“My cat wants a kitten to play with!”
While your resident cat may be laid back and good-natured, all cats are territorial. Adding a tiny, frisky fluffball may trigger panic, jealousy, moodiness, aggression, and other negative behaviors in your resident cat.
To lessen the stress on everyone, follow these 5 steps:
Step 1: Prepare your resident cat before the kitten arrives
When your resident cat recognizes the scent of the new kitten, they are less likely to feel threatened. If possible, take a pet blanket to the shelter or place from which you’ll be adopting the kitten and rub your kitten’s scent into the blanket. When you arrive home, place the blanket in an area where your cat will find it on their own and become familiar with the scent.
If you free-feed your existing cat, switch to meal feeding before bringing home the kitten. Scheduled mealtimes establish a predictable, comforting routine.
Step 2: Prepare your home before the kitten arrives
It’s tempting to put the new kitten and resident cat in a room together and let them duke it out. Don’t do that!
Both cats need time to adjust to each other’s presence before meeting in person (or rather, “in cat”). They also need a safe space to retreat to when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Prepare separate spaces for each cat that can be shut off from the rest of the home. A utility room, office, spare bedroom, or bathroom might work well. Equip each space with the kitty’s bed, a safe hiding spot, soft items that absorb the cat’s scent, a scratching post, water bowl, food bowl, favorite toys, and litter box.
Step 3: Introduce your cats by scent
A great deal of your cats’ communication is based on scent, so it’s important to create a positive “scent” association for both cats before they meet.
On the day your kitten arrives, put your resident cat in another room with its favorite things (see Step 2). Give your kitten a tour of the home and then settle the kitten into its own private space.
Now you can let your resident cat out of its space. Let your cat smell your kitten-scented hands and clothes and give the cat treats.
During the first few days, allow each cat to explore the other’s territory and get comfortable with each other’s scent without seeing each other.
This video offers helpful tips on how to teach your cats to “scents” each other.
Step 4: Create a socially distanced meet-and-greet
Once your cat and kitten get used to each other’s scents, allow them to see each other through a pet gate, a screen door, or to sniff under the door of the other cat’s “safe room.”
At mealtime, set their food bowls on either side of a closed door (not too close together at first). This lets each cat sense that there’s another cat on the other side of the door.
After both cats begin behaving normally when in close proximity, you can allow them to meet.
Step 5: Informally introduce your kitten and cat
When both cats seem ready to meet face-to-face, without a barrier between them, bring one cat into the room and engage it in active play and/or with treats. Enlist the help of another person, and have them bring the other cat into the room and do the same.
Closely monitor each cats’ body language for warning signs such as hissing, growling, arching, skittishness, hostile actions, and signs of distress. Be ready with blankets to quickly and calmly separate them should either cat become aggressive.
Keep the introduction short, rewarding each cat with praise and treats. As the cats begin to tolerate and accept each other, gradually increase their time together.
As your kitten and cat begin to interact freely, continue to pay close attention to their behavior. Normal, non-aggressive play may include pouncing, running, rolling, batting, hiding, chasing, and competing for toys and attention. Be prepared to separate them quickly should playful behavior evolve into aggressive fighting.
Depending on both cats’ temperaments, the introduction process will take at least a week – possibly much longer.
Be patient with your kitten and cat as they get acquainted. Reward them for appropriate behavior. Before long, your kitties will hopefully develop mutual respect and maybe even a lifelong friendship.