By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 January 2015)
If you already have one or more cats, bringing home a new cat can be a traumatic experience for them – and for the new arrival. Cats find change extremely stressful, and their reactions are unpredictable. However, by handling the introduction properly, you can increase the likelihood of domestic harmony.
Bringing a New Cat Home
Start the new cat off in her own room for at least one day and preferably longer – some cats may require more than a week of separation, depending on prior experience. A cat that has lived with other cats in the past will probably adjust more quickly than one that has always lived alone.
Ideally, your resident cat should have access to your bedroom. The new cat should have her own food and water bowls, toys, litter box, and perch in her own area of the house or apartment. Your resident cat and the newcomer will be able to smell one another on your hands as you go from room to room, and thus become familiar and comfortable with one another’s scent.
Move the feeding bowls of the two cats a few feet at a time until they are on either side of the door that separates the cats. This will enable them to get used to eating together without the anxiety of a visual confrontation, and create a positive association by linking the other cat’s scent with the enjoyment of food. During this transition, spend lots of quality time with each of the cats to soothe any anxieties they may be experiencing.
Once the cats appear to be comfortable with one another on either side of the door, you can try opening the door a crack so that they can see one another but not actually walk through the door. Some hissing is normal, but if either of the cats becomes violent, it’s best to close the door and leave them alone in their respective territories for a while before trying again.
If the cats take to one another and show no signs of agitation, the door can be opened permanently. However, if they’re still not comfortable with each other, you can gradually increase the time you hold the door slightly open until they show no signs of aggression. Even after the cats are interacting without any signs of hostility, the door to the new cat’s territory should be kept open so that she can escape if she feels threatened. Maintain separate food bowls (a comfortable distance apart), as well as a litter box for each cat.
Worst Case Scenario
What if the two cats never make peace with one another? Usually two cats can learn to get along well, or at least coexist peacefully. However, in a few unfortunate cases, cats will fight tooth and nail every time they see one another. In a worst case scenario like this, there are several options. You could alternate free roaming privileges, having one cat confined for part of each day so the other has a run of most of the rooms. Alternatively, assuming you have sufficient space, you could allow each cat to claim half of the house and keep a door closed or put up a barrier to keep the cats from venturing into one another’s territory. The third option is to find another loving home for the newer cat.
See How to Deal with Cat Conflicts for aggression-reduction strategies.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Introducing New Pets.”
- Feinman, J., VMD, CVH. “Introducing New Pets to Resident Pets.”