Recently I’ve had a couple of questions from friends about introducing cats to each other. Their questions reminded of this post from August 2013, and I thought it a good topic to discuss again.
We were lucky at the farm–Polly is Nellie’s daughter, so no introductions were necessary. They get along beautifully, but we all know that’s not always the case. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve seen who forced two cats onto each other and then… well, ever been out with the guy your mother insisted you go on a blind date with? How’d that work out?
Here’s from August 2013:
Bringing home a dog when you have another one at home (or two or three or more) is one thing, but bringing a cat into a resident cat’s territory is another thing altogether. Besides litter box problems, most of my “cat clients” were about aggression between a resident and an incoming cat. Blending cat families can be almost as complicated and fraught as two adult people moving in together with a group of unrelated and relatively unfamiliar adolescents. Let’s just say that if cats could slam doors, they would.
But then, who needs to slam doors when you can hiss, spit and attack with five discrete weapon sites on your body? Yes, dogs too can fight and might not get along, but in general it is much easier to add a dog to the pack than it is to add a cat if you have one already.
This is not unreasonable when you think about it: Cats are both highly territorial and have a completely different system of greeting and becoming “acquainted” than dogs (and people for that matter). The closest living relative of house cats, the African Wild Cat, (Go here for a great video of one) lives on an overlapping set of territories called home ranges. Females each have their own core area, but their territories overlap to some extent. However, unless food is especially abundant, the females use a shared area only one at a time. Thus, a female will sit and look, smell and listen for signs of another cat. If the land is “open,” she’ll move into it. If it is occupied at the time being, she’ll wait, sort of like we’d use a rest room. The males have exclusive use of their territory, which usually includes that of two or three females.
Now you know why your indoor/outdoor cat goes to the door, yowls to go out and then sits in the doorway until you lose patience and insist it make up its mind. But it’s just being a cat: waiting to learn what it needs to know about the environment before venturing out. Cats also greet unfamiliar conspecifics completely differently than dogs and people. Some cats don’t read the books, of course, but if left to their own devices, most cats greet other cats by avoiding any kind of close contact, including eye contact even if a good distance apart. As a matter of fact, their behavior looks like they are doing everything BUT greeting: they sit far away from each other, avoid eye contact at all costs, and basically pretend there is no other cat in view. It’s hard to label that greeting behavior, but that is how cats get things started. Cats will sometimes spend days or weeks, and sometimes months, just hanging out on the edge of another’s territory, until the sight and scent of them has become familiar.
Understanding the ethology of cat behavior is thus the key to knowing how to best introduce cats, by accepting that cats do best if they can avoid being close together and in visual contact when they first meet. Based on that, here is the best way, in my experience, to introduce unfamiliar cats:
1. NEVER force an introduction. Holding one cat up to another is a recipe for disaster, and can destroy any chance of the cats ever getting along. First impressions are hugely important to cats, and in my experience, cats have memories like elephants, and tend to never forget aversive experiences or what they consider to be offensive behavior.
2. House the new cat in its own room, with comfortable spaces in which the cat can feel safe, with food and water on one side and a large litter box on another. Remember that cats want to be up high and/or in areas in which they can’t be attacked from behind. Under the bed may be the place a lot of new cats go for safety, but it is never a place that a cat will feel safe and relaxed. If a cat is hiding under the bed, it’s scared, pure and simple, and not relaxed. Provide as many safe areas as you can create to give the cat the best chance of feeling comfortable in a new environment, remembering that cats want to be UP in space, not down.
Make the new room as relaxing as possible. When I adopted Sushi from the humane society I plugged in the pheromone Feliway for three days before I brought her home, and ever after that was one of her favorite rooms in the house. Of course, there might have been many reasons for that, but I suspect that the pheromones from Feliway played a role.
If at all possible, prevent the resident cat from going to the door to the new cat’s room and sniffing or vocalizing. The new cat is trapped in the room and knows it, and has no where to go. It’s best to keep the cats as far away as possible during the early period of introduction.
3. After a few days, put the resident cat in a secure room (hopefully in a place it enjoys) and let the new cat explore the rest of the house for 30 or 60 minutes. This is exactly like the shared “home ranges” seen in wild cats, in which each cat gets to use common territory, but only one at a time. Give the new cats lots of treats in the new environment; partly as a way of classically conditioning it, partly as a way of evaluating its stress level. If the cat won’t eat chicken or some other wonderful food, then you know it is still relatively stressed and you need to proceed slowly. After the cat has done some exploring, take it back to its own “core territory.”
