New Friends: The Art of Introducing Cats

Although generally thought of as solitary animals, cats can certainly enjoy the company of other cats.  The key is having appropriate expectations and creating the right first impression.

Considerations for New Roommates

cats grooming each other
Image by Adina Voicu from Pixabay

You may not a have a choice about the cats you are trying to introduce.  If you are blending families or trying to give a home to a friend or family member’s cat, you aren’t going to have an opportunity to select a good match for your current cat.  If you are looking to adopt a new kitten or cat though, consider a few things to make the pairing more likely to be successful:

  • Sex: It used to be believed that opposite sex pairings were more likely to be successful but studies into the topic have found that sex isn’t necessarily an important factor.
  • Energy: This IS the important thing. Energy level is often linked to age though not always. Finding a new cat with a similar energy to your resident cat is one of the most essential factor in setting up a good match. This means that your senior cat (probably) does not want a kitten to play with.
  • History: Previous history around other cats may also play into how easily the cats accept one another. One or more cats with a negative history with other cats will likely make the pairing more challenging. If your cat has only grown up with one other cat (like a litter mate), this will not necessarily translate into accepting a strange cat.

If the cats you are trying to introduce have some red flags (mismatched energy, negative history), don’t despair. The introduction process can still work; you may just need to go slower and be prepared to manage the cats’ interactions for longer. It may also be useful to speak to a behavior consultant to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Separation to Promote Togetherness

When you first bring a new cat into the home, set up a safe space for that cat to stay in at first. You want the new cat to transition into their new home slowly and be able to adjust to the space before being introduced to the other animals in the home.  

While the cats are in this separation phase:

Every cat will be different in how quickly they adjust to their new home. Do not move on to any further steps until all the cats are showing calm, relaxed behavior. Though somewhat dependent on the cat’s personality, this generally means eating well, using the litter box consistently, playing and interacting with you, and moving around the space with their tail up.

Making New Friends

Once everyone is relaxed in the home and has gotten use to one another’s scents, you’re ready to start the introduction.

Dinner Dates

A good first impression is everything. Do this by creating a simple equation:

Other Cat = Food

If your cats have a scheduled feeding time, do this activity at that time. If they are free-fed, pick a time that when they are most likely to be hungry.  Get some extra special food or treats that the cats love.

  1. Secure a sturdy baby gate in the doorway of the room where one cat is separated. Cover the baby gate with a sheet so the cats can’t see each other then open the door.
  2. Remove the sheet for a moment or two until the cats see each other and in a happy voice say “Good kitties!” and toss each one a treat, and then cover the baby gate with the sheet. Don’t encourage or lure the cats closer than they want to get; just toss the treats to where they are comfortable. This may be easier to do if there is a 2nd person, but can be done alone.
  3. Repeat this activity 5 to 10 times in a row a few times a day. If both cats are calm and eating the treats, you can gradually increase the amount of time that they see each other.  
  4. Feed the cats’ meals on opposite sides of the gate while the cats can see each other. If you can, give smaller but more frequent meals each day so you have more opportunities to do the exercise. Replace the sheet/close the door as soon the food is gone.
  5. Slowly bring the bowls closer together until the cats are calmly eating near each other.

During this whole process, the cats should look relaxed and be more interested in eating than in looking at each other. If they seem tense, move the bowls further apart and do shorter interactions.

Play Together, Stay Together

The next phase is similar in that you’re still making the “other cat = good things” connection.  Now you’ll introduce shared playtime. Have two toys (one in each hand or ask someone else to assist you) so the cats don’t have to compete.

  1. Play with the cats while you stand next to the gate so the cats are near each other, but still separated.
  2. Keep the play sessions short. Always stop on a good note and reward the cats with a treat. If things are going well, gradually increase the amount of time you play with them.
  3. If the cats are relaxed, you can remove the gate and continue to play using two toys.
kittens playing together
Image by Michelle Maria from Pixabay

The more play sessions you have, the more positive experiences the cats have together, the faster they associate each other with good things.

Supervision

When the cats are able to eat and play together without problems, you should be safe to give them supervised time together without a barrier or distraction. Be alert for signs of tension (staring is a big one) and distract or redirect the cats by pulling out a toy or treats.

Gradually extend the amount of time that you allow the cats to be in the same area under supervision. It may take some time to get to the point where the cats can be unsupervised, but it’s well-worth going slow with the introduction.  Keep up the play routine and continue to offer treats when the cats are relaxed together.

Happily Ever After?

Building a relationship between two cats can take time and energy but having a peaceful household is worth the work.  The consequences of a bad introduction can set you back a long way so don’t rush things.

Here are some signs that things are going well:

  • Approaching each other with high, relaxed tails
  • Spending time in the same room
  • Sleeping or laying near each other
  • Playing together
  • Grooming each other

With a little work, you can have a happy and peaceful multi-cat household!

If you are struggling to create peace between your cats, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.