Going from a one cat to a two cat household
November 17, 2008 6:27 AM   Subscribe

New cat coming into our already cat-inhabited house… (yes, yet another kitty related MeFI question). We have a cat who is the undoubted king of the house in all respects – he even beats up our slightly dumb dog on a regular basis. We are about to bring a new kitty into our house and I really want to know how can we best prepare our lives to keep the inevitable fights and related drama to a minimum when they first meet?

Friends of ours have an older, very calm and very affectionate cat that cannot take to their next military duty station, and instead of them giving it away to strangers they asked us if we would like her and we agreed to have her come and live with us. Our cat basically runs the house and we are concerned that when the new cat comes it might not just literally cause the fur to fly, but that somehow he will think he has fallen out of favor (not the case!). We had another cat when we first got the King four years ago and although he would generally ignore her, at other times he would mercilessly attack her. She died about 2 years ago and since then he has had no competition for our affection.

Is there anything we can do to lessen the impact of a new cat coming into the house and make sure the transition back to a 2 kitty household goes smoothly? My son wants to have the new cat as close to him as possible so that will help, but there is still that long period between all of us going to work and school and coming home.

All advice and funny anecdotes from cat owners out there is gratefully accepted, coz, you know, the cat replies on here are always the best.
posted by 543DoublePlay to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think the thing with all cats is that they are not super big fans of change. It helps incredibly for all involved, therefore, if the change is gradual.

Standard operating procedure for new cat introduction usually involves isolation of the new cat for awhile. Put the new cat in a bedroom or an office or something with food and water and litter box and keep the door shut.

Let the cats smell each other under the door. Another technique I've seen used is to take a rag or towel and rub the new cat to gather its scent, then share this towel with old cat.

The key here is to gradually allow the cats to become familiar with each other without just blowing the doors off the thing from day one.

Ideally, I think you would continue this process of gradual introduction for several weeks - up to a month. In reality, however, people usually don't have so much patience.

In the end, it still took our old kitty about two or three months to stop having a total freak out every time new kitty came around. Now they play happily.
posted by kbanas at 6:42 AM on November 17, 2008

Put Rescue Remedy in everybody's water.

As kbanas said, isolate the new cat at first. Feed them on opposite sides of the door, so that they begin to associate good things (food!) with weird new thing (another cat!). Only let new cat out when you're their to supervise (obviously), and have a water pistol or plant sprayer handy to break up any extreme fights. If it's just hissing and growling and swiping, let them do that. Only break it up if there is actual tackling/biting involved. Be prepared for someone to poop or pee outside a litterbox.
posted by rtha at 7:00 AM on November 17, 2008

Don't give Rescue Remedy to your pets. Its ingredients are
1: Brandy
2: Water and
3: Magic.

I would not bet on the magic outweighing the considerable toxicity of alcohol to cats.

(A few drops of 50% brandy in a water dish won't, realistically, do a cat any harm, but there's still not the slightest point to it. If you must do something of this nature, I suggest prayer, which is cheaper than magic brandy.)

That said, the above advice about slow introduction is good. Bear in mind that the cats may just not get on, though. Cats are usually pretty good at figuring out a pecking order, especially when they're pets and so have nothing important to compete for anyway. Competition for your affection doesn't really come into it - they just need to settle on a dominance order, which is all about aggression and submission displays, not who gets to sit on your lap.

Some cats just can't do this. They keep arguing for months, and possibly forever, and will occasionally cause each other real injuries, like the classic abscess-you-didn't-notice-until-it-became-alarming. Our household is in this state at the moment; one of our cats died, and we consoled ourselves by immediately adopting a pair of young 'uns. The new female and the female we had already just won't stop beating each other up. (The two boys can't figure out what the problem is.) We're seriously considering giving one of the arguers a new home.

There's every chance the pecking order will work out just fine, though, even if you introduce young and energetic cats to each other. Adding a kitten almost always works out fine, and old and mellow cats, like the one you're getting, are a good bet too.
posted by dansdata at 7:37 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

The new female and the female we had already just won't stop beating each other up. (The two boys can't figure out what the problem is.)

Typically, two Queens (female kitties) will fight. Two male kitties will settle the score quickly. Usually I see one male kitty becoming the hero of the other, with the less dominant following the other around worshipfully.

