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.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Introducing Kitten to Scared Cat: Nina and Asjas

Dear Greyce,

 I am a Thai look-alike (that's Applehead Siamese-cross in North American) of 8 years, spayed and of the female purrsuasion. From the time I was a kitten, I  developed an extremely strong bond with both Himself and Herself and have ruled a household in which Themselves have catered to my every whim. That was the life! However . . . those days are over! An interloper has arrived and I am at a loss about what to do.

Knowing that you will need details Greyce, I am only too happy to provide them. Let me start by telling your all about me.

As you can tell from my photo, I'm simply stunning. I'm also slightly asthmatic (with no need for medication).

I entered the household of a very hostile and much more senior male when I was only 6 weeks old and had serious health issues. I required lots of attention and treatment. The male died tragically about 2 months later and immediately Themselves became over-protective. As as result, I have led a very coddled life.

I am not the kind that likes to figure things out on my own. Instead I rely on my purrsons to cater to my every whim. For example when I want to get under the blankets, instead of going in on my own I whisker Herself to life up the covers for me. In other words, I know how to communicate what I want but prefurr to depend on others to make it happen.

While others of my breed have high activity needs, I would say that mine are low to moderate. I never play for more than 2 or 3 minutes before losing interest. Also, I am fearful of strange objects. More than one toy ended up in the garbage because I feared it, instead of viewing it as something to explore. I do enjoy short outdoor trips accompanied by Themselves.

You can probably guess, Greyce, that I am what would be termed, fearful (of change or new things) and reactive (jumpy at loud noises, for example). I don't tolerate a lot of noise or movement very well. I react badly to changes in my environment or my routine. When I'm scared I hide under a chair in the kitchen or retreat to my safe haven which is the window sill of the Master Bedroom. And when I'm really, really scared I hide behind a large wooden chest in the bedroom or between the throw and the sofa in the TV Room.  

Strangers stress me a lot!  When people visit for more than a couple of hours, I retreat to the Master Bedroom along with my my litter box along and my food and water bowls. During these times, I also dine there.

Like others of the Siamese purrsuasion, I require daily doses of attention and lots of human interaction with my purrsons. I adore laps. Yet while I enjoy this kind of contact, I do not tolerate long stroking sessions. Themselves have learned to stop stroking me immediately when I start to flick my tail.

All in all, Greyce, I am highly strung. The combination of genetics and my very early adoption (before I had the chance to learn all the important feline behaviours from my birth mother) have no doubt contributed to my purrsonality. What this means is that I'm like a delicate hothouse flower.

My Household

I live with two purrsons, Herself and Himself, in a single-level, ranch-style home with several rooms: three bedrooms, two storerooms, a TV/sitting room, a study, a kitchen and verandas on opposite sides of the house. It is a well-controlled, quiet household with peaceful purrsons and suits me admirably. That is, it did until THE INTERLOPER arrived!

All About Asjas

Let me tell you about her. Her name is Asjas and she is a Lynx or Tabby Point with a short coat. In other words, she is also of the Oriental purrsuasion. Don't let her photo fool you, Greyce. She looks like she came from a fine home but truth be told, she is from a feral colony.

She is in excellent health. And yes, Greyce, she needs to be spayed (especially since she was about five and a half months when she joined us - some two months ago). But right now Themselves are concerned about stressing her because she is VERY fearful at the vet clinic. Before she joined us, they took her for a full veterinary examination. She was paralyzed. When she is there she practically shakes and then it takes her a full day to calm down afterwards.

Unlike myself, she behaves like a true Siamese: chatty, intelligent, energetic, curious. She can spend a whole hour chasing a feather fishing pole toy and still be ready to play. The only thing stopping her from reaching the end of the earth on a turn, is the walls! She enjoys her fishing pole toys and loves strings (never allowed without human supervision), balls that go really fast and make noise when they hit the wall, catnip mice, and soft toys for kicking. She is a toy slut, Greyce! She will play with ANYTHING!

