If you’re bringing a new cat or kitten home, you’re probably filled with excitement and perhaps a pinch of anxiety. After all, cats are naturally territorial creatures, so throwing a new kitty into the mix can sometimes trigger a hissy fit or a serious cat fight.
That’s why the best way to introduce cats is with plenty of patience and a healthy respect for how a cat’s brain works. “Learning the proper way to introduce cats before adopting goes a long way in preventing problems and keeping the human and feline family happy,” confirms Dr. Leticia Dantas, a veterinary behaviorist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in Athens.
So, before you fling your felines into the same living space, learn everything you need to know about how to introduce a new cat to a new home, with insight from experts in feline behavior.
Introducing a Cat to a New Home: The Basics
While some cats can be dropped into a new environment and do just fine, the transition to a new space can be highly stressful. How well—and quickly—your cats adjust to this change will depend on a variety of factors including their personality, genetics, and how much they’ve been socialized already, says Dantas. For these reasons, it’s best to take the transition process slowly for all kitties involved.
First, prepare your home for the arrival of a new cat or kitten by designating a spare room or bathroom as your new family member’s safe space. Any clean and quiet room with a door to separate it from other parts of your house or apartment will do.
For your cat’s comfort, make sure her sanctuary has the following:
- Food and water bowls
- Two litter boxes
- A comfortable place to sleep such as a cat bed or soft blankets
- Cat toys like whirl toys and a scratching post
- A perch such as a cat tree, windowsill, or shelf
- A hiding spot like a box, cat cave, or bed to scurry under
- A towel to seal the door and prevent preliminary interactions with other cats
If you’re adopting a skittish or shy kitty, consider installing a pheromone diffuser as well, which releases a calming pheromone that can help boost your cat’s sense of security, says Marci Koski, a certified cat behavior and training consultant in Vancouver, Washington.
Take your new cat for a veterinary visit as soon as possible. It’s best to schedule this visit before you even bring your cat home, but you will definitely want the new cat to have a veterinary exam before you introduce your cats. The veterinarian will perform a physical exam, check for parasites, and ensure that your new cat’s vaccines are up to date. These simple steps can decrease the likelihood that your new cat brings a contagious illness home to your family cats.
Before you bring your new cat home, put your family cats in another part of the house to prevent the cats from seeing and smelling each other just yet. Immediately take your new cat to her sanctuary and let her explore her new surroundings at her own pace.
Spend some time bonding with your new cat, and give your other cats an equal amount of playtime (separately, for now!). Since your cats will smell each other on you, give them plenty of cat treats to create a positive association. In the meantime, leave the cat carrier in the room with your new cat so she has a safe hideaway if she feels threatened .
A few days after your cat’s arrival, you can begin to introduce her to the rest of your family.
How to Introduce Cats to Each Other
The best way to introduce cats is—again—very slowly. The more patience you have, the less stressed your cats will be, which ultimately boosts your chances of cultivating a feline friendship or, at the very least, a peaceful coexistence, says Koski.
Keep in mind that it’s important to introduce cats one by one before you allow a house full of cats to hang out. As such, here’s your step-by-step guide for how to introduce two cats at a time:
Do a Scent Swap
To desensitize your cats to each other, introduce them to each other’s unique scent first. Take a clean sock, towel, or blanket and rub it on your new cat’s face, cheeks, head, and neck. Do the same thing with a different sock and your other cat. Then, present the socks to your cats with treats to create a positive association. If your cat hisses or retreats out of fear, repeat the process over a series of days or weeks until they’re totally unbothered by the sock.
Next, allow your new cat to explore the rest of the house one room at a time while your resident cat checks out the new cat’s space. Keep them separated by a door and look out for signs of defensiveness or aggressiveness like crouching or hissing. To reduce anxiety, schedule regular meals and playtime in both spots. Repeat this process for the next couple of days—if not longer—until they appear calm and relaxed.
Let ‘Em Have a Look
Use a gate or cat carrier to allow your cats to see and sniff each other for an hour or so. Arrange meet-ups several times a day for the next few days or weeks until they’re well-adjusted. Keep rotating rooms and feeding the cats on their respective sides of the gate. This way, they’ll continue to get to know each other and create a positive connection (other cat = tasty food).
Finally, Introduce Your Cats
Calmly let your new cat out to mingle with your family cat for a few minutes. Again, create a positive association with plenty of treats. While some defensive or aggressive behavior is normal and to be expected, if they become increasingly anxious or begin to fight, use a towel to distract and separate them.
Continue to Take It Slow
Some cats become fast friends in a matter of days or weeks. Others take months or even years to adjust to the mere presence of one another (if they ever do). Be patient and remember that it’s normal for this process to be challenging for some cats.
How to Introduce a Kitten to a Cat
If you’re wondering how to introduce a kitten to a cat, the good news is the process is about the same as it would be for adult cats.
In general, it’s best to look for a kitten with a temperament that will mesh well with your current cat’s mood and behavior, says Koski. For example, if you have a cranky older kitty, opt for a more easygoing kitten over the most rambunctious kitten in the litter. Got a high-energy, curious cat on your hands? Then try to find a mini-explorer to match.
After that, follow the same steps you’d use to introduce adult cats. If you find your kitten is bugging your older cat, try to use playtime to distract her and avoid overwhelming your older cat.
Regardless of your cats’ ages, the most important thing is to separate the new cat from the resident cat for a long enough time until neither of the cats is showing signs of stress or anxiety, says Dantas.
Introducing Cats: Red Flags to Watch For
If your cats are stressed out, they’ll let you know. Signs that it’s time to separate your cats include:
You can also watch your cat’s tail language and body language for signs of fear, anxiety, or anger.
While some level of discomfort is normal, if your cats seem increasingly distressed, separate them ASAP and start the introduction process from the beginning. Whatever you do, never push unwanted meetings. Doing so could solidify negative feelings for one another, create chronic stress, and even trigger health problems.
If a successful introduction seems impossible, reach out to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist sooner rather than later (you can find one in your area here).
Preserving Peace in Your Home
After you’ve welcomed a new cat or kitten into your home, there are many simple ways you can keep the peace.
Make sure you have the right gear. Designate separate, identical food bowls, litter boxes, and beds for each cat in your household.
Offer your cats protective spaces. Install numerous hideaways and perches for your cats to survey their surroundings and get away when they need a breather.
Keep attention equal. Give your cats equal attention to avoid igniting rivalries or jealousy.
Closely monitor behaviors. Look out for any sudden changes in behavior, which may indicate an underlying health issue and are always a cue to contact your veterinarian for a check-up.
If conflicts between cats arise, remember that you can always separate your cats and start slow introductions again or contact your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist for professional help.