Introducing your new cat to your other pets in the family can be a smooth process as long as you are viligant and introduce gradually. Always try to avoid and prevent fearful or aggressive meetings as these emotions may be difficult to change if they become ingrained. The following steps should be gradual and it will take some time. If aggression or fear is shown at any step, you would need to take a step back and start again.
Not all cats behave the same
Not all cats adapt well to other pets in the household. It depends on how they were brought up, their character and their past experiences. For example, a kitten separated from his mother and littemates for the first time may be more accepting of another cat or dog as a companion than an eight-year old cat who has never learned to share the territory with other pets. It doesn't mean an old cat can never get used to another pet in the household, but it just means it will take more time to acclimatise them to live together.
Step 1: Confinement
The first thing when you bring your new cat home is to confine it to a room or an enclosed area by himself with food, water, toys, litter tray and a pet bed. The enclosed area barrier or room door should be safe enough to prevent him from escaping, while allowing him to still hear and smell what is going on on the other side. If you are confining him to a room, make sure the room door has a small slit of space between the bottom of the door and the floor for light, sounds and smells to pass through.
Step 2: Feeding
Try to feed your resident pet and your new cat on each side of the door. This will help them associate something enjoyable with each other's scent. After a few meals, you can gradually open the door just a little for both sides to see each other but not large enough for them to pass through. Repeat the feeding now with the door ajar. You need to be around to supervise at all times during the feeding.
Step 3: Scents
Switch sleeping blankets or beds between your new cat and your resident pet to help them get accustomed to each other's scent. If your pets do not have blankets, simply use a towel or rag to rub your pet all over their body before swapping for them to smell or sleep on. You can also place towels of one pet under the food bowl of the other pet and vice-versa.
Step 4: Swap living areas
Now let your new cat out into the living area of your resident pets, while putting your resident pets into the confinement area of your new cat. This can be done for some time each day under your supervision. This switch will help each party to explore the living areas and scents of the other without confrontation. The new cat can also become familiar with the living environment without fear of the other animals.
Step 5: Same-room interactions
This step has to be directly supervised by you at all times. If your resident pet is a dog, make sure he is on a leash and give him the command to "stay". If your resident pet is a cat, do not restrain but feed him with treats or catnip. Have another person sit on the other end of the room with your new cat. Do not restrain your new cat but feed him with treats or catnip. Make it a neutral, if not enjoyable, experience for both pets. Do this only for about 5 to 10 minutes before confining your cat again. It is better to have them interact for a short while many times during the day. Each time, bring them gradually closer to each other. Let your new cat set the pace by observing his reactions and how curious he is about your resident pet. After a few days of successful interactions, you can let your cat explore your dog while making sure you keep your dog in the "stay" command. Reward and give your dog treats whenever your new cat is around him as this will help your dog link your cat's presence to something good.
Special considerations for cat-dog introductions
- Your resident dog must be able to obey simple commands such as "sit", "stay", "down" and "come" before it is ideal to introduce a new cat into your home. It will make things alot easier if your dog obeys your command during an interaction with your new cat.
- If your dog is a medium/large breed, try to supervise their interactions even after the last step above is successful. Large dogs may play rough or snap at your new cat and injure them. You may stop surpervising their interactions when you are confident your dog will not harm your cat.
- If your new cat is a young kitten, and your dog is energetic or from a predatory/hunting breed, you may wish to prevent face-to-face interaction until your kitten is fully grown. Even then, it is advisable to supervise their interactions. This is because young kittens are at a higher risk of being injured by such dogs.
- Dogs tend to sniff and in doing so, they place their faces close to cats. Your cat may scratch your dog out of fear or if caught by surprise. Therefore, always ensure your cat's nails are clipped and filed blunt. Dogs have been known to have their eyes injured or their sensitive noses scratched by cats. However, NEVER declaw your cat.