4. If things are going well, and the cats are both eating and show few signs of stress, put a towel that has been rubbed on the other cat into their living space. This is another way for the cats to get acquainted without having to be up close and personal. The more familiar the scent of the other cat, the more likely they will be to get along once they meet.
5. After a period of days or weeks (depending, of course, on the cats), begin to feed the cats on either side of the door. The cats should not be able to see each other, but able to smell and hear the other cat as they eat. If the cats hiss or behave fearfully, feed them farther away from the door until they calm down. Then gradually, over a period of days move the food closer and closer.
6. Once the cats are eating on either side of the door and are comfortable with the scent of the other on a towel, it is time to add in visual contact. (The best measure of their comfort level at this point is to see if they will sleep on the towel that smells like the other cat, a point well made by Suzanne Hetts when talking about introducing dogs and cats at ABS last month.) In this case, create a situation in which the cats can see each other but not get too close. Avoid putting one cat in a crate and letting the other come over to sniff, that is far too frightening to the enclosed cat. Ideally, the cats can be put in a situation in which they can see each other clearly but not interact, but it’s true that this isn’t always the easiest situation to set up. Many of my clients ended up getting screens to temporarily put across indoor doorways, so that each cat was in a room separated by screens and another room. At the least have a glass door or window between the cats, and give each cat the chance to move away from the door if they want to.
7a. If things don’t go well and one cat looks alarmed or aggressive, go back and few steps and take a deep breath. Introducing cats can try anyone’s patience, but patience is the key here. It can take cats up to 6 months to settle in with one another, that is not an uncommon period of time for unfamiliar cats to relax in each other’s presence. (Note: If they haven’t at least learned to tolerate each other after 12 months there is little chance that they ever will. Some cats learn to divide the house up into territories, upstairs one cat, downstairs the other. If that works for them, that might be just good enough.)
7b. If things are going well, it is finally time to remove the barriers and let the cats interact. Often it works well to begin feeding them side by side, but stay close by to ensure that one cat doesn’t take the food of the other. I wouldn’t worry if there are occasional hisses and glares, but I wouldn’t tolerate one cat chasing another more than a few feet and more than a time or two.
Of course, cats are famous for not reading the books, so you may well have had two cats who got along beautifully from the word go. That does happen, quite often considering their natural history, but I can cite you hundreds of cases in which two cats were forced onto each other and despised each other ever after. Thus, you are wise to go slow and be conservative. “Better safe than sorry” is not just a trite saying here, it should be your mantra.
Cats and Dogs? If bringing a cat into a household with a dog, follow the same procedure, but be sure that the dog is on leash when they first interact. If you are bringing a dog in, keep the dog on leash until you are positive it won’t chase the cat or frighten it in any way. Give the cat its own room where the dog can’t ever bother it, and teach the dog to look at you every time he sees the cat to prevent chasing. Granted, some dogs and cats play chase as a game, but it’s not a game to a cat until the friendship is well established, it’s just predator with themselves as the prey.
What about you? I love hearing cat stories: What has your experience been? Do you have any good ideas for others about how to introduce cats into a new household?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Snow. Sun. Rain. Ice. The jambalaya of weather continues. I’ve been busy working on the paperback release of The Education of Will, up coming speeches, an Op Ed piece I’m sending to the NYTimes (don’t hold your breath but a girl can try) and booking lots and lots of talks at Wisconsin libraries. Good grief I love libraries!
It’s so icy that it’s hard to do anything outside, so I got out my camera this weekend and took a bunch of portraits of the dogs and cats.
Here’s Toots, Maggie and Willie, in that order:
The cats were no so cooperative. That would be, uh, because this is a blog about cats? They’ve spent much of the last few days in their cat houses, well hidden from cameras. I do love this old photo though, in which Nellie looks like an alien about to say something like “Resistance if Futile”.
Vicki in Michigan says
I introduced a cat to a household with two dogs. The dogs were 1 and 4, and the cat was 6 months. I set the cat up in the basement with litter, food, etc, and kept a baby gate across the top of the basement steps. The cat could get through the gate; the dogs could not.
At first the cat sat on the top step (on the basement side of the baby gate) and growled. (I had not known cats growled….) The dogs were interested, but not aggressive.