As kbanas said, slow introductions through a door work best. Be prepared for hissing and howling once they make eye contact regardless of how much time they've spent smelling each other through the door. The slower the introduction, the better the outcome is likely to be. If two cats meet each other too soon and have fisticuffs, it may affect their future relationship.

Once you have progressed beyond isolation, you may want to install a second or even third litter box. Ambushes frequently occur at high-value real estate like the litter box. To avoid mistakes, make sure that there is an alternative venue.

In the past, when I have introduced new cat to old, I have clipped everyone's front nails to minimize the potential damage. If you are comfortable with this and your cat acquiesces, you can do this with a pair of human nail clippers by just nipping off the hook across the clear part of the nail.

Best of luck and be prepared - it can take days, weeks, months or even years for two cats to become friends.
posted by Seppaku at 8:13 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have had a similar problem - when we got a second cat, we followed all the suggested procedures; gradual introduction, etc etc, but they still fought like, er, cats and dogs.

We have now instituted a system in which a series of spraybottles with water in them have been distributed around the house. Whenever a fight starts, we grab a spraybottle and spray the aggressor (which is usually the new cat). The new cat really hates it, and it instantly breaks up the fight. We've been doing this for a couple weeks now, and it seems to be working - they certainly aren't best buddies, but they aren't starting nearly as many fights any more either
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:34 AM on November 17, 2008

re: the rescue remedy thing: I am so not a believer in homeopathic stuff. At all. I used it in my cats' water (a couple drops in big bowl) when I moved them cross-country, and they settled down pretty quickly. I don't know if it was the rescue remedy (and it probably wasn't) - but it made me feel better.

One thing I forgot to mention earlier: if you can, between now and when New Cat arrives, get something from your friends that smells of them (a t-shirt, maybe), and also something that smells of New Cat. Use the New Cat smelly thing to introduce your cat to the scent - bring it home a few days or a week before New Cat arrives. And put the former owners' t-shirt in the place that New Cat will initially occupy.
posted by rtha at 9:05 AM on November 17, 2008

1) Isolate, isolate, isolate. Them sniffing/playing underneath a closed door is a great way for them to get used to one another without being able to see one another
2) Try to get them used to one another's scent - rub a sock (one you've used, too) with new kitty's scent/old kitty's scent on the opposite cat. Your cat will look at you like you are nuts, but, well, what else is new.
3) Make sure everyone has their own place to eat/drink/pee/poop, in case someone else is eating/drinking/peeing/pooping, and another cat feels threatened and decides to do any of the above in a non-approved location.
4) Instead of Rescue Remedy, you could try Feliway for some pheromone therapy.
5) Take it slow. Cats are not on your timetable.

When we introduced two very dominant cats to one another, this book (Cat vs. Cat, in case the link punks out) was a big help.
posted by atayah at 9:23 AM on November 17, 2008

When 'moonMan and I joined cats, the fighting was pretty minimal, but the "new" kitty in the house (my cat, Wensleydale, moved in to his house) started crapping on the rug. It was pretty clear that the "first" kitty (his cat, Tangerine) was beating her up (yup, 2 girls) after she used the litter box. Not much we could do about that. We debated getting two litter boxes, which some people do recommend for the transition.

Anyhow, I happened to notice one day that Tangerine ate from Wensleydale's food bowl as soon as they were fed. She'd eat from her own bowl, and then she'd eat from The Dale's bowl and The Dale would just sit back and watch. On a whim, I moved Wensleydale's bowl into a more secluded area away from Tangerine's bowl and all of the problems ceased. They still act like step-sisters - they tolerate each other, but they're not quite friends. They play fight quite a lot, but there's no actual aggression (no hissing, no use of claws, no howling).

It's kind of hit or miss with cats. Do everything right and they still might hate each other. We got to a point with the rug-crapping where I almost had to give Wensleydale up. She was given one more week on probation, and luckily, that was when I got the idea to move the food bowl and she was saved from a life of... well, living with someone who isn't me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:11 PM on November 17, 2008

i concur with two litter boxes and the slow intro phase. (i believe that it's always a good idea to have one litterbox per kitty unless you're really strapped for space.) but also i read somewhere to treat the old kitty like the one who needs the reassurance and most affection: limit copious petting of new kitty to out-of-sight-lines of old kitty. clipping nails is a good idea, until things settle down.

that said, since your old kitty is a male, and the new one's a "calm" female, i think it won't be too bad.
posted by RedEmma at 3:44 PM on November 17, 2008

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