An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

May I Present? Another Cat!

Dear Greyce, I am a shy calico female and am four years old. I have lived happily with my purrsons (Herself and Himself)  most of my life. However Herself is starting a new job and is worried that I will be lonely because she will be away from home for much of the day. (She used to work at home.) And so she will be inviting another cat to come and live with us. While the idea of having a feline companion might work for me, I'm really concerned about having my space invaded. What do you advise? Shy Simba

Dear Simba, I confess that I am the only feline in my household and I like it that way. Humans often think that bringing home a companion (under the guise that you need a friend) is doing you a favour. Well the jury may be out on that because it depends on many factors - your catsonalities is one but the most important is HOW you are introduced to each other. What humans fail to understand is that you will be dealing with territorial invasion by a member of your own species. In the wild, we would each have individual territories sufficient to support only one cat; another cat on our premises would spell danger because sharing resources would result in starvation; and since we carry many behaviours from our wild state, I truly understand you concern.

It would help your purrson if she understood this from your point of view, so let me put it in human terms. Suppose Himself decided one day to invite another adult female to join the household, under the guise of keeping Herself company. Herself would be very upset. And if Himself replied, "Don't worry honey. You're gonna love her. And by the way, it won't cost us much more because she is your size and weight so you can share clothes and food. And we can all sleep together!" If such a thing came to pass, it would not be unusual for the resident female to feel invaded by the newcomer, for the newcomer to be nervous and uncertain, and for turf battles over who gets to use what and under what circumstances to result. Such battles are often called 'cat fights' though they having nothing to do with us. Not surprisingly in many such situations, one of the females is either kept separated from the other (this is known as having a mistress) or is re-homed (this is known as divorce). There are conventions and laws about these kinds of arrangements for humans. When they are not respected, everything gets turned upsidedown.

What humans need to know is that cats have conventions too, known at cat etiquette. Observing them gives us all the best chance at getting along. Violate them and it's every cat for herself. You see even if initially we seem to tolerate a newcomer, the subtle signs of tension are usually ignored because humans don't know what to look for. But ignorance is not bliss - it can lead to disaster! Just bringing the newcomer home and expecting you to become fast friends is foolish. In fact I can predict that all hell will break loose somewhere around weeks three to four of this new arrangement: pee fests and fights are not uncommon. HOWEVER do not despair! Given time and the right introduction process (one done according to cat etiquette) there is every reason to believe that you’ll be able to accept, and maybe even like, that newcomer.

By popular request I am making these rules available so you can pass them on to your purrsons. Just print this off and then sit on it. Humans are always curious about reading material on which you rest. No doubt one of them will come over and then you can make a show of getting up, leaving the text to be read.

A Precious Greyce Handout for Humans Who Need to Know

Basic Principles

Principle #1. Plan in advance (1): New cats (especially if adopted from elsewhere) can introduce disease to your feline colleagues in the household. So it makes sense that the newcomer should be in good health and vaccinated (as per the instructions of the dreaded vet). If that is not possible, then the newcomer needs placement in a safe room, alone, until health status can be determined and/or improved. Plan in advance (2): Make sure you have sanctuaries (safe spaces) for the newcomer as well as for the resident felines. These spaces would have food, litterbox, water, and toys but would not be able to be invaded (that is, separate resources for the resident(s) and the newcomer). Resist the urge to save money and time on purchasing extra dishes, litterboxes and the like - unless you want lots of cat fights and the resultant vet bills.

Principle #2. Familiarity is the source of your cat’s contentment; therefore change must be done slowly. Given the chance, they will work things out at their own speed. Each cat needs time to get used to the new territory (for the new cats) or the changes in territory (for resident cats). Each cat needs to incorporate the smells from the other, so they identify them as part of the territory rather than as an invader. The cats need to work out how they will use the various spaces in their territory and develop their own ways of sharing spaces.

Here are some rules of thumb: a) Go at the pace of the cat who is the most reluctant, shyest or most nervous. b) All other things be equal, if the resident is a kitten and the newcomer, older, then proceed at the pace the older cat can take AND pay more attention to the older cat than to the kitten, because the kitten is more adaptable.

Principle #3. Introduce the smell first, then the critter. (Instructions for doing this will follow).

Principle #4. Pay attention to safety when the cats are together for the first few months. Always provide a place where the newcomer cat and the resident cat are safe from each other, most especially when they cannot be directly supervised (and rescued if need be) by a responsible human.

Principle #5. Allow for privacy: Even when the cats are getting along together, a cat tree or perch, shelves, and/or a raised hiding box are useful to allow each of them places for privacy and rest. Sometimes they will just need to get away from one another.

Principle #6: Watch carefully. Normal reactions during the introduction process include growls, hisses, aloofness, puffing up, curiosity, retreating to a higher surface, leaving the room at high speed. They may appear either not to react to each other or be friendly to each other. Don’t be mislead. Sometimes cats appear to be fine together – even for a week or so – and then the trouble starts because they were introduced to each other too quickly. Reactions that should NOT be tolerated are attacking (including pre-attack yowls), mounting, stalking, or ambushing. If any of these happen, you MUST intervene. When at all possible, watch for signs (ears back, raised back) and stop it before it starts. Try distraction by throwing a small toy in the opposite direction of the victim or using a fishing-pole toy to engage the attacker in play. If one of the cats is shy or nervous DO NOT make loud noises to startle the cats (e.g., clapping your hands, banging a pot, dropping a book) into stopping. If need be, put a blanket or cardboard box over the cat and remove her from the area (to another room (with litterbox) and close the door. Let everyone cool off before the door is opened again. DON’T scold your cat; this will only make her more tense in what she regards as HER territory.

