Introducing a new kitten while keeping your older cat a happy camper

By 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. Make sure to hide the toy when not in use for safety and novelty reasons.

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, (Continue reading below.)