How We Were Introduced

Lest you think she is a fine addition to the household, think again. She has upset my routine and I'm far from impressed.

She spends most of her time in a separate room. When Themselves are at home and awake, there is a chicken wire barrier at the doorway so she can see out and I can see her. When Themselves are away or asleep, the door is shut. At first, the door was kept shut all the time; but after two weeks the chicken wire was installed to allow mutual viewing.

Because it is getting cooler where I live, carpet has been installed on both sides of the barrier. And we are given treat food (which we both adore) at feeding stations that are about 4 feet apart and separated by that barrier.

Chicken Wire Behind Asjas; Ramp of Boxes
About 6 weeks ago, a temporary, removable ramp was constructed to allow her access over the barrier. Asjas came over and tried to play. I started to become aggressive and was sprayed with water. I found this humiliating and became even more insecure. That was the end of the ramp for awhile.

Last week Asjas came out of the room more slowly (guess she learned from the last instance). And she went off in a direction opposite from where I was. I walked up and we touched noses. Then I hissed and made a dignified retreat. She followed. I yowled and again was squirted with water. Asjas was taken back to her room. 

Several days later, I made sure that when Asjas came out that I kept my distance. She followed me to my safe place (under the kitchen table). I reacted less intensely and then Asjas retreated safely with Himself to explore the rest of the house while Herself and I went to the TV room for some dedicated lap time. 

When Herself is busy playing with Asjas behind the barrier, I sometimes approach the chicken wire. Asjas then assumes I want to play with her (foolish kitten) and I start to yowl, hiss or even swat. She then retreats, exposes her belly to me, and stretches out while trying to touch me through the wire. I want to have nothing to do with her. 

And yet there are times when we meet nose-to-nose at the barrier and then just sit for a while on either side. 

I could go on and on about our interactions. Sometimes I am able to retreat and hiss, sometimes I do my best to intimidate her through the barrier while she stretches toward me while avoiding eye contact. It varies from day to day.

Our Current Routine

Our daily routine consists of the following:

Intensive greetings with purrsons upon awakening for the day. I love when they talk to me and fuss over me and follow me around for a short time. When I've had enough, I lead them to the kitchen where my food (or should I say, now, 'our' food) is plated.


Goodbye Time, after which Themselves leave for other matters (known in the human world, no doubt, as working). During the day I sleep wherever they tucked me in when they leave - usually the back rest of the sofa. In the afternoon I spend some time in the bedroom window catching the sun. By the way, I spend most of my time on lap or sofa or bed level. I guess it would be called mid-level in feline terms. When Themselves are about, I prefurr to hang out with them - mostly I hang out in the TV Room and Master Bedroom. I also favour the kitchen and the Veranda. Asjas spend her time in her own room with the door closed.

Intensive greetings upon their return, followed by a treat.

Outdoor time with purrsons at the end of their work day. Me only.

Lap time with one purrson in the TV room with the door closed. Meanwhile the other purrson takes Asjas to explore the rest of the house.


More lap time. Herself spends time playing with Asjas in her own room while I am entertained in the rest of the house.

Sleep: under the covers with Themselves in winter and on top of Herself in the summer. Asjas is in her own room.
Well Greyce, Themselves are a bit bewildered about how to proceed. Their well-meaning friends suggest that they just let the two of us get together and sort it out ourselves. Something tells me this is not the way to go. What do you advise?

Queen Nina


Your Furry Highness, Most High-Strung Queen Nina,
Thank you for writing and providing such a rich description of your problem and its context. You are so right to get in touch with another intelligent member of your own species for advice, instead of relying on human foibles.

Give those well-meaning human friends of Themselves a couple of hisses and a sound swat. They mean well but they have the intelligence of a hairball when it comes to cat behaviour. Their advice, if followed, would have one of two results: either 1) there would be a HUGE cat fight with enough physical damage that Asjas and you would both be under extensive veterinary care, or 2) you would begin plucking your fur out or refusing to eat and go into severe depression because of chronic anxiety. And either scenario could be accompanied by increased aggression and/or a delightful commencement of urine spraying throughout the house. In other words, their advice is unworthy of even a whisker of consideration! So just bury it in your sand box when you next use it.

