Tips for Introducing and Socializing Cats
You and your beloved feline have a close bond, which is great. But what if someone new comes into the picture, and your kitty lets you know that three’s a crowd? Suddenly, her whole world is turned upside down, and your home life just became pretty stressful, too. If you want to go back to the way things were—cuddling your kitty quietly on the couch, or enjoying a lazy Sunday with your feline friend lounging in the sunlight—there is hope. Introducing cats to a significant other, roommate, adopted dog or new kitten can go smoothly if you follow these helpful tips from Samantha Bell, Cat Behavior and Enrichment Lead at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles.
Introducing Cats to New People
Make Your Home Feline Friendly
All kitties—from shy cats to bold domestic divas—need cozy hiding spots and high-up places to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed. Before the new person moves in, take an assessment of your home, but from your cat’s point of view. Is there an escape route? Are there plenty of quiet hideouts you can run to? What about things to climb and jump up on when you feel scared? Bell suggests a cozy hiding spot near you, like an igloo bed or kitty cave so your cat doesn’t have to wriggle underneath the furniture or tear a hole underneath the box spring to climb up into. Never force your cat to interact. “Cats may want to hide for a bit when they feel the stress from something new in their environment. Definitely let them hide—this is how they cope with stress—and never pull them out of hiding.” Adding vertical space can give shy cats confidence and a way to escape when things get stressful. Make sure you have a tall cat tree to climb or cat shelves for your fluffy friend to lounge on.
Even though you’re ready to welcome a new person into your space, your cat might not share the sentiment—at least not right away. The key is the first approach, especially when you’re dealing with a shy cat. If the soon-to-be roomie loves cats, he must resist the urge to walk right up to your kitty, pick her up and force her into an extended hug and cuddle session. You wouldn’t do that when you meet another human—you’d have a brief handshake, and leave it at that. Even if you don’t have a shy cat, the new person needs to do the feline version of a handshake. Bell explains: “The best approach is for the new friend to be as calm and quiet as they can, extend one finger, and allow the cat to approach to smell them. They can give the cat a few scratches on their head and face if the cat comes closer, and then let the cat decide what they want to do next.” She stresses that you must keep in mind that even new smells can be scary when you’re introducing cats to strangers. It’s no surprise that “cats feel most comfortable when they are able to call the shots and make decisions.” Haven’t you ever joked that cats seem to like the people who ignore them?
Build Their Confidence
Sometimes, the meet-and-greet can be so upsetting that scared cats resort to hissing, biting or peeing on the intruder’s belongings. Bell says there’s no reason to worry if your cat hisses—it’s just a way for your kitty to say she’s not comfortable, which is perfectly okay. “The hiss is actually the kindest, gentlest way a cat can ask you to leave them alone. If they do hiss, just say something in a nice tone to them, and give them their space. The hissing should soon subside this way.” Bell explains that biting comes out of fear. Remember the scary new smells your cat is experiencing? Your cat might feel like there are so many unfamiliar scents that she’s losing her territory. You can help build her confidence and alleviate her fears with pheromone diffusers and scent-soaked cardboard scratchers throughout the house. “You also want to get them playing with a wand toy so they feel like the hunters they were born to be!” says Bell. “When they’re ‘hunting their prey,’ they feel confident, and they also get the biting out of their system by biting something appropriate.” And as for peeing outside the litter box, your first step is taking your cat to the vet. Cats are clean by nature, so there’s always a reason why they wouldn’t want to use the litter box—whether it’s physical or environmental. Bell’s advice is to never scold your cat or punish her. “Your job is to figure out what is wrong, and help them… Stress can cause urinary or bladder infections, which can be life-threatening if not treated right away.”
