YOUR NEW CAT: Science-based Manners for Cats
Congratulations on adopting a cat! This is an exciting day for you, but quite an adjustment for your new companion. If you keep in mind your cat's point of view, the transition will go smoother, and your new cat will more quickly understand that he has a wonderful new home. Below are the three milestones a cat needs to achieve to truly feel he is at home-sweet-home.
1.Territory for Me (Three Weeks)
When you arrive home and plop your cat down, she has no way of knowing whether or not she is going to have to fight for territory. Cats become socially mature between one and three years old and gradually become more territorial. It may take three weeks before they lose the desire to follow their homing instinct and try to return to their previous territory. It is imperative that you keep your cat inside during this period. Of course, keeping your cat indoors is always a safer option.
In order to make your cat feel secure and to ensure that she knows where the litter box, scratch post and scratch pad are, you should set up a room for her, which contains all of these necessities. If you can keep any other pets out of this room for a few days before bringing your new cat home, the room will not smell like someone else's territory. At a minimum, she will have to stay in this room until she has used the litter box and scratch post or pad. If your new cat is hiding or hissing, she will have to stay in her room until she settles down. Since this may take anywhere from a week to 10 days, you will need to put food, water bowls and a bed in her room. As the room acquires her scent and days pass without incident, she will become more secure and more sociable.
2. Person on My Side (First Week Is Key)
Your new cat has no way of knowing if you have his best interests in mind. He may be especially suspicious if you smell of other pets or if there are lively children in the house. If you go into the room you have set up for him and he hides, let him have a few hours to himself. Then go into his room and talk to him. Do not try to pull him out from his hiding place. Do not stare at him. Spending time in his room daily reading or watching television is a good way to break the ice. When he stops hiding or hissing and lets you pet him, it is best to give him a full week to bond with you. If there are young children, you may try short, supervised visits before the end of the first week if he seems relaxed. If your new cat is a kitten, he will need to be in a kitten-safe room at night and when you are not at home.
3. Pet Hierarchy Established (First Month Is Key)
Adult cats will set up a flexible hierarchy, with a linear or complex order for the other pets. When a newcomer enters the territory, you want to make sure the fur does not fly while she finds her spot in the social order. This is often true when mixing cats and dogs too. Either way, do not introduce a new cat to any resident pets until the new cat has had a full week to establish her one room as her territory, and trusts at least one of the people in the house. During this time, spend most of your time with the resident pets – you do not want them hating the new arrival before they even meet her! After petting her, it is a good idea to wash her scent off your hands.
If there are no glaring stares or hissing (or barking) on either side of the closed door or at you after you have visited the new cat, and a week has passed, it is time to see the rest of the house. Put the resident pets out of her sight in a room or crate and let the new cat explore the house. She needs to know the lay of the land and her way back to her safe room before the big stress of meeting the animals who claim this territory. Return her to her room when she is done exploring; if no one was stressed, then you are well on your way to the next step.
When it is time to meet the resident cat, simply open the door to her room. You may wish to set up a toddler gate the first time. Have a bath towel handy should you need to block the cats’ view of each other, or separate them. If the cats do not chose to meet, simply close the new cat in her room when you no longer have the time to watch them. Try it again later. If all you get is a brief hiss and an air swat, it was a successful first meeting. If the cats sit, stare and growl, calmly close the door. Try it again later. When they are relaxed in each other’s presence allow them to spend an increasing number of minutes in sight of each other. If they fight or one cat chases the other, calmly put the towel between them to disorient and redirect the aggressor. Keep them separated for at least a day. The next time they meet, go back to using the toddler gate or a slightly-opened door so they are unable to fight. When introducing a cat to a resident dog, use these safety measures as well as a leash on the dog to ensure the cat's safety.
Whether it is the first meeting or a dozen meetings later, once they are merely hissing without arching the back or staring, let the cats interact for 10 or 20 minutes, working up to several hours a day. Watch them the whole time. This second stage is very crucial to their future relationship. You must ensure that they are separated immediately if there is any stress or aggression. You do not want fighting or aggression to become a habit; it may only take a couple of weeks for them to establish their hierarchy. However, if you have two assertive cats, this might take many months. Keep in mind that some cats will never be friends or share litter boxes even after years together. They may, however, have a peaceful coexistence if introductions and resources are handled correctly.
Do not leave your new pet alone with the resident pets until you are sure it is safe to do so. This probably will not be until at least the third week she is living with you. Signs to look for are sleeping close to each other, using each other’s litter boxes, playing with their ears forward or walking past each other without hissing or swatting. Be very slow to move the new cat’s resources out of her safe room. Only move them after she is relaxed outside her room and move the resources gradually, a few inches a day.
Written by Patience Fisher DipFBST,CVA,BSBIO,MSCE