Cat Etiquette: The Art of Introducing, or Reintroducing, Cats to Each Other
“Who are you talking to?” said the King.
“It’s a friend of mine—a Cheshire-Cat,” said Alice: “allow me to introduce it.”
“I don’t like the look of it at all,” said the King: “however, it may kiss my hand, if it likes.”
“I’d rather not,” the Cat remarked.
—Alice in Wonderland
IT’S SO EXCITING TO ADOPT A NEW KITTEN OR CAT. YOU LOOK forward to watching the new cat and your resident cat become friends, chasing each other around the house, grooming each other, curling up together to sleep, doing all the delightful, charming, hilarious things that cats who adore each other do. You probably think they’ll just do what comes naturally. However, because of the territorial and survival instincts of the cat, such amicable behavior may not be natural at all, but something that can be achieved only with a lot of help from outside—mainly you. Yes, it’s up to you to shape the cats’ initial encounters with each other so that they become the friends you want them to be.
Each cat you bring into your household who is unfamiliar with the resident cats will have to be very carefully introduced to all the resident cats, using the process I describe in this chapter. Introducing cats too fast or incorrectly is one of the biggest reasons for an array of inter-cat social issues. I’ve seen many clients try to rush their cats into familiarity in a few days, with severe consequences (which, happily, may be undone with my reintroduction technique). After a bad introduction, two cats may not be able to be in the same room for more than five seconds before one makes a beeline toward the other and attacks. After a very bad introduction, many clients feel they have no choice but to keep the cats separate forever, or to give one up for adoption. A first impression can last for the life of your cats (and a big chunk of yours), and is a big cause of cat abandonment, so correct introductions are of the utmost importance. How well you introduce your cats in the beginning will make all the difference in how well they get along in the future. Will they be enemies, merely coexist, or become closely bonded housemates? You can do a lot to make this last scenario come true.
The instructions I give for introducing cats are very detailed. I believe they are the most comprehensive you’ll find on cat introductions anywhere (and as of this writing, they may be the only instructions on reintroductions). Accordingly, if you are not planning to bring a new cat home soon, and the cats who currently live with you are getting along just fine, you may wish to skip this chapter for now. If, however, you are about to adopt a new cat, or the cats already in your home are currently having problems with each other, you should read both this chapter and Chapter 7, on aggression.
In the instructions to follow, I’ll show you how to introduce your new cat, Newcat, to your resident cats. Because you won’t introduce all of the residents at once, I’ll refer to the first resident to be introduced as Homecat. Note what we won’t do: We won’t walk in with Newcat and drop him into Homecat’s terrain unannounced. Instead, we will (1) prevent any contact between the two at first and (2) very gradually build up in each cat positive associations with the other cat, one sense at a time. We’ll do this by providing the cats with rewards, affection, and fun, while slooooowly desensitizing them to one another. And, using our knowledge of how feline communication works, we’ll be taking particular advantage of their primary sense language—scent.
If your existing cats are in an intractable pattern of aggression, you’ll need to perform a reintroduction, along with the rest of the C.A.T. Plan from Chapter 7. Just follow the instructions for introducing Newcat and Homecat—with a few differences. Reintroductions, unlike first-time introductions, will almost always take place between only two cats. If it’s clear that one cat has been the aggressor and the other the victim, then I recommend that you give the victim cat more of the preferred areas of the home, for more of the time, than you give the aggressor. As I’ll explain in Chapter 5, cats with preferred territory will feel more confident, and that will prove very useful in the reintroduction. In reintroductions, unless you know that one cat’s scent alone makes the other one aggressive, you won’t be likely to need a robe or change of clothes. Finally, reintroductions will always feature a see-through barrier you’ll place between the unfriendly cats; first-time introductions will not include a barrier unless one or both of your cats prove to have persistent difficulty relaxing around each other.
First Impressions: Desensitization, Habituation, and Counterconditioning
The process of desensitization will involve slowly and gradually exposing each cat to the sight, sound, and, especially, smell of the other cat—always making sure that the stimulus presented is below the cat’s fear threshold.
