Whether you have cats or dogs, how you introduce a new cat to the family sets the tone for her future relationships. However, there is a right and a wrong way to do this. In order to make the new cat feel welcome whilst not upsetting or antagonizing the established pets, you must take time and have patience. You can learn how best to act and set up for success when introducing a new cat to the family.
Make preparations before bringing the cat home.
Cats learn about their environment via scent. Before you bring your cat home, give her a scent introduction. Swap scents by taking a t-shirt with your smell on it to her for her to use as bedding. Likewise, take a blanket she already uses at the shelter and put it in the bed of your established cat.
This allows him to get used to the idea of another cat on his patch but without her physical presence challenging him.
Consider a Feliway diffuser.
This machine gives off a synthetic version of a feline pheromone, which helps the cats feel secure and decreases stress levels. This helps to chill the established cats so they are more relaxed with any changes.
There is a canine equivalent called Adaptil, containing canine pheromones. If you have a dog and are introducing a new cat, the Adaptil will help him feel safe and calm.
Prepare a cat room.
To introduce a new cat, create a safe room for her. She will be overwhelmed by the sights, smells, and sounds of her new environment, make your new cat feel at ease with one room of the house that is just hers. This way, she can feel safe and take time to adjust to her new environment. Here’s what you should put in the safe room:
Ample food and water.
A litter box. Position the litter box as far away from the food and water as possible so the cat has a distinction between the eating and bathroom areas of the home.
Toys. Put in toy mice, dangly toys, little balls, feathered toys, and any other toys that can keep the cat active and entertained.
A scratching post. Cats naturally love to scratch things to mark their territory, so it will help her feel more comfortable in her new environment and will keep her from scratching your furniture.
An old blanket, bed, or toy from her previous home. This will make the cat feel at home and give her a designated sleeping area.
Plenty of hiding places. She will want to hide to help her feel safe, which builds her confidence and will help her feel bold enough to explore.
Get the right litter.
Cats tend to like thinly granulated litter, so make sure to bring home litter that doesn’t overwhelm your cat with its scent or texture. Place her litter box in a quiet but accessible part of the safe room. This way, she will feel safe using it.
If she is an older cat, she may have a preference for a certain litter. Ask her previous owner what litter she uses. Otherwise, she may reject your new litter.
If the cat obviously dislikes the litter and spends time batting it out of the box, or if she circles the box nervously and shows an obvious distaste for it, you should try a different litter.
Don’t punish the cat for not using the box. If your new cat thinks the carpet is a new bathroom, don’t put her face in the litter box or punish her by putting her in the box. This may make your cat even more reluctant to use the new box.
Don’t let the cat out to roam.
The wrong way to introduce a new cat is to let her roam right when you get her. Do not let her into the main house and let her explore. Not only will she feel overwhelmed and stressed, but your established pets will view her as invading their territory and are likely to chase her. This will compound and legitimize her distress and fear.
When you bring her home, put her directly into the safe room to get acclimated before letting her roam the rest of the house.
Give the cat lots of love.
If you want to make your new cat feel at home, give her lots of love. Don’t constantly pet the cat, especially if she doesn’t like it. Instead, spend as much time in the safe room as possible. This will make her more comfortable and less anxious.
Also let her explore you. Lie down on the floor to reduce your height, which makes you less intimidating. Hang out around her and let her smell you, walk around you, brush up against you, or even climb on you. Getting to know you will help transition her to the rest of her environment. Do this before you start hugging her or picking her up.
Have cat treats on you. When she approaches, offer some treats either by tossing them on the floor to land near her, or offering them out on a flat hand.
Play with her as much as you can, whether you’re playing with a dangly toy or moving a laser pointer around the room. Just wait a few days before you start using interactive toys or she may be overwhelmed.
Avoid looking directly at the cat because staring is a sign of aggression to her. Watch her from the corner of your eye and be sure to blink regularly, which will help to put her at ease.
Judge how confident your new cat is.
If she is hides often, give her plenty of time before offering to let her explore beyond the cat room. If she seems bold and is regularly waiting at the door, consider leaving the door ajar after a week so she can explore further.
This time period can vary. If your cat is rambunctious and clawing at the door after just a few days, you shouldn’t make her feel trapped in the one room and let her explore. On the other hand, if she still seems frightened by the new environment and has made no attempts to leave the room in over a week, give her more time to get adjusted.
Avoid introductions during stressful times.
If you introduce your new cat to the family in the middle of a hectic time, such as the holiday season, she will be overwhelmed by the sounds and smells of the people and events. If you bring your new cat home when you’re too stressed out or too busy to spend time with her, she’ll feel very lonely.
Help children understand the new cat.
When you first get a new cat, explain to your children that she needs time and space to settle in. Let them visit the new cat under supervision and for short periods of time. Give the children treats to place on the floor to offer her or else let them take in her food bowls. This will help the children feel part of the situation.
Encourage them to be quiet and still in the cat’s room, sit on the floor, and be patient to see if the cat comes to them.
Do not allow the children to pull the cat’s tail, ears, legs, or whiskers or mistreat her at all.
Do not allow children to stare at the cat in her hiding place because she will feel threatened. Also, teach the children to respect the cat’s body language. If she hisses, hunches up, or her eyes go big and black, she is afraid. If any child sees her do this, he should back off and make sure the cat has a clear, unblocked route to her hiding place.
Get your cat acclimated to your family.
First, bring in things from the rest of the house so she can get used to different smells and sights. Let her smell a pillow from the couch or a blanket from your guest room. Next, open the door and wait for cat to venture out on her own as she explores the sights and smells of the rest of the house. You should be around for this, but don’t distract her.
