Introducing A New Cat Or Kitten To Your Other Pets (part 3)

Written on November 30, 2012 by Kathryn Wrubel, PhD Hospital: Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital & IVG MetroWest

Cat to Dog Introductions

Introducing a new cat into a family with existing pets can be a difficult task, however, when it is done correctly, behavior problems such as inter-pet aggression, predatory aggression, fearfulness, anxiety and bullying can be avoided. This is the final installment on introducing a new cat to your family pets.  We hope this information will help as you negotiate the murky waters of a multi-pet household. Check out our posts on how to select the right cat for your family, and introducing your new cat to your resident cats in case you missed them.

Bringing Your New Kitten or Cat Home – The First Few Days

Provide a comfortable closed room for your new cat to spend their first few days.

  • Provide your cat with food and water dishes, comfortable resting spots, a new litter box, a scratching post, toys, and several hiding locations (cardboards boxes or tunnels made out of paper bags work great).  The litter box should be on the other side of the room from the food and water dishes since cats don’t like to eliminate where they eat.
  • When you arrive home with your new cat, take him directly to this room in a carrier, close the door to the room; set the carrier down and open the carrier door.  If your cat is nervous and won’t come out of the carrier, leave the room to give him time to adjust to his new surroundings.  If your cat has a blanket or other item that smells like his previous home, put that in the room with them to make them more comfortable.  Many cats will hide when they first come to a new house.  Don’t force your new cat to come out or push him beyond his comfort zone.  Keep this introduction upbeat and calm, allow him to get comfortable in his own time.
  • Sit on the floor and see if he will come out to say hello for treats or petting.

This period of separation will give your new cat time to explore his new environment without the stress or interruption of your existing pets.  You will also have some special alone time with your new cat so you can work on building your relationship. During this time your other cat or cats may investigate the door area and you may hear some vocalizations.

  • Make sure to keep your resident pet’s schedule as close to normal as possible.  Cats are creatures of habit and if the new cat disrupts their routine, they will be paying attention.
  • After a couple of days, exchange items that smell like your new and your resident pets. Let your new cat smell your dog’s scent and vice versa. A clean pair of socks or hand towels rubbed on each pet will do the trick. This will allow your pets (still separated) to safely familiarize themselves with the other’s scent.

Switching Territories – The Next Few Days

Watch your pets to see how they behave around the socks/scented items to get a feel for how comfortable they are.  Take your time with this step. If after the first few days, your dog is not acting upset or unusual, and the new cat seems to be comfortable, moving around in a relaxed manner and generally happy, start the next phase: switching territories.

Make sure your pets do not interact with each other during the territory swap. This will give them both a chance to familiarize themselves with the other’s scents and make them more comfortable when it comes time to share spaces.

  • Let the new cat leave the room on their own while your dog is securely confined so they cannot interact yet.
  • Once the new cat is safely in another room (preferably closed in) you can bring your dog to the new cat’s territory on a leash.
  • Let the leash go and allow your dog to sniff around the room.  Pick up the food and litter boxes to prevent your dog from eating the cat’s food or stool.
  • It is best to introduce one dog at a time to the newcomer’s room (start with the dog you think will get along with the new cat best).  In this case put your other dogs in a separate room, crate them, or take them to a friend’s house.  Switch territories a couple of times a day.

Feeding and Interacting

During the next phase you should feed your new cat and your dogs simultaneously, near the door to the room where your new cat resides.  This will develop positive associations and relieve stress and they simultaneously enjoy their meals together with the safety of a door between them.  You can begin with the bowls at a comfortable distance from the door and gradually move them closer.  Once your pets are on opposite sides of the door eating comfortably you can open the door a pinch so they can see each other while eating (if your dog is food aggressive this step may need to be omitted or altered).  Keep it open but don’t allow the space to be big enough for them to push through (you can use a doorstop at first).  Eventually you can put up a tall gate or screen to separate the cats at the door.

If this is progressing well you can open the door.

If things are going well you can consider a formal introduction with your dog on leash.

  • You should have two people for this
  • Have high-value treats for both pets, and toys in case you need to provide a distraction.
  • Only introduce one dog at a time to your new cat (in order of suspected difficulty).

During the introduction, have your dog sit or lie down and let the cat explore the area from a distance.  Do this for a brief time period and end on a positive note every time if possible.  Gradually extend the time for exposure.

  • If your dog gets too excited or your new cat gets scared or aggressive, end the session and go back a step or two.
  • If your dog is intensely staring at your cat, stiffening, whining, pacing, salivating, or poking your cat with their nose and then backing up again (a predatory dog’s way of saying “Just give me a reason”), stop the sessions entirely and consult with a behavior specialist.
  • If your dog is calm and behaving well, say “Good Dog” and give him treats.  If this goes well after several daily sessions let your dog and cat interact with the dog moving freely on leash and eventually with the leash dragging behind him.

Once you feel comfortable with the relationship between your dog and cat, you can introduce your other pets to the newcomer, or start keeping them together when you can supervise them.

  • Put the cat in a safe room at night or when you are not home.
  • If things are going well after this point, you can allow your cat and dog to interact freely in your home.
  • Once your pets are living together, remember to keep your cat’s food and litter box out of your dog’s reach and to provide your cat with plenty of safe hiding spaces or a baby gate they can jump over so they can get away from your dog.

If Things Go Badly

  • Always do your best to end introduction sessions on a positive note.  In the case that you can’t or a one of your pets becomes very fearful or aggressive, separate them safely and go back a step or two.
  • Do your best not to let things intensify.
  • Progress slowly and don’t force anything on your pets.
  • During introductions you should be calm and upbeat.  Don’t act upset, scared, worried, or angry around your pets as this might make them suspicious of each other.

Note for New Kittens

If your new kitten is in the sensitive period for socialization (prior to 9 weeks of age) you may consider speeding up the introduction process if things are going well.  During this time your kitten is like a little sponge and will form lasting bonds with your other pets if they are willing partners.  If you suspect your kitten may be injured by another pet, supervise them carefully while they are together.  Also, just because your kitten is comfortable doesn’t mean your other pets are, don’t force this if your other pets aren’t willing or able to progress that quickly.


Useful Links:

Previous Posts

Part 1:  Selecting your new cat

Part 2: Introducing a new cat or kitten to your existing cat(s)

For more information on personality types associated with different cat breeds, follow these links:

Animal Planet – Cat Breed Selector

Catster – Cat Breeds

Kathryn Wrubel, PhD has expertise in animal learning, memory, psychopharmacology and canine aggression.  She has volunteered in animal shelters and has experience fostering mixed breed rescue dogs.  Dr. Wrubel enjoys working with owners and their pets. She likes educating owners about the effects of their pet’s past experiences and genetic background on behavior. Dr. Wrubel is energized by her ability to help resolve behavior issues by teaching people and pets positive-based behavior modification techniques. She joined the IVG network of hospitals in February 2009.

Dr. Wrubel is available for appointments at IVG MetroWest and Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital.

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