How can we help facilitate our brand new kitten and our 2 year old cat to get along (or at least tolerate each other)?
June 1, 2009 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Although we've been following the standard advice of slow introductions, our new 14 week kitten and 2 year old cat seem to have fallen into a pattern that we're concerned will negatively impact whether or not they ever get along at all! Additionally, we have time constraints and the longer we keep them separated, the more miserable the kitten seems to be.

2 years ago I got a kitten named Ellen Ripley (Ripley for short). I got her through a rescue program but she has always had a home: her mother was the one rescued while pregnant. She's about two now and is a very sweet and affectionate cat (though sometimes a bit needy). She loves settling in laps, always greets me at the door, and has never been aggressive or used her claws with people. She gets nervous and hides around most new new people but always warms up to them with enough time.

A few weeks ago my boyfriend who lives with me decided to get a kitten. We brought an 11 week old kitten home from the shelter and named him Rasputin (Raz for short). Not a whole lot of history was known about him at the shelter (though I did notice that all of the whiskers around his face were cut short and no one could explain why). He's very friendly and extremely energetic for long periods of time until he gets tired and plops himself down near you or on you to catnap.

We did some research before bringing home the new kitten about slow introductions. Raz went straight into our guest bedroom and has his own food and litterbox there (as well as TONS of kitty toys!). Once they got used to each other's smell, we started cracking the door to let Ripley and Raz see each other. At first Ripley would hiss and growl and run away, to the point where she wouldn't even approach the door. After a while (and lots of treats and wet food incentives) she was fine with the door so we started allowing short (and then longer) periods of supervised play.

This is where we seem to have gotten stuck. Sometimes it seems as though they are just playing - Ripley will chase Raz, Raz will run and hide but then "attack", they'll swat at each other, Raz will run away again and Ripley will stalk and "attack". They do all of this without noise and seemingly without claws.

At other times, it seems like bullying - Ripley will stalk Raz to some corner and growl, he'll be startled and squeak and run some other place, and she'll stalk him there and growl, until Raz gets fed up and "attacks" but chickens out when she growls again. Occasionally she'll hiss during these interactions and more recently they'll actually "fight" and there'll be some yowling-type noises. We have a water bottle on hand to interrupt aggressiveness but the "fights" are too short to break up and we're worried about creating negative associations in the cats for each other.

They're not hurting each other from what I can tell, but I know that early interactions matter a lot in getting cats to eventually get along. I'm not expecting things to be perfect yet, I just want to know when is a good time to interfere and when we should just leave the cats alone. I'm also just concerned that it seems to be a pattern and a cycle... the more he play attacks her, the more apt she seems to be to start bullying, and the more she bullies, the more he seems to get nervous and try to make her back down (and always fails). The whole situation is rather stressful and at times I'm worried we have begun to react too quickly to what seems to be negative behavior to us.

To make matters more complicated, Raz mews miserably whenever we leave him in the guest room alone, and both my boyfriend and I have full time jobs AND go to school many evenings. We've been trying to let him out as often as we can and spend time playing with both cats, but the quicker we can keep them both in the same area together, the happier we'll all be. We are torn between trying to rush the introduction process so Raz isn't stuck in the guest room all the time, and keeping it slow and measured to ensure that they do eventually get along.

So the guidance I'm looking for is this:
1) When should we interfere if the cats aren't getting along?
2) HOW should we interfere (spraying water, separating the cats, playing with them, etc)?
3) Is it worse for Raz to be alone for most hours of the day, or for the cats to have more and more time together before they might be ready for it?
4) Does anyone know why Raz might have had short whiskers and if they grow back? (I did notice one long one that got short after we brought him home so I'm concerned that it's self inflicted.)

Additional Info: Both cats are fixed. We got Raz about 3 weeks ago. Pictures of both cats if you're curious... Ripley and Raz. Both seem healthy and haven't been engaging in any stress behavior like spraying or middening. We pay lots of attention to both cats whenever we are home to make sure the older cat doesn't feel jealous, and we often give them wet food while they're out together which sometimes helps temporarily. We also just purchased a Feliway diffuser a few days ago but haven't seen any results yet.
posted by etherealclarity to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Aw, they're ADORABLE! Raz is a boy, you say? He looks like a tortie to me and those are usually girls.

Anyway, we had a few weeks of kerfluffle when we brought out younger cat home. What we did was we separated them in different parts of the house when we went to work and each day we switched who was in what part of the house. Then we started feeding them together and supervising them. We also got Feliway, which seemed to help them settle down. One thing I've noticed is recommended when cats getting used to each other dust it up is to get their attention and throw cat treats into opposite corners of the room. If your cats cant's resist the treats, that usually will help separate them.