Habituation will happen when each cat becomes acclimated to the once-novel stimulus of the other and they appear either enthusiastic about each other, or indifferent to or bored by each other. At the end of the introduction or reintroduction process, your cats may get along famously. But if, during or after the desensitization and habituation, your cats seem like they could not care less about one another, you will still have achieved wild success—and that may be just the beginning of the good news.
We’ll also use counterconditioning on the cats by pairing desirable activities, such as playing or eating, with the smell, sound, or sight of the other cat. Play will be a very important tool in this process. Keeping a cat in an animated state of play prevents him from feeling fear, for cats simply cannot engage in play behaviors and feel fear at the same time. Food and treats given outside of normal feeding times will also play a big role. Be sure to break any treats up into smaller pieces so that you don’t treat your cats so much as to interfere with their normal nutrition.
In an attempt to capture at least some of the many permutations of events that could occur during an introduction, these instructions are highly detailed. Most owners will not require all the detail. But for some owners, there may not be enough detail. If you are in that minority—your cats are reacting negatively or not getting along no matter which suggestions you try, and you can’t figure out what to do next—it may be time to go to thecatbehaviorclinic.com or your nearest search engine and look up an experienced cat behaviorist to walk you through the process dynamically, by phone or in person.
STEP 1: SETTING THE STAGE BEFORE NEWCAT COMES HOME: THE SAFE ROOM AND PHEROMONES
Two weeks before bringing Newcat home—if you can plan that far in advance—install pheromone plug-ins in the parts of the home where the resident cats spend most of their time. Also, install a pheromone plug-in in a room that will be the designated safe room for Newcat when he first arrives.
CAT’S-EYE VIEW: PHEROMONES
As far as we know, cats have five facial pheromones, which they release by rubbing their sebaceous glands on other animals or objects. Cats have sebaceous glands in their paws and pads, cheeks, flanks, tail, forehead, lips, chin, ear canals, perianal areas, and on the base of the tail, and cats love to rub and have them rubbed. Indeed, simply rubbing your cats’ facial areas can help to greatly relax them.
Cats naturally rub one facial pheromone, called F3, along with their own distinctive scents, on objects around the home (and humans) when they feel calm and safe. You can make a cat even calmer if you apply that same facial pheromone (F3) to the cat’s surroundings. In days of yore, veterinary researchers did this by swabbing a cat’s face with a cloth and dashing about the lab to distribute the scent. Fortunately for you, there’s now an easier way.
Synthetic versions of facial-marking pheromone come in both a spray and plug-in form and are sold in pet supply stores and online.* I’ll refer to them collectively as pheromones.
The safe room for Newcat should be one that you can close off and devote solely to him. If possible, it should be a room the residents have not spent much time in and don’t consider highly desirable. A properly set up safe room should contain two litter boxes (see below), as well as bowls for food and water, new toys, and unscented (or new) perching, resting, and scratching areas. The litter boxes, food, and water bowls should all be as far away as possible from one another. The safe room should have a hiding place, such as a bed, or other piece of furniture, or one or more of the following: a large empty box turned on its side, a cat tunnel, a paper bag with the handles removed and the cuff rolled down to keep it open, or a cat tree complete with a cubby hole. Make the room cat-safe from any hazards such as items that could easily be ingested (string, plastic bags) or dangling cords. Put child guards on the electrical outlets, and if the room is a bathroom, put the toilet seat down. Place a heavy object over part of any heating vent covers. I know of frightened cats who have pulled up the covers and escaped into the duct system. (See Chapter 5 for more on how to expertly set up a cat territory.)
