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.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cats Trying to Get Used to Each Other: Shushi and Chocho

Dear Greyce,

I am a very beautiful, 7-year-old, spayed female who is used to being queen of the castle (apartment, actually). I am independent and not overly affectionate; but I do enjoy having my head and back stroked.

I tend to be reactive (that is, a bit jumpy).

Until recently, I've lived with Herself, Herself's Mother and Herself's Brother (the latter who doesn't have much to do with my care). From time to time we have had feline guests because Herself is involved in cat rescue. But now is another matter entirely.

Less than two month ago, a feline stranger arrived. He was in rough shape because he needed to have his leg amputated. Apparently he was a stray and was found wandering about the streets minus a front paw with a bone sticking out! Of course surgery was essential. And now he is in my home and expects to stay there!

Chocho (his name) is less than a year old. He is a black shorthair and will soon be neutered. He has his own room (with food, water, toys and litter box) and mostly tends to hide during the day. Oh, he will come out if there is food but will leave at the first sign of movement from a purrson. At night he plays, eats and uses the toilet. He loves food (wet, dry or treats) - unlike myself who is very particular. And he is talkative and becoming more so.

He is frightened of people. Herself knows this so she talks to him softly and leaves a radio on to keep in company when he is alone in the room; purrhaps this will help him get used to human sounds. At first he didn't want to be touched. But now he lets Herself stroke his back. She thinks it is because she put a Feliway diffuser in his room and that has helped him become more comfortable.

Everything was fine until Herself decided that I should meet Chocho. At first, we were separated by a mesh door which separates the apartment from the balcony. I am only allowed out on the balcony when I am supervised, so I am safe. When we got to the point that we no longer reacted to the sight of one another, Herself and the vet decided it was a good time to open the door and let us have more interaction.

When that happened, I stayed where I was. I was not about to go and greet the intruder! Chocho approached, chirping at me like I was a long-lost friend. Well, I would have none of that. I crouched and started to flick my tail. Then I hissed at him and so he retreated (thank goodness).

Herself decided to arrange these meetings between the two of us, every morning and every evening. I continue to hiss and he got more anxious.
Now he knows that if he stays away from me, we can both just lie down and look at each other - for up to 20 minutes - before retreat.

Well Greyce, the problem is this. I read your blog entry about introductions. And I don't want to use the cat carrier method of getting us in closer contact. Either does Chocho. We both HATE the carrier!

What do you advise?


Dear Shushi,

It may be difficult for you to understand, Shushi, but I do think that Chocho wants to get to know you better. He is probably attracted to your beauty, in addition to the fact that you are the only other one of his kind in this home. I'm sure he could use the guidance of an older woman to help him adjust to his new situation.

At present just keep on with what you are doing. Don't try to do more. You can do less (that is, revert to staying behind the screen door) if either of you becomes more anxious.

My reasons are as follows:

First, Shushi, you are a reactive cat, which means you get jumpy. You are also much older than Chocho. And you are the resident cat (that is, the first cat to live here). That means that any introduction to a new cat must go at the pace at which you are comfortable.

Chocho is younger and thus more resilient (even though he has had a hard life). He is also eager to make friends with you which suggests he will be willing to take you on your terms, as long as everyone understands what those terms are. 

Now Shushi, you are 7. The general rule is that it can take about one month for every year of the oldest, resident cat's age, to properly introduce another cat. You have several months to go!

Second, the purrson who needs to understand this the most is Herself, who is likely not used to the subtle ways of cat communication. When the two of you lie down and stare at each other, you are speaking quite clearly and loudly - just in a way that humans cannot hear. I believe your staring matches are likely a subtle form of aggression with the loser of the contest retreating at the end of the battle. Of course there is no fight, so the human thinks everything is going well.

I have assigned some homework on cat signalling for Herself - namely reviewing blog entries by another purrson, Amy Shojai, who knows a lot about cats. She has a series on cat communication for humans starting with  (you can click on the rest from this entry - eyes, tails, etc.). And it will help Herself understand what you and Chocho are saying to one another.

Third, whatever the current situation, Chocho is likely to be neutered soon. He will be under stress with the operation and recovery. You want him pretty much fully recovered before we advance the introduction process. In fact, I'm sure that for the first few days, he might be most comfortable just confined to his room, with visits from Herself, of course. So for now, let's just hold steady at the level you are at comfortably now.

