Cat-to-cat introductions – what’s the fuss about?

Cats are like chips – you don’t usually end up with just one 🙂 But you don’t need to introduce chips to one another and you can mix and match them as you please whereas with cats it’s better to approach the matter carefully. If you’re living with more than one cat or have ever considered, fabCat, you surely have heard of isolating the cats from one another at first and slowly introducing them in a controlled manner. It’s one of the most known and recommended techniques that behaviorists use to make cats get along. But do you know how it actually goes, how much time it takes, and if it always guarantees a feline friendship? Let’s find out. 

Cat-to-cat introductions – what’s the fuss about? 

Slow introductions through isolation is a technique of working with cats (and other animals, but it’s most common with cats) that is supposed to allow cats to get used to each other’s company slowly. Cats, being very territorial and good at living as a single pet, don’t usually welcome “intruders” with open arms (or paws), and even though sometimes they do “figure it out” on their own if you let one cat into the other’s house, a much better and safer way is to introduce cats gradually. Why? 

Because a new cat is actually an intruder on your current cat’s territory. A cat who has lived with you for a few months or years has marked the entire house with their pheromones, rubbing against us, the furniture, and everything around them. They’ve created a unique group scent that all family members share and that’s how they can tell if you’re someone familiar or a stranger. The new cat has a strange, unknown smell – they don’t share the group scent yet. To get it without catfights, it’s necessary for you to build up the new group scent slowly, adding the new cat to the existing group step by step. It’s on us, Carers, to help cats get along well once they finally meet each other whisker to whisker and see each other as equal family members. 

But it’s not all about the scents. Some cats are simply better as singletons – after leaving their mother and siblings they’ve managed to create a strong bond with their territory and hoomans and they’re not willing to share that with someone else and risk losing even a small part of it. As a result, we get cats who will quickly get along with a new cat and have a strong friendship with them, and cats who are better solo and even with our best efforts would only lose by having another cat buddy at home.  

Cat introductions step by step 

The theory is one thing but when it comes to practice, we all know how it all turns out – there’s not a single cat Carer who wouldn’t dream of having their resident cat immediately accept the new kitten. But today we’re taking more time to think about what behaviorists recommend because, as the experts say, a well-implemented, step-by-step cat introduction process doesn’t just give us a chance to have cats get along at the beginning – it gives us a better chance of cats being friendly throughout their whole lives. Let’s look at all the steps of the process: 

STEP 1 – understand the resident and the new cat’s drama

The secret of cat-to-cat introductions is all in making the cat understand that having a new cat show up at home is not the end of the world. At the same time, we want the new cat to feel welcome.  

Looking at the matter from a cat’s perspective, bringing a new cat home means that the resident cat: 

  • loses a part of its territory and resources (or rather has to share them), 
  • gets less attention from the Carer (the other cat has to get some too), 
  • has to compete for food, snacks, attention, and their favorite spot to watch birds through the window! 

From the new cat’s perspective, the reality is not much brighter as they’re the one who doesn’t know the new house, or new people, doesn’t know which resources are safe to use, if the cat who marked the territory is friendly, or even how their first meeting will go. And as we mentioned before, some resident cats and new cats will handle the situation better than others. We, the Carers, have to be prepared to introduce two terrified cats to one another, knowing well that their worlds are about to change completely, and do it in a way that’s safe for everyone involved. 

STEP 2 – complete isolation

Before we take any steps towards bringing a new cat home, we have to set up their base camp which will allow us to fully isolate the new kitten from the resident cat and most of the house. Why? Because it will be easier for the new cat to feel comfortable in the new place and get used to the people if the space is smaller, not to mention the eliminated risk of running into the resident cat unexpectedly before anyone’s ready for it. When in isolation, each cat should have access to all basic resources – bowls, their own litter box, toys, cat beds, scratchers, and hiding spots. Let’s spend time with the new cat, allowing them to get used to us, but let’s also not forget about the resident and make them still feel important. And how long should the isolation last? It all depends on how brave and ready the new cat is.  

STEP 3 – scent exchange 

It’s an important scent for cats because we know how much they rely on scents as a part of their territorial safety. The whole cat-to-cat introduction process has the goal of having cats get along but to get to that, we need to seamlessly incorporate the scent of a new cat into the already existing scent of the family. And here’s where scent exchange comes in handy. By moving blankets, cat beds, brushes, toys, or even scratchers from the new cat’s base camp to the resident cats’ territory and back, we let the cats get used to the other one’s scent gradually. If cats react well, they start smelling the new things and using them, their scents will start blending and forming a new group scent. 

