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.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Getting Used to a Third Cat: Tommy, Gracie and Spike

Dear Greyce,

Things have developed s-l-o-w-l-y but we are at a loss for the next step. So let me review our progress to date.

We have undertaken scent exchange by getting to smell Spike's blanket (without Spike, of course). Gracie is interested, whereas I sniff and go.

Spike is housed in the Workroom adjacent to the Basement. He now has access to the Basement several times a day. He still is separated from us because there is a door (with a cat door) leading to the basement. It is locked when he is about. And we are elsewhere.

Spike goes outside from time and time and likes to look at us through the window. I usually ignore him unless he gets far too close (nose-to-nose except separated by a window) and then I hiss. Gracie is the flirt; she chirps and she puffs herself up.

Gracie has a ton of energy and wants to play all the time. We have several cat trees, cat scratchers and viewing places, along with lots of toys. Still she bugs me. So purrhaps having a younger cat to play with will keep her occupied. I'm more sedentary (I'm 10+ years after all) and I have a weight problem which makes jumping a hard task. Herself added some stairs to help me reach the bed at night.

So now what?


 Dear Tommy,

It sounds like things are going well and at a pace you can handle. And that is very important because you are the eldest (by far) and thus the most senior, and because of your past history of stress-related illness when dealing with change (like when you first met Gracie).

You have assured me that Herself has refreshed her memory about cat signalling (to better understand when things are going awry - as much in advance as possible), predatory play (to lower anxiety) and distraction techniques. Without this I would be loathe go much further.


As I always say, time-sharing is a great way to get used to the scent of a new cat. It is also a good way for a new cat to start getting a sense of his or her new home, section by section, because there is a lot of information to be learned (about layout, furniture placement, smells, best viewing areas, etc.); scent trails must be made to give a sense of security and help one find one's way around at night.

Right now, you and Gracie have the run of the house (except the Workroom). Spike has the Workroom as well as access to the Basement (several times a day), when you and Gracie are elsewhere. At that time, the door connecting the Basement stairs to the main floor is closed and the cat door within it, is locked. This way no one accidentally bumps into one another. Great!

Other than that, the only time you view Spike is when he is outside and looking in a window or through the front door (which is a favourite location you have).

The Layout of Your Home

Before we take time-sharing further, I need to review the layout of your home. You have three floors: Basement, Main Floor and Upstairs.

The Basement is where you prefurred to hang out when you and Gracie were being re-introduced. Spike gets several daily visits to this room when you and Gracie are elsewhere. At that time, the door at the top of the stairs (which also has a cat door) is closed and the cat door is locked. Does the Basement remain a favourite place of yours?

There is a door from the Basement to the Workroom which is where Spike is staying. Does Spike ever asked to be let out from the Workroom to the Basement when you and Gracie are in the Basement? Do you or Gracie show any interest in the door to the Workroom? Do either of you get to go into the Workroom when Spike is not there? These are important questions for which I need answers.

The Main Floor: There are several rooms on this floor - a Living Room (with lovely sunning spots), a Den (where you gather especially in the evening), a Kitchen, a Mudroom (location of a litter box), a Dining Room, and a beloved front door which is a prime viewing area (and a prime place to encounter Spike when he is outside).The only parts of this floor that can be closed off (other than closets or bathrooms) are the Living Room (which has glass French doors) and the entry from the Garage. Everything else is open (though not completely open-plan). This is important because it tells me which areas can be closed off when Spike is being introduced or when you are time-sharing on floors other than the Basement.

Upstairs: There are three Bedrooms and an Office upstairs, all of which have doors. You particularly enjoy using all bedrooms, depending upon where the sun is. From the top of the stairs you have a clear view of the front door, so it is a favourite resting location as well.

What the layout tells me is that you have various sections of your home can be blocked off when time-sharing becomes more extensive (which is what I recommend).

Section 1: Basement (including Workroom) is easily blocked by closing the door and locking the cat door.
Please let me know if there is a landing on the Basement-side of the door on the stairs leading to the Main Floor.

French Doors
Section 2: Living room (French doors closed) can be blocked by closing those doors and blocking visual access with cardboard or Corplast (just high enough that a cat on one side cannot see a cat on the other). This blocking only needs to happen when time-sharing of this floor is happening.

Section 3: Rest of main floor (assuming French door access is blocked and/or other cat(s) are elsewhere).

