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How to introduce cats

Introducing cats to each other and allowing them to ‘work things out for themselves’ rarely ends well and could lead to hissing and possibly even fighting. To reduce the chances of it not going well, there are steps we can take. Follow these tips on how to introduce cats for a happier cat house.

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Before you bring your new cat home

Once you are sure you have all the correct resources for your cats (see Multi Cat Households - Tips for resources), we can start the process of introducing your cats. If possible, try to get a piece of bedding from your new cat to introduce to the resident cat before your new cat has even entered the home. A pheromone diffuser and/or spray such as Feliway Optimum, can also be used to reduce negative reactions such as hissing.

Prepare a space for your new cat

Before introductions, prepare a space. Use a room that your resident cat spends the least amount of time in to reduce disruption. This new room should have all of your new cat’s resources provided. Try to keep to the same food and litter that your new cat has been using already, and ideally some of his/her bedding.

Creating a combined scent

Cats mainly communicate with each other through scent and pheromones, so we need to combine scent profiles before they hear or see each other. This can be done by swapping bedding and should be placed somewhere near to your cat, but not close to any resources.

Here is how to start the process of combining their scent profiles:

  • On arrival, take your new cat to the room and open the carrier door to allow it to explore.

  • Once settled, you can start swapping bedding to start to intermingle their scents, but never take all of the bedding. When each cat is relaxed and unreactive to the other cat’s bedding, you can swap again and keep repeating.

  • A cotton glove or cloth can be rubbed on the cheeks of the new cat and then rubbed on areas where both cats will likely scent mark e.g. corners of furniture, doorways, table legs etc. This should only be done if the cat enjoys being stroked and interacted with.

Exploring each other’s areas

If there are no negative reactions to the other cat’s bedding, such as growling or hissing, the scents can be further mixed by allowing the resident cat to explore the other cat’s area without actually seeing each other. If the new cat isn’t completely comfortable in their new environment, you may want to avoid this step until they are more comfortable which could take several days. All steps should only be carried out if it’s possible to confine either cat without them becoming frustrated.

Once neither cat is reacting negatively to the scent of the other, the first meeting can commence. So how do we go about this? Very gradually!

Meeting through a barrier

For the first few meetings, a barrier should be used. Examples of these include:

  • A door held slightly ajar

  • A closed glass door

  • A mesh barrier

  • A child’s stair gate

Both cats should be allowed to approach the barrier and you can use treats and toys to distract both cats separately. If the cats are ignoring each other, this is very good! If any negative behaviours are shown, the cats should be distracted, encouraged to move away and the interaction should start again another day from a greater distance. Once both cats appear relaxed during these meetings, the barrier can be moved to other rooms to get both cats used to sharing territory.

Supervised meetings

After this, the cats can be allowed some access to the rest of the house, one cat at a time. Both cats can be allowed to enter the same room in different areas and played with at opposite ends. If there are no negative behaviours displayed, the cats can be left together, supervised, for short periods of time which can gradually be increased.

Need more advice?

Book an appointment with one of our qualified behaviourists for more guidance.

This article was written by Tanith Lee RVN. Tan qualified as a Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) in 2014. Since then she has worked in a variety of first opinion and referral clinics throughout the UK. She completed the ISFM Diploma in Feline Nursing with Distinction in 2016, and has completed the ISFM Advanced Certificate in Feline Behaviour. Tan is our Veterinary Practice Manager for FirstVet in the UK.

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