We rescued a kitten, Socs, who was under a Dumpster and weighed only 2 pounds and in need of care. But I also have Mustang, an 11-year-old outdoor cat who was always friendly and pleasant until Socs arrived. Mustang growls and hisses all the time when Socs is near. We love both cats dearly — how can we get the old gray lady to like the new kid?
It can be difficult to convince an adult cat that an energetic, curious kitten isn't the cause of all things unpleasant, but it is possible. Be sure to set up separate areas for them so that Socs never needs to enter Mustang's zone for food or water. And get an extra litter box (a good rule of thumb is one more box than you have cats). Each cat should be able to get what she needs at all times, even if the other cat is nearby.
Once that's set up, start changing how Mustang feels about Socs. You can do this using a theory called classical conditioning. What you'll do is start to cause Mustang to associate Socs with good things, and before too long, Mustang will feel good about Socs living in her world.
Keep Socs and Mustang separate as much as you can. Keep at least a door between them when they aren't supervised, but rotate space and toys so that each cat can get used to the other's scent without any forced interactions. When you do have the cats together, even if it's just across the room, make wonderful things happen. Offer tuna, bits of chicken, or lunch meat — each time the cats are together, Mustang gets little nibbles of her favorite goodies.
Before long, Mustang will start to realize that having Socs around isn't so bad after all, because it's part of a package deal to get the tuna.
Amie Glasgow is head trainer and behavior consultant with the MD SPCA. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.