Uh oh, disaster! You’ve introduced an adorable new bundle of fluff into your home, but your older cat has taken offence and is refusing to tolerate the new addition. This may seem like a good time to panic, but the situation is usually manageable. Cats have very different social needs to us humans. Learning to live with another feline can take time and effort. If the initial introductions haven’t exactly gone to plan, read on to help salvage the situation! 

Go back to basics

If your established cat is not tolerating the new kitten (either through overt aggression or by hiding away), it is best to re-start the whole process. You may or may not have done a phased introduction, starting with scent swapping and proceeding on through visual contact before a full physical introduction. But whether you did or didn’t, you need to backtrack! 

Cats are territorial, and can find it difficult to share both territory and resources. The key to having two (or more!) peaceful feline occupants in one house is for them to have their own space and their own food and water. Cats can form strong social bonds, and then they will happily share beds, toys, food, etc. But this is fairly unusual in non-related cats, and so definitely best not to rely on this. 

Establish a ‘kitten zone’

The introduction of a boisterous new ball of cuteness may well have taken your older cat by surprise, and left them with ruffled fur – either metaphorically or literally! The invasion of their territory will have been most unwelcome, hence the struggle to get the two cats to bond. Separate the kitten into its own area, which is completely cut off from your older cat, for example in a spare room. This may seem counter-productive to getting them more used to each other, but your older cat will need time to settle down and re-establish their comfort level in their own home.

Allowing the kitten to occupy a room will also allow the kitten to establish some territory of their own. Include a litter tray, food and water so that the kitten has their own resources. Their scent will soon be covering the room, marking it as definitely ‘theirs’. This clear boundary of territory can help both parties to have their own comfort zones with their own resources, reducing the need to clash and compete.

At the same time as the kitten is settling into their new area, your older cat can ‘reset’ their territory, calm down and replenish their comfort level. Introductions are best done calmly and slowly. So making sure your older cat has had time to unruffle after a bad first encounter is useful. Pheromone sprays or diffusers can help some cats if they seem unsettled. 

Scent first, and only scent

Even once they have their established zones, cat and kitten will need to learn to share space. It is a good idea to have plenty of litter trays, food, and water bowls available (more than the number of cats!). This is so that they are not competing for precious needs; but they will need to learn to tolerate each other’s presence. Cats can be very stubborn. So just letting the kitten roam and hoping they eventually get used to it is unlikely to work; often a more subtle approach is necessary. Mixing scents is an excellent way to slowly introduce the concept of a new kitten without the inevitable clashes that come with a sudden physical introduction. 

Scent swapping can be done by: 

  • Exchanging bedding from one cat to another.
  • Physical contact from you such as stroking first one cat and then immediately the other. 
  • Allowing each cat to explore the other’s ‘zone’ when the other cat is taken out of the way
  • Wiping a cloth around one cat and then wiping the cloth around furnishings in the other cat’s zone.

Scent is a really important sense to cats, so although it may feel like nothing is happening, these tactics will exert a huge influence on both cat and kitten. It is wise to repeat these actions frequently whilst still keeping the kitten and cat apart, and continue for a week or so. This allows the older cat plenty of time to become familiar with the new kitten’s scent, in a much more relaxed context than their initial meetings. 

Visual contact

The next stage is to allow the cat and kitten to see each other, but not physically be close. If the first introduction of cat and kitten did not go well, this stage may be interesting and may need to be taken slowly. 

A physical barrier is recommended between the cat and kitten, such as a stair gate. Another option is to have the kitten in a large crate, but make sure they have something to hide in if they become overwhelmed. If either party appears aggressive, fearful or just unsure, don’t force the interaction. Separate them again and continue with scent swapping. Cat and/or kitten may vary with their reactions; from curious to unconcerned, playful to nervous. Make sure both have plenty of space and the ability to retreat if necessary. 

The older cat’s tolerance should gradually build up, and especially if successful scent swapping has been achieved, they are often curious and will sniff the kitten through the barrier. This is an excellent sign of success, but it may require time and patience to reach this step. 

Ready, set, GO!

Once your cat and kitten appear to be tolerating each other well, it is time to allow them to mingle! Hopefully by now, your older cat will have forgiven, if not forgotten, their initial dislike, and will now be much more tolerant to the kitten. An initial meeting is best help in a ‘neutral’ area: somewhere that neither cat spends much time and certainly not where they feed, toilet or sleep. 

A hugely important point to remember is that they will still need their own space and their own resources: just because they have been cautiously sniffing each other and are not yowling and hissing doesn’t mean they want to share a bed or a food bowl! Keep the kitten’s zone as a place for them to retreat to if necessary, and where they can feed and sleep without threatening your older cat’s established routines. 

How long will it take?

All cats are individuals, and some tolerate new feline presences better than others. This process can vary from a few days to several months. It is best to follow your cat: check their body language and try and interpret if they feel comfortable or not. Only progress to the next stage when both seem relaxed and ready. Taking it slowly will pay off in the long run! If your older cat seems to be finding it difficult to accept the new kitten, pheromones or nutritional calming supplements can be of use in the initial period to help them overcome any anxiety. If you are really struggling, think about speaking to your vet, or a qualified behaviourist.

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