Fighting like cats and cats
April 18, 2011 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Help me introduce a new kitten to my cat.

I know, the question is useless without pictures, but I recently adopted a 12 week old female kitten, Lily. In addition, I have a one and a half year old male cat, Boris (both are fixed). I've tried to follow online guides for introducing a new kitten into the household (I've gotten some Feliway, I've been keeping Lily in her own separate room, and showing Boris some extra love), but I'm frustrated. How long does the process usually take? I know I'm asking prematurely, since it's only been a few days in my case, but Boris seems to really hate Lily.

How long should I keep them separated? I've allowed a few face to face meetings, and while Lily seems to want to play with Boris, he pounces on her and starts kicking. He's 10 pounds to her 2 pounds, and I'm afraid he'll tear the stitches from her spay. Should I keep them entirely behind closed doors (I have no access to baby gates that would allow them to see each other but not harm each other)? Lily cries when she's left alone in her room, but whenever I try to go in and see her, Boris tries to slink in with me for another attack.

Also, how do I tell the difference between play fighting and the real thing? Lily seems to be trying to play, but Boris will pounce on her and start biting at her neck and throat while kicking her. She'll kick back and occasionally squeak, but he doesn't make much if any noise, and doesn't relent when she does. Is any degree of fighting between unrelated cats acceptable?

Sorry for all the questions; I've never lived with more than one cat before, and the crying and fighting is stressing me out. Please tell me it will get better, and hopefully soon.
posted by mesha steele to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would give it a few more days separation, especially if Liliy has just been spayed. Other than that, it's just a question of time, so I would continue doing what you are doing in giving them both love and attention. Try being with Boris first, giving him plenty of treats and affection so he knows that the new kitten is not a replacement, then sneaking out to see Liliy.

The fighting sounds like pretty typical cat play, which can look a lot rougher than it really is. My cats kick the hell out of each other, then immediately snooze together in a big pile. Boris is looking to establish that he's the boss by overpowering Liliy, by showing her who's boss. I would try playing with Liliy where Boris can see (but not touch), so that Boris understands that the new cat is a friend to all.

Basically, time, patience and plenty ot treats and fun for all are the keys here...
posted by baggers at 5:30 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

A couple days isn't very long. I introduced a kitten to 2 older (13 yrs old) cats a year ago. After a month or two everyone was pretty happy, but the break-in period was more like weeks than days.

Everything you're describing sounds normal. Make sure you're spending time with both cats. Don't let them play without supervision.

But remember that a certain amount of fighting is totally normal, and playing/fighting is a fine line for cats. You don't want to stress out the kitten by letting her get pummeled for hours, but at some point the cats will just have to work this out for themselves and they'll find a new equilibrium.

I have no access to baby gates that would allow them to see each other but not harm each other

These are useless anyway unless they're floor to ceiling. I got one once for this purpose and, duh, my kitten just climbed over it every 2 seconds.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:33 PM on April 18, 2011

I concur; I'd keep them separated a bit longer while her stitches heal, and then I'd just let them have at it, separating them at night until they learn to get along, and basically loosely supervising their fighting/play and breaking it up every so often. You'll quickly learn that Lily can usually escape when she want to; break it up when one of them seems genuinely distressed AND is failing at getting away. (Often I just prevent the chaser from chasing the runner for 10 seconds and the chaser loses interest.) I'm also a fan of gut-shouting, "HEY!" when the wrestling gets too intense, which startles them into pausing and lets one run away if one wants to run away. If I feel like they're at it too much, I'll separate them. I try to remove the instigator, but it turns out the cats don't really care which one of them gets locked in the bathroom as long as they're separated and get a chance to calm down. (I'd probably put the newcomer in the bathroom anyway.)

I'd try to let them have their first interactive day or two when I could be home all day to supervise the transition.

"Is any degree of fighting between unrelated cats acceptable?"