After a bit (I can’t remember how long — this was in 1981) the cat began to come into the kitchen (from the basement doorway) when the dogs were not there, and soon began to explore the rest of the house.
Any time the dogs displayed “too much” interest in the cat (looked like they might chase), we told them “LEAVE IT” and distracted.
Until, several weeks later, I saw the cat teasing the younger, smaller dog “You can’t catch me!” I thought “Ok, you want to be chased,” and so she did. And so they did play chase. I was never aware of the dog getting scratched, but she clearly knew the cat was armed, and when the cat would hit the deck and hold up her paws, the dog would back off.
The cat and the bigger dog didn’t interact much, as far as I know, but I never saw anything I thought was scary.
I guess we had a really easy time — I didn’t go through nearly so many steps. I deliberately chose a “teenager” cat. Big enough to run, but not fully adult and set in her ways? That was my intent and hope, anyway.
I was about to comment that I must have uncommonly good luck, because I introduced two new cats- the first to my original resident and the second to two comfortable-with-one-another residents in a similar way (separation at first- in my case just until health checks and vaccinations could be completed) but on a much faster timeline with no trouble, but then I had a duh! moment. Both of my “new” kitties came in from OUTSIDE. They weren’t actually strangers at all- they’d had months to see one another through the windows and doors without touching, share scents, eat near one another, and become accustomed to me (one less stressor than a cat in a truly new environment needs to deal with) before they ever came in the house.
So let me offer a testimonial- slow intros, pretty much exactly as described above, absolutely did work in my case. My three cats, two female and one male, had delightfully complex social relationships, but they got along in the same space with a minimum of friction for their whole lives. I can’t say for certain that they wouldn’t each have secretly preferred to be a single cat, but they never fought nor bullied one another, and they did happily interact (playing and grooming and snuggling together).
Introducing the dogs went really easily, too. Otis was naturally quite calm and very gentle with them, and the cats warmed to him on their own timelines (two very quickly, one over literally years, but they eventually all became comfortable in his presence). Sandy is petrified of cats, at least indoors (she went to the school of hard knocks- her former owner had a cat literally named Spiteful, and she earned it) so her strategy was to pretend VERY HARD that the cats weren’t actually there (much like cats themselves do!) and by then the cats were so used to Otis that this half-sized, scared-of-cats version impressed them not at all. Even my scaredy cat barely gave her a disdainful sniff before haughtily ignoring her existence for the next seven years.
I did exactly as you advise, though, and as long as the cats lived, they always had a closed-to-dogs space they could retreat to where they could access their litter box, food, water and comfy bed without worry, and it paid dividends in reducing the stress of canine interlopers and was always there to serve as a retreat, even after years of harmonious co-existence.
So there it is, a wholehearted endorsement and a bit of anecdata in support, Great advice!
Chris from Boise says
Ah, cats. We have none at the moment, but we tend the neighbor’s three as needed. Moxie and Java are sisters, about 16 years old. They were great pals and playmates till they matured, then had a few tussles, but in general have gotten along well since adulthood by more or less ignoring each other while sharing the same space. Then Hutch (now 10-ish) arrived four years ago. He was one of two cats belonging to the neighbor’s mother. When she passed away, the other cat found a home elsewhere, but lovebug Hutch came “home”.
Our neighbors followed their veterinarian’s advice, which was similar to yours. Unfortunately, the cats did NOT read the book, and did NOT integrate successfully. They all live in a small ranch house, now divided by a half-door in the one hallway. Hutch gets half the house; the girls get the other half. We all expected the girls to be the aggressors, as Hutch is a very mellow cat and had lived happily with a female cat all his life. But no – if the people make a mistake and the cats meet up, Hutch attacks the girls, fiercely enough that fur flies until they can be separated.
Fortunately our neighbors are satisfied with the set-up, and the cats don’t actively seek out encounters. Everyone eats well, and there are no other overt behavioral issues, so it seems as if the situation, though not ideal, is tolerable to all.
One question: I used to work on a campus that had a feral cat (trap/neuter/return) program. Those cats – about a dozen – often hung out near (within feet of) each other, and some would groom and cuddle with each other. I never understood how that fit with the “African Cat” territorial picture. Any thoughts?
