A new cat in the family….some advice on how to introduce it to the rest of the house.
Introducing a new cat to the household can be a frightening and stressful time for both your new cat and your other pet family members. Getting the introduction right can make a huge difference in their attitude toward each other later on, so it is worth taking the extra effort to make sure you get it right from the start.
Step 1: Setting up the home for your new pet.
When you first bring your new cat home you will need to set him or her up in their own room. Ideally pick a room that your current pets do not use much, for example a spare room or a study. Ensure the room has food, water, comfortable resting areas, hiding places, a litter tray, toys and a scratching post. These should be new items or items that have come with the cat as we do not want to introduce any new smells to our new comer just yet. Using Feliway, a synthetic feline facial pheromone, is highly recommended due to its calming effects. Feliway comes in a diffuser that you can easily plug into a power point in the room. If you have not had your new cat examined by a Veterinarian yet, now is a good time to do so as we want to ensure that your new addition to the family is healthy.
Wait until your new cat is settled into this new environment before introducing him or her to the rest of the pet family. How will you know that your new pet has settled in? Look for friendly behaviours such as purring or rubbing around your legs. Facial rubbing on furniture, playing with toys, resting on its side, and eating, drinking, grooming and toileting normally are all signs that your new pet is becoming comfortable in his or her new home.
Step 2. Introducing your pets to each other’s scent
You can start introducing your pets by allowing them to smell and hear each other without any visual contact. You can do this by feeding your new cat and your pet family by the door to the new cats room. By doing this they will associate the smell and sound of each other with a positive experience. You can even use small treats near the door.
After two to three days you can even switch the locations of the pets so that they can get used to each other’s smells. Again remember no visual contact as yet. You can use a piece of cloth and gently rub it over the new cat’s face to capture her facial pheromones. Then you can leave the cloth near the existing cats and dogs so they can investigate the new smells on their own. Again adding treats by the cloth creates a positive association with the new cat.
Step 3. Letting them see each other
If all is going well and there is no aggression from either side you can try visual introduction. You would usually be expecting to get to this stage no earlier than one week. Remember we do not want to rush this process and we want to make sure that all the pets are comfortable at each stage before moving to the next. If possible try to have a barrier such as a screen door or baby gate, or in the case of a dog a crate can be good, to allow visual contact only. You can continue to feed or give treats while allowing this visual interaction. If you have more than one pet visually introduce only one pet at a time. Keep the sessions short and if any signs of distress or negativity separate the pets and try again later.
Step 4. Supervised contact
The final step in the process is to let the pets meet face to face. You should only proceed to this step once the pets are comfortable with seeing each other. Don’t worry if they ignore each other initially or in the case of cats hiss at each other and walk away. It will take time for your pets to be friends. Keep watching closely and allow them to take it at their own pace. If there is any signs of distress or negativity towards each other separate them immediately and go back to step 3. If the sessions are going well you can start to increase the length and frequency of the supervised contact.
Step 5. Unsupervised contact
Slowly over time as your pets build up confidence you can start allowing short periods of time without supervision. It is important that during this time each pet still has their own resources eg food bowl, sleeping area, litter tray etc. This will help prevent competition for these resources. Over time you will find that you no longer need to supervise your pets and in the perfect scenario a new friendship will start to bloom.
If you have problems along the way and you find that one pet is harassing the other or that there is conflict don’t be afraid to seek professional assistance. The effective way to do this is to contact your Veterinarian who can provide you with further advice or refer you to a qualified behaviourist.