Introducing a new cat to a small apartment
February 18, 2017 10:45 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend wants to introduce our cats. Please help me plan how to do this.

So, I live in a 1br/1ba. My cat, Thea, is about 9 years old. For the past four years we've lived here together. Before that I was in a number of room-share situations. Thea has successfully cohabitated with other cats twice -- once a 2br/2ba with three other cats and a dog, and once a 2br/2ba with two cats. That was 1) six years ago, and 2) both situations where she was introduced as the new cat, into the other cats' territory.

The first attempt involved not too much thinking and just bringing the other cat in in a carrier, because my cat has previously been pretty chill. We set up a second litterbox and left the carrier in the livingroom. My cat was not pleased, and hid under the bed. We decided to try letting her cat out. Her cat wandered around a bit, but as soon as he came into the bedroom, Thea started hissing and screeching, so we immediately stuffed him into his carrier and aborted the whole operation.

I understand conventional wisdom is to introduce the new cat in a crate, give the established cat time to sniff and smell and get accustomed to, and then probably keep the cats in different rooms for a day or two so they can calm down, smell each other under the door, etc. However, I also understand that it's disruptive to change around my cat's territory, which I am now 100% sure she thinks of as "hers."

The way my apartment is set up, I have the litterbox in the far corner of the livingroom, and the food/water in a corner of the kitchen. Thea's got the run of the place. She really does NOT like closed doors between her and her human -- when she was a kitten I tried to keep her out of my bedroom after she jumped on my face a couple of times, and she ended up tearing up the carpet under the door in her desperation to get in. Even today, she headbutts the bathroom door open to come in if it's not tightly closed, and whines outside otherwise.

So I think I have to put Thea in the bedroom, because she'll raise hell if I try to lock her in the living room. But then I have to move her litter/food/water in there too temporarily, which totally counts as ceeding some of her territory to the new guy.

The other cat will just visit for a day or two at a time, for now, but the idea was to get them familiar with eachother to see if cohabbing will work in the future. Is it kinder to the cats to try and come up with an introduction protocol now, or do the "stick the cats in separate bedrooms" thing when we move in together? Given Thea's reaction last night I'm now .. really concerned that she just may be too set in her ways to adapt to another cat in her space. Then again she was fine before so maybe both cats moving into a new space at the same time (where nobody has established territory), and following the "let them sniff eachother under the door" protocol would go more smoothly?

If you were in this position, what would you do to make the cats as comfortable as possible?
posted by Alterscape to Pets & Animals (8 answers total)
Does the other cat have to come for a day or two at the moment? That sounds pretty stressful for a cat, even the most chilled ones (there was an AskMe not that long ago about two cats who weren't enjoying a fortnightly weekend trip to a cabin, cats don't like change). Add in being in another cat's established territory and I can see it being really difficult for both cats. I wouldn't introduce them at all until it's going to be long term. Cats aren't like kids you are easing into nursery.

And then, yes, in the short term at least, Thea is going to have to concede some territory. If you're lucky it won't take long for them to get settled, but sometimes it can take months for cats to accept a new cat. There's lots of advice out there on how to do it. Keep them separate at first and then let them explore each others room when the other one isn't there, and then slowly let them get used to being in the same space together.

I wouldn't keep one cat in the crate for the other to sniff, that sounds really stressful for the one in the crate. Let them establish their own space and safe places, and then introduce them.

Expect some hissing and hiding. That's cat problem solving in action.

Before I've introduced animals in the same flat, I've done things like swap their bedding and favourite toys so they are familiar with each others smell. I've no idea if it helps, but it makes me feel that I'm helping.
posted by Helga-woo at 11:09 AM on February 18, 2017

My general protocol for introducing cats has been:
- new cat comes home in a wire carrier where old cat can see/smell her
- put new cat and old cat in a room with the door closed, new cat still in carrier. Have them stay in there for about a half hour just getting to know each other. There will be some unhappy noises but everyone is protected by having new kitty stay in the carrier
- then, separate them for several hours or the rest of the day so they can calm down separately
- repeat every day (maybe a couple of times a day, if you can swing it) for a week with new kitty visiting the room in the carrier. After a few visits, start to introduce treats or meals during the visits so they can get used to eating around each other
- after a week, get rid of the carrier let them both freely roam the house. Expect there to be hissing and some fights but they will most likely figure it out after a few months.