Margaret McLaughlin says
After years of adding new cats to the mix with no ceremony & no problems my luck ran out the last time. I already had an 8yo Siamese named Bramble–adopted at 2 from the local Humane Society– when the word went out to my dog club that a young, feral-born Siamese mix–found in a taped-up box thrown by the side of the road with her littermates– needed a home due to a child’s developing allergies. I went up to meet Moxie & brought her home the same night, renaming her Nettle to keep the theme going (I already had had Thistle & Brier Rose). It was a disaster from the get-go. They spent the first night on opposite corners of my bed, howling & hissing. I didn’t sleep much, & neither did the dogs. I had lent my Feliway diffuser to my sister, who was out of town; by the time I got it back the damage was done. As far as I know it never got worse than some face-slapping, but it never got better, either.
Nettle is more than a bit of a bully, & constantly tried to keep Bramble away from me. He was only 11 when he died, & I have wondered since if stress was a contributing factor. My dogs walk wide circles around her. Nina loves cats, & is still making overtures. Nettle snubs her cold. She is very affectionate towards me, but clearly wouldn’t care if everyone in the universe besides me & the people who make cat food went up in smoke.
I would love to get Nina her own cat to wash & snuggle (I used to say that Bramble was hers & I just fed him) but I know that Nettle would make any cat’s life the hell she made Bramble’s, & I just can’t do that.
So yeah. Listen to Tricia.
I’ve lost track of the number of cats I’ve introduced to each other. Aside from a couple years in college I’ve had cats literally all my life. My description of how to do it matches yours almost exactly. The only things I do differently is that I prefer to introduce a kitten into the household. The resident cat seems to adjust more quickly if it’s a kitten being added than if it’s another adult and I do put the new cat in a crate for the first visuals. Of course by the time I do a visual introduction the new cat is pretty well bonded to me and the crate is by my side as I sit in my chair and the resident cat can choose when to come in and see the newcomer. Any sign that the newcomer is stressed or the resident cat is trying to terrorize the newbie puts an end to things instantly and initial visuals are brief, no more than a minute or two. Eventually when the cats both seem pretty relaxed with a visual I’ll quietly open the crate and let them choose how to interact. So far I haven’t had any that have refused to tolerate one another and most of them choose to interact regularly.
As for cats and dogs I have a funny story introducing Ranger to two resident cats. Katzenjammer aka dumb as a rock scaredy cat and Meowzart aka brilliant and confident got a canine sibling and both looked upon this monstrous interloper as if witnessing an ax murder. Truly their expressions were hysterical. Katzenjammer had lived with us since he was 10 weeks old and came from a pregnant stray dumped at my family’s place, Meowzart was a stray living at a restaurant and then captured and turned into the humane society; he came to us about 7 months old. I assumed it would be Meowzart that would be in charge of training the dog. I grew up with dogs and cats and I know it’s the cats that train the dog never the other way around. Of course I was wrong. For the first six days Katzenjammer followed Ranger everywhere he went in the house glaring at him. And for those six days Meowzart was invisible. On the seventh day Katzenjammer was invisible and Meowzart followed Ranger everywhere in the house glaring at him. By this point on the eighth day Ranger had shown not the slightest hint of interest in messing with the cats and had learned the house routine fairly well so we let him off leash. As soon as we released the dog from being leashed Katzenjammer marched over to him said growl, hiss, and swatted Ranger who was smart enough to turn away so it never connected. Ranger dropped like a stone into a down stay and didn’t budge until the cat was removed. Next day Meowzart did the growl, hiss, swat and again Ranger dropped into an immediate down stay and didn’t move until the cat left. After that the cats could growl, hiss, swat from across the room and put the dog in a down stay. It took me months to get a down stay that reliable. After several months Katzenjammer was extremely comfortable with Ranger. Meowzart took longer to get to that point but even he got there. Today they’re a couple of senior citizens rubbing along comfortably together and putting up with the younger cats and dog.
I had a dog that picked up a feral kitten at my sisters house in his mouth and wouldn’t put her down. She was unhurt and completely relaxed so home she came with us and they were inseparable, until both died within weeks of each other, both young and unexpected. I got another kitten before the dog died, so when he died, I got a puppy. The puppy and kitten loved each other. When I went to spay the cat, I found out she’d gotten out and was pregnant. The dog helped deliver her last 2 kittens, with her purring and rubbing on his head as he cleaned them up so I kept the last one. To shorten the story, I got another puppy and have pictures of both dogs and cats sleeping on my bed or their beds together. But, when one dog died, and I got a new dog, the cats moved to the basement and refused to come upstairs or have anything to do with the new dog, regardless of how I introduced them.
