Surprise! You have kitties!
June 7, 2010 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Apparently, a stray cat had a litter of kittens under our deck about a month ago. We discovered it this morning when our deck was all of a sudden full of roly-poly little kitties. They're so cute that the declaration that we were going to remain a 2 cat household was defeated within about 10 minutes. Now we're seeking advice on how to integrate a little kitten with our existing 1.5 year old cats.

Our existing indoor-only cats are brother and sister. While they had been abandoned by their mother at birth, and were sickly kittens full of giardia and mites and respiratory infections when we rescued them from their barn, the deck kitties appear healthy and happy, their mother is fiercely protective of them, and seems to be still nursing. For now, we're just letting them live under the deck, where the mom has made a little safe cave, and we've put out kitten food and water for them. We figure, though, that in about 2-3 weeks the kitties will need homes, and that's where we need help.

The two cats we have now are the first ones I've ever had, and so I'm in new territory, here. I just don't know what's the best way to introduce our cats to their new buddy. Does the fact that they're a pair make it easier or harder to introduce a newcomer to their lives? They've never been around other cats before, and I am not entirely sure they even recognize the little guys outside being the same as them. What's the best way to acclimate the new guy to his new inside life? We figure we'll take it to the vet before we bring it into the house, although our cats are all current on their immunizations and flea/worm/etc medicine. We're also trying to find good homes for the other kittens*, and we're planning on trapping and spaying the mother before letting her roam again.

And, as there's no point to a kitty thread without pictures, I give you kitties! kitties eating! kitties looking befuddled!

* anyone who lives nearby want a little kitty?
posted by girl scientist to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One thing you may want to do now is put a towel or something outside, near the food dish or near the kitten-cave so that the kittens will rub up against it and get their scent on it. Then, take that inside so that your cats can sniff at it and become accustomed to the scent.

The main thing about introducing cats is that it can take time, and if you rush the cats to like each other, it may very well backfire. Sure, some cats are just totally groovy with other animals, but you can't just assume everyone will get along. (It was a bit horrifying when my sweet, loving, kind-as-a-bug kitty hissed and shrieked and swatted at the ittybitty fluffball we'd just brought home. Cats just have different relationships to stranger cats than they do to familiar cats and people.)

When you're ready to take one of the fluffballs inside, have a room prepared for it where it'll be alone -- this will be an area it'll start to think of as its territory, and it may very well think of that room as it's specialsafeplace for the rest of its life. The most important thing for it is to have someplace quiet and alone that it can think of as its own. Let your kitties sniff at it under the door, let it sniff at your kitties under the door, but keep them separated so they can get used to there being another cat in my territory before they have to get used to there being another cat right there in front of me! It's best to keep them separated for at least a few days, and probably a lot of sites you'll see will suggest up to a month.

A lot of it really depends on your specific kitties. I've seen some cats, introduced to new kitties for the first time, just sniff at each other like it's no big deal... But, like I said, my own cat (like most cats) will FREAK. OUT. if there's an intruder in their territory, and that initial FREAK. OUT. can doom inter-cat relations for the rest of time. Take it slow, just to be careful.

Also: Feliway!
posted by meese at 2:30 PM on June 7, 2010

Squeeeeeekittieees...err, ahem.

FWIW, I adopted a third kitten into our household of two bonded two-year-old littermates. I was worried Disaster Would Ensue but they all generally get along. It seems to depend a lot on the personalities involved: my laid-back and fearless boy cat turned immediately turned into a doting uncle to the new kitten, his skittish ghost-cat sister took several weeks to warm up to the intruder.

When the kittens are old enough to leave mom, bring them into the house and quarantine them in a bedroom until they have their first round of shots and parasite treatments. Confining them in a smaller part of the house is good practice anyway while they are getting introduced to a litterbox: they are more prone to peeing in a quiet corner if they get too far away from the litterbox than when the box is right in the same room. After a few days, switch the kittens to a new room, allowing your two older cats to inspect the now-kittenless former quarantine room...and then just rotate through each new room in the house every day or so. This gives your older cats a chance to get accustomed to the scent of the new arrivals without the stress of actually seeing them at the same time and gives your new kitten the same along with learning the lay of the land.

Once room introductions are complete, try letting the kittens out into the rest of the house while you supervise. Much puffing and hissing will ensue, ignore that. Swatting is also OK. Sustained attacks are not OK, break those up and go back to room rotations to try again next week.
posted by jamaro at 2:48 PM on June 7, 2010

I came in to look for kitten pictures (yay!) and also to suggest pretty much what has been advised so far about seperating them and slow introductions.

The other thing I wanted to add, is that if you plan to adopt out the rest of the litter, I would recommend socialising them to humans along with the one you have chosen for yourselves. No need to introduce them to your cats, but get them comfortable with being petted, fed and picked up by humans.
posted by Joh at 2:58 PM on June 7, 2010

Another thought: how wild is the mother? It's a good sign she's letting the kittens out into your sight and allowing them to eat the food you've set out but if she's completely unapproachable you might consider taking the babies a little earlier, than usual: at 6.5-7 weeks instead of 8. If she's feral, she's going to teach the kittens to be human-shy and she might also move the litter away.

