Making those introductions as painless as possible for the Newcomer, the Resident Cat and you! 

This article will be dealing with introducing new kittens or cats into an existing feline family; how to do it properly and pitfalls to avoid.

It's never easy making new friends and just as in the human way of doing things there is certain protocol to follow, so it is within feline circles. You can’t expect to acquire a new kitten or cat, throw it into a room with your existing kitten or cats, and expect them to get on with each other. Do you hope that one will offer a well-manicured paw to the other, who will accept it; that they will make polite introductions and ask each other where they came from and how life has treated them thus far? And then they will sit cosily on the settee watching late night movies together - forever friends?

Sadly we humans have to have an input into ensuring that the introductions are as painless as possible. There are certain ‘rules’, which, while they don’t necessarily have to be adhered to, are basic guidelines to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Think for one moment where your new kitten or cat has come from. What sort of environment has it been living in? If a kitten, was it still with its littermates? If an older cat, has it been living as a stray, in a shelter or charity home? Or perhaps a neighbour or family member decided that, for whatever reason, a cat was no longer a viable pet to have in the home and suddenly it’s on your doorstep.

If it is a kitten and it has just left its littermates behind think about YOUR environment. Although you may already have one or more other cats in your household what steps have you taken to ensure that this new arrival will feel safe and secure? Are any of your existing cats a bully? Are they domineering? Are they likely to set upon the newcomer? If you answer yes to any of these questions then it is vital that it has a place it can run and hide to feel secure and out of harm’s way.

One way to do this is to have a pen in the middle of the room where the newcomer’s bed, food and water bowls, litter tray and a few toys are so that when it goes into the pen, all its needs are within a secure environment. The existing cats in the household can see it, and get used to it, while the newcomer can see the existing cats and get used to them without being under threat.

Another good idea is to take a blanket or towel and rub it all over your existing cats before the newcomer arrives. Then the towel or blanket is rubbed all over the newcomer so that their scents are mingled before meeting the existing cats. The existing cats recognise their own scent and notice a new one but because it is mingled with theirs, they don’t feel so threatened.

While you are present in the room to supervise things, the newcomer can be let out of the cage for a few moments at a time in order to let the existing cats get used to it. This is not an over night job. It can take months, so you must be patient and not expect Rome to be built in a day.

If your existing cat or cats are good natured and fairly laid back, you may find the newcomer is accepted almost instantly and while this can and does often happen, you must still keep vigilant just in case your Resident Cat decides to take a sidelong swipe at the newcomer thinking if you’re not around it can get away with it.

The kitten must at all times feel safe. Leaving it on its own all day with a couple of heavyweight muscle-bound territorial toms while you are at work is asking for trouble - and tragedy.

Another good idea is to use a spare room as a sort of ‘feline half-way house.’ As with the pen in the middle of the room, all its comforts are in this other room. However, when mixing with the other cats in the ‘communal room’ the litter tray should be put in a place where it can be seen and used when necessary. If it is left in the other room, the kitten may become disorientated and have an ‘accident’. This will not only distress the kitten (as they have been taught by their mothers to use a tray) but if you react in a negative way, this will set off a disastrous chain of events from which it can take months to recover.

The ‘feline half-way house’ can then be used like the pen. As long as you are there to supervise its outings into other parts of the house where the existing cats will be, it can always go back into the security and safety of the other room at any time. It is always a good idea for the kitten to sleep in either the pen or the other room undisturbed. If it is frightened by one of the existing cats then its progress will be hampered and will take much longer before it can fully join the entire household.

If you have acquired an adult cat from a shelter or charity home, or even a stray, its history may not be known and additional patience will be required while it gets used to its new surroundings. Don’t expect it to feel ‘grateful’ because you have taken pity on it and given it a home. Cats don’t feel gratitude.

You may need to use the pen and the ‘half-way house’ scenario for it to settle into its new surroundings. It may have been put out on the streets because it was a bully in its previous home. Or it may have run away because it had been a victim of cruelty or bullying behaviour by either its humans or other felines. You must be vigilant and watch for any signs that may emerge over the coming days and months.

The circumstances surrounding the need for it to be rehomed may never be known and all you can do is to give it as much love as humanly possible (without your existing felines suffering a lack of or giving rise to jealousy.)

If you do know the history then try to understand how the cat may be feeling. How long was it living rough on the streets? Was it coming around to your house for sometime to be fed and you’ve built up a bond with it so that it now trusts you? If so, do you feel that now you can give it a loving, safe and secure home for the rest of its days? If it was in a shelter or rescue home, do you know why? If it was because it was treated cruelly make sure that you don’t inadvertently remind the cat of its past. One of my own cats (a rescue cat whose story I will tell in a later article) always runs away when I get the broom out to sweep the kitchen floor. I don’t know his entire past history but I know that the broom frightens him, so I sweep the floor when he is not around to see me do it.

Cats are very forgiving despite being treated in the most horrific ways known. I never cease to be amazed at the depths of depravity humans sink to in order to get their kicks out of hurting, mutilating, and even killing, God’s beautiful creatures.

Cats give so much back for little in return that making their introductions into a family of existing felines as painless as possible should be a number one priority. Sadly, too many people just don’t take that little bit of time to ensure that they are doing it properly. The results can be tragic. Most of the time the outcome can be avoided - if only more thought of the cat’s needs than their own.

Now your feline family has grown and as my previous article shows (Double the Pleasure, Treble the Fun) your life is set to change all over again. Enjoy your feline friends - they will reward you with unconditional love, constant attention and affection and the occasional gift of a feathered or furry creature of the deceased variety!

© Pauline Dewberry 2003


 

Dogs Come when Called

"Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you."

"Of course, every cat is really the most beautiful woman in the room."

Edward Verrall Luca (essayist)

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