After the new dog died (10yrs later), I got another one and one day heard strange noises in my kitchen. When I got up to investigate. I saw the older cat up on her hind legs batting at the nose of my newish 9 mo old puppy and rubbing her head on him. She moved back upstairs and got along with both of the new to her dogs (neither were the 2nd pair that made her move downstairs). By this time she was 20yrs old, survived 2 pairs of dogs and loved the 1st and 3rd pair, curling up next to them and enjoying life. But, her daughter was still in the basement alone. The mom cat died at a ripe age of 21yrs. A month or two later, I walked into the living room to see the remaining cat upstairs sleeping on the far edge of the dogs bed, with the dog in it. Over time, she gradually moved closer and closer to him, finally choosing to sleep with him where ever he was. As she became more frail (19yrs old) she’d only drink out of his dish, and finally would only eat if her dish was under his elevated one. I’ve never seen a more interesting demonstration of just how particular cats can be with who they choose to love.
I’ve had pretty good luck introducing cats. Dogs to cats has been another story. Years ago I had a 6-month old Siamese mix kitten (aka: heck on wheels) who missed the memo about gradual introductions, she was determined to be part of the party from day 1. Completely freaked out my very bossy terriers, who were used to my very mellow, no fuss Tuxedo cat.
That same Tuxie gave one of my terriers his education in cat superiority. We had a galley kitchen and the cat liked to lay in the window sill at the far end. My terrier, who very typically had to learn everything the hard way, decided one day that kitty kitty looked like a good snack so he veeeeery quietly snuck down the length of the kitchen, grabbed the cat by the tail and yanked him out of the window. My Tuxie was a tough shelter cat, fully and delightfully clawed, and before he was off the window sill had whipped around and sunk his claws into the dog’s nose.
Cat was fine, dog was also fine and discovered that cats are NOT the other white meat. 😉
I had a roommate move in August last year with her orange male cat. My cat is a female calico. We followed your advice from your blog in 2013, site swapping for a good 2 or more months, and things seemed to work ok. Although my female calico wanted nothing to do with her cat. Her male orange cat would always follow my cat around and kind of tests his boundaries. Both cats are indoor/outdoor and my Female calico started mostly living outside and marking the inside of the house. She never marked before my roommates cat arrived.
She was due for her yearly at the vet and I asked him about and he suggested Feliway and it worked like a charm! My cat started spending most of her time at home, even more than she did before my roommate and her cat moved in. She also never marked in the house again. My roommates male orange cat still chases her at times and waits to pop up at her when she comes around corners but we are working on that and things seem to be on an uphill slide.
Barbara Byer says
Very well written article.
I know this is off topic, but I wish someone would address the issue of appropriate areas to release trap/spay/neuter cats. I support cats in shops and businesses and outdoor rural release with the landowner’s permission. But I live in a suburban area where the houses are close together. We have too many feral cats. This is a recent problem. It doesn’t matter that they can no longer reproduce. There are already too many and trap/release do-gooders will be adding more. They kill off the songbirds, maim and leave body parts of baby bunnies, use everyone’s flower and vegetable gardens as litter boxes. They also spray territorily and fight as a result of overcrowding. I have tried spray, banging noise makers, chicken wire in the garden. My own cat was from a rescue organization and is neuteted. But he stays indoors full time now. What do think?
Great article. I had planned to follow all these suggestions, but was so lucky that older Barney hissed once at kitten Zorro & within 15 minutes was grooming him. Barney had just lost his cat buddy so was more than ready for a new furry friend!
I foster cats and have six of my own (foster fails mostly). I use nearly the same methods, but instead of rubbing a towel on them, I use a brush that I’ve brushed all my cats with to brush the new cat. I also have a pet bed that has been used by my cats that gets put in the foster room for the new cat. After I’ve brushed the foster cat, I bring the brush back out and brush my cats with it, thereby mingling everyone’s scents with each others. When it’s time to introduce everyone, the foster cat is in an extra large wire kennel that has a towel draped over the top and two sides, the back side being back against a wall. This way, my cats can come in and introduce themselves, usually one at a time. This has proven to work very well and the foster cat is usually able to be gradually let out into the house on a limited basis, always going back into the foster room at bedtime. Usually within two weeks, they are out and about throughout the whole house with my cats, and sharing meal time and play time together. The only time this hasn’t worked was with a tom cat who had been neutered who proved to be quite vicious with me, so I wasn’t about to introduce him to my cats and have a fight ensue.
