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Concerned Kitty Mama

Dear Tabby,

We have a 15 year-old cat named Sugar who has been an only-cat most of her life. She’s a little bit skittish around strangers at first, but in general is a sweet, affectionate, mellow girl.

Recently, we’ve been thinking about getting her a buddy, and have gone to the Purrfect Pals Everett PetSmart kitten adoption events the last couple of Saturdays, toying with the idea of getting a little one. What advice can you give us to help us make sure we introduce the new kitty to Sugar properly and give them the best possible chance at being friends?

Signed, Concerned Kitty Mama

Dear CKM,

This is probably the question I get asked the most: how do I get a second cat without making my first cat hate me until the end of time? First, a story: I was an older only-cat myself until two years ago, when my humans brought home a little boy cat. They named him Frank; I named him The Unholy Terror. Though they did everything right in terms of introductions, I’m still not a big fan of Unholy-T, as I call him. At first, in fact, I was downright afraid of him – over time, though, with a lot of help from my humans, I’ve learned he’s not scary, he’s just annoying, and we’ve settled into a pretty good routine.

You too can help your two kitties settle into a life together. Here’s how:

1) When you bring your new furry family member home, begin by isolating him in a room for a minimum of 2-3 days (be aware: it may take longer). Fill the room up with toys, places to hang out, and a soft place to sleep, and spend a lot of time in that room with your new one. This is not just to help your other cat get used to the smell and sounds of New Kitty, but also to help New Kitty adjust to the shock of a brand new life. New Kitty may hide, and may not be interested in food at first –but totally normal all around. Try coaxing New Kitty out from hiding places with food or toys, but don’t push. Big transitions are hard and every cat is unique.

2) While New Kitty is still isolated, grab that blankie he’s been sleeping on and swap it with the blankie (or favorite toy, or other thing covered in scent) of your older cat. Let the cats smell each other without the added stress of actually having to see each other. Trade objects back and forth for a couple of days. At some point, they’re likely to start sniffing each other under the door and possibly even bat a paw out – this is good.

3) If you can swing it, after a few days of isolation (or longer if New Kitty is slow to settle in), set up a baby gate and open the door. Let the two kitties see each other, smell each other, get a sense of each other. Feed them on either side of the gate at mealtime, so they begin to associate seeing each other with something good. If you can’t do the baby gate thing, try cracking the door open ever so slightly at mealtime and position their dishes in such a way they can see each other through the crack, but not actually make physical contact.

4) After a few days of exchanging smells and sights, it’s time to let New Kitty into the main part of the house. Don’t make a big deal out of it – we kitties hate a fuss — and keep the door open so New Kitty can make a quick retreat if needed. Don’t force either cat to interact with the other. And stay there – keep an eye on things and be ready to intercede if anything gets too melodramatic (especially important if you’re introducing New Kitty to a dog – dogs can be the epitome of melodrama).

5) If things are a bit sticky during that first meet and greet, keep New Kitty isolated in their room while you’re not home and at night. My human kept New Kitty in the guest room for a week, and slept with him at night to help him bond to her and trust her, which I think helped too. It’s important to give both kitties a break from each other periodically, especially if either one is exhibiting signs of stress.

6) Pay lots of attention to both your kitties, but especially to Old Kitty, who may feel both threatened and jealous (boy, howdy, did I ever!). Try playing with both cats in the same room at the same time too (independently of each other but close by). Focus on having them interact during activities that are fun and/or tasty. Lots of praise needed all around, too! Positive reinforcement is your friend!

7) Finally, and most importantly, take your time. There’s no rush here. Keep in mind that we cats live on our own schedules. We’ll deal when we’re ready to deal, and not one second before. It might take weeks – even months – for your new kitties to adjust fully to each other. A little hissing and a couple of claw-free pops to the chin are totally normal, and may never completely go away. Don’t expect your cats to become best buddies immediately, snuggling up for adorable Internet photos – it may not happen. But with patience, love, and time, most kitties will at least learn to co-exist peacefully. And to be honest, after two years with my little brother, I kind of miss him when he’s not around. Which is not to say I LIKE him, or anything. Just, you know. Sniff. He’s all right. I guess. Don’t tell him I said this.

One quick reminder about litter boxes: we cats are territorial, and that includes the locations where we do our business, so to speak. The rule of thumb is one box per cat, plus one; so, for two cats, ideally you’ll have three boxes. If you absolutely cannot swing three, you absolutely gotta swing two. One is not an option!

And, if you do end up going with a younger cat, especially a kitten, be prepared to spend a lot of time every day playing with New Kitty as hard as you possibly can. There’s nothing more likely to cause trouble than a young cat with too much pent up energy and an older cat who wants none of that nonsense whatsoever. Give your older kitty a break, and wear the tot out regularly.

You can find more information about adopting a new kitty from Purrfect Pals and introducing it to your household on our web site at https://purrfectpals.org.

Good luck, and keep purrin’!

Love and nose boops,
Tabigail van Purrin’

Have a Question for Dear Tabby?  Email it to her Purr-sonal Assistant at meg@purrfectpals.org!