Introducing a new kitten while keeping your older cat a happy
copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

How do you make sure your new kitten will be welcomed by your older cat? 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 that you can use at home 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 nights in your home.  
Being in a new and strange environment the kitten will naturally want to hide some-
where 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 and establishing boundaries for acceptable play.  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.  Keep an eye on
cat/kitten interactions and if kitty is repeatedly pressing for play where your older
cat is adamant against it happening, redirect kitty by offering interactive play
with a fishing wand toy to distract and engage his attention.  

Of course, you know you can never, ever hit a cat or a kitten.  No spraying with
water bottles or shaking noise makers either. Please, it doesn't teach or train just
makes cats afraid of us.  Think redirection - training for what you would like instead.  

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.  A new kitten is not just an interloper for the
resident cat and an insistent and irritating demand for interaction it can also deprive
resident cats of our interest and caring.  Children are the not the only family members
that can feel neglected when a new baby comes home

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 with a fishing wand toy.  Keeping the cat who came first also first in your
interactions can help.  Your affection, attention and engagement are just as much of
a resource as raised resting places, litterboxes, etc. to appropriately distribute.

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 roommate may be even more stressful for pets
than for humans who get to decide where to move and to who to live with.  Never
add any product to a cat's drinking water so as not to turn them off water, a spritz
or a drop on a paw and your cat can lick the product off at their leisure.

In addition to
Bach's Rescue Remedy another formula designed by a holistic vet: Jen
Hofve is great for this (I have used it with some of my hardest cases) you can buy
Peacemaker directly from 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

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 word or quick intake of breath , immediately,
meaning at the exact moment of contact say “Oww!” and hold  still.  Use one
short sharp syllable and no movement –providing feedback and taking the
fun out of the chase. The key here is timing; the very second you feel the bite
use the response above and the very millisecond the cat stops use a softer voice
in praise to reinforce the stopping and keep the encounter positive.  Cats are
extremely sound sensitive due to their exquisite hearing and do not like loud
or discordant noises which is why the feedback is so  effective at getting them
to stop the behavior.  Your reaction will startle the cat, remember in that very
second when the cat pauses immediately say “Good  kitty” in a soft voice and
stroke along the side of the muzzle to reinforce that stopping the bite is the
wanted behavior.  That's it, do not lecture the cat the afterwards as this only
confuses a cat for doing what you asked for and remember to retrain and
provide kitten with the kind of interactive
play best suited for kitty and human.

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!  That's it, no spraying with water
bottles or shaking of cans or other punishment to make kitty afraid.

In addition to playing with the kitten, incorporate interactive games with a
fishing wand toy with both cats.  Start this sort of activity when the cats are
physically separated in distance in a room and alternate engaging one and
then the other with the wand.  Even just watching the play with the other cat
or kitten will have both a positive effect through seeing play and create greater
positive associations between cats.

“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 such 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 is.  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. (
More on cat/cat integration)

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New kitten
Older Cat
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"Keeping the cat who came
first also first in your
interactions can help.  Your
affection, attention and
engagement are just as
much of a resource as
raised resting places, litter-
boxes, etc. to appropriately
distribute. "
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
Ask me about a consultation
" Hissing is a preliminary
vocal warning and
although it may sound
terrible, it is relatively
minor in terms of  aggression,
more “bark than bite.”'
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813
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copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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"As much fun as playing
attack games with your
kitten may be, it is really
never a good idea to
play this way... Leave
this kind of playing for
the cats

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