Might be easier to find a new apartment than to make peace between cats
February 27, 2012 8:40 PM   Subscribe

My cat is old and is used to being the queen of the house. But my roommate is about to introduce her old cat to the house, and I'm concerned. What steps do I need to take to minimize problems and stress?

My cat is 16 years old and lives a quiet life as the only cat in the apartment. She's declawed (I know, I know) and has been an indoors cat all her life.

My roommate has a 17 year-old cat that lives with her parents. The parents are moving and have to give up the cat, so she's moving in with us. This cat is an outdoors cat and has claws.

I've tried introducing my cat to other cats in the past and it's gone disastrously. Lots of hissing, fighting the strangers when they get too close, and general stress. I'm worried about this new one and am wondering if you have any tips.

1) Any tips on how to minimize the fighting, especially at the outset? (Both are female cats, and at least one has been spayed, if that matters.)
2) Do I need to worry about the fact that new cat has been outdoors and old cat is indoor? (You are not my vet, but general tips would be appreciated.)
3) Do I need to worry that new cat has claws and old cat doesn't when it comes to the fighting?
posted by soonertbone to Pets & Animals (8 answers total)
My gut says, yes, these are all going to be problems. What's the layout of your space like? Could you permanently separate them if it came to that? Like one cat gets the upstairs and the other gets the downstairs?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:44 PM on February 27, 2012

If nothing else, let them acclimate without being able to have actual contact. When we've introduced new cats into the household, it usually involved bringing the new cat into an isolated environment (bathroom, usually, with food, water, litter box), and letting them settle in for a while. Eventually they are introduced into the bedroom where they can sort of sniff under the closed door...

At some point there is an open door, but cats are left to their own devices as to the timing of leaving the safe spot.

I suspect, as LobsterMitten does, that there will be some conflict... You might want to try Feliway, I've found that it worked to reduce some stress between cats....
posted by HuronBob at 8:52 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Standard cat introduction procedures apply, you can find many variations on this online, but here's one:
ASPCA on introducing a new cat

Put the new cat in a separate small room with litterbox, food, water, soft surface to sleep on, scratching post. No contact for the first period of time (week?). You go in and visit with new cat, and let old cat sniff you when you come out.
Then gradually increase contact. First let them get used to each other's smells, maybe by swapping out items each cat has sat on/rubbed. Then let them sniff under the door. etc. Until you are ready to let them have supervised visits. Then more supervised interaction but still separate rooms at night, and so on.
This can take a long time - month or more. It's worth doing slowly, especially with as many warning signs as your case has (older adult females, one who you know doesn't like other cats, one clawed and one declawed).
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:53 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had great success with feliway when our old cat wanted to murder the new cat. (that's not an exaggeration. I thought one of them was going to end up dead.). We really used it full bore-- 2 diffusers x 3 months and by then the cats were madly in love. Ymmv.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:01 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I see a lot of problems here, and honestly would avoid this if I could. But, odds are, in your situation, I'd do the same thing. So:

2) Fleas. Outdoor cats have fleas and other parasites. Invest in some Frontline or some other good flea medication. Especially if new cat is going to be outdoors again.

3) I hope new cat is very laid back and non-territorial. Trim that cat's nails as often as possible, though; declawed cats are less able to defend themselves generally, but might be able to make up for it somewhat. Be aware that one of the issues with declawed cats is that the are a little more aggressive with the biting, and can be more aggressive in general when it comes to other cats.

Is old cat bigger, by chance?

Just keep in mind that cats can and will make each other bleed, so you need to learn what the difference is between a serious wound and a not serious one. Cats are quite territorial.

Love your cat, make sure she gets lots of your attention. Introducing a competitor may do bad things for her self-esteem.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:22 PM on February 27, 2012

Honestly I think your best option is to figure out a way to keep these cats apart as much as possible.

There's a reason cat adoption places encourage people to adopt two kittens instead of just one - if a cat spends it's first two years of life with other cats, it is more likely that they will accept the company of other cats later in life. If a kitten grows up alone, without other cats around, there's a very good chance that they will need to remain an "only kitty" the rest of their lives and won't adapt well to new feline company.

It sounds like you are trying to introduce two "only kitties," who are best suited to living alone.

Also, two female cats? I've heard that's the most difficult combo (two neutered males get along the best, followed by a male/female pair, followed by two females).

Of course, this is all only based on experience - either my own, or the teachings of my colleagues (I volunteer at a cat rescue). Cats are all individuals, there are always exceptions, these are just generalizations, YMMV, etc etc.

Another potential problem - what's the new indoor/outdoor situation going to be? Is roommate's kitty going to be just indoors now? Is your kitty going to be allowed out? I don't advise the later at all, but I also think that transitioning an older cat who is used to being let out is going to be difficult.

If there's no way for you to divide the house (like upstairs/downstairs), here's another suggestion....

....Hopefully you two have separate rooms. Make your room your kitty's "home base" (that means litterbox, food, water in there) and your roommate's room home base for their cat. The cats stay locked in their respective rooms but have a schedule for full run of the apartment. Every other day your kitty gets full run of the apartment while roommate's kitty stays in the room, and vice versa. Or one cat's out at night, the other during the day. Be sure to have water/litterbox in the shared space somewhere as well.

I wish you luck with this, and I hope the "introducing" suggestions work out for you guys! Just thought I'd mention the separate room suggestion in case introducing them doesn't go well.
posted by Squee at 12:11 AM on February 28, 2012

Let them get used to the other cat being around before introducing them, let them take turns in say the communal areas and keep them both confined to your separate bedrooms in the mean time. That way they both have their smells over the common areas and so aren't fighting for "their" space so much when they are finally introduced, also they have gotten used to having other cats around. Buy as much Feliway as you can afford and put it in both bedrooms and common areas.

When they are used to the smells of the other cat around, this might take a few weeks, introduce them in a common area, making sure each cat has an escape route back to its "safe" area. Keep the introduction short and try and end it on a good note. Slowly extend the time together. Feed separately and keep the bedrooms as safe zones that are their own personal space. Older cats can be more mellow which can help, also their senses are not as sharp which can cut down on a lot of problems too.

OH and have some enzyme cleaner around, their might be a bit of spraying and peeing in weird places while they get used to each other, you want to enzyme that stuff up fast so they don't get into the habit of competitive peeing on the spot.

Make both cats indoor cats, one cat going in and out all the time is going to mess up the dynamic and also make it hard to keep your cat in.

Accept that there will be some fights as they work out who is boss 2 female cats are going to fight. Squees suggestion of having a roster is a great one in case it doesn't work out, animals can handle a surprising amount of change as long as you take it slowly.
posted by wwax at 6:41 AM on February 28, 2012

Feliway is your friend. Make it part of the plan, whatever you do.
(Tip: it's a lot cheaper online than at the vet's office.)
posted by beagle at 8:32 AM on February 28, 2012

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