Pam Evans says
I’ve always had multiple cats and dogs but my current situation has me baffled. I have three cats, now ages 13, 12 and 10: Frank, Zoe & Rosie. I’ve always had three cats and each of these came in as kittens, with the oldest two introduced successfully to the their predecessors and Rosie did fine when she was brought home. All three are indoor cats. At the time we also had a white spitz.
While Frank is close to both cats and the three of them used to sleep in a heap for their first 7 years or so, the two females generally just tolerated one another.
In 2010, we relocated and rented a condo for 10 months and then moved into our current house. Suddenly, Rosie, the youngest, started attacking Zoe every time she saw her. Zoe started hiding in my bedroom. It got to the point where we had to shut the door when going to work or Rosie would trap Zoe somewhere…there would be clumps of her fur and she would be cowering. We tried Feliway, multiple units but it helped no one.
By 2012, Zoe wouldn’t come out of the room and if you forced her, she was terrified and ran back to the door. She now seems perfectly happy living in my bedroom.
Meanwhile Rosie has grown stranger and stranger. At first, she grew skittish when you reached to pat her. You could dangle your hand beside a chair and she would rub and head butt it. But if you looked at her…she was gone. Then she started spending more time on the third floor – we would only see her early in the morning. She would come downstairsat night to sleep with Frank but when she heard us, she was gone. If she can get into my bedroom, she will urinate on my pillow!
In 2015 we got a second dog, a puppy. Portuguese Water Dog, slow introduction, no chasing. Didn’t matter – it seems to have pushed Rosie over the edge. She is now the feral cat that lives in our house.
We see glimpses of her – I occasionally force myself on her to trim her nails. When I catch her and restrain her, if I pat and brush her, she will purr and head butt. But the second I release her, she’s gone.
I feel so bad – I know Rosie’s lonely but I don’t know how to help her. And Zoe will peek out of the room but not venture out. Do I have no choice but to let these two live out their lives like this? Maybe I’m more unhappy than they are?
Great post! We made our lives easy by adopting 2 brothers last year and they get along beautifully!
I wonder if some of the difficulties of cat-cat introductions we see are a result of under-socializing kittens? I have the impression that there is more and more scientific insight that we probably didn’t take enough care of kitten socialization periods and I’ve heard about ‘kitten classes’ more often now, too. Sure, cats aren’t dogs and might always be more difficult regarding intra-species introductions, but it’d be interesting to know if a greater effort on our part with socializing kittens will lead to easier, more successful introductions with other cats later on in these kittens’ lives. Thoughts anyone or has anyone actually read research on that?
Jann Becker says
It’s amazing how cats will divide up a house: we’ve had upstairs/downstairs of course, but at times it’s been ‘on the floor’ vs. ‘up off the floor’ (i.e., the counters.) Usually the latter has happened when we have an energetic kitten ‘up’ and a not so spry elder ‘down.’
Our last puppy-to-cat intro didn’t go well at all. The puppy treated the cat as a living squeak toy, and the cat was either trying to be a good sport or too damn lazy to get away. She has found a lovely new home with one other cat and no dogs. It was hard; I had always thought we’d be her forever home, but staying with me just wasn’t fair to her anymore.
Our kitten came from the tip via the SPCA. It had obviously been abandoned early in life. Within days it had sorted out our dog that was terrorising the cat my partner had brought with him when he moved in with me. We were finally able to open the door and run the house as one house and Min, the terrorised cat, came out from under the bed. I couldn’t believe that within a couple of weeks, the dog and kitten were sleeping on the same bed and Min was in the same room. Obviously ‘survive or perish’ had taught the tip kitten a thing or two!
I had a devastating experience when I adopted Riley, my dear Great Pyrenees. I have always had dogs and cats and seldom had difficulties with them meeting and adjusting.
Enter Riley, a sweet-natured 18-month-old who had never seen a cat let alone encountered a farm or electric fence. As he was wandering on the porch, he slipped and fell off, hitting the electric fence. He began to yelp as we hurried to help him,( he was on a long lead), my cat, Sweetie, came flying through the air and landed on him, claws unsheathed. It was traumatic for all of us.
