How to introduce a new kitten to your resident cat

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Introducing a new cat or kitten to a household can be quite stressful, to all concerned.

Indeed, it can be easier to introduce a dog to a cat than a cat to a cat. This is because a cat won’t view a dog as competition for resources – it might have to get used to its excited behaviour and learn to stand up to it to avoid being chased, but this usually happens very quickly and much more easily than we imagine. The cat-cat thing is much more difficult.

It’s usually easier to introduce a new kitten than an adult cat – this tends to be less challenging for the resident cat. Kitten body language and movements are less threatening and they have yet to adopt the concept of territory and competing with others.

A little bit of extra effort at the beginning can make the difference between a good or bad relationship in the future.  

Plan ahead

Your existing cat (or cats) will have established territory and the introduction of another, albeit a little kitten, is not necessarily going to be well received. It's important to ensure that the resident cat is not given the impression that it is under siege. When choosing your new kitten, have your cat’s personality in mind. For example, don’t purchase a very confident and outgoing kitten if your existing cat is timid or shy.

Arrange to collect your kitten on a day when you know you will have plenty of time to devote to settling it in, for example a couple of days over a weekend or during a time when you are not at work and the household is relatively peaceful. Some planning is necessary to prepare the home for the new arrival and the introduction process so, before the kitten arrives, purchase or hire a kitten pen (or large dog 'crate' of similar construction) and position it in a room that your existing cat doesn’t particularly favour, for example a spare bedroom. A kitten pen is a large metal cage with a solid floor that is normally used for kittening queens or cats after surgery that need to be confined. It is quite large with plenty of room for a bed, toys, food, water and a litter tray. They are easily collapsible to enable the pen to be moved from room to room.

Think cat!

Think cat once your new kitten arrives and think scent first. Your home will have a scent 'profile' which is familiar and reassuring to your resident cat. It will consist of all those things that go on there, the dogs, the children, the hobby equipment, the cleaning materials, the food you like and so on, all mixed in with your cat’s own scent. All the corners of your furniture will have been wiped by your cat’s chin and face, the doorposts have been brushed by its coat and the carpet will often bear the marks of claw sharpening and the scent from its paws. Your home is well and truly possessed by your cat.

What you have to try to do is work in the scent of the new kitten so that it, too, is incorporated into the accepted household aroma. This comes down, initially, to you. You have to try to spread and mix the scents of the cats. You’re working with the invisible, but have faith that there’s actually something there! Stroking your cat and the kitten regularly and swapping bedding will enable the kitten’s smell to become familiar and incorporated into the communal, household scent.

The first meeting

The door to the kitten’s room should remain closed initially, allowing the kitten to exercise within that space when your other cat is not around. The kitten’s food, water, toys and bed can be positioned outside the pen but the litter tray should remain within it. When the initial contact between kitten and cat takes place it may be helpful to distract the kitten with food. 

The door to the room can be opened while the kitten is eating in the cage (with the cage door shut). It may be helpful, to allow the kitten to feel secure, if there is a covered box within the cage so that the kitten can hide from any unwanted attention as your other cat explores. If you wish, a small bowl of your cat’s favourite food can be located a comfortable distance away to encourage eating in safety (bearing in mind that cats are solitary feeders) without being deterred by the sight of the kitten. Your cat should be allowed to explore the cage without intervention. 

It is important to provide attention to the existing cat during this transitional period but not to exceed the amount normally accepted and enjoyed. Existing routines should be maintained to demonstrate that the kitten represents no loss of resources or enjoyment.

Once kitten and cat appear calm when in close proximity to each other (with the kitten inside and the resident cat outside the cage), the pen can be moved to other rooms (of increasing importance to the resident cat), leaving out those particularly favoured areas where the adult cat spends the majority of its time. Depending on progress, several weeks of this regime may be needed before opening the cage and letting the cats get to know each other, some introductions can take considerably less time and the kitten accepted fairly quickly. When the cage door is left open and the kitten is allowed to mix freely the contact between adult and kitten should still be closely supervised. It may be advisable to separate the kitten and adult cat when supervision is not possible, at least until their relationship is firmly established.

Both kitten and adult, in the long-term, should be provided with their own resources (bed, litter tray, food bowls, water bowls etc) positioned in separate locations and their own private areas where they can rest undisturbed by the other.

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