STEP 4 – site swapping

Once the cats are familiar with each other’s scents, we can go into the next stage of introductions – site swapping. Our new cat has to be able to wander the entire home but they can’t do it safely if the resident cat is watching their every move. So we isolate the resident cat in a separate room, letting the new cat roam free around the house and getting to know it. The resident can, at the time, check out the base camp of the new cat, but we can’t let them actually meet. If the new cat decides to get back to their base camp, we can close the door and let the resident cat back out to the house. Now it’s their turn to realize that someone else was on their ground and nothing bad happened. 

STEP 5 – blind date 

While introducing cats to one another, the actual meeting whisker-to-whisker happens only at the last stage, when the cats already had time to get to know each other’s scent and feel good in each other’s company from a distance. The first test of their accepting one another is a blind date. With both cats on either side of the door, each of them is playing with a hooman (help from a second person is very useful here). After they’re done playing, a meal or snacks come out. And what happens then? Though the cats can’t see one another, they know that both during playtime and the meal, the other cat didn’t disturb them. That’s how we build up a cat’s sense of security. If the cats were not interested in playing and just hissed at the door, we don’t go to the next step and instead repeat the blind dates until it works. However, if everything goes according to plan, in a few days you can take a step towards… 

STEP 6 – a controlled meeting

It can happen through a slightly ajar door so the cats can touch their paws and sniff one another, but are not able to put their whole head or body through and attack. If it goes smoothly and cats tolerate each other, you could take the next step and put up a see-through door or a net in the door frame to let the cats see each other, but not actually meet directly. Those conditions allow us, hoomans, to have control over our cats and make sure that once they do actually meet head-to-head, it will be safe. 

First-time meeting – the big finale of cat-to-cat introductions 

We’re here, fabCat! We’ve arrived at the point where your cats can get to know each other for real. Their first meeting is both stressful and exciting for everyone involved. What’s important now? Make sure that every cat has the ability to retreat to a higher spot and observe everything from a distance, that it’s not possible for one cat to trap the other one in a dead-end spot, and that the meeting is not too long at first.  It’s better to stop the meeting at a point when the cats tolerate each other than wait for a negative interaction that will undo all the work you’ve already done. With time you can make the meetings last longer and when the cats completely accept each other, you can stop locking the new cat in their base camp (but leave all their stuff there if they feel the need to retreat). 

What you need to remember right from the get-go is to keep both cats comfortable and cater to all their needs accordingly. In the wild, cats don’t hunt together, they don’t eat together, and they don’t use the same litter box at the same time. If you have two cats who get along just fine and are happy to share one cat bed, cuddling each other, don’t be fooled – they still need time for solo play with you, for eating their meal without being distracted by the other cat, and for spending time with you all alone. In the first weeks of your cats sharing the entire house, it might be difficult to leave them alone without your supervision and that’s normal. Take it step by step, observe your cats while you are with them and if you see that they are able to coexist without getting into a fight or being watched, you can consider the process successful. 

Remember: introducing cats to one another is a challenge that you shouldn’t take lightly. The isolation process could go on for two weeks, but also a few months, depending on the cats’ personalities. If you don’t know how to do it all by yourself, feel free to consult with a behaviorist before you bring the new cat home. It’s better to prepare beforehand than panic after the first catfight 🙂 

A few secrets about feline friendships

Successful cat-to-cat introductions, a never-ending feline friendship, and cats being inseparable. Sounds good? And it can be! But life with cats is not always as fluffy. Fights happen, cats can stop getting along and we, their Carers, have to deal with the matter at hand. There are situations when going back to isolating cats and getting through the introduction process all over again is necessary, even if the cats have been living with each other in peace for years. Asking a behaviorist for help is also not a failure – it’s a sign you care for your cats and their well-being. And the real secret of feline friendships is… borders. Living with two cats isn’t too different from living with one cat – in both instances, the cat needs to have access to all the resources in quantities that satisfy their natural needs. Don’t give up on extra bowls, a second litter box, an extra cat bed on the window sill, or a solo playtime with your cats just because they get along. If you make sure that your cats are always able to take a break from one another, you are on a good path to a beautiful feline friendship between them. 

How did introducing your cats go, fabCats? Let’s discuss this in the comments or on our Facebook page under today’s post →

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