Yeah, this is how my two entertain themselves, and my little one thinks my big one is GOD. Or at least his mommy. (They're both boys and unrelated.) They just like to wrestle and fight sometimes, ESPECIALLY in the spring. Spring makes them lunatics. They spend the other 23 hours in a day sleeping in a pile purring. My last pair liked to wrestle too, also unrelated (and one of them was incapable of reading cat body language and the other was lacking a tail, so they were bad at communicating to each other when it had crossed the line into "NOT FUN ANYMORE.") They're all fine and got along great. Cats do just like to fight and play. They'll usually AVOID one another if they're hating on each other or (worst case scenario) one tries to avoid and hide under furniture in another room and the other keeps chasing that one down (often to be friendly. sometimes to be mean).

Just make sure there are plenty of escape routes and various cat hiding places (under furniture, in cat houses, on shelves, whatever your cats prefer). They'll probably sort it out.

And oh, look, there mine go, have an MMA championship on my stairway landing! Little one is trying to sneak attack Big one. Little one is not as stealth as he thinks he is. Plenty of short yowls as one pounces on the other ... and in the time it took me to type that paragraph they're back to purring and rubbing faces. And now wrestling again.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:46 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

You should keep Lily separated from Boris for a few more days until she's healed from the spaying. After that, I'd keep them separate-unless-supervised until Lily is bigger and can hold her own in a fight. However, do bring her in to other parts of the house. For instance, during dinner, you can kick Boris out of the dining room and let Lily hang out with you in there until you're done with the meal. After you put Lily back in her room and let Boris in to the dining room, he'll probably stomp around and sniff everything and hiss a lot, but he needs to get used to smelling her around the house. Repeat this pattern for every room in the house, and keep it up until you're ready to let Lily roam free. Eventually Boris will get used to it.

Play fighting between adult cats who live together is common, but it sounds rather like Boris may be attacking her in earnest (it's hard to tell solely from descriptions). Don't let him do that while Lily is small; if he jumps her, immediately break it up, and put Boris out of the room as punishment. After Lily's older and bigger, they'll need to fight it out a bit before they come to a social equilibrium. But until then, only have them together when they can be supervised. Start off slow, just a little at a time, and gradually ramp up how long the visits are. While you're having the visit, talk in a soothing voice, and pet both animals at the same time (this is easier with two people).

As for how long it will take: I'm not going to lie, it might take a while. If it took Boris a week or two to accept Lily, that would be pretty darn quick based on my experience. But all cats in Boris' situation are going to start off being aggressive toward the intruder, and unless Boris is exceptionally grouchy, he'll eventually grow to appreciate the company more than he resents the intrusion. They key is to take it slow but steady, and offer lots of positive reinforcement.
posted by Commander Rachek at 5:49 PM on April 18, 2011

I agree that you should keep them separated for at least a couple of weeks until her stitches heal. (A few days? Helloooo? Have you ever had surgery?)

I tried this once and it didn't work, but that might have been because I was trying it with totally psycho cat (the kind of cat that my vet told stories about at vet conferences.)

Here's the idea: once your kitten is healed, and they've had some time to hang out together (with supervision) tire out each cat by playing with them. They need to be very tired.

Then coat your kitten's head with butter or sardine oil. Theoretically the older cat will start licking the kitten's head, creating a bond.

I've also heard that cats find the taste of utterly liver irresistible, so you could try cod liver oil on the little one's head..

At the very least, you'll get some cool spiky hair kitten photos. Good luck!
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 6:40 PM on April 18, 2011

When it's time for Lily to have some free time from her room, put Boris in there. He'll get used to her smell and when Lily goes back she'll get a good whiff of him. And definitely give it more time, at least until she's healed from the spay.

FYI: I've always been more of let them all together and let the cats sort it out unless it gets vicious. My last additions were a pair of eight week old males to a pair of four year old siblings (male and female). The kittens were blocked into my den with a piece of plywood. Their litter box, pet crate, food, water, etc. were all in the den. The kittens couldn't get out but the adults could easily get in and I could easily let the dog in. I was always right there when the older animals were visiting. The kittens wanted to be friendly with everyone and they and the dog immediately bonded, that relationship is still going strong - they're best buddies. However, three years later, each pair of cats tolerate each other. Once in a rare while you'll see them all together, but it's more of an armed truce.

