Introducing a new kitten while keeping your older cat a happy camper, (c) 2011- 2016 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved
A good friend of mine wrote to me with a dilemma—the rescue kitten she had brought home was not integrating into her family as smoothly as she had hoped for. The new arrival was scared and scary at times, the incumbent cat was not thrilled with the addition and it was feared that the kitten might not be cuddle material. Read on for specifics and strategies to make the process easier on all of you:
”We adopted a new kitten two weeks ago…He's a tiny little black Bombay, approximately two months old when we brought him home. He was very shy at the foster mom's house, but once he'd been caught and put into my son's lap to be stroked, he eventually started to purr and settle down. He spent the first night in our bathroom, where he wanted to hide behind the counter, but my son also held the kitten in his lap for a good hour, and the kittie liked being there. We moved him into my son’s bedroom the next day, kept separate from our older cat, with his own litter box. He always hides under the chair when we enter the room, but eventually comes out to be pet and in those first days, he really enjoyed hanging out in my son’s lap for long periods of time, and in those first couple of days, my son was even able to bring him out to the living room and the kitten would hang out in his lap while he watched TV on the couch.”
* Smart move on installing the kitten in a small room for the first night in your home. Being in a new and strange environment the kitten will naturally want to hide somewhere to feel safe and to survey the scene from. A covered cat bed or even a shoe box turned on its side will provide a more comfortable vantage point than behind the sink or under the bed. Position the box or bed in a corner or against a wall and try lining it with some fleece or flannel for comfort.
* Make sure to greet the kitten every time you come into his space. This announces your presence and sets a welcoming tone. If the kitten continues to hide under a chair when you enter the room try approaching the chair and sitting down on the floor directly along side it. Speak softly (this is a great time to catch up on some reading -- out loud) and your kitten will emerge, try to ignore the kitten until it approaches and because cats greet nose to nose, muzzle to muzzle, confine your initial petting for the time being to the head area only, stroking the top and sides of the head and behind and around the ears.
“However, no surprise, as the days went by, he became more playful and more interested in our older cat. Concurrently, the kitten has been less friendly to the humans and runs away and hides from us with increasing determination. A new dynamic is developing that we don't like too much. A week ago, our older cat did not like the kitten at all and did a lot of hissing and growling to show his feelings. This week, we've let the kitten wander freely through the living room and he is irrepressibly interested in playing with our older cat, who alternates between playing as if he likes it and swatting and hissing for real. Our older cat has also become belligerent with me, approaching me to growl and hiss and last night he even swatted my leg. The kitten has become still more avoidant of people though as bold as ever with our older cat, and more rambunctious. He gets into the plant pots and digs out the dirt (and I think he's gone to the bathroom in a couple of them when no one is looking)… And then last night, when I reached down to pick up the kitten, he reacted with unexpected aggression and tore up my hand with his claws, spitting like a feral cat. I have to confess, with these painful cuts all over my hands, I'm finding my heart turning against him. My son is also increasingly disappointed with the way the kitten seems to be getting more avoidant and distrustful of us, rather than getting used to us and relaxing.”
* Your kitten is feeling more at home, hence all the romping and digging and has discovered a fellow cat and he is apparently delighted. Your older cat alternates play with the hissing and swatting because he is establishing his place on the totem pole with the kitten. Hissing is a preliminary vocal warning and although it may sound terrible, it is relatively minor in terms of aggression, more “bark than bite”. This also holds true for the swatting, a definite warning display but the claws are retracted.
* The older cat is reacting to the change in the family group by communicating his stress over it to you. There is usually a lot of attention paid to a new kitten or puppy when it comes into a home and this is stressful for the resident pet both because of the change in the family and the loss of attention.
* Greet your older cat first as soon as you enter your home or a room. Make time each day to interact with the older cat, this is a great time for petting and interactive play time, this will go miles towards comfort and reassurance and maintaining an enriching relationship between the both of you.
* Leave the radio tuned to classical music for each cat when you are not around (or when you are), studies show this music is soothing for pets and the melodic voices of announcers on these stations will reinforce how soothing human voices can be for both kitten and older cat.
* Consider catnip, lavender and products like Rescue Remedy for stress relief for both cats. Moving house and a new roomate may be even more stressful for pets than for humans who get to decide where to move and to who to live with. Make sure to take the time to research the proper use.
In addition toBach's Rescue Remedy another formula designed by a wholistic vet: Jen Hofve is great for this (I have used it with some of my hardest cases) you can buy Peacemaker directly from spiritessences.com or mix your own; use Holly (jealousy), Beech (tolerance), Walnut (change), Willow (resentment).
