Jenny Boulom from Sydney writes:
Q. I brought home a new cat about a month ago, and she still isn’t getting along with my older cat. What can I do to make the transition easier?
A. Cats are wonderful creatures – highly intelligent, playful and exude a calm, meditative state most of the time. As solitary creatures, most cats would happily be in a one-cat family. Bringing another cat into the home can be a rewarding & fulfilling experience for you and your current cat. They have extra company when you are not around, they can play games together, and they can demand food together. However, if you have not successfully introduced your cats and fur is flying, there are several effective solutions you can try to create harmony between both cats in your home:
Setting boundaries for your new cat Your current cat sees bringing a new cat or kitten into your home a challenge for food, territory and attention from you. It is highly important to set the rules or boundaries for the new addition from the beginning. The first meeting should be one of separation. The new cat needs to be put into a separate area such as a spare bedroom for at least the first day. Then you can move your new arrival to another area. You do this so that your current cat can go into that spare bedroom and realise there is a new smell.
Your cat may be frightened at first but give them time to explore and get used to that smell. Then let them go to the second area and do the same. Your cat may be aware of the other cat and try to sniff them through the door. Allow this as they need time to get used to each other in a safe environment. It is natural to hear a growl from either cat as they get used to a new situation. After a few days try the new cat in a large cat carrier in the main living area so your cat can move around without fear. Again they are getting used to each other. We are trying to avoid a confrontation as this will set up an aggressive tone between them.
Keep your cat’s routine exactly as it was as this is highly important to the success of the situation. After this process has been carried out for sufficient time that things seem relatively calm you can allow them together highly supervised. It would be wise to encourage higher status with your current cat, as they have been with you for the longest time, and then the other cat will get to know what the hierarchy is going to be. The younger cat may try to bully your older cat out of their favourite places in the home such as sleeping spots and outdoor watching; you can solve this by picking up the younger cat and moving them to a different place that your established cat has not claimed. If the new cat still tries to claim territory, use a water spray bottle to correct their behaviour – a quick squirt (as the situation is occurring) gets the message across and your established cat knows you have the situation under control.
If the spray bottle technique doesn’t work on your new cat you can try a clap of the hands to break the tension and bring the attention back to you or you can throw a small soft toy softly near the new cat to again divert the attention away from your cat. Your cat must at all times feel YOU WILL DEAL WITH THE SITUATION and that they WILL BE SAFE.
Depending on the level of aggression between both cats, it is wise to feed them in separate rooms or separate areas of the kitchen. Food is an instinctual need, and your established cat will defend their bowl. As they become more acquainted with each other, encourage feeding in the same space such as the kitchen or living area. Another issue that arises is your new cat pouncing and hunting your older cat. Younger cats like to test their hunting skills and live ‘prey’ makes for a great target. This can cause your older cat to feel stressed, unsafe and they may hide away most of the time. It doesn’t help if your established cat is trying to run away, your younger cat’s ‘prey drive’ will kick in and pursue the chase. Use the water spray to break up fights and to discourage your younger cat from terrorising your older cat. Your younger cat will learn quickly what they can and cannot do, and your older cat will feel happier and safer knowing you’re controlling the situation. Use cat toys, such as feathers on a string, or balls with bells in them to exercise your younger cat. Distracting them with more playtime will encourage them to play with toys and you instead of chasing your cat.
Remember, the new cat does not know what the boundaries are so they will not know any better. This process may take months, stay consistent and patient, and you will have a harmonious environment for your cats.