The Introduction Process

The is a long and conservative process that can be used with success even by the most thick-headed human. Very rarely do cats who have been introduced through this process NOT become tolerant of each other. But should that happen, then it is a catsonality clash and you will need to re-home one of the cats or keep them permanently separated in two different parts of the home.

NOTE: In this process I have assumed that the resident cat is older than the newcomer and thus will have access to most spaces in the home, while the newcomer will initially be restricted to the safe room. You may need to adjust this according to the circumstances in your household.

Phase One
This phase allows the newcomer cat to establish a safe territory and to minimize threat to the resident cat. It also allows for isolation in case of disease and for a scent introduction.

1. Prepare a safe room for the newcomer. It needs to have
- a litter box,
- a bowl of fresh water,
- food,
- a place to sleep, such as a soft bed (a cardboard box lined with a towel or soft cushion is fine), preferably slightly off the ground
- if possible a window to look out of (and access to it),
- soft music (easy listening or classical at low volume),
- a night light,
- toys,
- a stable scratching post (for now a corrugated pad like the Cosmic Cat Scratching Pad would be fine); place it near the sleeping area,
- a Feliway diffuser to establish a sense of comfort is a great option. For information check the blog entry, What Good is Feliway? (under the Feliway label).

2. Put your newcomer in the safe room. Leave her alone to allow her to get used to the space. Close the door and don’t let your resident cat in. Your newcomer may prefer to hide under a bed or in a closet for some time. Let her go at her own pace.

3. Allow your resident cat to get used to the smell of the newcomer through the door. They may even meow at each other or put paws under the door to touch.

4. Visit your newcomer at least a couple of times of day for play sessions and comfort. Make sure however, that you visit your resident cat FIRST – so you end up taking some of her scent with you.

Help them along by rubbing each with the scent of the other. To do this, take a towel (or clean rag) and rub the resident cat, then the newcomer; leave the towel for the newcomer to sniff. Take another towel and rub the newcomer cat and then the resident; leave that towel for the resident to sniff. Do this at least once or twice a day. This helps to establish a group scent.

5. Make sure to set aside play and petting time for your resident cat (at least 30 minutes a day, for example, in two, 15-minute sessions) as well as for the newcomer.

6. After about a week, if the parties are calm, you are ready for Phase Two.

Phase Two
This phase allows a safe meeting of the cats. You will need a cat carrier with a wire/screen door.

1. Put the newcomer in the carrier in the safe room. Close the carrier door so that the cat is safe.

2. Invite your resident cat into the safe room by leaving the door fully open. DON’T force your resident cat into the room; allow him/her to enter in her own time.

3. Let your resident cat explore the carrier and the room. If the resident gets upset and you cannot distract her, then stop the session. Even if all is going well, stop the session after 15 minutes and take your cat out of the room. Then go back into the safe room and open the carrier to let the newcomer out.

4. Repeat this process for as many times as it takes to make all parties comfortable.

5. Throughout this phase, continue with the attention session for your cats and with the towel rubbing to establish a common scent.

Phase Three
This phase allows your newcomer cat to explore other parts of the house, in safety and to become familiar with locations and scents and deposit her scent there too.

1. Put your newcomer cat into the carrier.

2. Invite your resident cat into the safe room. Leave with the newcomer and close the door. This allows your resident cat time to explore the safe room on her own.

3. Meanwhile open the cat carrier and let the newcomer out to explore other parts of the house. Do one part of the house at a time because it a big place for a cat. And let the newcomer go at her own pace - she may want to stay in the carrier with the door open for a while.

4. Short exploring periods (15 minutes) are best at first, unless everyone is having a good time.

5. Throughout this phase, continue with the attention session for your cats and with the towel rubbing to establish a common scent.

Phase Four
This is a conservative measure to allow the newcomer to meet the resident cat (rather than vice versa). It may not be needed. You will have to use your judgment.

1. Put your resident cat in the cat carrier and close the door. Allow your newcomer to explore the carrier and surrounding area just like your cat did.

2. Again, start with short sessions (5 or 10 minutes and never more than 30 minutes).

3. Throughout this phase, continue with the attention session for your cats and with the towel rubbing to establish a common scent.

4. When all is going well you are ready for Phase Five.

Phase Five
You are almost there. But not all cats adapt to leash and harness. If that is not possible you may have to skip this step.

1. Put the newcomer cat on a leash and harness. Take her to the area where you resident cat is.

2. If you resident cat leaves, so be it. Don’t force the issue. If the resident cat stays, make sure the newcomer cannot physically contact the resident cat. Start with the cats at least 10 feet away from each other (farther is better). Never let the cats near enough that they can potentially inflict any damage on the other.

3. Again, start with short sessions (5 or 10 minutes and never more than 30 minutes). As the cats adapt and IF they are both calm, decrease the distance between them by no more that one foot from the previous time. Should problems develop between the cats, go back to the previous distance and wait several sessions before trying to decrease it again.

4. Throughout this phase, continue with the attention session for your cats and with the towel rubbing to establish a common scent.

5. When all is going well you are ready for Phase Six.

Phase Six
Let both the resident and newcomer cats meet each other.

1. Open the door to the safe room and let each find the other in their own time.

2. As things get better and better between the parties, allow them increasingly longer periods of time together (start with 10-minutes minute intervals and build up to an hour, then several hours, then half a day, etc.)

For the next 6 to 8 weeks, always put the newcomer in the safe room when you are out of the house. THEN all should be going well by this point, at which the cats should be safe when unsupervised. In fact, they should be able to at least tolerate each other, if not become friends.

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