On the day you bring Newcat home, use a handheld pheromone sprayer at cat-nose height (about eight inches from the floor) to spritz surfaces on and near both sides of the safe room door, and on several other locations inside the safe room with which the cat is likely to come in contact. Never spray pheromones or place pheromone plug-ins near litter boxes, or eating and drinking areas (and never ever spray them directly on a cat). If possible, put a pheromone diffuser plug-in on the residents’ side of the door, too. Place in the safe room a robe or a set of clothes you can change into, and if there is a gap under the door to the room, block it with a rolled-up towel. Fill the water bowl, and have food and treats ready to be opened when Newcat arrives. The two litter boxes should also be filled. If Newcat is used to one kind of litter, and you use something else for the Homecats, you can take this opportunity to start transitioning him to the house litter as follows: Set out one box with Newcat’s accustomed litter, and put a good maintenance litter (see Chapter 5) in the second box. Now you are ready for Newcat.
Immediately before Newcat’s arrival, put the resident cats in a room you can close off, as far as possible from the path you will be taking from the front door to Newcat’s safe room. Make sure the residents aren’t stressed out (if they are, play with them for a few minutes), then walk calmly away and shut the door. You can let them back out once Newcat is in his safe room.
Bring Newcat, still in his carrier, into his safe room. Once there, play some soothing music, and change into either your robe or your other set of clothes, hanging the clothes you were wearing in a place where they will not come into any contact with Newcat. Open the carrier and allow Newcat to leave it in his own time. After a while, if Newcat appears stressed and doesn’t want to come out of the carrier, put some food or treats just outside the carrier or maneuver a toy to help relax him, and lure him out. Allow him to explore his room and be sure to spend an ample amount of time with him, petting and talking to him.
Before you leave the safe room, change back into your other clothes or take off your robe. Then shut the door behind you and go directly to a sink and wash your hands and arms (your face, too, if you got face-to-face with Newcat). The reason for the change of clothes and the washing is to avoid upsetting your resident cats by allowing them to smell Newcat too soon, especially on the scarce resource of you.
For the first few days, keep Newcat in his safe room and spend as much time as you can with him, playing with him and giving him attention. Keep playing with the resident cats, too, of course.
STEP 2: MAKING THE FIRST SCENT INTRODUCTION: THE SCENT SOCK
Newcat Once Newcat has become comfortable in his new surroundings, and shows no signs of stress (he’s eating, playing, and so on), and the resident cats are all relatively calm, it’s time to start the scent introduction process. Put your hand into a clean sock—not a new one, and not a dirty one, but a clean sock of your own, which will still have your scent on it. (Make sure it’s free of bleach or other strong scents.) A thin, smooth sock usually works best. Gently pet Newcat’s face with your socked hand, concentrating on his whiskers and cheeks, the corners of his mouth, the area between his eyes at the top of his nose, and his temples. What’s in these places? His calming facial-marking pheromones are. The petting and swabbing should take only a matter of seconds, but cut it short if he seems in any way distressed by it. After petting Newcat with the sock, spray one short spritz of pheromones on it.
If Newcat does not want to be petted with the sock, then just leave the sock in his bed for a few days.
Once you have managed in one way or another to get Newcat’s scent on the sock, place it in a very prominent location, such as the middle of the room, in the resident cats’ area. Do not put the scent sock near important resources like the cats’ regular food, water, or resting and perching areas. But once you have placed it, do put some treats or food next to Newcat’s sock to facilitate in the resident cats a positive association with Newcat’s scent.
Homecat Now, using another clean sock, you are going to perform the same sock-rubbing sequence with Homecat, so that you will have a face-scented sock to bring to Newcat’s room. (If you have two or more resident cats, start with the residents who tend to be the most calm and nonreactive, using one sock for each, labeling them or choosing distinctive colors to keep straight whose sock belongs to whom.) Just as you did with the Newcat-scented sock, place the Homecat sock or socks in the safe room with Newcat, away from Newcat’s critical resources. And, as you did with the other sock, place treats, or a second bowl of regular food, next to the socks to create a positive association with the Homecat smell.
