Updated: April 17th, 2020.
Hello, this is Elizabeth Ann. 🙍♀️ I'm a cat behavior and fostering specialist.
Now that you’re getting a new kitty, you need to get your cat acclaimed to you, your home, and your family.
Let’s look at how to do this in the least stressful way for all parties. We’ll also dive into a number of methods for introducing the new cat to an existing cat family member. And lastly, I’ll answer common questions, including how to introduce your cat to different species (dogs, birds, etc.).
1-2 Week Intro Period
Any move, even a positive one, can be stressful for your cat, so I always recommend an introductory period. During this time, keep your new cat in a small space, like a bathroom, for 1-2 weeks so they can adjust to you and some of the smells in your home.
Sometimes people feel bad for the cat, but please remember, this is what’s best for the cat, and although you may feel guilty, it’s less scary for the cat, and they are the priority.
You’ll want to give your new cat everything they need:
- Wet and/or dry food
- Water fountain/bowl
- Blanket or towel
- Clean litter box
- Handful of toys
Suggest every member of your family spends time with the new cat during this period and takes turns feeding and playing with them.
This will help the cat build a bond with everyone in the household. I do not recommend leaving out food because you want the cat to associate you and your family as feeders and caretakers.
Cat Pheromones: How They Work
Cats have different glands all over their bodies that produce chemicals called pheromones. Pheromones communicate all kinds of different messages, from marking territory to signaling contentment.
When you see cats rubbing against furniture, walls, and even your legs in your home, they’re leaving pheromones behind.
They could be releasing pheromones that say, “This is safe,” or “This is mine,” or many other things! They can be used as a reminder to the same cat for later or to other cats in your home.
The easiest way to see this in action is the fact that once one cat starts scratching something, other cats start scratching the exact same thing (hopefully that’s a scratching post and not your couch).
There is a specific pheromone released that communicates something is good to scratch (crazy, right?).
You can definitely use this to your advantage when bringing a new cat home. Whether you want existing cats to relax or the new one to feel welcome, pheromones can help. They are available in a diffuser, spray, or calming collar by a few different companies.
The pheromones released are typically calming and similar to those released by a mother cat to help her kittens feel safe. Because these pheromones reduce stress, they curb unappealing behaviors, like scratching, spraying, and hiding, leaving you one happy, balanced kitty.
Just an FYI, these reproduced pheromones will help most cats, but some cats are unaffected. Since there are no negative side effects, you really don’t have anything to lose by trying them out.
Now, we’ll look at the different ways you can introduce your cats to each other. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, I want to give you a few different techniques. You can choose one or a combination – whatever works for your home.
Before adopting an additional cat, remind yourself of the most important trait you’ll need: patience. Bonds rarely happen overnight, but if you stay disciplined, you’ll see progress over days, weeks, and months.
Also, remember that sometimes cohabitating is the best outcome. You can’t force cats to be besties, but you can give all cats respect, space, and time to be themselves in your home, and keep them all safe and loved.
Method 1: Scent Swapping
Cats have an insanely good sense of smell, and they use scent to pull in information about their surroundings, as well as make determinations about people and other animals.
This technique involves the swapping of soft materials, like blankets, beds, and sometimes toys, between cats so they can begin to get used to each other’s smell. I recommend swapping items every day (do not clean). For toys, pick your resident cat’s favorite toy, and start playing with the new cat with it at least once a day, while still playing with your resident too. This is a fun way to introduce a new scent, but it isn’t as obvious because the cat is usually hyper-focused on the toy. You can also pet each cat and not wash your hands in between to help with scent swapping.
Method 2: Feeding Friend-zy
While this is also connected to scent, the action is different. The idea is that cats love to eat, so if they smell something while eating, they’ll start to create a positive association with that scent.
For this technique, you’ll want to feed both cats on opposite sides of the door at the same time. Do this for every meal. This is also a great way to get your new cat on the same feeding schedule as your existing cat. Feel free to do the same thing with treats.
Method 3: Baby Gates
For this technique, you’ll stack baby gates in the door frame so the cats can see each other, but can’t fully be in each other’s space. The goal is that they get used to seeing each other at a safe distance and smelling each other so that when the new cat is fully integrated, your resident cat is ready. I recommend combining this method with method two. It’s really the same, you are just adding the sense of the sight to it.
Another thing I like to do is stick toys in the holes of the gate to encourage a little curiosity and play, both very positive things the cats can experience together.
Method 4: Supervised Visitation
I don’t use this method a lot, but it’s definitely an option, and some pet owners have great success with it. What you’ll do is allow the new cat to hang out with the resident cat in short stints while supervised by you or another family member. The idea is that the resident will slowly get used to the new cat during these visits, and you are there to intervene if there is an issue. You slowly expand the amount of time until the new cat is fully accepted by the resident cat.
Method 5: Joint Play
I love this method for introducing shyer cats. What you’ll do is play with the new cat and the resident cat at the same time.
Now, you don’t want the cats to start getting competitive over toys, so you have to play in a way that they are getting one-on-one time with the toy, but still playing in the same room. Streamer toys work best for this (wands with something attached to the end).
What you’ll do is call the cat’s name, play with them, then bounce to the other cat, and go back and forth every few seconds. The idea is they learn to have fun with each other, but still get personal attention.
I find it helps elevate the confidence of a shy cat because they are called on to play and get to bat around and catch a toy. It also helps the resident cat accept that they need to share your time. After you’re done playing, reward each cat with treats or a meal.
Now that you’re armed with different methods to introduce cats, I’ll answer some common questions.
Help! My resident cat hissed at the new cat! What do I do?