I think you could do something like this visitation protocol in your bedroom with Thea living separately in the bedroom during the cool-down parts of the day as well (ie Thea is always in there with door closed, but a few times a day you bring in new kitty in a carrier, close the door, and let them meet each other).

I would also strongly recommend you get at least one VERY TALL cat tree, like something 6 feet or more. Either cat will want a place to retreat and being up high is very soothing to cats because they can look down and survey territory. Ideally you should have one in the living room and one in the bedroom so each cat has a place to hang out up high without being in the same room.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:31 AM on February 18, 2017

My understanding is that it's the new cat that gets locked in the bedroom.
posted by rhizome at 11:32 AM on February 18, 2017

I would strongly oppose visits. Don't introduce the cats until they have to live together, please.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:34 AM on February 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

When I was in college I had a cat in a studio apartment, and I wanted a second cat. Locking the cats in different rooms wasn't an option because I only had one room! The way I managed was by getting a large wire dog crate, big enough for the new cat, plus a litter box and food/water bowls. She lived in the crate for several days while my old cat lived in the apartment as usual. Then I started letting her out for short visits, and gradually eliminated the use of the crate. I would do that in your situation...your cat doesn't cede any territory, but the cats can't fight or anything like that.
posted by christinetheslp at 12:28 PM on February 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

If Thea has previously had no problem with being the "new cat" in other cats' territory, is there any reason why she can't be introduced to your girlfriend's cat at your girlfriend's home instead?
posted by gin and biscuits at 1:39 PM on February 18, 2017

You have to give them more time to get to know each other. When we introduced our cats last spring we put Newcat in a spare bedroom for 5 days, opened the door with a tall cat gate for 3 days prior to letting them spend time with each other. Newcat still got locked in the bedroom at night for a few more weeks. Oldcat and Newcat were deeply unhappy with each other - lots of yowling, fighting, assertions of dominance. I'd say it took a month before I thought they (and we) might survive the breaking in period. Cover your home with feliway. Use lots of toys. Give everyone plenty of food and affection. 1.5 years later and Oldcat and Newcat are friendlier than any pair I've previously had, and we were introducing a mature older male cat to a young, dominant female cat (usually this is setting the stage for conflict). They are both people cats, but accompany each other almost everywhere and seem to take comfort with being within a few feet of each other.

also pictures are considered the standard for posts on the green regarding pets. Thea sounds lovely...
posted by arnicae at 2:28 PM on February 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Carting cats back and forth to different apartments in hopes that they'll be friends isn't going to be successfull. Cats don't work like that. If anything this is all just going to be stressful for the cats involved, and they'll learn to associate one another with the unpleasant experience of being stuffed in a carrier and dumped in a unfamiliar situation.

I have three cats, and all have been introduced to each other over a period of 5 to 7 days involving first no visual contact, than visual contact with physical separation, then intermittent opportunities to have physical contact with close supervision, and then physical contact with limited supervision. You have to be patient with cats, you have to not create adverse memories. It's taken two of my cats three years to get comfortable enough with each other to share the radiator or groom one another. It took them a week to peacefully time share our place, but three years to be buddies.

If I were you I would wait for further introduction until your girlfriend moves in to your apartment (if that's the plan), and then I would set the new cat up in the bathroom or bedroom with a litter box and food and let her chill there for a few days. Then I'd set them up with a tall baby grate and allow for intermittent visual contact. During the baby grate visual contact phase I usually feed both cats on their respective sides of the grate. I'd have them each spend time in one another's space (put new cat in the rest of the apartment and your cat in whatever room you've been keeping new cat in). Then I'd allow them to explore the apartment together with supervision, eventually working up to complete cohabitation.
posted by OsoMeaty at 6:59 AM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

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