Nothing beats the joy of adopting a new kitten or cat! If you have another cat already or are new to setting up a multi-cat household, we’ve put together this easy step by step guide of how to introduce cats to make the process go smoothly.
Know STOP before you start
Before we break down the basics of introducing two cats there’s one thing you should know, and that is STOP.
You can consider STOP a compass to help guide you through the introduction process. Feline behaviorist, Dr. Marci L. Koski explains that STOP stands for Safety, Transform, Observe, and Patience.
Here’s a further breakdown of this helpful acronym!
Are the cats in a safe place where they can’t hurt you or each other?
Have you been changing the negative or scary associations into positive ones?
Are you paying close attention to your cats’ body language and behavior?
Don’t force your cats together. This process could take up to three months or more.
Now let’s start the introduction process!
Step 1: keep the new cat in a separate room
The most important part of the introduction process is to give your new kitty their own separate space in your house.
Dividing up territories between your resident cat and a new feline family member is one of the best ways to kick off the introduction process. This reduces anxiety, stress, and aggression and gives both cats their own comfort zones.
Your new kitty’s living space needs all the essentials. A litter box, food bowl, blanket, and cat bed, toys, scratching post, and enrichment activities. This is their “safe room” for the introduction period.
This room should have a solid door that fully shuts and a doorway large enough to hold a baby gate, pet gate, or another tall visual barrier.
Step 2: swap scents and use positive reinforcement
Never underestimate the power of smell. Cats rely on their sense of smell most of all. You could use this to your advantage by creating scent introductions or scent swaps between your cats.
Try taking a sock, washcloth, or small blanket and gently rub it on your existing cat’s head, neck, cheeks, and face. Then, do the same with a different, unused sock or cloth with your new cat. After that, swap socks. Give each cat the sock with the other’s scent on it and a treat to go with it. This is a scent swap with positive reinforcement.
Another way to use your kitty’s keen sense of smell is to feed your cats together but on the opposite sides of the door dividing them.
This allows both cats to spend time close to each other without actually touching or seeing each other. And it associates the positivity of mealtimes with their new feline roommate.
You could also do this periodically throughout the day with your kitty’s favorite treats.
Step 3: begin site swapping
In this stage of the introduction process, you allow your new cat to free explore your home without the resident cat. An ideal way to do this is to close off your current cat in one of their favorite spaces in the house while your new cat walks through the other open rooms.
This allows your new cat to get more of a sense of the whole house and use their senses. Yes! We’re back to smell again! A supervised walk through of your home helps your second cat become accustomed to the smell of the current cat, and allows them to explore some of your resident cat’s favorite toys and spaces.
Be sure that your new cat doesn’t use your resident cat’s litter box or eat their food. This could cause problems and set you back a step.
Site swapping also includes letting your resident cat explore the room where you’ve been confining your new cat. By allowing your kitty to sniff out and explore your new cat’s home base, you help him build confidence and reduce stress and anxiety.
During this stage, you could also use the sock scent technique, but this time, gently rub the “used” sock onto your resident cat and vise versa. This is known as “allorubbing,” or combining both cats’ scents to create a group scent.
Step 4: door open, gates up!
At this stage in the introduction process, you put up the pet gate and begin leaving the door open for short periods.
This allows both cats to see each other but still provides a protective barrier.
During this step, it’s important to continue keeping up with the positive reinforcement. Continue feeding the cats near each other on opposite sides of the open but gated door. A screen door can help with this if your first cat is an outside cat.
If you notice either cat is starting to get distressed, begins acting out like by spraying your furniture, or they start hissing at each other, go back a step to let your cats recover.
Step 5: allow the cats to spend time together without barriers
Jackson Galaxy, a cat expert, calls this the “eat, play, love” period of the introduction process. This step is where you allow both cats to spend time together while you closely supervise them.
Galaxy recommends that you continue to use positive reinforcement to build up trust between your cats during this stage.
He suggests feeding cats together and playing with the cats in the same room without any barriers. It’s best to do this with another person. Try to keep the cats at opposite ends of the room until you notice that they’re ready to come together at a closer range.
It’s crucial to be attentive during this stage and prepared to end the interaction if a fight breaks out. Having a large piece of cardboard ready to act as a gate, and many toys to distract and redirect your cats if needed is essential.
Step 6: gradually give your cats more freedom
When you start to notice your resident cat and your new cat positively coexisting, or even interacting, in a shared space let them spend more time together without barriers.
Although it’s still crucial to supervise them and to be ready to react with any defensive maneuvers that are needed to ensure both of your cats stay safe, at this stage you could give your kitties more freedom. Ultimately, use your common sense and be attentive to your cats’ body language and vocalizations!
But what if the introduction goes poorly?
There may be some moments in the introduction process where things don’t play out exactly how you envisioned them. Even the best laid plans are sometimes no match for the wrath of a resident feline scorned!
If things take a turn for the worse, don’t beat yourself up over it. If you’re noticing friction between your felines, it’s a good time to dive into our “Warning Signs When Introducing Cats” article, to help you get a handle on the situation.
Introducing cats to each other takes time. While there are reliable guidelines to introducing cats, above all, it’s important to build the process around your kitties, not an idea of where your kitties should be at a certain stage. For example, if you have an older cat or adult cat, and are introducing them to a new kitten, this could take extra time.
Every cat is an individual with their own distinct personality and temperament. With that in mind, if you do falter, or have to take a few steps back, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just like any parenting role, you’re bound to make mistakes, even if you have all the facts and the best intentions.
Like in any relationship, felines build up trust and confidence over time, so stay positive, be attentive, and be persistent. You’ve got this!