Introducing a New Kitten

How to integrate a new kitten into the family and survive to tell the story

Introducing a new kitten to a resident puss-cat is usually successful if the right steps are taken. A simple system will work for most cats but for the particularly fiery felines a more involved approach may be needed.

Initial introductions

For the simple approach, firstly make the existing cat calm. This could involve giving the resident cat a cuddle on your lap and stroking it to settle it comfortably. Food rewards may also help. The use of a Feliway Diffuser, a device that plugs in to a power socket and releases a synthetic analogue of feline facial pheromones, would also be helpful. These calming pheromones have been proven as an effective control for a range of behaviour disorders displayed by cats, such as urine spraying or settling cats in unknown or stressful environments.

Now an assistant can introduce the new cat for the first time. The assistant should try carrying Newpuss past Oldpuss at a distance of about two to three metres. If all is well, Newpuss should slowly be brought closer and closer to Oldpuss. Eventually, with caution, Newpuss can be placed on the ground to roam free.

You should expect some feline fireworks but these should be little more that a hiss or two. Any fireworks should resolve quickly and while the two cats may not be Bosom Buddies immediately, things should improve from here on.

If this initial phase is reasonably peaceful then all that may be necessary is to monitor the general behaviour of the two cats to insure the relationship is not pushed too quickly. For now, don’t let Newpuss eat with Oldpuss and keep Newpuss out of Oldpuss’ favourite resting and sleeping spots.

If this initial introduction is too sparky and the cats don't accept each other then you may need to use a more involved method. This involves a gradual introduction of Newpuss first to the house, and then to the other animal(s).

Separate ways

First, Newpuss needs to get over the initial stress of moving into your new home with its foreign smells and your strange routines. Try confining Newpuss to one room of the house for the first day or so. Feed it in this room and give it a litter tray. Give it lots of cuddles and affection and use a Feiway diffuser in this room as well.

By doing this you are also giving favour to Oldpuss and that’s the way it should be. You should not allow Newpuss into the favoured territories of Oldpuss as this is sure to cause offence.

Oldpuss and Newpuss may sniff each other under the door and but that’s as far as it goes at this stage. The signal to go to the next step is when you see that both Puss-cats are eating and sleeping normally and when both appear relaxed.

A screening success

The next step is a casual but controlled introduction of some type. One simple way is to introduce the cats through a security screen door or through a window. Alternatively, try putting Newpuss into a cat carry cage or an overturned laundry basket in the middle of the lounge room and allow Oldpuss the freedom to investigate if he or she so wishes.

Expect a few hisses and spits at this stage. These usually resolve quickly and you will find that Oldpuss is likely to get bored soon. Repeat this three times daily for about five to ten minutes in each session.

The signal for the next step is where the two cats sniff each other through the cage and no hissing or other four letter feline swearwords are uttered.

Free for all

Letting the ‘cat out of the bag’ is an apt description of this step.

Start with Newpuss caged in the lounge room but, when all is peaceful, open the cat cage and stand back. Have a towel or blanket available to throw over the cats just in case. Again, apart from a hiss or two, the cats should tolerate this next move with little drama.

Allow the cats to roam free. While they may not entirely enjoy each other’s company, the object is for them to at least tolerate being in the same room as each other.

From here the process is to leave them much to their own devices to get close and cosey if they wish, or to remain distant if they prefer to. While you should ignore any minor hisses and spits, allowing them to ‘sort out their differences’ is not appropriate. A serious fight will not only cause injuries but will set the process of assimilation back by many days or even weeks.

A cat amongst the pooches

You can use much the same process for introducing Newpuss to an existing dog. The main difference is that a dog is usually more controllable.

Have your Perfect Pooch on a lead for the first few introductions. Control any progression towards boisterous behaviour by commanding Pooch to 'leave' Newpuss alone where necessary. This is the ‘Good Dog’ routine. If Pooch lunges at the kitten then a loud 'leave' at the time the lead goes taut should be sufficient. Follow this with a ‘come’ and then a ‘sit' and if Pooch responds to that process, praise it enthusiastically. This is the ‘Bad Dog - Good Dog Routine’ - a very effective way of controlling unwanted behaviour in dogs.

Savage garden

If you are going to allow your kitten outside, you are doubtless concerned about whether it will run off when you release it. This doesn’t often occur but you need to be cautious.

Don’t allow the kitten into the garden for the first seven days. Use this time instead to get it used to the house, to the other pets and to where its food bowls and litter trays are located.

After this time, let the kitten get used to the garden by placing it, for a short time, in a cat carry cage or overturned laundry basket in the garden. While you are hanging up the washing is a good time for this.

Newpuss can spend a bit of time gazing at the wilderness with wonder and will get used to the sights, sounds and smells.

After a few days, take Newpuss around the garden in a cat harness. Most cats do a good impression of a ‘brick on a string’ when on a harness - they don’t move. That doesn’t matter. At least Newpuss has the freedom to move around if it wishes.

After a day or so, it should eventually appear more relaxed in the garden while on the harness. Now is the time to release it from the harness. Do this just before dinner time when the cat is likely to want to stick around for its food.

Kittens are so full of energy and mischief. Seeing them expending that energy playing with another cat or a dog is wonderful and, with a little effort, you should get to that conclusion with your new Puss.

By Dr Cam Day BVSc - Last updated 16 November 2012

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