How to Integrate a new cat into your home
We have already gone through this process with our cats – 3 times! So we know what we’re talking about. Stick to these golden rules and your cats should integrate smoothly together.
The Golden Rules – do it at the cats’ pace
When integrating a new cat to a home that already has cats, you have take things very slowly and not rush into it. We humans very often want to speed things along or plonk a cat down in front of another cat and expect them to get on straight away.
This is absolutely no way to integrate a cat and can actually lead to more long-term problems, and in some cases the new cat having to be re-homed because integration wasn’t done properly.
The most important objective of integrating cats is to make sure their association with each other is a positive one and not stressful, fearful or aggressive. The association and experience they have with each other at the outset of their meeting is crucial to get right.
Why to Integrate Cats
Cats rely on their scents and are extremely territorial. You can read more about a cat’s territory and their territorial traits here. If another cat comes into their domain and area, they will feel that the new cat is encroaching upon their territory and will instantly get stressed, territorial and upset. It is important to remember that cats are independent individuals, and each cat will take a varying amount of time to get used to the new cat.
How to Integrate Cats in 7 STEPS
1. Isolate your new cat
The first rule of integration is to isolate your new cat from the rest of the house and the resident cat or cats.
Clear out one room for the cat to stay in for at least two weeks – but be prepared it may take longer so set this room aside. If you have kids, the kids they should be controlled from going in and out of the room to prevent your new cat’s fear, stress and escape and also your other cats from entering the room. Put down a litter tray that can be regularly changed and have room for food and water away from the cat litter as cat’s don’t like their food close to where they go to the toilet, and neither would you! You should also provide somewhere- such as a box or their cat carrier – so that the new cat can hide away if it feels scared or spooked. We left our wardrobe door open and put in a blanket if our new cat wanted to hide away and feel safe. The new cat also needs to start to feel safe around their new owners and get used to your scents and smells.
There are two reasons for this isolation:
a) Your new cat will get used to your home and scents (yours and your resident cats) and vice versa your resident cat will get used to the new cat’s scent.
b) Your new cat will feel safe and secure in this room and it will have time to get used to its new surroundings. Because the new cat is isolated it will start to get its bearings in its new surroundings and feel safe and settled. It will also be used to your handling and interaction with it first before interaction with any resident cats. This room will also serve as a bolt-hole and safe place for your cat in its early settling-in period.
Owners often feel awful that they are isolating the new cat – but this step is absolutely necessary. The new and resident cat doesn’t see it like us humans. They need this time to feel safe, secure and to get used to each other, so please don’t feel bad! They will thank you in the long-run.
2. Get them used to each others’ scents
In order to smoothly integrate resident and new cats together in the same environment, you need to get them used to each others’ scents very gradually. Cats use their scents to mark their territory all around and this makes them feel secure and safe. You can read more about the important of a cat’s scent here. It is also really important that you observe your resident cat and your new cat and their reaction to each other, as this will help to move onto the next integration step.
You will see that the new cat and resident cat will sniff each other under the door.This means that they have noticed that the other one is around and is part of the household. This exchange of sniffing should go on for at least one week. We also found when integrating our little Kitty Dolly with our cats, that we moved her from one room to another after one week (shutting her away) and the resident cats would come into her room and sniff around at her scent and see her bowl and bed. Then when Dolly returned to her room she would smell our cats. This gave them all a good opportunity to get used to each others’ scents and this continued for two weeks. You can also rub an item of your clothing or a towel on the new cat after a couple of days on settling in and leave it out in your home for your resident cats to sniff and get used to the scent of the new cat. Leave it in a place – not close to food – and observe their reaction. Then after a day, rub the garment or towel on the resident cat and leave it in the new cats’ room and observe. There may be initial hissing or in extreme cases urination – because this is the way that cats eliminate a scent they don’t want in their territory and it is perfectly normal. Keep doing this for a period of 3-5 days. In normal circumstances, cats will often rub up against each other and spread their scents on cats that they are friendly with.
It is VERY IMPORTANT that you do not rush this part of the process and give plenty of time for the cats to become used to each others’ scents. If you rush this part of the process it means that you will jeopardise any chance they have of getting on and integrating happily.
