If you are considering the addition of another cat into your household, many precautions should be taken to ensure the health, safety and happiness of that feline and the felines who already share your home.
The cats already residing in your home should be spayed/neutered, current with all inoculations, and free of internal and external parasites. Consult with you vet regarding a feline leukemia screening and inoculation before a new cat enters your home.
American Humane recommends adopting cats from local shelters because they have already been spayed/neutered, and received inoculations and screened for leukemia. The staff may have gotten to know the personality of the cats (shy, friendly, playful) to help potential owners select a cat that could be an appropriate match for their resident cats.
Another matter to consider is whether to choose a kitten or adult cat. If you have in mind getting a kitten, American Humane recommends waiting until “kitten season” when shelters are filled with homeless kittens during the spring. However if your resident cat is elderly, an energetic kitten may not be an appropriate match for a frail senior.
But by adopting an adult cat you may be able to better determine the cat’s personality and make a successful match. American Humane advises that the focus should be on personality matching — not looks, size, breed or gender. If you have a high-energy cat, getting a laid-back, shy, or quiet cat might not be a suitable match.
If you found a cat that appears to be homeless or was given to you, a thorough veterinary examination that includes stool analysis, leukemia screening and inoculations is needed before arriving at your home or at least within 48 hours of arrival. The ”Cat Fanciers’ Association Complete Cat Book” recommends isolating the new cat in a separate room from the other cats for a period of 21 to 30 days to determine if the new cat develops an upper respiratory condition.
By allowing the cats to mingle too soon presents medical risks as well as hissing, growling, spitting and aggressive behavior. An unused bathroom or guestroom equipped with the new cat’s food, water, litter box, sleeping area and safe toys (nothing with strings that could be swallowed) will provide a quiet secure environment for the new cat to adjust to new odors and sounds of the household. Eventually the new cat’s fur will absorb the scent of its new home and not smell “foreign” anymore. Keep in mind that cats are sensitive to changes in their environment by using their sense of smell.
American Humane recommends the following six-step introduction process to be taken slowly. Do not rush or “force” a relationship so plan ahead and take things slowly.
Trading scents: “After you have selected a potential new cat, ask the shelter or breeder if you can take home a blanket the cat has slept on to give to the resident cat. Also ask if it would be possible to bring a blanket from home that your resident cat has slept on, to give to your new cat (this might not be possible with kittens due to disease concerns). By exchanging cats’ scents with one another, you will be introducing a very important identification and communication signal.
Prepare a separate room: Find a quiet room in your house (a bedroom or bathroom) where you can safely keep the new cat separated from the resident cat for a few days. Make sure it is a room where the resident cat has been, that it can be easily accessed by human family members for social interactions and playtime, and that it is[i]set up with food, water, litter box, toys and soft beds. Choose a room that has an inch or two inches of space under the door for feline introductions.
Feed them on opposite sides of the door: Place both cats’ dishes close to the door, on their respective sides. If one cat refuses to eat, feed her elsewhere, but still place dishes of tuna or some other tasty treat on either side of the door. By having both cats experience something positive (a yummy meal or snack) while they may learn to form positive associations with each other. If either cat is growling or hissing at each other through the door, do not put them together anytime soon; take things very slowly and continue feeding this way. If the problems continue for several days, it is likely the match is not going to work out.
Exchange scents around the house: If both cats are calm and relaxed on their respective sides of the door, then it’s time for the big scent exchange:
· The resident cat should be confined in the room, while the new cat is allowed to roam the house. Each cat should use the other cat’s (scooped litter box, food and water dishes, beds and toys, so the only thing being exchanged is the cats themselves.
· Continue to feed both cats close to their respective sides of the door.
· While the new cat is exploring you home you may want to close bedroom and bathroom doors at first so she does not feel overwhelmed. Over the course of a few days, open a door or two at a time and increase the amount of space the new cat has access to. If either cat appears to be stressed, nervous, or fearful, you might want to do the exchange described above multiple times while the resident cat is in the opposite location. This can help ensure lots of scent exchange and desensitization.
Let them make visual contact: If everything seems to be going well and the cats are acting, eating and using the litter box normally, you are doing well! The next step is to open the separating door, keeping a gate across it so they can see, smell and have contact with each other. The gate should prevent complete access (a baby gate may work but is not high enough for cats so you may need to stack two on top of each other).
Allow them to meet: If everything seems fine and the cats are acting, eating and using the litter box normally, then the gates could be taken down. There may be some hissing or swatting, but cats often will work things out by themselves. If there is a fight during which one of the cats is traumatized or injured ( and you followed all of the above steps), then the match may not work. If the cats seem to tolerate, ignore, enjoy or interact with each other-that’s great news! It is a good idea to separate the cats when you are not available to supervise them.
Litter box setup
Arden Moore, author of “The Cat Behavior Answer Book” and “Happy Cat Happy You” provides her “scoop” for litterbox success:
· For a multi-cat household: one litter box per cat, plus one.
· “Place the boxes strategically in different locations in the house. Scooping each box daily will reduce the risk of litter box boycotts due to behavior issues.”
· Fill the box with litter to a depth of 3 inches.
· Don’t use perfumed litters or a plug-in air freshener. Use a box of baking soda instead.
· Clean out deposits daily.
· Wash the litter box once a month with warm soapy water and allow it to dry completely.
· Don’t change the location of the litter box periodically because cats are creatures of habit and don’t like changes.
· Never place the litter box next to your cat’s food or water bowls. Cats don’t like to eat near their bathroom.
Arden Moore suggests using more than one location for feeding areas with food bowls in different rooms so that a shy cat can eat in peace while a bully cat finds he can’t be in two places at one time.
Moore prefers feeding cats by using glazed ceramic or stoneware bowls instead of plastic bowls because the can easily tip over and can give off an unpleasant flavor.
After the quarantine and scent absorption period, introductions between cats may begin. One method is to put the new cat in its carrier and place it in the main cat traffic area of the house for about 30 minutes.
Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month.