He adjusted very well to the household, but he bullies the cats sometimes. He has a friendship with OP our oldest cat, will bark if he’s crying to come in and we can’t hear him and they often lay close to each other sleeping. Boo, who was always a ” Scaredy cat” has taken up residence in the basement. Sweety still merits a chase from time to time, but in all honesty, Riley has chased and cornered the cats and has never harmed them. I know that if he meant them harm, they wouldn’t still be alive. I think that he must connect the pain of the electric fence with Sweety, and I doubt they will ever be true friends. Mostly it is detent. They agree to ignore each other. Once in a while, Riley will chase, sometimes Sweety will get beyond his reach and taunt him, so perhaps it is the relationship they will have. Riley is, along with my malti-pom, Possum, the joy of my life. I wanted one more Pyr while I was strong enough to handle one. He is a joy! My cats are healthy and sassy.
As far as Boo is concerned, he was always frightened to go outside, except at night. Here we have foxes, coydogs, and bears and I have always been reluctant to leave him out at night. I don’t understand this quirk. Sometimes I wondered if in daylight he sees too much and it intimidates him. He is otherwise a normal cat. His mom is a happy in and out farm cat, so I see no reason why he has always seemed to fear daylight. Any thoughts on this?
Diane Mattson says
I love cats. The last two cats we had pretty much ignored each other their entire lives. In fact when the older cat died, I’m pretty sure our younger cat threw a party…Sometimes, however, the younger one would stick her head right under the older cat’s head, and receive a few quick licks, before the older one would catch herself and walk away in disgust!
When I was growing up, the cat across the street would “call” on our cat. He would howl at our back door, until we let our cat out, and then off they’d go to play, explore and yes, get into scraps with each other. Neighbours said our cat would call on theirs in the same way.
I had a really interesting experience once. About 5 cats from the neighbourhood, including our own, gathered in our yard, in a circle. They stayed fairly far apart, as cats do, seemingly ignoring each other. Every once in a while one of the cats would walk up to another one and roll, before returning to its’ original spot. I decided to join. I walked up to my cat, rolled and returned. This didn’t break up the activity, so I branched out to the other cats. After a little while, one of the cats walked up to me and rolled. We continued for a while like this, before the cats broke up, and wandered off. I felt incredibly touched that the cats included me, in whatever we were doing. I’ve never witnessed this behaviour again.
So many interesting comments! One issue I’d like to address–cats living “together but apart.” For example, one cat upstairs, one cat down. I’ve had a lot of clients who ended up with this being the permanent living situation, and it seemed to work out very well for many of them. If that best two cats can do is to live side by side, but never together, they seem to accept it more easily than we. That is, after all, how African Wild Cats live–in side by side territories. They share hunting grounds, but don’t use it at the same time. (Thus, the cat who sits at the door for 15 minutes before venturing outside–any sign of the other cat using the territory? Sort of a “neck tie on the door knob from your room mate” signal.) What we know about the ethology of cats and their percursors is that their sociality is resource dependent. They will share territories if resources are abundant, but not if resources are scarce. It looks like our house cats come with a genetic predisposition to have a lot of behavioral variability when it comes to sharing space. Surely that is why we see so much variation in cat introductions seen in these fascinating comments. Or… other hypotheses?
Carol Klapste says
Like others who have commented, I have introduced many cats and always did it the way Trisha described. That was at my old house where I even had a screen door installed on one of the bedrooms. It worked so well.
In my current house, I don’t have that kind of space. I did have a three season porch and used that successfully for one introduction. Then, I got Herbie. He was super hyper upset when I got him and screamed and dug at the door and then we had a heat wave and it wasn’t safe to keep the doors closed to the porch.
Long story short, we could not keep him contained but he and my resident kitty seemed to do ok even though there was no slow introduction. It is really hard to describe his behavior but we had to put locks on the garbage area and all the kitchen cupboards to keep him out. We had a huge adjustment period for all of us.
It seemed that he was a bully. I had the Feliway diffuser going but a vet friend suggested pheromone collars for both cats and that has made a huge difference. I also read that cats that seem to be bullies are generally just really bored. I believe that to be true. Herbie is by far the smartest cat I have ever met. He actually reminds me of a Border Collie without a job. We spend a lot of time trying to find games and things to keep his interest. I think if he could be an outdoor/indoor cat, he would be much easier to live with. But alas, it’s the house for him as we live in town.
Anyway, thanks for listening and yeah, Trisha’s way is the best I have ever found! Any ideas of games and toys for very intelligent cat, that would be great!