3. Let them see each other
The next step after around one week of scent swapping is to let them see each other. This is a very important step too and you won’t be able to predict their reactions. Open the door between the new and resident cat very slightly so that they can see each other but nottouch or reach each other. Let them have a good look and make a judgement. If they are hissing, that is fine, hissing is normal and natural, especially over the first few times of visual contact. If, however they growl or wail, then close the door immediately as this is a sign to attack and fight and will upset both cats. Continue to do this morning, afternoon and night and monitor their reactions. You will have to this controlled viewing over a period of a week, possibly more. Just use your judgement and take as much time as your cats’ need.
4. Room swapping in a controlled way
When they are starting to get used to each other, the next step is to take your new cat in its carrier to other parts of the house. The new cat will be safe and also get accustomed to the rest of the house and see the resident cat/s too. The resident cat/s will be able to sniff the new cat and around the pet carrier to further integrate the new cat’s scent. Start with 15 minutes, and then gradually build it up to 30 minutes at a time depending on their reactions. Make sure you are present at all times, perhaps when you are watching TV or at your computer.
If the new cat is stressed or there is any hissing or growling, put the new cat back into its isolation room and try again a few hours later. We recommend doing this process over 5-7 days so that they get used to each other in other parts of the house, and again observe their reactions. If they are still hissing and wailing, then it is going to take longer for them to get used to each other. If your cat is not too bothered by the new cat’s presence this is a good sign.
5. Letting your new cat into the household
When you see from your new cat’s and resident cat’s reaction that they have got used to each other and are not too riled after seeing and sniffing each other, then it’s time to let your new cat out to get used to its new home and the resident cat/s. The best thing is to let you new cat out and follow where it goes; do not do this step leaving your new cat on its own. The resident cat will meet up with it at some point and you should observe their reaction. If one looks like they will attack or chase (usually the resident cat) then stand in between them and clap your hands loudly.
A certain amount of hissing is normal, and at first our cats hissed a good deal at each other; this is just a warning to stay away. If they continually hiss at each other for over a minute then call time and take the new cat back to the isolation room. On another occasion, our new kitten was chased by Leo who was obviously a bit jealous and used to chase Dolly around which stressed Dolly out. This stopped eventually, but we made sure we were around when Leo saw Dolly in case he chased her and we could intercept.
Your new cat may well bolt back into its isolation room because that is where it feels safe and secure. If this happens, close the door and try again later.
6. Playing and treats
Your new cat should start to find its bearing around your home and your resident cat/s will be used to seeing the new cat. Remember that they are still very much getting used to each others’ scents and working each other out. To reinforce the positive encounters and association, make time to play with them all and get them involved in games together. Use toys to stimulate and engage both of them, and reward them with treats when they behave and play well together. If you reward them with treats together, this will create a bond and a positive association with each other.
Feeding is another step to overcome. Some resident cats don’t want to share their feeding spot with another cat at first, so start by putting the new cat’s food close, but not next, to the resident cat’s bowl. Feed them at the same time, as their feeding routine is very important. They will need to learn to eat with each other. Our cat Alfie didn’t like Dolly eating too closely to him so we kept her round the other side and slightly away until he got used to her being there with the other cats.
When the resident cat looks more comfortable eating with the new cat, inch the new cat’s bowl closer but still leaving a good gap so they have their own eating space and plenty of room between their bowls.
There are no hard rules about integrating cats as each situation and cat is different. Some cats in a multi-cat household will adjust and mingle with new cats sooner than the others. When we introduced Leo, Alfie and Dolly to our eldest boy Luca, he wasn’t fussed at all and took it in his stride. With our kitten Dolly, Alfie was bothered at first and remained wary and cool, and Leo got jealous and chased her. He was more bothered by Dolly than the other two. You just need to pay close attention to how your cats are reacting to each other. Don’t rush things and don’t allow the cats not yet accepting the new cat to freely mingle with the new cat until they are ready to.
8. If you go away
If you get a new cat settled in and you happen to be going away soon after and your cats are looked after in your home, we would advise to have your new cat looked after by a cattery until you are 100% certain that all the cats are well integrated. Cats will act very differently when you are not around and may bully the new cat when you are not there to monitor how they act together. We place Dolly our youngest in the cattery and leave the 3 boys at home so that we know that she is safe whilst we are away.