How to Introduce Cats and Kittens | ARM & HAMMER™ Cat Litter

How to Introduce a New Cat in Your Home

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Adding another furbaby to your home increases the love, purrs, and cuddles – but not always right away. Cats can be territorial, and whether you’re bringing home another cat or kitten, there are steps you can take to introduce them to each other and help them learn to live together harmoniously.

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Bringing a New Cat Into Your Home

old lady bringing a new cat home

So you’ve chosen a cat or kitten to adopt, and you’re making room for them in your heart and home. Congratulations! You have years of joy ahead with your feline family. But first, you have to introduce your new furbaby to their siblings and help them learn to get along.

While you may hope that everything will go smoothly, the truth is that no matter how easy-going your feline friends are, there will be some bumps along the journey. Cats are territorial by nature, and despite thousands of years of domestication, they are still hard-wired to protect their turf. If the resident cat or cats sees the newcomer as an invader or a threat, no one will be happy. The good news is that you can do your part to help even out the transition.

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Introducing Cats to Each Other

First impressions matter when it comes to cat introductions. It’s better to go slow and control the process than to get off to a rocky start and try to reboot. If that happens, though, still follow the process below and stay patient.

Experts agree that the most important thing you can do when introducing cats to each other is to keep them apart at first. Current cats should get used to the newcomer’s scent and vice versa before there is first sight.

Introducing new cats to each other comes down to a three-step process: separate spaces, smelling each other, and seeing each other.

1.Separate Spaces: Keep the New Cat and Your Current Cats Apart

Prepare a separate space for your new kitty before you bring him home. Make sure to set up a food bowl, water bowl, litter box, toys, soft places for naps such as a blanket and towels, and a scratching post or pad. This space should be separate from the rest of the home and behind a closed door away from the other cats.

“It’s also a good idea to provide a few hiding places in case the new cat is nervous in the unfamiliar environment. An open cat carrier is one option. You can also use a box placed on its side and lined with a soft towel,” advises Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and best-selling author.

At first, the new cat will adjust to this smaller space that becomes his territory, while the other cat(s) maintain their turf, minus the room the newcomer occupies. The other cats will know something is up, though. Cats are very sensitive to shifts in smells and energy and will be quite aware that another cat is on the other side of the door. To help keep a lid on stress, use playtime or offer treats if your current cat gets agitated.

The cats will begin to interact with each other through the closed door, which leads to the second step.       

2.Smell-Sharing: Introduce Cats to their Scents First

Under and around the closed door, the new cat and the current cats will begin to get used to the others’ scents. The cats might become quite obsessed with the door and what’s on the other side – a curious new change in the home. You might even see paws reaching under the door exploring, and some tentative touching. Johnson-Bennett stresses that it’s important not to let the current cat(s) camp out at the new cat’s door if they appear upset or aggressive.

You may also see some flat ears, hunkered bodies, and running away. If either cat is nervous or unenthused by the other, use distraction with toys or treats. If the cats can’t be distracted, provide more separation and slow down the introduction process.      

Consider feeding the cats on either side of the door. Place the current cat’s dish within sight of the new cat’s door but not too near. “Cats aren’t social eaters so asking them to have a meal in close proximity may increase feelings of being threatened. Watch your cat’s reaction so you’ll know how close to place the bowl. If a cat stops eating or appears nervous then you’ve placed it too close. Gradually work on decreasing the distance. At the right distance, this can help cats start to associate good things with each other,” says Johnson-Bennett.

You can also sit with each cat on one side of the door and interact positively with them, playing, giving treats and petting, depending on each cat’s comfort level. “Proceed at the pace of the most nervous of the cats and don’t rush the process,” she advises.

When we talked about setting up a space for your new cat above, we mentioned including towels and a blanket. In addition to providing a soft and comfy place for your new kitty to snuggle, these items are strategic scent-gatherers! After a couple days, take a small towel      with the new cat’s scent on it and bring it into the main area with the other cats.

At the same time, bring a small hand towel containing the current cat’s scent into the new cat’s territory. This step helps them get used to the other cat’s scent within their own spaces. Johnson-Bennett suggests collecting scents by gently rubbing a cat around the cheeks to collect facial pheromones. She advises not to rub one cat with another cat’s scented towel, though. Just leave the small towel in the area for cats to investigate on their own.

