Unlike most dogs, cats are very territorial. Dire and long-lasting consequences can result when you try to rush the integration of a new kitten into your home that already has an in-residence feline.
Like many humans, first impressions are very important to felines and negative first impressions are very difficult, often impossible to change. So it is imperative that you have a few guidelines to facilitate the early days, and each step along the way.
- Do not bring the new kitten into your home and just plunk it down beside your older cat. Because of the older cat's sense of ownership of the space, the kitten may be in danger of physical harm. It is an unfair fight, as kittens do not know how to defend themselves against an older cat. In trying to break up a spat, you too may be scratched or bitten.
- Staging is the key and the first stage is isolation. The new kitten needs a room or an area in the new house that is completely blocked off from the rest of the house. It should be set up before the new kitty arrives with water, litter, food, a few playthings and possibly an old box that can act as a bed or a place to hide. The kitten will be here for a minimum of a week, full time, and maybe much longer, depending on how the relationship progresses. For this reason, make sure the size is appropriate…a closet is not!
- A crucial next step is familiarizing the kitten with everything in her room(especially the litter), and starting to build your relationship with your new little friend. Do not leave her right away and put aside a minimum of one hour each day to spend with her.
- Now the cat/kitten interaction begins. Allow the older cat to come up to the door of the "safe room". He will certainly smell the new cat so expect hissing and possibly even scratching at the door at first. The kitten may respond with hisses of her own. This is normal and natural behaviour on the part of both felines. No need for alarm and it will continue for anywhere from a week to weeks. But eventually this behaviour will subside, and only when it does are you ready for the next stage.
- Finally it is time for 'face-to-face' interaction. There are important rules for this meeting. Keep it short…one minute is plenty. Do it in a neutral spot…not in the kitten's room or near the older cat's food and litter. Each cat should be held, but they need to be close enough that they can sniff each other. Handlers should be calm and keep talking to a minimum. This type of meeting should be done three to four times a day til all hissing/growling has subsided.
- Supervised floor time is next, separating them immediately and returning the kitten to her room if growling or hissing begins. The benchmark here is fifteen minutes. Once the cats can spend that amount of time with each other with no aggression, they are ready to be unsupervised.
- The final stage in this process is to get one area of the house with both litter pans and all the food and water dishes. Again, do not be in a hurry. Your new kitten may get confused if her litter is moved too far, too fast.
- Although this process of integrating a new kitten into your household with an older cat seems long and labour-intensive, your efforts will be well worth it. Your cats will be happy and safe and your home will remain in tact without any of the unpleasant physical reactions that cats can have as a result of stress.
- A final suggestion is that you select your new kitten(cat) wisely. More fighting occurs between cats of like sex, especially toms. Spaying or neutering your cats helps. Older cats will generally accept kittens most easily, although if your cat is a senior citizen, a rambunctious kitten may be too much for him.
Good luck, and enjoy the love that every cat brings.