Newcat and Homecat Once a day, refresh the scent on all the socks. Take Homecat’s sock out of Newcat’s room, let Homecat sniff it (in case the sock now has Newcat scent on it), and if Homecat doesn’t react negatively, pet his face with it again. Then return it to Newcat’s room. Do the same with Newcat’s sock. Take it from the residents’ area and, after presenting it to Newcat and making sure he doesn’t react negatively to it, rub him with it to refresh the scent, before returning it to the residents. (If you get any negative reactions upon presenting a sock, remove the sock and start over with a fresh one.) Do this for at least a few days, or until none of the cats are reacting to the scented socks.
Now it’s time to move to the mixing of scents, but you are still not going to allow the cats to actually see one another.
STEP 3: MIXING SCENTS LIKE A REAL SOCIAL FACILITATOR:ALLOGROOMING AND ALLORUBBING
Allogrooming and allorubbing are the feline kiss and hug, respectively. Allogrooming, or mutual grooming, occurs when one cat licks, or grooms, another: It’s a natural affiliative behavior that helps cats build a group scent and engenders a familiarity that can help them get along better and even bond. Allorubbing, which occurs when one cat rubs up against another, or against you, can also help maintain the group scent. Allorubbing is often seen when one cat greets another. It is generally not mutual, or reciprocal: One cat is doing the rubbing, usually the lower-ranking cat. Feral cats allorub when another cat comes back from hunting—just as your house cats may rub their faces against your pants, shoes, or groceries when you come back from “hunting”; probably they are marking you and your items to ensure the continuity of the household’s proper group scent. British veterinary behaviorists Jon Bowen and Sarah Heath go so far as to say, “Of all the feline social behaviours rubbing is the one with the most significance in the cat-owner relationship.”1
Social Facilitation—Creating and Maintaining a Group Scent
When clients’ cats are not getting along, avoid one another, or haven’t yet met, I always recommend creating a group scent. Remember, cats rely primarily on scent for communication. Doing introductions and reintroductions requires you to fill the role of what cat behaviorists call a “social facilitator.” In your new job description as social facilitator, you will use a brush daily to create and maintain a group scent for your cats.
In some multicat households there are cats who act as social facilitators. The social facilitator is the cat who offers and receives greetings and engages in other affiliative behaviors with cats from different cliques, or factions, within the home (and from outside as well). The social facilitator routinely grooms (allogrooms) and rubs up against (allorubs) one cat (or group of cats) and soon afterward does the same with another cat (or group of cats). Thus the social facilitator carries the scents from these encounters back and forth, applying them to all the cats. By mixing the scents of all the cats, the social facilitator is creating a group scent. A group scent helps cats feel affiliated and more accepting of one another. There will in turn be reduced stress and hostility among them. If the social facilitator is removed, dies, or becomes ill, the group scent will be lost—and you can expect tension or aggression to surface among the other cats. Think of the facilitator as the cat-world version of a courier and diplomat rolled into one.
Sometimes, even without thinking about it, cat owners act like social facilitators, such as when they pet, brush, or pick up one cat, and then do the same to another cat, thus mixing all the scents into one group scent.2 And that’s what you are going to do in this very important Step 3, using a single cat brush to combine your cats’ scents. If you were to follow the rest of the behavior plan and left out this one technique, your cats would be far less likely to feel social and be relaxed around one another.
The scent introduction in Step 2 was just about putting one cat’s scent on each sock, but to create a group scent you’ll go back and forth to mix the scents of all of your cats. If you have more than one resident cat to introduce to Newcat, start with the least reactive and most friendly cats (though for simplicity I’ll continue to refer to Homecat in the singular). You’ll be able to introduce any other residents later. Refer to Figure 1 for visual instructions on how to create and maintain the group scent each day.
Take heart: After you create and maintain the group scent, your cats will feel affiliated with one another, more relaxed, and more accepting of one another. Each year I have hundreds of clients tell me that their cats enjoy the technique and do become accepting and friendly with one another. As one client put it, “Instead of hissing at Cooter and swatting at him when he walks by, now Oliver just licks Cooter’s face.”