Johnson-Bennett offers this additional tip to continue the all-important scent gathering through exploration phase. “Place your current cat(s) in a separate area of the house and then open the new cat’s room so he can begin venturing out to get familiar with the new surroundings. These brief outings allow the new kitty to spread his scent, as well as learn more about the current cat’s scent and the layout of the house. If the new cat seems nervous about exploring, gently coax him using an interactive toy and/or treats. Let the cat go at his own pace and don't push. This exploration lets the newcomer do some facial rubbing on objects so he can start adding his scent into the kitty household.”

Remember: just as with people, you can’t force two cats to like one another. You can provide space and safety for a friendship to naturally develop at a pace at which both cats feel comfortable.

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3.Seeing Each Other

Your cats will begin to tell you that they’re ready to move beyond the separate spaces and scent-sharing, especially the newcomer in the smaller space. Once he feels more comfortable, he’ll want to explore more frequently outside the closed door. When you’re ready to allow the two cats to see each other, doing it over food is a good idea.

“Even though cats don’t use eating as a social activity the way humans do, it can distract them and help each cat develop positive associations with each other, says Johnson-Bennett. “After all, if the only time the cats are receiving food or delicious treats is when they are in each other’s presence, they’re bound to make the connection that this might not be such a bad thing.”

Open the new cat’s door and place treats or a small amount of food at the threshold of the new space. Put food down for both cats and allow them to approach. Keep the bowls for each kitty      far enough apart so each cat feels comfortable. You can also try this through play, perhaps with a dangle toy for each cat. Engage both cats in pouncing and positive interactions to lessen the tension.

“Hold a wand toy in each hand so the cats aren’t forced to share and risk too close of an encounter. If there’s another person in the home, ask them to play with one cat while you play with another. This type of parallel play helps cats develop positive associations without needing to compete or feel intimidated,” advises Johnson-Bennett.

You might hear some grumbling – low growls or even a hiss. To limit this, keep each session short. Johnson-Bennett advises always ending a session while things are still positive to leave the cats with a good impression of each other.

If there is a negative reaction, Johnson-Bennett recommends returning the new cat to his room. Don’t reprimand or try to coax them together, but rather, just end the session and try again later for a shorter duration. New cat introductions take time and patience so don’t be discouraged if there are a few steps backward.

How long this process takes depends on the cats involved and may vary from a few hours to a few weeks. Cat behavioral specialists estimate that it takes 8-12 months for cats to truly develop a relationship – which doesn’t seem all that strange when you think about how friendships between people also take time to grow.

Introducing a New Kitten to Your Adult Cat

Little girl playing with new kitten.

Kittens are irresistibly cute, but a careful introduction is still needed to help an adult cat adjust to the new addition. “Some adult cats may have less of an issue getting to know a kitten, but others may not appreciate the kitten’s in-your-face energy and curiosity,” notes Johnson-Bennett.

In general, kittens don’t typically have negative associations toward other cats, nor have they developed territorial instincts yet. Their reality is what’s in front of them, and if that includes an older cat, then they tend to adjust fairly easily. It’s the elder who has a harder time, with their daily life disrupted by new rounds of the zoomies, being pounced on when rounding a corner, or having to share the sunny spots.

As with the previous section on introducing a new cat, much of the adult cat’s concern centers on the safety of resources. You’ll still want to go through the three-step process of introducing a kitten to your cat. However, you may find that the acclimation to each other happens more quickly.

“To make the introduction easier on your adult cat, play with the kitten on a regular basis to work off some of that excess energy so he won’t be too much of a ball of non-stop action during your training sessions,” Johnson-Bennett suggests.

4.

Litter Box Set-Up and Maintenance with ARM & HAMMER™

Now that you have more than one cat, you’ll ideally set up more than one litter box, too. You also may want to change your cat litter to a multi-cat formula for greater odor control. If you’ve adopted a kitten you may choose a non-clumping litter while they are very young, even if your other cat uses a clumping one.

Johnson-Bennett recommends keeping the kitten’s litter box in his room even after the introduction for extra security, as well as adding an additional one in another part of the house because young kittens are still learning litter box training.

ARM & HAMMER™ makes cat litters designed for multi-cat households to help keep litter box clean and your cats happy. Try one of these varieties:

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