q:what is the best way to introduce a new cat into a house with an already existing feline? i've read that one should have a friend visit with the new animal and put it in a restricted, safe area, and then sometimes, especially if a third party has introduced the animal, the original cat will feel like they adopted the pet themselves. is that right? -christopher moore, upper west side
a:in all my years of living in a multiple-cat household, i have never done anything more elaborate than just plopping the new cat right into the mix! generally, the first few days are a bit tumultuous with some hissing and hiding and maybe a swat or two and the occasional brawl, but things calm down as they instinctively work out their social structure and plot out their territory. worst-case scenario is they just agree to dislike one another and go about their business ignoring the other's presence. none of my cats bonded; they simply co-habited. only on the rare occasion is all out war declared, leading to sleepless nights, broken objects and infected cat bites.
if you are adopting a cat, most shelters know if their cats get along with other cats. at bideawee, we have several communal cat resorts full of cats who were once strangers and are now sleeping in the same kitty bed. if you are introducing a kitten to an adult, you probably won't have much resistance. things get a bit more unpredictable when you introduce a companion to a confirmed bachelor/ette. cats don't always embrace change, but most eventually accept it.
however, if you prefer not to leave things to feline chance, then a more structured introduction is warranted. make up a separate room for your new cat where you are able to isolate him. let them acclimate for a day or two. because the cats will sniff each other through the door i would do something to make that interaction positive, like place their food dishes adjacent to the door. or take two big catnip mice and tie them together with a shoelace, and place the shoelace under the door with the mice on each side. that will encourage play behavior without adverse visual stimulation. after a few days, switch the cats to allow each to explore the others environment. once you feel comfortable, just open the door and cross your fingers! see how the supervised interaction goes and expect some minor altercations while they are figuring out their hierarchy. if the interaction is really aggressive, go back to separate rooms for a bit and repeat the process. eventually the cats will work it out and you wont need to referee. check out the internet-there a lot more detailed suggestions out there.
-robin brennen, dvm chief of veterinary services and vice president of program operations, bideawee
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