* If a cat has a history of digging in plants this can be easily stopped. Look for a product called "Sticky Paws", you want the cardboard strips (double coated with stickiness) which you cut in strips and lay out like lattice in your plant pots. One step in and that strip sticks to the paw and your cat will not do it again, ever, even when you remove it. (You can also crumble aluminum foil around the base of a plant or use moth balls but moth balls smell and the foil once removed is no longer effective.)
“We've still been keeping the kitten in my son’s bedroom at night and when we're away during the day, separate from our older cat. When the kitten's been shut into the bedroom by himself, he's friendlier to us, but his first reaction to our entry is always to run under the chair. His behavior is very mixed: he'll come out and rub against our legs, but when we reach out a hand to pet him, he runs under the chair again. He also prefers to play attack, bite and scratch (pretty hard) over cuddling. Kittens are often full of piss and vinegar, but the kitten is particularly skittish and his moods shift unexpectedly.”
* Continue keeping the cats separated when you are not around and at night for the time being. You will have to play timing by ear here but this process usually takes months not weeks to assimilate a new member into a group. When your kitten rubs against your legs make sure and exhale and say the kitten’s name first and slowly lower yourself for petting, if the kitten runs away, turn away in place and softly say its name again and wait. (This is a good time for reading out loud on the ground.)
* Handling or holding your kitten as much as you can is KEY to socialization. Hold the kitten against your body and not away from you where it will feel insecure. Make sure to use two hands. Support the kitten from under by holding your hand underneath the body with your hand spread between the front legs. The chest of the kitten should be resting on your palm. Depending on the size of the kitten you may or may not need to support the lower body with your forearm. Cup your other hand around the body. Stroking should be confined only to the head. If the kitten is squirmy, try stroking and talking softly to the kitten and once the squirming stops release the kitten immediately (squirmy kittens will also benefit from classical music in this scenario). Wait at least three minutes and begin the process again. Practice holding and handling your kitten several times throughout the day.
* As much fun as playing attack games with your kitten may be it is really never a good idea to play this way. Baby kitten claws and teeth are all fun and games when they are little but it leads to playing this same way with cat claws and fangs-- not a good idea. Leave this kind of playing for the cats only. When the kitten attempts to play attack a short, sharp shriek exquisitely timed to the exact moment will stop the assault. It usually will take only one or two of these “shrieks” to let the kitten know that this is not acceptable. Of course, you know you can never, ever hit a cat or a kitten. You can and should engage the kitten instead by luring objects away from or across the kitten’s line of vision. Think a feather tied to a piece of yarn slowly and tantalizing dragged in front of or away from the kitten, interactive play where you provide the fun and bonding!
“I strongly believe this kitten was captured from a feral colony and was never necessarily interested in or of the right temperament to be domesticated. I think the animal rescue lady deliberately kept this information from me (she did seem oddly jumpy when she was showing us the kitten, but only said he was "shy and probably didn't get a lot of attention from people.") My son very specifically wanted a kitten who would sleep in his bed with him at night (The kitten has never done this, resisting every attempt to settle him on the bed) and would be an affectionate buddy. In your professional opinion, is there a way we can coax the kitten into trusting people, or is his temperament a bad fit?... Perhaps the kitten will be different once he's neutered, but I'm not sure.”
* It is possible that your kitten came from a feral colony and has not been handled sufficiently by people it is also just as possible that the kitten came from a human home and was not handled sufficiently by people. At this stage of the game your kitten is certainly still young enough to be properly socialized to people. (While it takes longer, even older cats can be socialized to people.) As to what kind of friend your kitten will be, it is probably too soon to tell. With such an incredibly new living situation, from the kitten’s point of view, sleeping on the bed with your son might be a bit premature. Pave the way by making the bed not so scary for now—add some play toys, fur mice, crinkly toy balls, catnip stuffed toys, etc. for when your son is not home and when he his. Incorporate interactive play time with a toy lure which you can drag along the bed for the kitten to chase.
Using the techniques above will allow exposure to getting to know you, your son and your home as safe and reliable presences. It is a gradual process-- you are developing a relationship and trust which takes time and which will be amazingly rewarding.
(Copyright Maria Gray) This is not a recommended way to hold a new cat. The cat in this picture and the child have a very trusting relationship which is probably why the cat allows himself to be held this way and appears so comfortable.
Your older cat alternates play with the hissing and swatting because he is establishing his place on the totem pole with the kitten. Hissing is a preliminary vocal warning and although it may sound terrible, it is relatively minor in terms of aggression, more “bark than bite.”'
(copyright Maria Gray) This is a variation on a correct cat hold. The cat is held close to the body, the hindquarters supported. Familiarity permits the arm across the chest and the cat appears relaxed and content.
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(copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen)This former feral (note the clipped right ear) is cautious in who she trusts. This type of cat benefits from being held against the body with the chest and hindquarters securely supported. Always be careful to hold gently and not grip.
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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