If you’ve been following along over the past few weeks, you might be aware that my hubby and I have recently added another feline to the family. Her name is Bella and I’m so happy to announce she has officially joined our little family. And yeah… no matter how much Graham didn’t want to adopt her in the beginning (he was worried about becoming a “crazy cat family”, he TOTALLY loves her now. Just don’t ask him though because he might deny it. (But I will say I have pictures to prove it!) Anyways! Although I am rather happy with the state we’re all in now, it wasn’t an easy start introducing Bella (a 5 week old Calico stray kitten) to our existing 2 year old (Main Coon adult cat) Bailey. Today’s post is all about how to properly introduce a new kitty to your existing cat. Because yes, believe it or not, there is a very distinct process that you HAVE to follow. If you don’t, well… good luck.
A BIT OF HISTORY BEHIND BELLA’S STORY
I’m a self proclaimed crazy cat lady and I’m totally ok with admitting it. I’m the girl that watches the Super Bowl only for the kitten half time. I also watch Animal Planet’s “Too Cute”, but only when it’s the kitten edition. And yes, I even watch the show “My Cat From Hell” (and it scares the living daylights out of me), but I still watch it. Why? Because it’s a cat show. DUH. Aside from my crazy love of cats, I’m actually a lover of all animals and want to help one (if I can) in any way. That’s where Bella came into the picture.
A few weeks ago, my friend found some kittens in her back yard and I was of course the first person she called. Their mom had either abandoned them or died, as she was no where to be found. They were strays and they were WILD. No matter how much we fed them, they hissed like crazy, ran away from us, or would strike at us when we tried to pick them up. Like I said… WILD. I finally decided to take home the calico since she was the only girl and looked to have a similar hair type as my current kitty, Bailey (which meant there was a better chance I wouldn’t be allergic to her). I brought her home on a Saturday to give her a day of “testing” with Bailey. Ah.. Poor little naive self. If only I had known what an idiot move that was.
MY MISTAKES IN THEIR FIRST INTRODUCTION
I brought her home for a few hours expecting them to be fast friends. Yeah, dumb move. Cats are extremely territorial and not to mention, Bailey had NEVER EVER seen another animal in her ENTIRE LIFE. I mean lets put it this way. Imagine thinking you were the only human on earth ever. And you had two weird looking taller creatures that took care of you, gave you food and really awesome back rubs along with the occasional tasty treat. And that was your life and all you ever knew. And then all of a sudden, one lovely Saturday while bird watching out the window, ANOTHER person that looks JUST like a miniature version of you walks through the door and sprints toward you out of excitement! What the WHAT?? Cat. Mind. Blown.
The first time Bailey laid eyes on Bella, the above scenario is kind of what it looked like. It literally looked like she was face to face with an alien. Complete and utter terror is all that can describe it. I can’t even explain my reaction to the look in Bailey’s eyes because it was a good mix of absolutely hilarious and super duper sad (because yeah, I knew she was terrified). Needless to say, after a few hours of fluffed up fur and constant hissing, striking, growling etc. the day was a complete failure. It was also really sad because Bella never had a mom. To her, Bailey was the only mother figure she had ever seen. Bella was still scared of me at this point and would run to Bailey for protection. When Bailey would hiss and attack Bella, poor little Bella felt completely alone and so incredibly scared. My heart hurt because I knew I had to take her back to my friends house but also knew by doing that, she would eventually go to a shelter (since my friends hubby is allergic to cats). After much thought, I told myself I would bring her back to my friends house for one week, do more research in the meantime and try again the following weekend. And that’s exactly what I did.
THE PROPER WAY TO INTRODUCE CATS
Like I stated before, cats are extremely territorial. Even a slight smell of another animal can appear threatening to them. For example, in the beginning of their introduction, if I were to pet Bella and not wash my hands, Bailey could smell my hand from a few feet away. If I even dared to pet Bailey with that hand, she would HISS at my hand. Intense, right?? (ps. Bailey NEVER hisses, so anytime she hissed during this transition, I knew she meant business.) Now that we know how intense a new animal can be, lets layout the steps to their introduction.
- Keep the cats in separate rooms for a number of days or weeks. After the disaster “test day” I endured the week prior, I didn’t even want Bailey to see me bring Bella into the house. I snuck her in and kept her in our office with the doors closed. After a few hours, Bailey did know something was off, but she didn’t seem to freak out or anything. She acted pretty normal and occasionally creeped around the house and sniffed about. She didn’t feel threatened because she didn’t physically see her competition. For a while I would have to wash my hands between petting each cat, but eventually I would leave Bella’s scent on my hand to “present” to Bailey. Eventually Bailey stopped hissing at my hand and didn’t care about the new scent of Bella.