The first few times you leave the door open, do so at night when the house is quiet and she can get her bearings. If she leaves the room of her own, she can find her way back if she feels threatened.
If you’re not at home, put the new cat back into the safe room. Wait for her to feel completely comfortable with the rest of the house before you let her roam when you’re not around.
Relocate her food and litter box.
Once she gets used to the rest of the house, slowly move her food and litter box to the place you want to keep them permanently. Just make sure the cat knows where you move them, or she will be very anxious.
All of these methods will work for introducing a new cat to your family whether you have other pets or not.
Separate the cats.
For the first week, you should keep your new cat in her safe room and keep your other cat or cats in the rest of the house. Make sure the safe room isn’t a favorite room of your other cat, or he will try to go in the room and feel anxious when not allowed inside.
Let the cats stay in their separate environments. They will slowly become accustomed to one another’s sounds and presences.
Introduce the cats to each other’s smells.
Let the cats get accustomed to each other’s smells before they officially meet. Start brushing them with the same brush, petting one cat and then petting another, or introducing one cat to the other cat’s favorite blanket or toy.
At first, the cats may feel threatened by the new smell, but they should get used to it.
Start leaving the door to the safe room open a crack, so the cats can start smelling each other.
Rub a towel against the new cat’s scent glands on the cheek and give it to the old cats to investigate. Do the opposite thing with the old cat’s scent glands as well. This will help your cats learn each other’s scent in concentrated form.
Let the cats meet.
Put the new cat in her carrier and take her to another room in the house. She will still need her room, so keep it as her territory for the time being. Place the carrier containing the new cat on a safe chair so the cats can sniff and explore the each other without them chasing each other or fighting. Raise the cat carrier off the floor to elevate the new cat and helps her to feel less vulnerable.
The old cats will approach your new cat with curiosity, to smell and get to know each other.
If the new cat or old cats are acting very aggressively, end the meeting. Don’t rush this process. Just separate the cats and try again the next day. If things didn’t go well, make sure to play with each cat separately prior to each meeting so that they are physically tired and less likely to look for a fight.
Feed your cats near each other.
Consider feeding your cats on either side of a barrier where they can see but not reach each other. A mesh child gate is a good option. You want to engineer meetings without tension so they accept each other’s company without stress.
You should always be around for their interactions, because things could get violent or aggressive.
If the behavior remains violent, feed them in opposite parts of the house. Then, slowly bring their food closer together, until they get used to eating side by side.
Let the cats spend more time together.
Start giving the cats more time to be together each day as your new cat gets used to the rest of the house. Each day, make sure that the cats like each other more and spend more time together. If things seem to be getting worse, bring your new cat back to the safe room.
At first, maintain separate litter boxes for each cat. They need their own resources, which includes litter trays, feeding and water bowls, and beds. To force a cat to share instantly creates friction between the cats.
Make sure that the cats’ time together is happy and calm. When the cats are together, you should feed them, give them treats, play with them, and give them lots of love and attention. They should associate their time together with happiness and fun.
Take it one pet at a time.
If you have other pets, introduce the new cat to each of the cats first. Take it one pet at a time, and have the new cat adjust to your cats before you bring in the dog. The cat will hear the dog and will know that there’s another pet in the house, but if you introduce the dog first, the cat will be confused and overwhelmed.
If you have multiple cats, introduce the cat to the alpha cat first.
Know when it’s not working.
If you’ve tried these techniques for over a month and your cats are not getting along, it’s time to find a new home for your new cat. If the cats are constantly fighting, hissing, and growling, and they can’t be alone together, they never will.
Though this will be very disappointing, remember it’s better than living in a home with warring pets, or leaving two cats in a violent environment. You want your new cat to be safe and happy, whether it’s in your home or not.
Refresh your dog’s training.
For the weeks leading up to the introduction, work on the dog’s basic training. You want him to instantly obey commands such as “Sit” and “Stay”. This way, you have control over the dog if he starts chasing the cat.
Separate the cat and dog for at least a week.
Give the cat time to get used to her new environment before she meets your dog. Once she’s comfortable in her safe room, let your cat and dog get to know each other.
Introduce your cat to your dog.
Take the dog for a long walk prior to the meeting so that he is tired when he meets the cat. Keep your dog on a leash when the two pets meet so he is less likely to be aggressive and so your new cat feels less threatened.
Try and make the introductions when a friend or family member is around so there can be one person per animal.
Make sure the cat has a clear escape route so she can leave if it gets too much.
When the dog and cat are in the same room, reward the dog when he ignores the cat. Tell him what a clever boy he is and keep his attention with treats. Let him turn to look at the cat but if he starts to growl or show signs chasing such as his hackles rising, tell him to “Sit”, and reward the sit.
Distract the dog.
Consider giving the dog an ultra tasty distraction, such as a stuffed Kong, when the cat is in the room. The tasty treat may override his interest in chasing the cat. Also, it teaches the dog to associate the cat with pleasant things such as a treat rather than triggering his predatory behavior.
Let the cat approach the dog on her own terms.
You can open the safe room and let the cat venture into the environment where the dog is. Let them sniff and circle each other, but always be prepared to act if it gets aggressive. This can take weeks, so be patient and let the cat move at the pace that is right for her.
Let them spend more time with each other off leash.
Once they get more comfortable and show no aggression, stop using the leash on your dog. However, still monitor their interactions carefully and don’t leave them alone together. If there is any biting, chasing, or aggressive behavior from either pet, break him or her up and call an end to the daily interaction session. Keep monitoring them until you are satisfied that they are used to each other.
Don’t leave the dog and cat alone in the same room until you are completely comfortable with their interactions.
Be extra careful if you’re introducing a big dog to a tiny kitten.