I have said, repeatedly, in this blog that our need for secure territory is paramount. As you know, we tend to be solitary creatures (except when we are kittens or when we are part of a group surrounded by abundant resources) because the adult cat's territory (in the wild) is only sufficient to support one cat. No wonder we feel threatened when a strange feline enters - for it may mean a loss of food, water and/or safety. Fortunately we are flexible enough that in a household with adequate resources (separate feeding and watering stations, plenty of toys for those so inclined, more that one litter box at different locations, and access to different levels or heights) we can, over time, get used to another of our kind. The key is "over time" and that requires a slow and systematic introduction process.

Now let's get things going on a positive note.

Themselves have done some things well. First, they confine Asjas and keep her so when they are asleep or not at home. Second, they allow the both of you visual and olfactory contact through the chicken wire - so important in getting acquainted. And third, they give Asjas time to explore the larger territory under supervision while you are otherwise occupied. In other words, for the most part they keep you both safe. I understand that you have no interest in (and have refused to) explore her room. Given your purrsonality, there is no point in trying to force you to do otherwise. And fourth, it appears that the both of you receive an abundance of purrson time and interaction. Fifth, it seems like you can eat together peacefully (albeit separated by chicken wire at a distance of 4 feet. Three cheers for all of this.

However, there are areas where improvement is definitely required.
First: That water bottle has got to go. I do not think it fitting to attempt to discipline you in this manner because of your level of anxiety (read, fear) about the change in your household and because you are emotionally fragile. You are right; it is humiliating and will succeed in increasing your feelings of insecurity. So let's forego the bottle and look at other ways of dealing with the situation.

It seems that the dreaded water bottle has been used when Asjas approached you (without the benefit of the chicken wire barrier) and you attempt to distance her - by becoming aggressive. I can understand the kitten's wish to be your friend; after all you are one of her kind and stunning as well. Who wouldn't want to get to know you? What your folks don't seem to understand is that these attempts on Asjas' part - while understandable and endearing - just frighten you. And in your defense, you either lash out or, at times, retreat. You are showing them that you feel threatened and unprotected. Before you can further develop a relationship with Asjas, you must feel safe.

Second: for you to feel safe, the little one needs to be kept under more control. And no, I don't mean that she should be confined to her room all the time.

Right now, the time-sharing you do when you and Herself have exclusive time behind the closed door of the TV room while she explores the rest of the house with Himself, is an excellent means of her distributing her scent through your territory. I applaud this. The problem seems to occur when Asjas is out and about and you are not behind a closed door. Then you feel obliged to retreat or to become aggressive if she approaches you.

 Here are some suggestions:

1. Instead of allowing Asjas to walk the ramp to the bigger part of the house when you are in attendance, either make sure you are already in the TV room with the door closed (with Herself, of course) or have Himself put Asjas in a cat carrier (also known as a cat crate) to transport her out of the room. That way she will have no opportunity to approach you directly and you can maintain your sense of safety. Once you are safely in the TV room (door closed), she can be let out of the carrier to explore the house.

2. There are probably times when Themselves would like Asjas to be able to leave her room (and join the family) without the need for direct supervision.  I understand, for example, that sometimes Himself partially opens the chicken wire barrier to greet her and then forgets to close it; and Asjas takes this as an invitation to leave the room. Given that this is likely to happen more and more, we need to allow Asjas this opportunity without threatening you. Here you have two options.

Option 1: She gets transported out in that carrier. The carrier is put at some great distance from you (though in your visual range) in order for you to see each other in a protected way.

I suggest this kind of thing happen for no longer than a few minutes at a time (start with 2 minutes) and slowly work up (as you can tolerate it) to longer periods of up to 20 minutes or so. This could occur in a room that is not your safest (i.e., most valued) place. And start with a distance of at least 10 to 15 feet (if possible).

