Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Expanding Your Cat Family: How to Facilitate Success

Kitty Introductions (Part two of a three-part series)

 By Karen Zamel

This is part two of a three-part blog addressing steps for successful integration of new cats with resident cats – something, which most cat owners know from experience, is pawsitively challenging.  We are interviewing Jessica Char, founder of and past Behavior Associate at the Humane Society Silicon Valley, for each part of the series: Kitty Introductions (below), Matchmaking (posted here), and Troubleshooting (to be posted soon!).  A big thank you to Jessica for her time and expertise!

Q: What’s the best recipe for success in integrating new with existing pets?

Jessica: Maximizing positive exposure, minimizing negative interactions, time, and patience. It’s not uncommon for cats to take a month or more to really accept each other. During that time, you are building a history of positive time together and hopefully preventing negative experiences and setbacks. 

Ideally, every interaction that a new cat has with existing pets is positive in some way, whether it’s mealtime, playtime, etc. When a cat first comes in to a new home, they are likely pretty nervous. That’s why I recommend keeping them in their own space at first, until they are feeling more confident (could be days or weeks depending on the cat). When the new cat first meets a resident cat, the interaction should be carefully controlled to prevent the cats from getting too close or, worse, fighting. Every time to cats see each other it should be paired with something positive like food and play. For cats, first impressions are very important; cats that bite or scratch during the first meeting are more likely to still be fighting a year later than cats who have a more peaceful first meeting (Levine 2005).  Just throwing everybody together is definitely taking a risk, with potential long-term effects.

Q: At what pace do we proceed?

Jessica: At first, you’ll facilitate frequent but short, positive interactions and keep the cats separate otherwise. Over time, the cats can have more time together with less management. You want to go at the pace of the least comfortable cat, always making sure both cats are fully relaxed before asking them to get closer or spend more time together.  

Territory is really important to all cats and even more so when the cats are sharing space. Provide lots of high resting places and ways for the cats to move around the house without crossing paths.  This increases the size of the territory and makes it easier to share. Resources (beds, feeding stations, litter boxes, scratching posts) should be plentiful and also be spread throughout the home to decrease competition. 

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If you have additional questions for Jessica or experiences you would like to share, please post them here.  We can all benefit from the dialogue!

Considering an adoption?  Attend our special adoption event at The Pruneyard in Campbell on Thursday, November 8, 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Teenage kittens – a great addition for most any feline family – can be adopted at a reduced fee.

In addition to the event, you can get information kittens/cats in need of homes onour adoptable cats page

Karen Zamel is a communications volunteer, foster parent, and adopter with Silicon Valley Pet Project and San Jose Animal Advocates.

For more information on Jessica Char and Feline Engineering, follow her on Facebook and Instagram:

Levine, E., Perry, P., Scarlett, J., & Houpt, K. A. (2005). Intercat aggression in households following the introduction of a new cat. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 90(3), 325-336.