Quinie Leary says
I have had 14 cats in my thus far long and enjoyable life as a cat owner. And 3 dogs, too. The dogs were never an issue. Oh there’d be some grumbling and hissing and “WHAT MONSTROSITY HAVE YOU BROUGHT INTO OUR HOMES?!” complaints at first, but it quickly subsided and happiness was eventually to be found. Even when I had to move my parents in with us, and introduce their 4 ADULT MALE CATS to our 3 ADULT MALE CATS! LAWD HAVE MERCY the territorial pheromones that reeked up our entire city was appalling!! But within weeks all back fur had settled, the hissing had died down, and they all came to comfortable compromises.
But after losing our puppy princess Trinka to cancer last Spring, we decided to honor her memory by rescuing another senior kitty to add to our other two old ladies who were sisters from the same litter that we rescued as kittens, and who were tat the time 14 years old. We figured they had gone through living with 5 other cats plus a dog, they certainly would not balk at another female senior kitty. Especially since it was just the two of them now.
We went to the shelter and asked who would be the hardest for them to adopt out, and they brought us to Boink (later renamed Brownie Bon Bon). She had been there for months and no one was interested in her because a) she was 7 years old, and b) she was not very sociable at all. She wasn’t MEAN, just….disinterested. We thought she’d be the perfect fit for our family and made the adoption complete. She had been surrendered with two other cats so we figured she had to be used to other cats, and all would go well.
We did everything right. EXACTLY textbook as laid out above, for MONTHS. The three of them share the house, as that no one is locked up now, but Autumn, our resident 14 year old Calico, despises Brownie with a passion and vice versa. They refuse to get along and Brownie spends most of her time hiding in my bedroom, lavishing herself with my undivided attention when I turn in each night and wake up each morning. I don’t know why she was so hard to adopt as she is an extremely social and lovable cat, very affectionate and bright. But it’s been 7 months now and they still will not share food, litter boxes, or even the same space. They fight like feral cats, hiss and growl at the sight of one another, and though Brownie is by far the stronger of the two, Autumn definitely has claimed dominance in our household, forcing our Bon Bon into the bedroom for the majority of her days and nights. I’m at a loss. We repeated the entire introduction process 3 times and are still here. Are these two cats just destined to hate one another for life? Brownie and Reeses, our other kitty and Autumn’s sister, have a shaky understanding of one another that you leave me alone, I leave you alone, and they are both able to share my bed with me at night. Reeses would really love to have a new friend, but Brownie is so shaken by Autumns antics she will trust no one. So what they have is the best it’s going to get I’m afraid. I’d welcome any further suggestions to aid us at this point that we have not already tried. We’ve never had these problems before and we just want them all to be able to enjoy the house and space and comforts we offer without fearing one another.
Many years ago I did it all wrong. My young ginger cat was missing his even younger Russian Blue sibling, killed on the road. When I moved to a much safer house, surrounded by fields, I went looking for another grey kitten and rather against my better judgement found myself adopting an older female. I brought her home, and thinking Toby was safely outside, opened the carrier. Toby, peering through the banisters, saw a grey cat, chirruped with joy, and flung himself downstairs and on to her – by the time he realised his mistake it was too late. It was one of the saddest moments, and the new cat never really recovered from the dislike my stupid mistake engendered.
Pippin and Tilly were nearly the opposite. Pippin was big, 8 months old, bored, and desperately wanted someone to play with. Tilly was little, 8 months old, nervous, and needed the reassurance of another cat. Her fosterer brought her to my mother’s house where I was staying, and we let her explore the kitchen. When she had relaxed we let Pip in – he sniffed her, she fluffed up, he walked away, she followed. 10 minutes later they were playing, half an hour later they were curled up together, grooming each other and purring. They grew apart somewhat as they matured, but are still very amicable.
There was a common thread in both introductions though – colour. Toby saw a grey cat and assumed it was a friend; both Tilly and Pippin saw ginger and seemed to think sibling. And of course Pip and Tilly were still kittens, which I think makes it much easier.
Introducing the dogs was very easy – as pups they were much smaller than the cats, so the priority was protecting pups from cats. We got the “WHAT is THAT!!!” stare, but little more. Sophy disapproves of cats sleeping too close – they have those nasty pointy bits that hurt – but Poppy will curl up against a cat, and Tilly seems to like washing poodle fur. There is the occasional spat but for the most part they are all relaxed and easy together. In fact I paid a fortune to get my big armchair re-upholstered as it is the only chair I have found that we can all five fit into comfortably!