Well, good luck with your new baby. SO CUTE!
posted by Maisie at 2:08 PM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: Ripley is the tortie cat, and she's a girl. Raz is all black and a boy. :)
posted by etherealclarity at 2:17 PM on June 1, 2009

After many years of cat adoption I don't think anything you describe is that big a deal. As long as no one is hurt and the dust ups are only occasional and not permanent, it sounds to me like normal cat behavior. Think of it this way: the older cat has to mentor the younger cat in how to be a 1) proper cat and 2) mannerful member of the cat household. Her "bullying" is actually her way of telling the kitten he's doing/done something wrong. You don't necessarily know what that is, because you don't see things the way a cat does. But her perspective is important. By breaking it up, you may be diluting Ripley's ability to teach the kitten something about cat life that is important to Ripley. Since Ripley is a good cat, I would give her a lot of slack in this department.
I think the intro period is probably long enough and I would let them interact freely at this point. Just keep an eye on them. If they can fall asleep in the same room (better yet on the same bed) and as long as there's no terror at food time, I would just sit back and watch the expert cat trainer (Ripley) do her magic.
Yes, they are very cute.
posted by dness2 at 2:28 PM on June 1, 2009

The Feliway will kick in, it just takes a week or so.

I recently introduced a year old male cat to my 14-year old female cat. Even after their slow introduction through doors, etc., there's been all sorts of yowling and full body tussling. The boy is bigger than my 14-year old and he likes to hug her while she screams bloody murder. He's gotten a couple of small scratches from her for his troubles.

I talked with the doctor about their behavior and he assured me it was just a war of domination - to see who would be the top cat in the house. I now interfere only if the screaming happens at night and only because I want to be a decent neighbor. I noticed that when I broke them up before and put the boy in 'time out' in the second bedroom, my 14 year old would hang out in front of the door, waiting for me to let the boy out again.

They now have a routine: all day long they mostly ignore each other. In the late evening, the boy gets playful and tackles the 14 year old, which makes her scream. It's been six months and they still do this but the boy hasn't shown up with scratches recently.

For your situation, it definitely sounds as if Ripley is just making sure the kitten knows who's boss. If the kitten is being hurt by Ripley, then intervene by spraying her with water. She needs to get the idea that defending her top cat status is okay but hurting the little one isn't. If she isn't hurting him, and shows no signs of actually harming him, then I'd stop isolating the kitten. It sounds like you're doing everything 'right' and that eventually these two will settle in together. (On preview: what dness2 said).

Good luck!
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 2:29 PM on June 1, 2009

One thing I found helpful was a suggestion of a friend to take something like, say, a sock, and rub it on the new kitten, then rub some of the surfaces the other cat likes with the sock, to get him used to the scent of the new kitten around the house in a non-threatening way.

Really, though, I think your cats are just being cats, and I wouldn't separate them too much. That's reinforcing your Alpha cat's territory, rather than helping the kitten out, although I know it is hard to watch the "big" cat picking on the little kitten.
posted by misha at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2009

My parents brought a new kitten into their home with a 4 year old cat around 7 months ago. What you describe is exactly how Mykonos and Maynard play....they're good at letting each other know when they've had enough. There's a certain pecking order to be expected, but mostly, at least with the cats I've seen, they're just playing.
posted by messylissa at 2:53 PM on June 1, 2009

You're in good shape. You've done everything correctly and the cats are now working out who's dominant. Your older cat is teaching the kitten to mind his manners. Good for her! I'd start letting them both have the run of the house now. If they haven't hurt each other yet, they're not going to. Keep the water bottle handy for when you're home. Spray them if they get in a yowling fight. Other than that, let them work it out themselves. Growling, hissing, and posturing is totally normal. Don't interpret the behavior as bullying. Cats speak thier own language and assigning human meaning to thier behavior is a waste of time.

I would stop leaving Raz in the bedroom now. He's lonely and Ripley's not going to hurt him.

I don't know what's up with his whiskers. I've seen outside cats develop shortened whiskers. I think from rubbing them up against things. I doubt they'll grow back anytime soon. Just keep an eye on them and report any changes to your vet.
posted by dchrssyr at 2:55 PM on June 1, 2009

Just came in to agree with other people (as an owner of many cats over the years), Riley is teaching the kitten who is boss and the kitten gets a little scared when it happens--perfectly normal kitty stuff as long as no one is actually getting hurt. It's important to let them work it out so they can live together peacefully.

Congrats on the new baby!
posted by Kimberly at 3:12 PM on June 1, 2009

Whiskers will grow back, no worries there, and it doesn't hurt the cat as long as something drastic hasn't happened to them. Like the time when my sister was 4 and decided to take our cat Sam and cut her whiskers off on one side. That didn't work out so well for Sam. Apparently they play a bit of a role in balance, and poor Sam couldn't run without toppling over to the side for a couple of weeks until the whiskers got long enough again.
posted by barc0001 at 3:27 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have not ever bothered with slow introductions when it's a kitten and a cat, assuming the adult cat is relatively well-adjusted (for a cat, I mean). Whether or not they've ever been around kittens since their own infancy, adult cats seem to have a fairly strong instinct to teach kittens the ropes, which includes how to show some respect to their elders. Part of a job of a kitten is to acknowledge that the adult cat is big and fearsome and mighty, and also to annoy the everloving hell out of them on a fairly regular basis. I think continuing to separate them is more likely to wreck the relationship than help.