 Section 4: Upstairs Bedroom(s)/Office with doors closed (only those rooms with a cat in them at the time need to be closed, of course). Alternatively, if Themselves can figure a way to block off the stairs at the top (including the open railing) say, using Corplast, it would allow those of you who are upstairs to have it all while the other(s) were downstairs. But this would require careful supervision lest the barrier be breached.
Top of Stairs: Visual Access to Front Door

I think it is time that Spike starts to explore the rest of the house, one section at a time.
Here is one way to do this: When you are napping upstairs, ask Herself to gently close the door to the room(s) you and Gracie are in so you are secure. Then let Spike explore the main floor. (Block of access to the upstairs or keep him on a leash so he cannot venture up there yet). There will be a lot for him to see and sniff so purrhaps start either with just the Living Room or just the rest of it but not the Living Room.  Spike and Herself can decide what would be best.

Food bowls up!  Let's not have Spike graze in your bowls at this time.

Let him go at his own pace but he must be supervised and prevented from going Upstairs at this point. It would help a great deal if he was leash-trained because then he could walk about yet be restrained from bounding up the stairs. If this is not possible (or you want to start the process while leash training is on-going) then do one of the following: 1) Block off the stairs to the Upstairs with a large piece of cardboard or Corplast: or 2) attach a leash to his collar so you can limit how far away he can be from a purrson (and thus prevent him from bounding up the stairs). Having a cat carrier or a towel in which he could be wrapped helps restrain him if he tries to 'escape' to where you are.

It will probably take him several sessions to get used to all parts of the Main Floor. He will let Herself know (by his interest in wanting to go Upstairs, for example, or by just sitting in a particular location and sunning himself). Bottom line: There is no need to rush this. Start with short sessions (5 to 10 minutes) and work up so he can easily handle it. A wand-toy play session in these new spaces can help him get used to them.

When he is used to the Main Floor, then it is time for him to explore Upstairs; that can be done either by allowing him access to the room(s) you are not in at the time, or by encouraging Gracie and you to be elsewhere. For example, purrhaps you would like to be in the Basement at that time. If so, Herself could carry Spike in a cat carrier from the Workroom and enter through the Front Door so neither you not Gracie would have to see him travel through the Basement when you are there.

As time-sharing periods lengthen, it will be important that each of you have access to a litter box and water - wherever you are.

Once his exploration is over and you have run of most of the house back then Tommy, you might want to go off by yourself. Ask Herself to keep Gracie occupied or elsewhere so that you can all cool down. This prevents re-directed aggression (taking a rising anxiety level out on the furry one next to you and starting to fight).

Please remind Themselves that daily play sessions with each of you is a very important way to keep anxiety levels down. And if Themselves have a Feliway diffuser, installing it in the room or area Spike is exploring will help him be calm (while he is the explorer) and the others of you (when you are sniffing him scent after he has left).

Meanwhile, inquiring minds need to know the following:
When Spike is either in the Workroom or the Basement, do he or you or Gracie show any interest at the door? Like camping out, scratching, meowing, putting a paw underneath? I need to know this in order to suggest a next "on-either-side-of-the closed door". For example, if there is interest by one of you then putting a feather or wand under the door and having you (on either side of the door) play with it, could be a start. It could also be a signal for beginning to prop the door slightly (with a secure wedge) to allow glimpse but not a lot of physical contact.

When you get to this door-propping stage, Tommy, you might not be very interested. And if so, by all means withdraw to another part of the house. It would not surprise me that you need a slower pace.

Gracie, however, might really want to know Spike. Her puffiness when she sees him is fear - so she needs to take things slowly. Her chirrup is likely the same call that mother cats use to their kittens - a lovely greeting. So she is eager to meet him and yet afraid. Getting to know him under the door and then with the door propped open, would be helpful. (See my entry  May I Present? A New Cat) for further details.

If Gracie is starting to meet Spike through a propped door,  it would be a good idea to sequester Gracie separately AFTER the door sessions and/or let you, Tommy, have a private play session. Hopefully this will alleviate any anxiety you may have about her 'hot dates' with Spike.

Any further steps of the introduction process (using cat carriers and/or leash and harness) need to be done with each resident cat separately. Giving Gracie's interest and your history, Tommy, I suggest that the further steps proceed between Gracie and Spike. Let them get to know each other well, before you get more involved.

And because of your history, I will have specific suggestions for that phase of the process. So please consult me when the time comes. (I want you to meet Spike alone first, without Gracie, to minimize the chance of aggression redirected toward her by either of you males.)

Keep up the good work!