Introducing a new cat the right way

Cats can be territorial creatures. Learn how to introduce a new cat or kitten in a way that will avoid the common dangers...its easier than you think.


Introducing a new cat the right way

Introducing a new cat to your own

The thing to remember when introducing a new cat is that your home is your existing cat’s territory. Any newcomer will naturally be perceived as a threat. This can be avoided, if the cats are introduced to each other gradually, one sense at a time, and positive reinforcement is used. The positive reinforcement will teach your cats to associate each other with more attention and treats, and they will therefore associate each other with a positive experience. Whether you are introducing a new cat or a kitten, the approach is the same. Make sure any kitten you introduce is fully vaccinated.

Preparation: check your existing cat

The first thing to do before you even think about bringing a new kitten into your home is to make sure that your existing animals are all healthy. Check your cat for any signs of illness: keep an eye on his toileting habits and make sure he does not have any diarrhea. Check his eyes are not weepy and he is not sneezing all the time. If you are in any doubt, get you current cat checked by a veterinarian. This is very important, because you do not want to bring home a beautiful little kitten or new cat, only to find it catches an infectious condition from your current cat and gets poorly.

Preparation: choosing your new cat

Do your research! Bringing a new animal into a household is always a high risk activity, but when you have existing animals the stakes are even higher: if you bring a sick cat or kitten home, the chances are that it will make your current cat sick too. Take your time. If you are buying a pedigree kitten make sure you ask the breeder lots of questions and be fussy. Very fussy. If you are bringing home a rescue cat you need to be very cautious too: ask them in the shelter whether the cat has ever had any illnesses or conditions and then do your own research on them to see if you are happy to take that on.  You can read more about choosing the right breeder to buy your kitten from in our article. Discover the importance of GCCF registration for pedigree cats.

Preparation: your new cat’s room

Once you have chosen your new kitten, the next stage is to get your house ready for it. Choose a modest sized room for your new kitten to move into. The room must be safe and free from any dangers for kittens, and preferably quite a quiet location within the home. If it is a utility room, bathroom or kitchen area make sure any cleaning products are stored safely out of the reach of your cat. Cleaning products are very toxic to cats. Make sure the room is not your existing cat’s main space or territory.

Things to put in your new kitten’s room:

  • a litter tray with a suitable cat litter in it (not all litters are suitable for kittens),

  • a scratching post,

  • a food and water bowl, made from ceramic or metal rather than plastic. Plastic scratches and harbours bacteria and viruses

  • A hiding place...or two...or three….! The more safe places, the more secure your cat will feel. Make them cosy so they can be used as a bed. Try the Diogenes Scratching Barrel

introducing a new cat diogenes barrel

Make sure that the litter tray is not too close to the food or water bowls: cats do not like to eat where they go to the toilet! If you are fastidious about litter tray hygiene, it shouldn't make much difference, but if you do not change the litter daily then it might put your cat off his food. 

Collecting your cat

Get a suitable cat carrier, and put a clean blanket or towel in it, or a puppy pad if you are making a long journey.  If your journey is very long or the weather is very warm, make sure you take a small container with some water in it for your cat.  

Introducing a new cat...

Bringing your new cat home

  • Bring the cat carrier into the house, and without making a fuss or acting like anything is different, take the cat carrier straight into the room you have prepared for her.

  • Place the cat carrier on the floor, and then leave the room for 10 minutes or so, leaving your new kitten in her carrier. This will allow her to get used to the smells of the room.

  • Then, quietly go back in and open the door to the cat carrier. If you have children, as exciting as this bit might be, they are best not to come into the room, particularly if the cat is nervous. The fewer people noise, the better.

  • Do not ever take the cat or kitten out of her carrier. This will terrify and traumatise her and mean that it will take much longer for her to settle in.  

  • Once you have opened the door, leave the room and let her settle in for an hour or so. If you are absolutely desperate to see her come out of the carrier, sit on the floor somewhere, quietly and just leave her to her own devices. If she comes straight over to you for a cuddle, then that is fine and you can interact with her, but don’t force any interaction.

  • Make a fuss of your existing cat: give him treats and play with him to reassure him that everything is ok

Introducing a new cat one sense at a time

  • Once your new kitten has had a day to settle in, take a sock and place it over your hand. Rub it over the new kittens head and face to get the scent of the new kitten on it

  • Take the sock into your existing cat and place it on the floor. If he reacts badly to it: hissing, growling etc, just ignore him and then take the sock away and try again in an hour or so. If he responds well to it, or doesn't respond at all, give him a treat.

  • Once your existing cat is responding well to the sock all the time, put both of your cats on either side of a closed door so that they can smell and hear each other.  Reward them if they behave well, ignore them if they react badly. Never scold your cats - they won’t understand what you are scolding hem for, and all it will do is increase their stress levels and teach them to associate the other cat with stress. Again, if they react badly give them a few minutes and then if they are still reacting badly after 10 minutes or so, take them away and back to their rooms and try again later. 

  • Once they do not react badly to each other on either side of a closed door, you can place your kitten in a carrier and put a towel over it. Take the cat carrier to a neutral room: not your existing cat’s favourite spot, and then let your existing cat into the room. He will walk around and sniff the basket. Again, reward good behaviour with positive reinforcement: treat and play.

  • The next stage is to take the towel off the cat carrier. Again, reward positive behaviour, ignore negative responses. 

  • Then you can open the door o the cat carrier and let the cats meet properly, always rewarding positive behaviour. 

  • Go at your cats’ pace with this: take as long with each stage as both of your cats need to learn to respond well to each other. They might fly through the first few stages in 15 minutes each, and then take 3 days for the final stage, or vice-versa. If they react very badly to any stage, you can revert to a previous stage and continue that for a a few more days.

  • The process is usually quite quick, but can take longer with very nervous or distressed cats and kittens. 

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