We all know how adorable kittens can be, and this is the time of year these bundles of joy are abundant. Before you get lured in by the cuteness factor of these fluffballs, however, there are a few things to consider to start your new family member off on the right paw.
First, let’s assume that everyone in your household is ready, willing, and able to bring the animal into your home. Just as important is to ensure you prepare the proper environment for your new cat. Beyond food, scratching posts, a litter box, and a few toys, every cat needs a safe and secure place where it can retreat to feel protected and use as a resting area.
Your new cat or kitten should have the ability to exit and enter a sheltered space from at least two sides if they feel threatened. Most cats prefer this area to be just big enough for them. Good examples of safe places are a cardboard box, a cat carrier, and a raised cat perch with a hiding box. There should be at least as many safe places as there are cats in a household.
If you have other animals, the introduction process is essential in determining the success of having a multi-animal household. The territorial nature of a cat means that the time required for the introduction process varies greatly.
Too often, an adoption occurs and the new owner returns the cat within a day saying it won’t come out from under the bed (a preferable hiding place for many). This tendency is normal and indicative that a little bit of time and effort is needed for a comfort level to occur.
Introducing your new cat to an existing family cat should be done gradually. Cats are naturally territorial in the wild and will defend their home range and its associated resources. Therefore, some cats become “aggressive” in an attempt to protect their place in the household. Gradual introductions are the key.
Provide each cat with their own room, free from small objects and wires. If your bathroom is accessible make sure the toilet seat is down! Choose a space for your new cat that doesn’t interrupt the resident cat’s routine. Avoid direct interactions between the cats at first.
Visit your other cats and let them smell the new cat on you. Most cats will learn to cope with the new housemate and put major aggression issues aside.
Take time for introductions
Allow for a settling-in period before any whisker-to-whisker introductions. Let the cats sniff each other under the closed door from their respective areas. This way they can safely get used to each other’s presence. Then switch bedding and other items between the two cats. This way, each cat can become used to the scent of the other.
Visual introductions can then occur by placing your new cat in a carrier, allowing them to sniff each other through the wire door. Have them meet this way several times a day for about an hour.
Continue this interaction for several days or until they remain calm in each other’s presence. At the end of each positive encounter session, separate the cats. The alone time allows them to regain their sense of territory and confidence.
Initial introductions with the family’s dog should always be done with your dog on a short leash. The restraint will eliminate any chasing and allow you to remove your dog immediately if your cat is showing signs of fear or distress. Positive interaction will include careful investigation from both cat and dog — a wagging tail from your dog and your dog backing off if your cat becomes defensive.
If attempts to chase, out-of-control pulling on the leash, whining, barking, or agitation occurs, it’s time to stop and revisit later.
If your dog is behaving in a friendly and cautious way, try not to intervene in their interactions. Praise and reward the dog for their good manners. Interrupt any attempts to chase and redirect your dog’s attention to another activity. Carefully watch both pets’ body language for clues before you increase their time together.
Following this advice should allow for a happy blended family with plenty of purrs and lap cuddles.
Luanne Hinkle has been the Executive Director of Olympic Peninsula Humane Society (OPHS) since December 2017 and has more than a decade of experience in executive-level positions leading major fundraising and program development efforts in the nonprofit arena. See ophumanesociety.org.