How Should I Introduce a New Cat Into My Household?

QUESTION: I would love to have another cat, both for myself and as a friend for my five year old cat Cleo. How should I introduce a new cat into my household to make it as easy and pleasant as possible?

ANSWER: Good Question! We kitties at the shelter have learned a thing or two about getting along with others! New cats come in all the time, and our friends, the CAN volunteers, are always very considerate about the feelings of us “old-timers” when they do kitty introductions. Cats LOVE familiarity and routine so our human friends know that the best way to get us to accept a new bunkmate is to go SLOWLY and CAREFULLY.

On DAY ONE, the new kitty is whisked into a sheet-covered cage (in your home you can use a  separate small room, like a bathroom). This way, we can SMELL that there’s a new cat in our territory, but we don’t have to see or interact with him yet. The volunteers treat us to a lot of the things we like such as special goodies, interactive toys, brushing, etc. Pretty soon we begin thinking, “Ever since we started noticing that strange new cat smell, our lives have been GREAT!” Positive associations work wonders with us cats! At your home be sure to spend lots of quality time with Cleo doing all HER favorite things while the new cat is in the bathroom. In addition, you can rub the new cat down with a small towel and put this towel under Cleo’s food bowl (if extra-special suppers begin to appear in that food bowl, so much the better)! Likewise, rub Cleo down with a towel and put that under the NEW kitty’s food bowl. That way, when they eventually meet and sniff each other, the smell will be familiar and have a positive association.

catconversationStarting on DAY TWO, the sheet is gradually moved to the side of the cage so the new cat can begin to see how handsome I am (just kidding). When we resident cats begin to visit near the new cat’s cage, and the newcomer is relaxed about it, the volunteers give the new cat some supervised visits outside the cage. At your house, you will know it’s “THE DAY” to introduce the cats when the new cat has been eating, drinking, using the litterbox and scratching post consistently, and seems calm and affectionate with you. Attempts to get out the bathroom door when you are leaving after a visit are also a sign that new kitty is ready! Then put kitty in a cat carrier and set it down nonchalantly in the kitchen, family room, etc. Bring out the interactive toys and treats and engage Cleo in a play session about ten feet away from the carrier. Move the play session closer and closer to new kitty’s carrier until you have Cleo playing a few feet from her future friend. At this point the cats tend to be more focused on each other than on the toys. Hissing is a very mild kitty reaction that means “I don’t know you well enough yet—back off!”

Growling is a sign that a cat is feeling a bit threatened. Wait until you see that both cats are relatively calm and curious before opening up the carrier door. You may need to wait until another day to try again if one or both cats seem stressed. After you’ve opened the carrier door, supervise the introduction, distracting the cats with food, toys, etc. if there are some anxious moments. Resist the temptation to interfere too much. You don’t want a chase scene or one kitty backed into a corner, but a puffed tail or hissing are normal aspects of the meeting and greeting ritual. Put new kitty in his/her own room after the initial meeting. Continue these meeting “dates” every day until the cats are comfortable around each other.

Do NOT despair if your cat Cleo acts upset with you or changes her behavior toward you during the first few weeks of cat introductions! We cats are REALLY good at pouting and acting offended when our owners try to introduce change. We can try to lay a guilt trip on you for daring to share our piece of kitty heaven, i.e. your home, with another cat. Hang in there and relax, knowing that things almost always go back to normal and then get better and better within three weeks.

Sometimes the new kitty gets SO comfortable with his new home that he begins to slowly “take over” the resident kitty’s favorite bed, window seat, toys, and EVEN OUR FAVORITE PERSON’S LAP! This annoys us!

Watch for signs of competition or jealousy and make sure you supply extra beds, toys, litterboxes, etc., so that everyone feels there is plenty for all and there’s no need to compete over limited resources. If Cleo has special times with you, make sure that these continue. New kitties understand “First Kitty Rights” and will not be offended if they get shooed away from first kitty’s favorite spot on the bed.

Within a few short weeks, your Cleo will begin to know and feel comfortable with her new friend’s habits. That’s when you can start to record those “Kodak Moments” – the first time you catch them playing together, eating next to each other, and even curled up together in the same bed!

Friendship… it’s a beautiful thing!

My Cat Doesn’t Always Use Her Litterbox. Why?

QUESTION: My cat doesn’t always use her litter box. Why?

ANSWER: Glad you asked! We kitties want you to know that when one of us has an “accident,” there’s always, always, ALWAYS a reason. Our species is programmed to “go” in loose material so something has to be very wrong for us to go against this instinct. Sometimes it has to do with the box and litter itself. In the wild, cats always choose a fresh, clean new area for potty purposes. At the shelter we have a choice of several litter boxes in scattered locations. Then if one is “occupied” or if “Bully Billy” is blocking the way, we have an alternative. The litter boxes are BIG, clear, 58-quart plastic storage containers filled with about 2 inches of UNSCENTED litter. We don’t like using the brand that’s on sale after we’ve gotten used to our favorite litter. Our personal staff, i.e., the volunteers, keeps the boxes nice and clean by ALWAYS scooping twice a day. Sometimes they even try to scoop while we’re still in there. This annoys us!

If all is well with our boxes, the two other reasons that cause us to go against our instincts are PAIN and STRESS/FEAR. PAIN is caused by urinary crystals that form in the urine and REALLY hurt when we go. Some kitties start avoiding the box because they feel pain when they urinate in there. TAKE YOUR KITTY TO HER VET FRIEND IMMEDIATELY!

STRESS is caused by change or turmoil in the house (new person or baby,
moving, fighting, divorce, etc.). We cats are VERY sensitive creatures and, although we may not always show our feelings on the outside, sometimes we are really upset and stressed inside. FEAR is caused by aggressive pets, loud noises, rough kids, etc., that make us afraid to go to or into our box. This is why some kitties don’t like a COVERED litter box. There’s only one way in and one way out. TRAPPED WITH NO ESCAPE ROUTE!

amberboxThe good news is that there IS an effective way to get us back in harmony with our natural instincts. The bad news is that you are going to have to show some TOUGH LOVE in retraining kitty to the box by confining her to a bathroom or dog cage for three weeks, minimum. This is a case of, “It’s going to be a lot harder on you than on me,” because most owners do not like the idea of confining their beloved pet to a bathroom or dog cage for THREE FULL WEEKS to get her back to good habits. Bad habits take time to form, and it takes time to get back to “the box and ONLY the box. Naturally, any problems with the litter (sometimes a kitty has a preference for a different kind of litter), number of boxes, health, or stressful/fearful situations must be addressed before we are given gradual freedom outside the bathroom or cage. Actually, being confined should NOT be viewed as a punishment for us. It is actually the most loving gesture an owner can make to a treasured pet, the opportunity to keep what is most important to a cat, her home and family.