Could the cats be friendlier if I tried it another way? Possibly. Other cats I've introduced the same way have become best buddies. I think a lot of it depends on the individual cats.
posted by deborah at 7:37 PM on April 18, 2011

It took us a week of complete separation except a cracked door large enough for Berg to poke his paw through. They chattered under the door at each other, and when we finally let Maggie out, Berg hissed and hid for a couple hours. That night, they spooned each other to sleep. It takes time and patience, but mainly it takes letting them work out their relationship themselves. Our vet told us that if one isn't bleeding, let them fight--you can't supervise them all the time, and breaking up a fight can seem like favouritism towards the weaker one that will be repaid when your back is turned. Just make sure that the kitten has her own safe place to retreat to if she feels the need.
posted by fatbird at 8:26 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the advice everyone. It's good to hear that some degree of fighting is normal and inevitable; my concern is that Boris is unrelenting. He pins Lily down, so that she can't get away, and if she does escape, he immediately pounces again. The one reassuring thing for me is that he doesn't seem to be using his claws when they fight, just his teeth and size advantage. I will try harder to keep them separated for a full week though, to protect the stitches. I'll also make sure to give Lily some time in the rest of the apartment to spread her scent around without being attacked.
posted by mesha steele at 5:23 AM on April 19, 2011

If they're really fighting, you'll definitely know. Cat fights are LOUD.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:08 AM on April 19, 2011

I wasn't going to answer this because you broke the must-have-kitty-picture rule, but since no one else has mentioned it, do you have a cat carrier? Put Lily in it and let Boris sniff. Give Boris some yummy treats to associate being around Lily with awesomeness. Do this periodically until Lily's stitches heal. Then let Lily out, supervised. If Boris pounces, spray him with a squirt gun. Repeat until he's discouraged and slinks away. Do not pre-emptively squirt, you don't want to discourage him from ever approaching her. I also like the idea of sardine oil above.

The one reassuring thing for me is that he doesn't seem to be using his claws when they fight, just his teeth and size advantage.

Hate to tell you this, but cats only use their claws for climbing and traction, not for fighting and killing. If he's not actually drawing blood, it's probably OK, he's just asserting dominance. If he wanted to injure or kill her, he would have done so by now, given the size difference. I wouldn't worry too much. In time they'll either 1) get along or 2) completely ignore each other. I've never seen fighting go on indefinitely.
posted by desjardins at 8:33 AM on April 19, 2011

Another thing to keep an eye out for, it occurred to me overnight when I was being an insomniac, is that if the fighting gets serious, one cat or both may puff up their fur and/or tail, or lay back their ears (to keep the ears from getting torn while the SRS FITING BIZNESS is going on). Tail gestures can also signify how serious the fighting is.

When one of mine starts laying the ears flat, that's when I usually separate them if they haven't separated themselves ... and that's also typically when the noise starts escalating.

Just like little kids, sometimes they get a little wilder than they meant to and 30 seconds after the fight is threatening to escalate into something serious and everyone's laying back their ears, they're just tackling each other again and playing tail pounce. So don't be like, OMG FLAT EARS MEANS DEATH MATCH. But flat ears probably means they're getting a bit too wound up and could use some cooling off time.

(My vet says it takes about 5-10 minutes for an adult cat's brain to completely reset and forget what they were doing that got them put in "time out" in the first place, so you don't have to wait very long.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:43 AM on April 19, 2011

Unfortunately, most of their fighting is of the flat ears variety, though neither participant makes much noise. Boris isn't the only instigator of the fights; Lily likes to pounce on him too, even though he seems to hurt her (she squeaks when he bites her neck or kicks especially hard). All of this confirms that I need to keep them apart more, though Lily charges out of her room to meet Boris whenever possible, or he tries to come in with me.

I'll have to try the butter/oil trick in a few days. Today, while Boris had Lily in a headlock, he did briefly lick her head a couple times, but then the fighting resumed.
posted by mesha steele at 3:33 PM on April 19, 2011

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