Themselves must carefully observe both Asjas and you for any signs of unease. At the first such sign, the session should be over. Asjas should be taken back to her room - even if only to allow you the time to get to the TV Room with Herself.

Here is how you get started. Start with a session of less than 3 minute (say 2). Once that goes well (and it may take several tries), increase it by one minute more. Then increase it by one minute again only if there is no sign of distress. If distress occurs, obviously the session gets ended immediately: then most importantly, decrease the following session by a minute and start from there. In other words, you take it in very small steps and very slowly.

Before we go any further, let's discuss distress. Most humans don't notice cat distress until it gets to the yowling or fighting stage or some other behavioural problem manifests. Our communication systems are so subtle that they often miss important cues - like what is happening with our posture, our tail, our ear position or our eyes.  Therefore Themselves MUST become better information on cat signalling systems so that they can be on the alert for distress at its onset (see resources at the end of my letter). This can be done and there are humans I know who are so good at this, that they can anticipate the onset of a problem and intervene before it happens. Lucky cats in those households!

You can have these sessions once or more a day, depending on the household schedule and your mutual ability to handle them.

When you are at the point that you can tolerate Asjas caged presence at a great distance for about 20 minutes, then I suggest that Themselves decrease the distance between you. Start with a decrease of one foot (that is 12" American or about 30 cm.). They decrease the distance between you only when you are both able to tolerate it (no sign of distress during a session) - and doing so at a distance of about 6 inches or so (15 cm) at a time. Again, stop either when the session time is up or at the first sign of distress (whichever comes first). And should there be evidence of distress, then at the next session goes back to the distance of the previous session and starts there.

Of course Queen Nina, you may just feel like retreating from the area and avoiding her altogether. I urge Themselves to find a distance and venue where you feel safe enough that this is unlikely to happen. If that is not possible, then I suggest the following:

Use the same process, but in a room where you are. Whether or not the door is closed is a judgement call.  Start with the greatest distance between you (Asjas in the crate) and the shortest possible time (1 to 2 minutes). In this situation, you should be on Herself's lap (for the maximum sense of security) and have one other safe place to which to retreat if this gets to be too much for you. Purrhaps there is a chair over which a tablecloth or blanket could be arranged to give you a tent in which to hide?

Option 2: The alternative to the crate method is to use a leash and harness. And I would suggest that the cat to be harnessed would be Asjas - not only because she appears to be more adaptable but also because she is the one most likely to approach and thus is the one who needs to be under control. In this circumstance she must always be under direct human supervision - and not by the same person who is offering you security. If you can use the crate method, it will buy time while consideration of the potential for leash and harness can be considered. Again please consult the resources at the end of this letter, for further information.

Asjas, being curious, is likely to want to engage you. Instead she can be distracted with a toy or a game - still while on her leash. Kept busy at some distance from you could take the tension out of the situation.

In time, you could very well get to the point where you are less disturbed by Asjas' presence and she is able to keep her distance (albeit because of the crate or the leash).

If either the leash or the small crate method goes well, then I suggest consideration of the purchase of a larger, wire dog crate (outfitted with a small litter box and a resting pad) in which Asjas can reside  for periods of the day when Themselves are at home and They would like all of you to be together. This would allow Asjas a change of venue and the chance of you to be in the safe presence of each other. The larger crate gives her the possibility of being able to play with a toy or of having a shelf installed to give her a few more options to keep her occupied. And if allows Themselves the freedom of having to directly supervise you both at all times.

Third: The Process Must Proceed At Your Pace
You are not a confident cat. You are fearful. You don't accept change easily. In terms of emotional make up, you are far more fragile than Asjas is. Thus any interaction between the two of you must proceed at a pace with which you are comfortable. You MUST call the shots on this. Any increase in frequency or distance between the two of you must only be done when you are fully ready, regardless of Asjas' eagerness. And that pace is s-l-o-w-.