Present Homecat’s Scent to Newcat
Start this scent exchange with a soft cat brush. You’ll begin with the friendliest part of the cat—the face—where the friendly pheromones are secreted. Gently brush the entire area of Homecat’s face, head, and neck with several strokes (see Figure C1). Later on, when the cats have become comfortable with one another’s facial scent, you will also brush the cat’s shoulders and sides. Be sure to avoid the hindquarters of the cat (the least “friendly” of the scented parts of the cat). Now take that same brush—and some irresistible treats—back to Newcat and present the brush and treats to him. Let him sniff the brush (and eat the treats if he wants to). Make sure he’s still not showing any negative reaction.
Watch His Response
• If Newcat seems okay about Homecat’s scent on the brush, then gently brush Newcat’s entire head, face, and neck with the brush (see Figure C2). This will put Newcat’s scent onto the brush while also putting Homecat’s scent on Newcat. You might think it’s a bad sign if he sniffs the brush and does nothing, but no. Indifference is a very positive response.
• If Newcat gets upset when sniffing the brush, or when you try to brush him, stop. Do not force the brush on him. Leave the brush in his room, near some treats (but not near his main food source) in order to create a positive connection. There’s no reason to feel discouraged by his response, but you’ll need to take the introduction process more slowly. Go back to the previous step and keep presenting the scent brush for sniffing only, along with food or treats, until he shows no negative reaction. Not until then should you try again to brush his face with the brush containing Homecat’s scent (see Figure C2).
• If Newcat continues to react badly to the brush, it’s possible that he just doesn’t like having his face touched with the brush. You may want to try this entire technique with a sock on your hand instead. You could also try brushing anywhere but Newcat’s face, concentrating on his neck, shoulders, and along his sides (again, staying away from his hindquarters). It can also help to keep the brushing sessions short or to brush while Newcat is distracted by playing with a toy or eating treats.
Present the Mixed-Scent Brush Back to Homecat
If Newcat reacted well or indifferently to the mixed-scent brush and you were able to brush him with it, take it back to Homecat and present it for sniffing. If Homecat doesn’t react negatively to sniffing, then, in addition to brushing his head, face, and neck, brush his shoulders and sides. (See Figure C3). If Homecat does react negatively to sniffing the brush, follow the Watch His Response instructions beginning on this page.
Now take the brush and repeat one more time with Newcat (see Figure C4).
Your goal is to brush each cat twice daily, for four to ten strokes total, on the cheeks, head, neck, chin, shoulders, and sides (leaving out the hindquarters and tails). You don’t have to complete the entire technique at one sitting. You can brush one or two cats in the morning and then finish the technique when you get home from work, brushing them both once again.
Be sure to use the group-scent technique daily throughout introductions to help maintain the group scent. You can stop when the cats are finally integrated and coexisting peacefully, but if you later notice tension or fighting, I recommend you continue your social facilitator duties indefinitely. The majority of my clients tell me that eventually their cats begin to groom and rub up against one another and that is when my clients relieve themselves of their duties.
THE NAGELSCHNEIDER METHOD:REINTRODUCTIONS USING THE GROUP-SCENT TECHNIQUE
Based on the results of hundreds of cases where I have intervened, I’ve determined that with the modifications I outline in this chapter, the group-scent technique may be used as part of a plan toreintroducecats, too—cats whose long-time familiarity has only bred contempt. (You’ll learn exactly when to use the technique in Chapter 7). Many clients have told me that when they stopped the group-scent technique or began using it less, without making any other changes, their cats went from getting along well to fighting again. So it may be necessary to make this part of your daily schedule to ensure ongoing success, or until the cats begin to maintain the group scent on their own by grooming and rubbing up against each other. Veterinary behaviorists Jon Bowen and Sarah Heath report the same results when the group scent ceases: trouble.
