By Steph Selice
It’s kitten season once again, and cat people often consider adding a young cat, or an adult one, to their home in spring. One of the most rewarding aspects of loving cats is welcoming more into your household.
But what should you be aware of as you think about adopting new cats and introducing them to your current felines?
Opinions differ about how to handle cat adoptions most effectively. However, experts agree that you should focus on which cats would be happiest in your home, how your cats will react to a change in their lives and how you can make them most comfortable with new feline members in your family.
Before you adopt, consider your current cats and what will make them happiest. Are they adult cats who would welcome a kitten versus another adult cat? Are they sociable with other animals, or more solitary? What kind of home life – humans, other animals, noise, attention, space, etc. – are they used to?
Cat lovers know that their pets can be territorial, but kittens and some sociable adult cats are often highly adaptable. Before you take your new cat home, experts recommend setting aside a closedoff space or a room for them to get used to being “home,” away from your current cat or other pets. The room should have food and water dishes, a litter box, a sleeping space, toys and a place to hide, such as a box or crate.
When you bring your new cat home, take them right to their new room and avoid your resident kitty. Keep them in their carrier until you’re both closed off in the room. Put the carrier next to the hiding place in their room, away from the litter box.
Leave them alone in the room with the carrier open. Give them time to get used to the new space and come out of their carrier on their own. The towel from their carrier will have their scent, which will help them adjust to the new space. Some vets recommend using pheromone diffusers in the new cat’s room and in the house where your first cat hangs out to help both cats deal with the stress of a new roommate.
Introduce your cats to one another slowly. One important way cats meet is through scent. Give your new cat a towel you can move to your first cat’s favorite space in your home. If your cat is unhappy with this – and they’ll let you know – move the towel away from food or bedding and gradually move it closer to the cat’s things. This may take a few days, depending on your cat.
Meanwhile, take some bedding from your first cat and have your new cat smell it. As you do this over a few days, you can swap food bowls between your cats. They will think that food, a good thing, is now part of the other cat’s scent. They will also smell each other on either side of the new cat’s door.
Cats vary in how long it takes them to get used to their forever homes. For this scent “meeting,” with some kittens and highly socialized adult cats, getting used to another cat’s scent may only take hours. With others, it may take weeks or months.
Next, let your cats see one another. Some people use baby gates or screen doors to set off the new cat’s room. Others supervise brief visits with the cats on either side of a slightly open door. Give both cats a chance to play – it helps to do this with a human partner – and to have treats in their separate spaces as you do this. If they act aggressively, narrow the space between them, and bring their food closer to the barrier over time.
When the cats can smell each other and then rub up against the door, play through a screen or barrier or even rub noses briefly, they’re likely ready to be introduced. Open the barrier or door, and let the cats take their time. Do not force them to be together and give them space if they need it. If you have to separate them, avoid picking them up and just clap or make another non-scary but effective sound.
Vets recommend that cat households have enough litter boxes for each kitty plus one extra. They don’t encourage the sharing of boxes, food, water or bedding until your cats are ready. As always, your vet and your animal adoption team are your best resources to help you make all your cats happy in their forever home with you and your humans.
The writer has served as volunteer adoption counselor at King Street Cats in Alexandria for seven years.