Fourth: Consider Anti-Anxiety Measures
Because this is an anxiety-provoking time for you and you are emotionally reactive, consider one or more anti-anxiety measures to help you relax. These are adjuncts and don't take the place of the other sections of my advice.

1. An herbal preparation such as chamomile.
Some of my friends find this quite relaxing. A few like it prepared from a tea bag (pure chamomile, not a blend) with the liquid left to cool and then put on a saucer. Most like it instead when 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the dried herb (from a good quality teabag) is ground between human fingers into a fine powder and added to a wet food treat once a day (morning would be good) - unless, of course, you have allergies to flowers in the daisy family in which case, move on to another option.

2. A flower remedy such as Bach's Rescue Remedy (2 to 4 drops diluted with a bit of water and either given by mouth using a plastic dropper or combined with wet food) and given up to three time a day. (Dilute if the remedy is only available in an alcohol base as we don't like that taste.)

3. Installation of a Feliway diffuser, most especially in the area in which your sessions with Asjas take place. Feliway is a synthetic facial pheromone that mimics a combination common to all cats, which we use to mark things in our territory. It gives us a sense of comfort. It comes in two forms, a room diffuser (just plug in and leave for about a month or until it runs dry) and a spray (a form which might be considered when new furnishings or toys are introduced to you. More information is found in the resource list at the end of this letter.

4. Wearing of a thundershirt during your sessions wiht Asjas. This might also be something for Asjas to try when she is taken to the vet clinic.

5. Anti-anxiety medication
If the above options are not suitable, talk with your veterinarian about the possibility of some anti-anxiety medication. If your decide on this and don't take pills easily, then ask about a compounded formula. For example, many such medications now come in dermal gels that can be applied to the inside of the upper ear and absorbed that way: no pilling, no possibility of tummy upsets.

Needless to say, Feliway and the thundershirt can be used individually or in combination with everything on this list. BUT do NOT mix chamomile and Rescue Remedy and anti-anxiety medication - unless you have veterinary approval to do so. So those are singular options (which can be combined with Feliway and/or the thundershirt if you wish - depending on your tolerance and your folks' wallet).

Fifth: Build on Your Mutual Love of  Food
You mentioned how the two of you can eat peacefully together, while separated by chicken wire and at a distance of 4 feet. That's great news, because cats who can eat together demonstrate the potential for adapting to one another.

Here are some further ways to build on this rapport. Option 1: Try reducing that distance. Start with 3.5 feet and decrease it every few days BUT only if you can both tolerate this. Just like my other instructions, go as s-l-o-w-l-y as you need to. At this point, still keep the chicken wire between you when you are doing this. Option 2: When Asjas is in the crate or on leash and initially in your presence, encourage Themselves to give you each a wet food treat. They may even wish to divide the treat into teensy portions (say 1/2 teaspoon each) to extend the treat time.

Queen Nina, I have given you a lot to think about. Do let me know what yours plans are and how things are going. The process will take some time and we will likely need to refine it (and amend it) as things progress. I have every confidence that your relationship with Asjas can head in the right direction, however slowly that may be.

Purrs and whisker kisses for your journey,

NOTE: For any of my blog entries, click on the appropriate label at the left of my blog and then follow the entries to the one noted.

Proper Introductions to a New Cat: See my entry, May I Present? A Cat? (1/14,10).

For inspiration from a similar situation check out Molly and Ivy's story which starts with Oil and Water - Introductions Gone Wrong (11/10/09) then Molly's Update (12/28/09) and then Molly's Good News (2/22/10).

Cat Signalling/Communication:

Some books - 
Know Your Cat: An Owner’s Guide to Cat Behavior (by Bruce Fogel).
Understanding Cat Behavior (by Roger Tabor).
100 Ways to Better Understand Your Cat (by Roger Tabor).

Entries from Amy Shojai's blog -

Feliway: See my entry, What Good Is Feliway? (4/30/10).

Leash and Harness: See my entry, Harnessing Facts (4/26/10). Label: Outdoors