Socialization
Pheromone products or rescue remedy may be used to facilitate a better introduction and psychotropic medications can be used in situations with little or no improvement. Prozac and Buspirone have been used in settings when tensions and stress was so high that there was not going to be progress.
Sentry calming collars are very useful for multiple cat households and may work better than diffusers if there are too many rooms that you need to diffuse. I still highly recommend diffusers if there are just 2 or 3 main rooms that your cats will be staying in throughout the introductions.
Avoid reprimanding or punishing any of your cats for not getting along or exhibiting behavior that is not desired. Cats learn best by positive reinforcement. Spray bottles or yelling with escalate any behavior problems rather than fix them. They will associate this negative experience with you and the other cats. Always allow cat body language to judge the speed of introductions.
Always ensure there is enough resources spread out through the house for the amount of cats that you have including litter boxes, food bowls, and water bowls. One food bowl per cat and water bowl per cat is absolutely necessary. There must be one litter box per cat plus one. Litter boxes need to be 6 feet in between each other and 12 feet away from any bowls.
It is paramount for kittens to have many toys available to them and cats to have enough distractions so they feel no need to pounce on other cats or exhibit play aggression. Have plenty of leave out toys in addition to providing regular activity using wand toys even after introductions. Toys like turbo tracks, catnip mice, puzzle feeders, light up balls, and so on are great additions to any household.
The more vertical space you can crate and the more environmental enrichment you can offer such as shelving units will make the process go smoother. Cats that do fight are often at odds over territory most of the time. Cats that fight up front and personal really need a way to overview their entire territory from above and from hiding spots so they feel no need to defend it in that way.
When playing – always prioritize bringing the toy to life. Move the toy fast then slow, slow then fast, suddenly freeze then hide it away from the cat and make them find it. Play like prey is a concept which says that you should mimic how prey move in the wild when they are being chased by a cat.