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.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Re-integration After Disaster: Old and Young Cats

Dear Greyce,
I am recovering quite nicely now (see Newcomer Hampers Sick Cat's Recovery 4/4/11) although I have become a picky eater. Themselves have been most kind - keeping that so-called companion (a.k.a.The Pest), Gracie, sequestered. I have my basement retreat all to myself. However rumour has it that Herself has bonded to Gracie and wants to keep her around. And I'm far from impressed. I've taken to hissing when I pass the bedroom door (when she is inside) or at Herself after she has spent time with her. What should I do?
Ready to be distressed again!

Dear Tommy,

First and foremost I'm really thrilled that you are making such a good recovery. You gave us all quite a scare!
Let's go over the advice I first gave you, so we are all starting with the same foundation.

While you may find this hard to believe, in almost every case, even cats that get off on the wrong paw can learn to tolerate each other (and maybe even get to like one another) if given the proper re-introduction in the proper time. There are two fundamental keys to this: 1) to re-introduce you properly (see May I Introduce? A Cat! 2/7/10 ) and 2) to do it in the proper time.

In your case, the proper time is easy to discern. Any re-introduction MUST proceed at the pace with which you are comfortable (that is, at a pace you can tolerate without the need for running away, growling, or yowling). And given your recent history and your age, the likely pace is very s-l-o-w-l-y. It will certainly be a lot slower than the first time around and will probably strike you humans as being a slow as molasses in January (at least in climates like the one I live in). BUT taking it slowly ensures the greatest chance of success.

Before you start anything, make sure the following are in place (just like I wrote originally):

Your basement retreat must be for your exclusive use. Gracie should not be allowed to use it, even when you are not. That also means that the pet door must either be guarded or locked (when she is about) to prevent her from accidentally entering. Over the longer-term I have recommended the use of an electronic cat door (coded either to your microchip if you are microchipped; or to a special tag on your collar - either of which will act are your purrsonal key) - just because it will be easier on all concerned.

Similarly because your purrsonal food and litter are in the mud room, I'd like strong consideration to be given to the installation of a similar, electronic pet door there. That way Gracie cannot follow you in and hassle you while you eat or use the toilet.

In this way, your needs for privacy in your most intimate moments and for a place to rest away from a rambunctious kitten will be met.

And since you enjoy some outdoor time, I'm all in favour of continued access in the manner to which you are used.

For the foreseeable future, I believe you and Gracie should continue to time-share space. Should there be ANY chance of you seeing her in the fur (before you are ready), make sure Themselves install a visual barrier (such as cardboard or poster board) at cat height over the glass doors in your living room or elsewhere, as required.

Should you not have one at present, I strongly recommend the installation of a cat tree (not just a scratching post) with SEVERAL levels (so there is room for the both of you but not in each others' faces). Refer to my excellent (she said, modestly) entry, A Cat Tree for Every Cat (2/7/10). Locate the tree where it gives you visual access to territorial entrances and/or an interesting view to the outside. The height will be anxiety-reducing and the levels will allow you to see her from a distance and fend Gracie off, if need be.
If you prefurr to remain closer to the ground, please let me know and I will offer relevant advice.
Being a young kitten, Gracie needs a lot of play. I have already mentioned the kinds of solitary play toys and interactive games that will keep her satisfied.

Continue the use of a Feliway diffuser in the area you most share (even though it is on a time-share basis for now) because that will help mitigate any distress you might feel from her scent.

As for you hissing fits. You are purrfectly entitled to them. Hissing is fear-based and means "back away from me or I will have to take action (and I really don't want to do that)". It is purrfectly natural to hiss at the bedroom door when she is inside - no problem. As for Herself carrying scents, purrhaps she could use a little more care (like hand washing or spritzing some Feliway around her trouser legs if that is where Gracie has been). The important thing is that she back off from contact if you hiss because of scent. That will show that she respects your need for space.

I'll bet Herself wants to know how long this whole re-introduction process will take. It's anybody's guess and the best gauge is to proceed at the pace that makes you comfortable. It can take up to one month for every year of the age of the oldest cat in the household (that's you, my dear), but usually is faster than that. Just insist that she opt for the conservative route and go very s-l-o-w-l-y - always mindful of your reaction. Have her watch for pupil size (big pupils), raised fur on your back or tail, fleeing, growling, yowling - all signs that the pace is far too fast for you. Of course, she should also be mindful of your eating and pooping habits, which will be sensitive to stress and may serve as early warning systems.

The bottom line is that with a very slow and careful re-introduction over the course of several months, I think you both have a good chance of being able to live together.

Don't hesitate to contact me if you need more information or support.
Whisker kisses,

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