Use Food as a Motivator
Most kitties will never turn down a chance to chow down on a meat-filled meal or savory snack. The process of introducing cats to a significant other can go much faster if you appoint the new person as feeder of the felines. “Food is one of the greatest motivators for cats, so creating positive associations for them through food and treats is extremely effective. Have the new person use some delicious wet food to encourage your cat to interact with them in different places around the home. Have the person place cat food on the floor next to them, or offer treats directly from their hand.” Even a scared cat will have a hard time resisting the aroma of their favorite dinner dish.
Introducing Cats to Other Pets
Having a new pet move in is a whole other level of stress for your fur baby. It means she has to share her well-earned territory with another four-legged family member—whether it’s a new kitten or a senior dog.
CATS. You can help ease the tension by preparing a temporary special spot for the incoming kitty, like a guest room or office. Bell says to include a cozy cubby bed, food and water, toys and their very own, brand new litter box. Even after your new addition moves out of the smaller space, she should still keep her own litter box and food dish that are set up in separate locations from those of the other pet. Create vertical terrain with several cat trees and cat beds placed on top of bookshelves or dressers.
DOGS. When a new pup moves in, it’s crucial that your feline companion has an escape route available no matter which room she’s in. According to Bell, dogs are predators by nature, which means, “Vertical territory for cats is of utmost importance with a dog, so the cat knows they always have an escape from their predator. Vertical territory can save a cat’s life!”
Take It Slow
In an ideal world, pet parents imagine that their beloved fur babies will wholeheartedly accept their new siblings with open paws. They might even expect to stumble upon them all cuddled up in a fluffy pile of cuteness, snoozing away contentedly. But if that does ever happen, it might take a while, depending on the personalities involved.
CATS. To make your current kitty feel more at ease, keep the new kitten or cat confined to the small space you set up for them, at least for the first week or two. Your longtime feline friend will still feel like they own the rest of the home, says Bell. This is the time to spoil her with treats, playtime and cuddles. “Start feeding the pets on opposite sides of the door to the new pet’s room, so they also associate yummy wet food with the new animal. And do some scent-swapping of bedding, so they each can explore the other’s smell without the stress of being face to face. After a week or two, when both seem calm in the other’s presence, you can let them out in the same room,” explains Bell. When they do meet, make sure you’re supervising, and don’t let them stare each other down. These meetings should be brief at first, and filled with toys and treats as distractions. It might take a couple weeks or even a few months—all it takes is patience and time.
DOGS. Before bringing a dog into your kitty’s world, make sure he doesn’t have a prey drive for cats or other small animals. “Dogs are predators by nature, and cats are their prey. Many dogs chase and even kill cats in the home. If your dog seems interested in small animals when on walks, there’s a good chance they will not be a good fit for a home with a cat,” states Bell. But if that’s not the case, they can form a true bond if you follow these steps.
How to Create a Bond Between Your Dog and Cat:
- Keep them separate at all times and slowly introduce their scents to each other.
- When meeting, keep the dog on a leash until you are sure he won’t harm your cat.
- Reward the dog when he’s around the cat but not focused on her.
- Continue the on-leash introductions until both animals are comfortable.
- Always keep them separated when unsupervised until they’ve had months of calm, supervised interactions.
If the first meeting doesn’t go well, Bell advises to simply start over and try again. It’s going to take some time until the animals can peacefully coexist. “Separate the animals, create positive associations for them, slowly re-introduce them, and have faith that things will get better.”
To avoid a real cat-astrophe, be sure to keep Bell’s expert advice in mind when you’re introducing cats to new kittens, pups or people. With a little effort you can keep the peace in your home and make every animal feel like part of the family.
Nikki Naser, Pet Central Senior Editor
Instead of owning 30 cats, Nikki has an impressive collection of 30 cat-themed T-shirts, and just 4 pets—a ginger-haired senior cat, a senior Maine Coon, a middle-aged Choodle, and a young kitty who showed up one day on the back steps. A former Orlando resident, Nikki worked on several tourism publications before moving to South Beach. When she’s not stopping to take pics of community cats to post on Instagram, Nikki spends her time with the office pets at Chewy, writing for their Pet Central blog.