If you can, after she's done mothering the babies try to capture her for a trip to the spay clinic so you're not confronted with another litter next year. Low cost spay resources for your area; you can also ask your vet if they would cut you a deal.
posted by jamaro at 3:06 PM on June 7, 2010

Please consider keeping two of the kitties instead of just one. It will be healthier for all concerned, they will have a litter-mate, a single kitty won't be ganged up on by the two older cats, they will play together.....

The advice above about isolating them (see, I've already made it plural for ya! :-) for a while is spot on...
posted by HuronBob at 3:08 PM on June 7, 2010

Please consider keeping two of the kitties instead of just one. It will be healthier for all concerned, they will have a litter-mate, a single kitty won't be ganged up on by the two older cats, they will play together.....

I agree with this in theory, but this scenario varies with the cats. For instance, I made the rookie mistake of getting attached to a kitten in a litter we were fostering, even though we were also a resolutely bi-feline household. We adopted out the rest of the litter and kept my favorite, and he's already BFF with our fat adorable tabby, who acts as his surrogate mommy now. The other cat ignores him, but he's a funny weirdo.

With our litter, the mom was a stray but not feral and stayed in our mudroom; she trusted us to handle the kittens very early. We took out Favorite Kitten a lot and put him near the other cats. Fat Cat yawned in Kitten's face, gave him a good grooming, and didn't even flinch when Kitten tried to nurse him. At that point we knew that the transition from litter to our household would be relatively painless.

So I'd suggest maybe honing in on your Favorite Kitten ASAP and, if possible (and it may not be with a feral mom living outside) introduce him into the household before you separate him from the rest of the litter. If you're pretty sure the mom isn't going to move the litter, I'd strongly suggest keeping the kittens with the mother for at least 10 weeks to allow for proper socialization.
posted by zoomorphic at 4:06 PM on June 7, 2010

It looks to me (as a long-time cat rescuer, but not a trained professional) that those kittens are older than about a month. Since they appear to be eating (can you tell how much?), mama may wean them sooner than later. You may be adding to your household sooner than you think.

The shelters are full up with kitten litters now, but you can try to find a rescue on Please attempt to find a home for mama too - she may not be completely (or at all) feral.

Seconding the idea of keeping two - you already know how little extra work is needed for multiple kitties. :-) Why not go exponential...
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:17 PM on June 7, 2010

Thanks for the help and advice, all. We talked about it a long time, and we don't think that our house is big enough for 4 cats, and we think that the existing cats will be more accepting of 1, not 2, so we are holding out hope that we can find nice homes for 3 of them. We'll be socializing all four, and keeping an eye on them to see when they're ready to be detached from their mom and brought inside.

Also, we went around the nearby apartment complexes, looking for any missing cat fliers. We think that we found one for the mom. The description of her unique coloration was an exact match, although if it is her, the owners might be surprised that their boy cat just had a litter. We'll be chasing this up tomorrow, so if we have found Ferguson the [now] girl cat, maybe we can even get the mom cat back to her home.

As a reward for all your help, I leave you with more kitty pictures. Kitties playing, until mom calls them back in.
posted by girl scientist at 8:51 PM on June 7, 2010

Please keep us updated on the kitties and mama cat.
posted by deborah at 11:15 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you've hopefully got this covered, but in case that "lost cat" isn't "him" ;) I wanted to suggest another type of resource.

TNR (Trap-Neuter-Replace) groups offer free or low cost speutering for feral cats, as long as you're going to put them back where you picked them up. They often have traps to loan and people who can coach you through the process. This is a great way to help cut down on cat population explosion without having to send kitties to the pound, where only a few will find homes. If you don't find homes for the kittens, it may be an option for them too.
posted by galadriel at 8:09 AM on June 8, 2010

An update of sorts, although a saddish one. In addition to being unable to find homes for any of the other cats, we finally gave up and admitted that socializing them was beyond our skills. The runt of the litter died one night, which made the mother about 1 million times more protective of the remaining three, and made the kittens even more skittish. Thanks to our awesome-unless-you're-socializing ferals open plan ranch house, there was not a good place to separate our cats from the new kitties, and we got worried about the outside cats making our inside cats (which were super sick when we got them, and therefore predisposed to sickness) sick or parasitey. Add in the fact that we're trying to have a baby, and the addition of a new stray being fed on possums and rats and our kitten food just didn't seem like a good plan. We called in the kitty rescue to trap them, and they've been taken off to be fixed, socialized, and fostered out.

Thanks everyone for your help, though. It's been a really sad day, watching the little munchkins be taken away, and we really wish we could have been able to apply all of your good advice.
posted by girl scientist at 2:57 PM on June 29, 2010

Update to the update. One particularly wily kitten (the one we liked best all along) managed to escape the cage, and refused to be trapped, to the point that she was sitting on top of the trap scooping out the food. The trap people told me I could either starve her for 4-5 days or tame her myself. Through days of sitting at the door talking to her, and finally luring her in the house with steak, she is sitting in the living room in a giant dog crate equipped with food, water, a little litter box, and a tent to hide in. Our two cats are entirely nonplussed, and one even seems happy she's here and is sleeping near her cage.

It seems that the universe wanted us to have this kitten, and that the answer to my original question on how to introduce them was to have the cats all play together through a screen door for a month.
posted by girl scientist at 9:34 PM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

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