Some cats may resist the group-scent technique at first, but I’ve made the process very gradual and without force, and you’ll have already carefully created positive scent associations between your cats, so there is very little chance your cat will become aggressive toward you when you use the technique. In hundreds of cases where clients have followed my advice carefully, I have never heard of cats acting aggressively toward their owners. That said, it’s always possible that your cat could send you signals that he just doesn’t want to continue with this technique. Use your best judgment; if you have any questions, contact a cat behaviorist.
Note: It’s a common misconception to think that if cats are living together, their scents will already be everywhere around the home and that is enough to help cats get along. Cats smelling alike, or having the group scent on them, is very different from finding another cat’s scent on a dining room chair leg. Your cats must all be of one group scent and have that scenton them. Without it, trouble may begin (or resume).
See the accompanying illustrations for a clearer picture of what’s involved in this process, which should actually take only a few minutes out of your day.
If after two weeks the cats feel comfortable with the group-scent technique, you will be ready to move to the next step of letting the cats see one another. Try to respect the reality that every cat and situation is unique. The goal, before moving forward in the introduction plan, is to have no negative reaction from either cat when they either smell or are groomed with the opposing cat’s scent. If that takes longer than two weeks, give it whatever time is necessary. Also, please use your best judgment. Though it’s rare, some cats may never like the idea of having another cat’s scent placed on them. We need to respect that and not use this technique on those cats.
All cats feel more confident in territory they have explored, which is why cats are so curious. Newcat needs to be allowed the chance to quench his curiosity and safely investigate his new home’s sights, sounds, and, especially, smells. It’s very important that Newcat start to feel like the rest of the home is part of his territory. A lack of confidence or even fear may translate into later aggression. At the same time, getting Newcat’s scent into the rest of the home will help the resident cats get used to the idea that the new cat is also part of the territory and will eventually have access to the whole house.
Before you let Newcat out of his safe room for the first time, spray the pheromone spray at cat-nose height (about eight inches from the floor) throughout the home: on furniture, on door frames that lead into rooms he will be exploring, and in several locations along the paths he will take as he ventures into the rest of the home. The pheromones will encourage Newcat to do facial marking on those locations with his own pheromones, which will help him feel confident and safe in those locations.
Newcat in the House
At least once a day, when there’s no other activity occurring in the house, you’re going to give Newcat the run of the house—or at least that part of it where he won’t run into any Homecats. In preparation for letting Newcat out, close the door on an area where you can confine the Homecats, making sure to leave them with adequate litter, food, and water. Now open the safe room door. Lure Newcat out by using a wanded toy or offering some treats. Do not force him. If Newcat resists coming out, simply leave his safe room door open so that he can see and smell the rest of the home, and use wanded toys and treats again to try to relax him. If he goes into the rest of the home, be sure to keep the safe room door open so he can dash to safety any time he wants. If he doesn’t move around and rub himself on things very much, use a clean scent sock to pet his face and then transfer his facial pheromones to objects around the house.
During the first few sessions, Newcat may be interested in spending only a few minutes a day in the rest of the home, but his innate curiosity will ensure that he’ll gradually work up to longer periods of time. Give him ample opportunity to explore and find all the good perching and resting places, as well as the escape routes and places to hide. Build up his confidence further by maneuvering a toy to trigger his prey drive. Drag the toy down the hallway, onto the couch, the cat tree, into the kitchen, and anywhere else you foresee him spending time in the future. Offer food or treats after the play time. Also feed Newcat in other parts of the home to build positive associations with areas outside of his safe room.
Homecats in the Safe Room
Once Newcat is able to explore comfortably, put him in a room other than the safe room, and, while he’s safely behind closed doors, bring one or two of the friendliest residents into Newcat’s safe room. (If you perceive any risk of one of the residents redirecting its fear as aggression onto the other, then bring only one at a time.) Offer the Homecats treats or initiate a play time to give the room, with Newcat’s smell in it, a positive association.