Nothing. Hissing is a form of communication and your resident is setting boundaries with the new cat – important in any relationship.
How can I stop my cats from fighting?
Are you sure they’re fighting? More often than not, when someone sends me a video of a fight, it’s actually playtime. Wrestling and rolling around is okay. Actual fighting where one is scared to move, hides, won’t eat or use the litter box, or blood is being drawn, is bad.
You’ll have to backtrack to some of the methods of introduction to reintroduce the cats. Also, make sure you’re using vertical space (cat trees and towers, wall shelves) so that both cats can get away when they need to. Many cats feel safer once elevated.
One is clearly dominant. How can I keep one cat from beating up on the other?
You need to work one-on-one with the less dominant cat. Playtime is so crucial to building confidence. Once the more submissive cat has confidence, the other one won’t challenge as much.
I have an indoor/outdoor cat but want to introduce a new, strictly indoor cat. How can I do this?
It will be a little more challenging than introducing two indoor cats to each other, but the good news is that your indoor/outdoor cat is definitely used to foreign smells since they’re exposed every time they go outside.
You’ll still want to do a 1-2 week introductory period in a small space for the new cat. If possible, feed your indoor/outdoor kitty by the door where the new cat is staying. After the introductory period ends, try to keep both cats on a feeding schedule temporarily, so the outdoor/indoor cat and the new cat are fed together. Joint play is also important.
Make sure you spend extra time with your outdoor/indoor cat during the transition. That cat must feel confident and like they haven’t been replaced.
How do I introduce my new cat to my dog?
Surprisingly, according to the American Humane Society, introducing a cat to a dog is similar to a cat to another cat, but not exactly the same. It’s important to have a special dedicated dog-free zone for your cat somewhere in your home, as well as vertical locations (cat towers, shelves, etc.) the cat can use to get away from the dog.
- Keeping the cat and dog separate at first.
- Feeding on opposite sides of the door.
- Hold calm, short, face-to-face playdates.
- Repeat sessions daily.
- Allow pets to roam freely together.
- Always keep a close eye on the cat and dog as they’re getting acclimated.
How do I introduce my new cat to my bird or other small animals, like ferrets, rabbits, fish, etc.?
First things first, there’s no way to guarantee your cat will not be predatory toward a small animal, but you can minimize the risk. And, always keep a close eye on any interactions.
- First, you want to satisfy your cat’s curiosity, so allow them to smell the small animal while it’s in its cage. If the cat reaches for the animal, tell your cat “No.”
- Next, never leave the two unattended, and keep your small animal in their cage as much as possible.
- You can also use play to hold your cat’s attention, but never use a toy that mimics your small animal’s appearance.
- Make sure you invest in cages and tanks that keep your cat out. According to Hill’s Pets, opt for cages made of heavier materials, like stainless steel, wrought iron, or powder-coated cages with no more than .5 inches between bars.
If you have a large bird (African grey, macaw, etc.), keep in mind the bird is more likely to injure the cat than the other way around,
Remember, curiosity is normal, and feeding that curiosity with supervised interaction will help keep small animals safe.
Is there a critical difference if I bring in a cat from a different breed?
As with many situations, the breed is less of a factor than the cat’s actual personality. However, remember that higher-end breeds like Bengals and savannahs are basically part wild cat, and you’ll need to exercise them a lot to drain energy levels.
If you don’t, their energy could turn to aggression toward other cats (or pets) in your home.
Also, smaller breeds like munchkins, Himalayans, and Persians may not be quite as agile because of their size and will need vertical spaces that are closer to the ground so they can get away from other animals in the home when they please.
Are adult/senior cats easier to introduce to other adults/senior cats?
There isn’t one answer to this question, but typically, you’ll have the best chance of introducing adults when they’re on the younger side (5 years or less).
If a senior cat has been alone its entire life, I don’t recommend adding another cat. However, if your senior cat has been around other cats, they often don’t care if you add another cat to the house.
They may not be friends with the new cat, but will likely keep to themselves and not cause problems.
Can I introduce my adult/senior cat to a kitten?
Yes, you can. If your cat is five years or less, that’s the easiest time, but even if they’re older, you can introduce a kitten.
Again, a senior will likely tolerate the kitten’s presence, but may not interact with it very much. Younger cats will adjust a likely play with the new little fluffy ball of energy!
My cat hides a lot. Is that okay?
A cat hiding for something temporary, like when your home is full of contractors renovating your kitchen, is totally fine. Otherwise, hiding is not okay.
You want your cat to be confident and feel comfortable in the living space and with your other cat. Try to block off beds or couches they can hide under. Encourage them to come out for play and treats. Your cat needs to feel comfortable and part of your family.
My cats live together but aren’t best friends. Is there anything I can do to change that?
Let them be. As long as they are happy in their own way and not fighting, there is no reason to force anything.
I have an alpha male, so I probably can’t adopt another cat, can I?
You totally can. You’ll just need to find a more submissive counterpart.
Do some cats need to be the only pet?
Yes, there are some cats that are miserable around other cats and animals. Respect what your resident is telling you because you have an obligation to that cat first.
No matter what I do, my resident doesn’t get along with my new cat. What do I do?
Sometimes, no matter what you do, it just doesn’t work. That is okay. Reach out to the individual or organization where you got the cat, explain the situation, and find out what the return policy is.
Also, try to provide as much detail as you can when you return the cat. It may help that individual or organization find the perfect home for the cat.
Sometimes, introducing cats is easy. Sometimes, it’s hard. But now you at least have some tools to help you get started. Don’t forget, patience is the most important thing you’ll need to successfully introduce cats.