gray cat

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gray cat

Dear Crystal, 

Hi! We have two spayed, female cats 5 and 7 years old. Our daughter has come to stay with us for an indefinite period of time and she brought her almost one-year old neutered male cat. He is a good boy who usually gets along well with other cats (and dogs), but our two female cats (who tolerate each other but have never been particularly close) want nothing to do with him. He wants to be near them and they hiss and growl and are clearly upset. The way our house is set up, it is impossible to keep them apart unless we put him by himself in the garage but we think that is not a nice thing to do to him. This is the third time our daughter has brought him to our home and our two girl cats have never warmed up to him. Any thoughts or advice are much appreciated. 

Sincerely, 

Cat Mom

Dear Cat,

The introduction process of cats can vary depending on the individual personalities and ages of the cats involved. That will affect the speed of introductions. Cats are very territorial creatures so that can make introductions tricky at times. We always suggest slow introductions to avoid problems but there are some cats don’t need a lot of time for introductions. It sounds like your females do need more time. If you are committed to helping them feel happier with the new addition, there is going to be a process to it and it will take some time and patience.

My guess is that the one-year-old cat needs a lot more play and stimulation so be sure that he is getting a lot of play with wands or a laser pointer at least 2-3 times a day for 15-20 minutes and ideally prior to a meal. This mimics how they would eat in the wild. You can even train a cat to walk around outside on a harness to give some safe outside time. If you have disparities in age and personality between animals, the humans need to address that so he will be less likely to be trying to play with the older ladies and he will have his needs met. Things will likely go better if he is not trying to play with them.

Everyone has a different setup but there is usually a way to do a temporary separation period.  My suggestion is that you start over with your introductions if possible.  Introducing cats one sense at a time is the most nonthreatening way to do it. This isn’t meant to be permanent. It usually lasts a couple weeks but could be a month or more. Most places have a bathroom with a door if you don’t have actual separate bedrooms. Any room with a door will work. Setting up a separate space will help to create territorial security for the newcomer. It will help the resident cats relax if they aren’t forced to interact with him all day. Stress plays a big role in how sensitive animals are and how reactive they will be. The more relaxed they are, the better the introductions will go.

In this safe space, you need water, bedding and scratching pads that will soak up the cat’s scent. Place the cat in his safe place. The idea is to gradually get the cats introduced through scent. There are different ways to work on scent swapping. You can swap bedding by temporarily placing it near the other cat. Or you can rub a dry washcloth on each cat’s cheeks and place that near the food bowls of other cat.  Once the cat has settled in to its room, you can swap the cats in the different rooms. The resident cats go into the newcomer’s room and vice versa. This can help with the cats feeling too cooped up in one room and avoids the cats becoming territorial of one space. You would switch the cats back and forth day to day at the same time.

tabby cat sits on tower hidden behind a curtainIf you cannot separate, you need to be sure to create plenty of raised spaces for the cats to climb on to so that they can get up and away. There are a variety of options for this depending on your space and budget. Cheap shelf brackets and wood can make perches on the wall if you make sure they have a way to get up to them. You can buy cheap metal shelving racks, you can put soft bedding on them and tie toys to them. There are a variety of suction cup shelves you can use on windows. Create hiding spots so that the cats can watch each other from hidden, safe spots. Safety is always the first priority for any animal so we need to address how to help them feel safe. Once we can address the safety issue, we can work on creating new associations.

The cats should not be free fed so that we can use feeding times as a way to create a positive association with the new cat through food. Place the cats’ bowls on either side of the closed door. You will need to find the sweet spot of where they are comfortable eating and there is no hissing. It will likely be at least 6 feet away to start with and you will slowly start moving the bowls closer to the door over time. You will need to do this with another person so you can both judge where the line is for each cat and that the food is being fed at the same time. Over time you will continue to move the bowls closer and closer to the door. Once the cats can eat their meals together no further than a foot away from each other through a closed door, you can move on to the next step.

Now we can move on to letting the cats see each other. Decide how you would like to approach that in a safe way. I usually suggest a pet gate but you could crack open the door and use a door stopper so the cat can see out but not get out. If you had a screen door that is ideal because you don’t have to worry about anyone escaping or you can build a screen with some wood and screening to prop in the door. If you use a pet gate or screen, I would suggest draping a towel over it so they don’t have total visual access yet and you can begin moving it slowly aside as they get comfortable. We will start by feeding the cats where they can see each other. But you will need to move the feeding line back most likely to where it first started. When the cats are comfortably eating within a foot or so of the gate with visual access, you can move on to the last step.

The last step is to have both cats in the same room without barriers. It is important initially that we keep the cats occupied so that they can enjoy mutual activities and not focus on the other cat but share the same space. Bring one cat out first and get them engaged in a high value activity like a cat wand or laser toy or eating high value treats. Once they are fully involved, bring out the other cat by following the toy or food and engage him in play. If they stop and stare at each other, try to reengage in play or with treats. The object is to keep the cats engaged on opposites sides. Staring matches are not going to end well and if you cannot reengage the cats, you should end the session. Otherwise, end the session when you can tell they are about to become bored. You always want to end on a positive note. End the play session with a meal on the other side of the gate.

You will have to figure out a plan that works for you. A lot of people can just throw cats together and they get over it quickly. It really just depends on the cats’ personalities. That doesn’t seem like it is going to be the case here so I would suggest trying to employ at least some of the techniques I have mentioned. Maybe you play with the cats at the same time on the opposite sides of the room. You can try to feed them at the same time on opposite sides of the room slowly moving the bowls closer over time. If your cats are very food motivated, you could feed them amazing treats like chicken when the other cat is in the room. The point being to pair something the cats really like with the presence of the other cat. Being able to play and eat in the presence of the other cat is a really good sign.

It is a lot of work to get these cats to a more comfortable place but considering that you don’t know how long your daughter is going to be staying, it is really worth the effort. It will help everyone in the home live a happier more content life. They likely won’t turn out to be best friends, you may be able to get them to a point of being comfortable and relaxed around each other.

Until next time,

Crystal

 

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