Introducing Your New Cat to Your Current Cat

When it's time to introduce another cat into your home, there are no shortcuts. Some cats are more territorial than others. Some welcome the companionship. And unfortunately, it's impossible to predict how each cat will react until you bring them together. 

One clear-cut benefit of working with a shelter or rescue is that they can provide some insight into the cat's history - specifically if your new cat has cohabitated with other animals. If a cat has already lived with other pets, the transition might be more peaceful. That's not to say it will go without a hitch - it's an adjustment period no matter what.

A negative experience can set the tone for the rest of their time together, so it's imperative to move things along slowly, but with purpose.

Here's how to get started:

1. Separate Quarters

For starters, it's important to keep the cats in separate locations within the home.  It may also be helpful if both are spayed or neutered, as this may reduce aggression or dominant behavior between the animals. But be certain each location is stocked with the necessities: toys, litter box, food, water and a scratching post and sleeping area with a blanket. 

CJ Bentley is a Behaviorist at the Michigan Human Society. Here are a few of her favorite ways to ease into the introductions:

- Let your cat sniff and lie on your new cat's blanket, and vice versa. This is a simple way to get them accustomed to one another's scents.

- Confine your cat while your new cat roams your home, then switch. This allows the new cat to explore her surroundings on its own terms while your cat gets used to the scent of another animal in his or her space.

- Make feeding time social time. Put their food bowls on either side of a closed door so the cats can smell each other while they eat. "This helps the kitties associate something good, dinner time!, with the smell of each other," says Bentley.

Each method allows the cats to become familiar with each other's scent and get accustomed to their presence.                 

2. Make a Formal (and Controlled) Introduction

"If they seem to be spending time at the door attempting to interact with each other," says Bentley, "and there hasn't been any hissing or spitting, no hair standing up on end, you can try to open the door a bit to let them see each other.

The simplest way is to crack the door a little. You can also use a screen door or a baby gate (even stack one gate on top of another gate) as a divider.

Bentley says it's imperative to pay close attention to these initial meetings. Keep a watchful eye on each cat to look for signs of stress as this can set back your efforts.

3. Time Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

So you've taken the time to ease your new cat into your home. And if the interactions have gone smoothly and not led to any animosity, it's time to gradually increase the amount of time they spend together.

Start short, and as long as the mood remains harmonious, you can lengthen the duration of each meeting until your new cat is a full-fledged resident of your home.

One word of caution: Always supervise their initial meetings and don't leave your cats home alone together until they've had plenty of time to get to know each other.

How long will it take?

"Cats tend to adjust to new environments a bit more slowly, so be patient," says Bentley. "If you open the door and it goes poorly, don't give up hope. Close the door and continue switching blankets, toys, and feeding them on opposite sides of the doors. Some cats just take a bit longer to chill out."