Introducing a New Cat

Bryan F. writes in asking if his single cat of many years would be able to handle the addition of a new cat friend to the household.  Well, Bryan, that depends.  If your current feline roommate is used to having her run of the place, it may be difficult for her to learn to share.  She could do so, but it would likely be through gritted teeth and the two cats will never be the best buds you might hope for.  You need to take an objective look at your cat's purrsonality and determine whether or not you think she will accept a new friend. 

It helps to understand how cats live in the wild.  They're much more social than many people assume, but not as social as dogs.  Why?  Because they're stealth hunters.  They live or die based on their ninja skills when stalking prey, and if there's one thing that cramps a ninja's style, it's another ninja.  Dogs are pack hunters who coordinate their hunts and enjoy their kills together based on their social status.  This is why dogs usually have a noticeable scent and cats do not.  It's also why cats often bury their waste.  If most cats had their way, they'd be invisible except for those times when they crave social interactions.

You see, cats are social in a different way.  We've seen it described by some as a lower social IQ.  That's unfortunate because it presumes that a higher score is better.  Cats have the social skills needed to be successful cats.  No more, no less.  Some breeds and individuals may be more social, but cats as a species occupy their perfect place in nature, and that includes their social skills.

But back to the cats in the wild.  Cats devise elaborate means to timeshare territory.  For example, if a female tabby patrols a particular spot at noon every day, most other cats will avoid the area during that time.  They may claim it at another time of day, but they'll be careful to never be seen by the tabby around noon.  When she moves on, a black tomcat may move in, claiming the spot as well, but the tabby will be careful not to return and challenge him unless a chase or similar inadvertent encroachment occurs.  This is how each cat can have enough territory in an area that really isn't big enough for them.  The same thing can happen in your home.

Most cat guardians want their little friends to become pals, but that's not always possible.  If your present day cat is a senior, she may not appreciate the energy of a youngster.  Try to pick a cat whose purrsonality complements that of your resident cat.  Think of your home as an ecosystem wherein each animal can occupy his or her own niche.  If your present day cat likes to snuggle and sleep high on a shelf, find a companion that's not so snuggly who likes stalking around on the floor.  And remember that an only cat is much more likely to bond to humans first.  Second cats often bond to other cats first.  Whoever you choose, remember that your present day cat will be asked to surrender a large chunk of what she perceives to be her territory.  You need to be extra kind to her during the transition because it will be very stressful for her.

An introduction sets the tone for cats for a very long time, so do your best to make it a good one.  Almost everyone recommends a gradual introduction, first sharing smells by trading bedding back and forth, then allowing interaction through a barrier, then supervised interaction, and finally cohabitation.  This works for cats who are predisposed to accept one another, but it takes several weeks and a living space that's large enough to allow for two areas for the cats to be separated into.  This is usually achieved by putting the newcomer in a bathroom while the resident cat keeps the rest of the house.  Once the pair have "met" under the bathroom door, a protective screen can be used to separate them for further supervised visits.  Only after they've proven to at least tolerate one another under supervision should they be allowed to cohabitate.

There is another method that is espoused by Anitra Frazier in her book, The Natural Cat.  It's a faster process but it's not any easier.  She suggests having a family friend that your cat doesn't know show up with the new cat in a carrier.  You ignore the new cat as if it weren't there while your friend holds the carrier and you discuss other things.  Then, when it's firmly established who the new cat belongs with, the friend puts the carrier down on the floor.  This goes on for a while, with you ignoring the new cat at every stage.  Eventually, the carrier is opened and you go into another room with your friend while your cat is allowed to investigate the newcomer.  If things go well, with little more than some hisses, then you can leave the house for a half hour and come back to see how they're doing.  The idea is to get your current cat to accept the newcomer without any prodding from you.  As time goes on, you may feed the newcomer, but you may not give him any attention.  It must be made clear that you really don't want the new cat around and it's up to your current cat to convince you to include him.  At that point, you still must put your original cat first in all things to keep the peace, but both cats will usually accept the new social order.  The trick is not to give in and snuggle with the new cat before those roles are firmly established.  If the new cat jumps onto your lap, you have to be strong and put him down with a scowl.  Your first cat must perceive your indifference to the newcomer so that he isn't threatened by him.  Of course, both cats must be spayed or neutered.

To keep your new multi-cat household settled, you'll need to make sure you have at least one more litter box than there are cats, and each cat must not be able to see the other when eating.  You can also help them by adding new cat trees to insure that there are plenty of prime real estate spots for each cat to claim.  Vertical space is especially important.

Bryan, you obviously care for your cat very much.  We're sure you'll make the right decision for your household, and if you choose to adopt a second cat, we know you'll make the best of it!