If you're bringing home a new cat and already have existing cats in your household, it's important to know how to introduce cats to each other. Cats use their body language to give off warning signs when you're introducing them, which you should know how to read. There are also several other steps to take to ensure that your cat introductions go as smoothly and successfully as possible.
Choosing a new cat
The first step in creating harmony among your cats is to pick the best possible new cat for your household and lifestyle. All cats are individuals, and some might merge into your household better than others. Cats who previously lived with another cat are more likely to get along with other cats than a cat from a single-feline household.
Moreover, think about the things that the cats you currently have like to do. If they like to play, getting another playful cat is probably a good idea. If your cats prefer to lie in the sun all day, you’re probably better off adopting a cat who has similar habits. A young kitten or adolescent is probably not a good idea for a household with an older or more reserved cat.
Introducing cats to each other
Even if the cat you are adopting is good with other cats, there is always the possibility of problems when introducing strangers to each other. But there are several steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of problems.
Before bringing your new cat home, create a separate “territory” for the cat. This area should be equipped with food, water, a scratching post, a litter box, access to natural sunlight, and comfortable resting places. Also, the new cat’s space should be smaller than your current cats’ territory.
Your other cats should have their own separate, larger territory. Make certain that both areas (the space for the new cat and the space for the other cats) contain multiple hiding places, so the cats can easily retreat if necessary. Keep in mind that cats like to hide in high places, so remove fragile items from shelves or block access to the shelves.
Large cardboard boxes with holes cut in two sides make great hiding places. The second hole allows a cat to escape if cornered by another cat. These boxes will come into play once you start allowing the cats to interact directly, but it can be helpful to introduce the boxes first so that the cats become accustomed to using them.
Place your new cat in their space as soon as you bring them home. Spend a little time with the new cat each day, but spend more time with your other cats. They need to feel special right now, so they see the new addition as something that improves their lives. Play with all the cats regularly and watch them closely for signs of stress or anxiety, such as hiding, aggressive behavior, decreased appetite, and/or excessive vocalization. If the signs of stress persist for more than several days and/or if your cat stops eating, consult with your veterinarian.
If all the cats appear comfortable in their spaces, place the new cat in a different room (equipped with the same amenities) after two days, and allow your other cats to enter the new cat’s original territory. This will allow each cat to become accustomed to each other’s scent in a nonthreatening way. Allow the cats time to acclimate to their new areas until they seem comfortable there.
Using cat pheromones
Here’s another way to introduce cats to each other’s scent: Cats have glands in their cheeks that produce pheromones. When your cat rubs their cheek against a wall, chair, or your leg, they deposit pheromones, which are chemical substances that can help to relieve anxiety and provide information about the cat who is producing those pheromones.
Exposing each cat to towels that were gently rubbed on the other cats’ cheeks is a nonthreatening way for them to start to get to know each other. Some cats also respond very well to a synthetic pheromone (a spray or diffuser), a product that can be bought online or in pet supply stores.
Bringing the cats together
Next, you can start allowing the cats closer access to each other by feeding them on either side of a closed door so that they can smell each other directly. Start feeding them several feet from the door on each side, and gradually move the bowls closer to the door as the cats seem comfortable.
The next step is to allow them to see each other through a baby gate or a door that is propped open a couple inches. If the cats are interested in each other and seem comfortable, allow them to meet. Open the door to the rooms between the cats about an inch, and observe them closely. If any cat shows signs of significant stress or aggression, separate them again and introduce them more slowly.
Once the cats have acclimated to being allowed to sniff each other through a door, bring each cat into a large room on opposite sides. If you have a helper, each person should play, pet, and/or give treats to one of the cats. The goal is to keep both cats occupied and happy, so they don’t have time to focus on each other. You want them to enjoy their time separated but in each other’s presence.
Over multiple sessions, gradually bring the cats closer to each other. This exercise teaches the cats that they get special rewards in each other’s presence and that nothing bad is happening. With time, the cats will learn that they are not a serious threat to each other.
Creating a happy home
An anxious cat is more likely to have difficulty with introductions than a cat who is comfortable and relaxed. Because cats feed off our emotions, if you act calmly and use patience in the initial stages of the introduction process, you will probably increase your chances of having a harmonious household.
The above recommendations are guidelines to increase the likelihood that your new cat will get along with the existing cat(s) in your household. If you have tried these techniques and your cats are still not getting along, please seek the help of your veterinarian or a behaviorist.