Keep doing this at least once a day for several days, until all the cats are relaxed and able to explore the appropriate territory without negative reactions. If certain Homecats don’t feel comfortable in the safe room, don’t force them. It’s more important that Newcat explores and feels as comfortable as possible in the main part of the home. Depending on the cats and your own execution, the exploration step can last anywhere from several days to a few weeks—during which period you will also continue using the brushing technique to maintain the group scent. We have to respect cats’ comfort levels even as we work to increase those levels. By taking them through all these preparatory steps before their visual introductions, you help to ensure that Newcat and Homecat will already have developed an affiliation and familiarity with each other by means of the form of communication that they rely upon most—scent—coupled with the positive associations created by food, treats, and toys.
It’s common for cat owners to make the mistake of rushing through the introduction process. They want the cats to be friends and be friends fast! This is usually very counterproductive. If you force the cats together too soon, you’ll push their panic buttons and they will have a very negative experience. You might not only have to reintroduce them, but it could take twice as long because they’ve already had negative interactions with one another. In the long run, taking the extra time will save time.
STEP 5: MAKING THE VISUAL INTRODUCTION—THE ART OF SMOOTH TRANSITIONS
Finally, your cats get to see each other for the first time! You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the visual introduction will take place during meals, treat-time, or play—the ultimate feel-good times for cats.
For Reintroductions and Difficult First-Time Introductions
If you are reading this chapter because you are reintroducing familiar cats who have become hostile, or if you have been trying to introduce stranger cats and it hasn’t been going well, you will now temporarily install a barrier such as a screen door, stacked baby gates, a plastic shield, or other see-through barrier in the safe room doorway. Spray synthetic pheromones onto both sides of the see-through barrier daily. Next to or over the see-through barrier you will place a temporary opaque barrier—an opaque door, piece of cardboard or towel—that will prevent the cats from seeing one another at first. Be sure to also spray pheromone on the opaque barrier daily. The rest of the instructions below apply to both introductions and reintroductions, except that for introductions the barriers are rarely required—just distance.
For Introductions and Reintroductions
If you normally have food available all day (as I advise for most cats; see Chapter 5), you will need to take the food away about three hours before the viewing sessions, to make sure that they will be eager to eat whatever you’re going to offer them while they are catching their first glimpse of each other. You will offer either delectable treats that you know the cats like, or food, if it’s about time for a wet-food feeding. Before you allow the cats to take their places on opposite sides of the barriers (or room), check their mood. If either one seems anxious, be sure to play with him using an interactive toy to relieve stress.
When you decide that the cats are ready, place the treats or food in bowls ten to twenty feet apart (even more if needed) on either side of the barrier or room. As they begin to eat, remove any opaque barrier, open the door, lift the cardboard, or remove the towel. Whether you have used an opaque barrier to begin with or not, they will be able to see each other, and the fact that their first sight of each other occurs while they’re eating will give them a good feeling about what happens in each other’s presence. Be sure to end the viewing session while things are going well by replacing the opaque barrier or, if the cats are in the same room, by removing one of them—by using a wanded toy to lure them out of the room. If you get any negative reactions, end the viewing session, and the next time you have one, position the food bowls at a greater distance. If a cat won’t eat, do a prey sequence (Chapter 5) to help his mood and then offer him food.
Some Homecats are very territorial about their humans, so cuddling Newcat in front of Homecat can cause Homecat to feel threatened and give him a reason not to like Newcat. So until your cats are getting along, love and cuddle your Newcat privately and give Homecat more attention than usual, especially if he seems more needy.
In the beginning, your first viewing session should last only a few seconds. End the session by simply shutting the door or sliding a piece of cardboard in front of the see-through barrier so that the cats can no longer see each other. Wait a few moments and then start another viewing session for another few seconds. Repeat this as long as your cats stay interested in their food or treats and do not appear tense. It’s critical to end the sessions well before either cat becomes agitated or does anything to trigger fear in the other. Each cat should remember that the last time he saw the other cat, he got to eat and nothing bad happened. This is how you can help them form a positive association with and tolerance for one another. If one cat keeps trying to approach the other cat (or the barrier), put a harness and leash on him or put him in a carrier or cat playpen during the viewing. If a cat won’t readily eat his food, use automatic toys, or a wanded toy, to play with him. The cats should remain the appropriate distance apart. If you’re using a barrier, do not let cats get close enough to sniff at each other through the barrier! Interrupt any intense staring with a distraction like a toy. If one cat does become fearful or aggressive, end the viewing session. Try again when they’re calm.