Fourth, the only thing I want to introduce now is the concept of distraction. I would prefurr that we break up these staring matches because I would rather that one of you not intimidate the other. Instead I'd like you to realize that being in the presence of the other might be quite pleasant. AND I would also like Herself to use a method which will help Chocho keep at a respectful distance from you, that is, a distance at which you feel comfortable. Usually, to keep you both at a decent distance safely, I recommend the use of leash and harness, or cat carrier, or some kind of separating device. From what you have explained to me (privately), I do not think we can try these right now. Both of you are so skittish (and detest carriers) that I think they would stress you out even more. And that would not be a good idea.

So what I recommend is distraction. When one or both of you is distracted, you don't have time to stare at the other because you are busy doing something else. It will also keep you at a safe distance from each other.

New Rules for You

Rule One: Choose Distractors That You Like
- a favourite toy to keep you occupied. Possibly introduced or thrown near you (and away from the other cat). If both of you like toys, be sure that each of you has a toy nearby so you don't want to go after the other's one.
- Herself using a fishing-pole type toy either in the air or along the ground.  Is there another purrson who could help keep one of you occupied while Herself plays with the other?
- placing a food treat near you (one treat at a time). I know this will work for you Chocho but not you, Shushi. And that's fine. Purrhaps there is something else that will interest you (like a toy), Shushi. And if not, purrhaps you will just be relieved that Chocho is occupied by something else so you don't have to be so watchful.

Rule Two: Use a Cat Separator If  Things Get Out of Hand
Once Herself has mastered cat communication, she will be away of any signs either of you are giving that you are uncomfortable with the process or ready to start a fight. She can intervene with distraction - in advance - so that you can retreat safely and still end things positively.

Suppose one of you is about to get up to no good. One of you is approaching the other, and the other is showing signs of discomfort. Or there are yowls. First try distraction. Second Herself can try one short, sharp, "No". If those fail, use a Cat Separator.

A Cat Separator (described in my recent entry, 3 Black Cats Who Don't Get Along) can keep you apart and guide one of you to safety. (Note: In that entry I suggest Corplast but I'm not sure Corplast is available where you live. Strong cardboard is also suitable for a Cat Separator.)

Rule Three: Keep Sessions Short. Work Up Slowly.
Keep the sessions short and work up very slowly. Sessions that are too long can be stressful and can result in a build up on negative behaviour. No one needs that. A session of 20 minutes (which is your current time) is sufficient right now. Try to incorporate distraction. If it works nicely, Herself can s-l-o-w-l-y increase the session lengths by no more than one-minute per day (that is, Day 1 - morning 20 minutes, evening 20 minutes; Day 2 - morning 21 minutes, evening 21 minutes, Day 3 - morning 22 minutes, evening 22 minutes). But frankly lengthening the sessions would be better left until after Chocho has been neutered (unless his neutering is delayed) - because his recovery will take a bit of time and you will have to re-start with shorter sessions again, just so the two of you get used to everything once more.

Rule Four: Stop A Session At the First Sign of Discomfort - Even If Your Time Is Not Up
If either of you shows signs of discomfort and distraction is not working, the session MUST end immediately. Also there may come a point where the length of the session is making you weary. At that point, cut back on the length of the session by a few minutes (more if needed) and slowly increase again. Don't worry, this is the recipe for success. And going slowly is better than going too quickly.

Rule Five: Make Sure Your Purrson Relaxes
You are fortunate to live with a kind and caring purrson who wants the best for both of you. But I fear she may been so concerned about what is happening between the two of you that she is becoming stressed as well. Remind her that before she starts any session with the two of you, she should remind herself to relax by taking slow, deep breaths (10 of them is a good number). And any time she feels herself becoming tense (or one of you is tensing up) she should remember this slow, deep breathing and do it again. This will help keep her breathing and posture relaxed (and these are important cues for your cats that assure you that all is well).

I have asked you (privately) to provide me with more information on your routines and habits, as well as the way your place is furnished and laid out. When I receive it, I will advise you on ways of reducing your stress (even when you are not in the same room). Such stress reduction (and confidence building) is an important part of the overall action plan.

I look forward to hearing from you,