Integrating a new cat into your existing feline family is best done as a gradual process for your established resident cats and your newcomer. Home and territory are key elements for cat welfare. Know that in a natural environment cats typically socialize with family members or choose affiliates to socialize with. In our homes we do the picking and choosing and must allow for an appropriate introduction and integration process to enable successful new relationships.
For starters, set up a separate room for the new cat. One room is best to begin with as the cat needs to acclimate to this totally new environment of place with all the novel infrastructure and attendant sights, smells and sounds (including you). Limiting the new environment to one room will enable the cat to navigate this uncharted territory on a smaller, less stressful scale. Remember to offer a cat bed, perch, scratching pad or post, toys, food and litter box (keeping the litter box a good distance from the food and bed). Do not be alarmed if there is a lot of hiding initially, this is normal, the cat needs to get acquainted in this new place with the environment and to trust in its safety and this can only happen with the passage of time. (More on welcoming a new cat and for the extra steps aferal or former feral may require.)
Resident cats may display little or no interest in a closed off room unless of course, this is a room they have been using. If your resident cat sleeps with you every night, installing the newcomer in your bedroom will be problematic for the resident cat, so do consider the best room for all concerned. To facilitate the adjustment process for each cat, resident or newcomer keep in mind that cats are extremely sensitive and reactive to changes in environment. As we are a part of their environment we can be instrumental in familiarizing them to both new situations and individuals. Follow these guidelines for success:
-Start by being a calm and soothing presence. Your body language, eye contact and tone of voice will set the tone for each and every encounter. Remember to always announce your presence and acknowledge the cat with a greeting coupled with the use of their name. Begin with first acknowledging your resident cats when you enter your home and/or a room they are in.
Along with a soft and gentle tone employ an approach from the side rather than facing directly in front of the cat, this is perceived as less threatening. Lower yourself to cat level and offer hands for petting from below where they can be seen by cat eyes. Avoid direct eye contact but do try a slow and steady blink which is an affiliative response in cats.
Remember that cats do not respond to correction or punishment and tend to associate that event with the person instead.
Begin interactive play time with all cats. Take at least five minutes each morning and ten in the evening and play with your cat using an interactive toy. Fishing wand toys where you can engage your cat by drawing a lure across or away from their line of vision are best. (The lures on these wands vary from feathers to objects to cardboard pieces; you may need to try several to see what best attracts the attention of your cat.)
For the first week or so play with your newcomer in the room they are in without asking for any other interaction (unless actively solicited). Try to stage your play sessions with your resident cat as close to the door of the newcomer’s room as possible. Should your resident cat seem more interested in the door than in playing try moving away from the door to get the attention back on play. You can work on moving forward later in the process. (This can also be done by two individuals playing at the same time with each cat.)
Cats rely heavily on scent to process their environment. Scent exchange is a great way to introduce the residents to the newcomer and vice versa. Try using soft cat toys (try using at least one catnip filled toy) and rub the toys behind the ears of the cat, along the muzzle, on flanks and base of tail. Exchange cat scented toys in each area. In addition to exchanging cat scents with the toys add yours to the process: A small piece of clothing from the bottom of your hamper (you can skip rubbing this behind human ears since it is already scented) can be rubbed along cat areas noted above and one item left in each cat area. Scent exchange should begin right away
After the first week of the above progress to supervised interaction, play in eyesight of each other. Install removable baby gates in the door of the newcomer—one on top of the other. While the gates are in place practice this routine:
-Use the interactive toy each cat prefers most and play several feet away from the opposing cat location.
-Offer high value treats to each cat in view of the other. Real turkey or chicken usually rocks. For this they can be with in two-three feet of each other which means that is where you should be standing.
-Feed dinner or breakfast, try this one last and place food bowls a good six feet away from the gates.
Ideally, you would do this every day but it may not be possible. Even if you miss a supervised interaction do make sure your interactive play session happens.
Exchange environments. You can do this anytime after the first week or so of interactive playing. (Interactive playing continues throughout this process and hopefully continues afterwards.)
Allow the newcomer cat to explore the rest of the house or apartment and the resident cats to hang out in the newcomer’s room. Do this when you are most comfortable to be out of the room and with this happening; eating dinner, watching a movie etc. This needs to happen for a good few hours or a day or overnight.
Consider more cat furniture. Cat trees and shelves in corners are great and amazing next to windows. Cats love to look outside, especially from a high vantage point and survey their interior and exterior world. Adding more horizontal resting areas expands cat territory and offers more cat friendly areas for cats to share or time share.. A cat tree (or a cat shelf) next to a window or on a corner wall will enrich their world tremendously (for more on this go here) Add more scratching opportunities too. The corrugated cardboard scratch pads with catnip rubbed in offer a soothing and stimulating experience especially beneficial around the presence of another cat.
"Read" where things are before progressing further with your integration. Pay attention to the behavior of your cats. Know that if things are not proceeding in a positive direction going back to what was last working and starting from there is a good strategy. Should you have more than one resident cat use the most resistant cat as your touchstone here for timing since she is the one to win over in accepting the newcomer cat as belonging to "her" apartment. To that end, paying tons of attention to her by the door, treats leading up to the bowl, playing next to the door, any and all good associations you can create for her will work. Again, with cats go slow to go fast--so taking more time with any of these steps is a good thing not a bad one, especially if you see that a step may be premature by the behaviors being observed.
Maintain exits and escape routes. Once cats are in the same room there is both the opportunity for friendly contact or consternation. Make sure your cats have clear paths to exit an encounter. Clear escape routes are key in avoiding actual conflict. Can cats get around furniture and each other without being backed into a corner?
Always closely monitor these exercises and use your judgment. Do not push for more than 10-15 minutes initially, while this may seem like a lot of work remember –go slow to go fast with cats. The thing to know is that you want to end each exercise or encounter on a good note in order for it to be both a pleasant experience and positive association in relationship building. Should you start to see signs of stress in any cat that are not replaced by calm signals you want to end the session as quickly as possible (remaining clam). For example a swishing tale in a cat is usually a sign of stress if the tail stops swishing and the cat appears calmed, good. Hissing is a warning signal and as long as it is fleeting and you can redirect the attention with a treat or a toy should be allowed. More serious signs of stress include spitting, growls, yeowls, flattened ears, whiskers back, tensed body posture and rippling muscles along the back.
Watch for paws under the door or supreme indifference. Your new cat combination may be interested in interacting with each other or not. Allow for this and do not force a fast friendship if that is not what is being presented. Juvenile cats or opposite genders may bond more readily or they may not. Cat timing is vastly different than human timing and relationship may take months or years to develop. Taking the time to do a feline friendly integration can make all the difference.
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
Know that in a natural environment cats typically socialize with family members or choose affiliates to socialize with. In our homes we do the picking and choosing and must allow for an appropriate introduction and integration process to enable successful new relationships.
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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Copyright Olivier Y. Grielen
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