So long as neither cat is upset, gradually increase the length of the viewing sessions and decrease the distance between the cats, all while still feeding them or engaging them in a play time. If the meetings have been at all tense or challenging, the cats should never see each other except under your supervision; when you’re not feeding or playing with them during a viewing session, keep them in their respective territories with a solid door shut between them. You should also continue letting them explore each other’s territories once a day and continue Newcat spending time in the main part of the home while the other cat is safely in another room. Depending on your cats, the viewing period can last a few days to a few weeks. Good progress will be evident when each cat is relaxed when he sees the other cat.
If you’ve been using a barrier, the next step will be to let the cats see each other without anything between them. If you think there’s any chance that one cat will bound over to the other (even with friendly intent) and scare him, use a leash and harness. Keep a good distance between them, use treats or food and separate, far-apart wand-toy play to help keep things positive or to distract as necessary, supervise the sessions, and end them while things are going well. If anyone seems stressed, end the session right away. You may also find that a mix of sessions with the barrier and some without can provide a nice, gradual shift. Over time, you will be able to increase the length of the viewing sessions until Newcat and the fully introduced resident cats have the run of the house together. For a while, however, Newcat may continue to want the safe room to be available to him, closed door and all, and I recommend this when you’re unable to supervise.
Pay attention, because when all of the cats are finally ready to roam freely together in the home, you will need to relocate or add feeding stations, litter boxes, cat beds, and perches throughout the home.
CHECKLIST OF THINGS TO REMEMBER DURING THE VISUAL INTRODUCTION PROCESS
Be prepared to go very slowly, at the cats’ preferred pace.
Keep the cats far enough apart that they remain comfortable. For some cats this may mean twenty-five feet (or more) in the beginning. I do NOT recommend letting them view each other through a crack in a door—only inches away. Clients have tried this on their own and the result was nuclear.
End each viewing session before the cats show any signs of agitation or anxiety. In other words, end the viewing while things are going well.
Let the cats see each other only under your supervision, especially if the process has not been entirely smooth.
Use food, treats, and toys to create positive associations and improve the cats’ moods.
Use toys as positive distractions to interrupt burgeoning misbehavior.
Never punish or reprimand.
Continue to maintain the group-scent daily.
If your cats hiss or growl at any time in the process, you have moved too quickly for them. They are either too close together or your viewing sessions are lasting too long, or both. Move forward with longer viewing sessions and increasing proximity to one another only when no one is showing signs of stress. If your cats hiss, growl, or show signs of stress (tails flicking, ears back, and other warning signs of aggression; see Chapter 7), you will need to go back a step and proceed very slowly, always pairing food and play time with viewing sessions to help the cats build up positive associations with one another. Your cats will let you know when you’ve moved too quickly.
If cats are posturing aggressively or showing other signs of being about to attack, see Chapter 7 for what to do when you see signs of imminent aggression, and also for tips on what to do if a fight actually breaks out and you need to separate them.
If you experience difficulty with the introduction or reintroduction, be sure you have given each step a few weeks’ time. If you have been trying to introduce cats who were once strangers to each other and are having difficulty, let them see each other only through a barrier and follow the barrier-related instructions. If you did so and one cat is still highly reactive, or if you made a mistake that you fear began a negative dynamic, it could be time to consult a cat behaviorist or consider consulting with your vet about using temporary drug therapy to help calm an aggressive cat and enhance the confidence of a timid cat. For an advanced technique that adds a bit more complexity but further assures success, see Appendix A to read about clicker training as a way of rewarding good behavior.