- After your existing cat has had a few days (or weeks) to adjust to your new kitty’s scent, let them see each other by opening the door just a crack. Make sure this is a supervised visit just in case things don’t go as planned. In my case, Bailey picked up on an animal being locked in our office. She would sniff on the door and was very interested to find out what was behind closed doors. So when we introduced them for the first time, she was more curious rather than scared or annoyed. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be a ton of hissing ahead, but this is at least a first step.
- Continue to repeat the “cracked door” step for a few hours/days until they are ready to actually interact with each other. Some people suggest placing their food on either side of the door for a few days, but Bailey will ONLY eat in the kitchen, so this didn’t work for me. I did however give Bailey TONS of treats any time she would see Bella. This seemed to relax Bailey and give her a positive association between Bella and her treats.
- Give them supervised visits. During a full day that I was home to watch them, I finally let the kitties loose in the house together. I was able to watch their every move and make sure they weren’t getting in any fights. Each hour/day seemed to end with a different story. One hour Bailey was interested in Bella and Bella was scared of Bailey, then the next hour it would swap. They would hiss, then swat at each other, then smell each other, then run off. This continued for a while.
- Let them play. Since Bella is so small, she couldn’t jump. Bailey would find a chair and play with Bella from above. They would paw at each other and you could tell they were using playful and relaxed body language toward each other. By Bailey playing from above, this allowed her to become the “alpha” cat, which she needed to make known to Bella since she’s the established and older cat. Eventually, play time moved to the floor and they now chase each other around the house and wrestle multiple times a day.
- Finally, after about a week, Bailey’s maternal instinct kicked in and she started to groom Bella. I was amazed. This was a huge step in their relationship. Bella would kick Bailey in the face non stop (because yeah, she’s a kitten), but Bailey would continue to groom. It was such a happy day for me, and (even now) I’m still amazed by it. Don’t’ get me wrong, they still have their moments, but it’s only been about 2 weeks, so I can’t complain.
- Give it time. Bella is still such a young kitten, so she does annoy Bailey at times (lots of times). For example, Bailey isn’t a fan of Bella attacking her tail. And especially not a fan of Bella pouncing and biting the crap out of her tail, which she does often. But what I’ve noticed is rather than Bailey hissing at Bella (like she used to), she gives her a distinctive meow which I can only assume means “cut that out!” in cat terms. Bailey is also a LOT larger than Bella, so playtime can sometimes get intense. Bailey doesn’t know she’s bigger, so sometimes she might accidentally hurt Bella. Thankfully they are communicating really well with each other and will meow if one or the other is uncomfortable.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Just be prepared for a lot of hissing in the beginning. Also, depending on your cat’s personality, they will react differently to a new animal in the household. Bailey also spent many hours under our couch. She was scared and confused during the first few hours of bringing Bella into the house. Like I said before, even though Bella was hidden, she could tell something was off. If she happened to smell Bella’s scent, she would run under the couch and take her nap there rather than her typical spots. Eventually she stopped doing this and became more curious about the mystery behind the door rather than afraid.
Let them hiss it out. After you follow the introduction steps and they have seen each other a number of times through the door crack, their first few play introductions might include hissing. Rather than breaking the hissing up, let them gently hiss at each other and sniff each other out. This is a very important step because in these moments they are figuring out who will become the “alpha cat” of the household. Bailey did the majority of the hissing and Bella consented to her. Bailey would hiss, and Bella would stop hissing and walk away or lay down. In a way, this meant that Bailey “won”. Bailey had to make her “alpha” presence known, and this step allowed her to do so.
Give extra attention to your existing kitty. I know some articles tell you to keep on as normal and don’t give extra attention, but I don’t agree with that. I didn’t want Bailey to feel left out since we were giving new attention to another kitty. I played with Bailey ALL the time, gave her a lot of treats and I could tell she really appreciated the extra attention.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
Overall, we have learned that introducing a new kitty to your existing cat is not going to be easy. I knew there was a big chance things weren’t going to work out, but I kept on trying. Just remember that taking it slow is better than trying to rush things. I pretty much used Bailey to measure when I would move on to the next step. If she was comfortable, I was comfortable. I listened to her body language and went from there. I hope for them to be best friends, but it’s still too early to tell. Either way, they are at least getting along, which is a huge difference from just 2 weeks ago!