After a few days, the play-fighting will settle down some as they both get enough exercise to blow off the built up steam.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:32 PM on June 1, 2009

I wouldn't worry about it. I have two 14 week old kittens, one of whom is almost double the size of the other (the runt). They're litter mates, get along great, but there are still many many times where it looks like the big one is trying to destroy her little sis. She's not -- they're just playing, and/or working out things for themselves. I wont intervene unless there's bloodshed (which there has been none of so far).

See if you can get them to play together. Take a string or something and play with one for 30 seconds, then get the other involved, then go back and forth until they're both trying to get the string at the same time. Throw a toy in the middle of them -- see if they'll both pounce.

And let your adorably kitten out -- she's lonely. They will work out their own arrangement. Just make sure they both get lots of individual attention -- big kitty's probably a little bit jealous, and little kitty's a little intimidated. But it'll work out -- I don't think there's anything here to worry about.
posted by cgg at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2009

I agree with Lyn and others that encourage you to just let them be cats at this point. We tried the slow intro with a stray about a year ago, to disastrous results! Three weeks and the cats couldn't get along (the new cat evacuated it's bowels and FREAKED OUT!). We eventually had to pass the kitten on to a co-worker who didn't have any cats, where she worked out great.

Fast forward to last month when we got a 6 month old torty kitten from the No-Kill animal shelter. Given the terrible experience we had with "Doing it the right way", we decided to not overthink things. We walked in the house (complete with 2 year old Shih-tzu poodle mix and 5 year old marmalade boy cat) and opened the cat carrier. I showed the new kitten her litter box and food dish and let her explore. There was some hissing, some establishing dominance, but by the time we went to bed that night, everything was pretty calm. It took all of a week and this happened.

In short, don't over think it. People have been introducing new cats and kittens for hundreds of years, and for most of those years, no one had the internet to tell them how to do it "Properly". Just let your cats be cats! They'll establish a pecking order, I promise!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 4:26 PM on June 1, 2009

Sounds like they're working out their relative status in the pack, which is completely normal; the only cats I've ever had who DIDN'T work out pack status are a brother and sister who trade dominance at random intervals (and who both acknowledge me as alpha cat, which helps).

As long as the there's no blood, and hissing and flattened ears are not constantly present, let them work it out.

Try leaving them out for a day together (a shortish one when you know no one will get home too late) and see what things look like when you get home. Odds are they'll be in the same room, a bit tired and wary but staking out some personal space.

It will also help to let them have a bit of time together without humans present - there might be some dominance displays about protecting the human, or about indicating ownership of the human (i.e. this one is here for me, don't you go asking for petting !). Also, without meaning to, you'll both be reacting slightly differently to each of them, muddling the waters when it comes to working out their relationship to just each other.

Give them a day. If they're huffy but unharmed at the end of the day, give them a week. If you still see problems after a week, report back.
posted by Billegible at 4:34 PM on June 1, 2009

As far as the whiskers are concerned, some cats just like to trim other cats' whiskers when they're grooming the other cat. My parents have a ten-year-old and a three-year-old cat; the ten-year-old used to have lovely long whiskers before the three-year-old arrived in the household, but now the three-year-old keeps them trimmed about 3-5 cm long. It doesn't seem to bother the ten-year-old, and there's no real way to keep the three-year-old from doing it. Maybe one of Raz's sheltermates was similarly neurotic.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:20 PM on June 1, 2009

I was in this very situation 8 months ago... and the behaviors nearly identical to what you are describing.

Nthing the comments above. If they aren't hurting one another then there's no need to try and interfere or worry that they need to be separated - they're just working out the hierarchy.

We're 8 months in now and they still play pretty rough sometimes but... sometimes Liam (2 1/2 years) wins and the baby runs for the hills and sometimes Smash (10 months) wins and Liam will back down but they really are the best of friends now..also following each other around or curled up together as often as they are scrapping.

Good luck!!
posted by Weaslegirl at 6:42 PM on June 1, 2009

We introduced a new kitten to our 5-year-old cat six months ago. What you describe is exactly what happened with us, and it's basically settled in to routine now. For the most part the big one tries to ignore the little one. They're not best friends or anything, but they'll sit and sleep within a couple feet of each other quite happily. Twice a day though (early morning and late at night), they get all jumpy and it's time for Cat Wrestlemania. The big one hisses and grows, and they scrabble and chase all over the place. It freaked us out at first, but everyone we asked basically said, "When cats are *really* fighting, YOU'LL KNOW IT." Nobody's gotten hurt yet. We give 'em a squirt when they get really yowly at night.

I think you guys are fine...
posted by web-goddess at 6:48 PM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, this definitely helped me set my mind at ease. I'm not leaving them alone together just yet, but I am definitely stepping up the process and interfering a lot less (and stressing a lot less!). Hopefully given time things will settle down.
posted by etherealclarity at 2:13 PM on June 3, 2009

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