New cat old cat blues
November 14, 2017 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I am hoping for anecdata about introducing a new cat to existing cats and having it initially go poorly but then they eventually become friends and everyone lives happily ever after.

I've been wanting to get a kitten for awhile, to serve as a friend for one of my older cats. We have two older male cats, one of whom (Cat A) is calm and friendly but aloof towards the other. Cat B has always desperately tried to befriend every cat in the household, only to be rebuffed. Now that other cats have passed on, I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to adopt a friendly kitten, in the hopes that he or she would glom on to Cat B. I've known several people lately to have their older cat happily "adopt" a new kitten and that is exactly what I was hoping for.

But then I went to the shelter, where they convinced me that a kitten might just overwhelm Cat B (and we could not adopt two kittens at once, despite my desire to). They recommended a cat around one year in age, so I adopted an adorable, friendly, fluffy one-year old female cat.

We've taken all the recommended steps so far, including keeping her sequestered in her own safe room, exchanging towels with their scents on it, etc. Earlier she was meowing at the closed door of her chambers so I opened it a crack and allowed the cats to make eye contact. Our existing cats did not hiss or growl, just peered curiously at her. Cat A even made his friendly "what is this?" meow that I recognize from other contexts as a good sign. However, new kitty shrank back, growling and hissing profusely. I closed the door and that was the end of that.

I'm worried now that we have a long and unpleasant road ahead of us. Have you had a cat intro that started off inauspiciously but blossomed into friendship? Please tell me it can be done.
posted by whistle pig to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Did the shelter give you any clue whether your new kitty is generally receptive to, or afraid of, other cats?
posted by amtho at 8:24 AM on November 14, 2017

Yes, it can totally be done.

Growling and hissing is going to happen even in the best of circumstances. Two of mine were growling and hissing at each other this morning and they are littermates who have lived together for their lives and generally get along just fine.

At some point you have to open the door and see what happens. Give them the opportunity to work it out. In my life, I have only had one scenario where the two cats - both females well into adulthood, one of whom had never lived with other cats - could not get along. And it was really really obvious that it was an unsolvable, increasingly dangerous problem, involving attempts to actually injure each other.

To me it's a good sign that your new cat is shrinking back rather than acting aggressively - she's going to be freaked out in a new place meeting new cats no matter what. You have to push through that initial phase and let them really see each other and interact.

I'd open that door today and leave it open and walk away, then unobtrusively watch what happens. At night, continue to keep the new cat sequestered in her safe space, but while you're at home and can supervise, start letting them interact. The chances are very good it will all work out in the end.
posted by something something at 8:30 AM on November 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

It almost never goes as smoothly as you hope, and is almost never the total disaster you fear.

We've had 4 cats in all, and all but the first one had to be introduced to an "incumbent." In every case the early stages sounded about like you describe. Go slow, give both cats a space to retreat to, and in time they accept the "new guy" as a normal part of the passive/aggressive deal that all cats seem to feel they're living in.

Probably the most awkward extended transition was introducing current cat to our previous cat. PC lived to be about 17 years old, and when the new cat was introduced NC was about a year old, had had kittens of her own (none of them came with her; in fact we didn't know about them until later), had been an indoor/outdoor cat, and was extremely outgoing. In fact, she just kinda walked into our house. PC was about 10 years old, had been indoors all her life, was very small, shy around people, but VERY much the alpha cat. Both were/are female.

And they hissed at each for about a year. Pretty dramatically at first, a lot of avoidance and slinking off to other rooms when the other arrived. Within a week or two it was just a perfunctory "hiss," as a way of saying "Good morning; go away."

But neither cat became anti-social, started tearing things up around the house, etc. They both were fine with us, but neither really seemed to like the other. Eventually they kind of got used to each other, and would be in the same room, but never did start curling up with each other.

What you're describing sounds like a better-than-average beginning. To me it's all about the incumbent cat(s) making peace with it; the new cat/kitten has to adjust regardless. If the less social of your two cats seems friendly, they will probably all be getting along fine before you know it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:54 AM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I lost Best Cat in the World in August. She was survived by her shy, skittish, aloof 9-year-old sister. I adopted two rambunctious kittens -- a 2-month-old and a 4-month-old. They mostly keep each other occupied, but they do try to play with/chase the 9-year-old.

She's gradually getting used to it. She's good at setting boundaries -- that's what the hissing's for -- and although the kittens are good at testing those boundaries, they also have an inherent understanding of what the hissing means, and they usually back off.

It's a process, for sure, but it's one the cats will figure out how to negotiate. You just have to let them do it.

Here's the 9-year-old and younger, rowdier kitten a few days ago. Yes, that's a side-eye, but they spent the afternoon together.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:59 AM on November 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Hissing on first contact is totally normal. Every time I've introduced a new cat into the house, it starts with hisses and growls, but within a few weeks or a couple months, they work it out and tranquility returns. Just make sure that everyone has a safe place to retreat to, and that nobody is keeping anyone else away from their food.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:05 AM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

This can totally be done! I've done it several times! One key: Feliway. Get the plug-in type, and read the instructions to determine how many you need for your house. (We used two at a time in my 1400 square foot house.) Our old cat vs. new cat battle subsided into a stalemate and then eventually evolved into LOVE.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:13 AM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would not put too much stock in the hissing. My big lovebug hissed at my hand whenever it came in for pets for the first few days. Then he would hiss and purr. Then he never hissed again. When he was a kitten, he was too rambunctious for my older, smaller lady. It took some months, but as I am typing this, they are sitting contentedly three inches from one another. It's going to be okay.
posted by *s at 9:14 AM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

The other thing I've heard to make it easier, in addition to giving them towels as you've done, is putting them each inside a closed carrier or crate in the same room, so they get used to each other's scents but know they are each safe from harm.
posted by capricorn at 11:06 AM on November 14, 2017

This sounds like it's going better than any cat introduction I've experienced. Introducing the second cat to the first one was a week-long brawl and now they're fine with one another. Introducing the third cat was more of the same, but everyone got over it pretty quickly.

One thing I will advise is clipping the nails of all cats involved and keeping them that way for a few months. Swipes are not unlikely and you might want to minimize any possible cuts.
posted by FakeFreyja at 11:50 AM on November 14, 2017

A friend of mine has a cranky twelve-year-old cat and introduced an aggressive younger cat a while ago. It went incredibly badly at first (friend's boyfriend went to urgent care after being bitten by Younger Cat during the cats' first in-person meeting). It's been a long, slow process, but everyone in the house at least tolerates everyone else at this point (and "everyone" at this point includes friend, boyfriend, older cat, younger cat, and boyfriend's three cats). One of the techniques that they found helpful was to spend some time with the cats in separate rooms divided by a baby gate (so they can see and smell each other) and to move their food dishes closer to the gate over time.
posted by Vibrissa at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Years ago I got my beloved old cat a kitten and it turned out wonderfully. She loved him immediately, but he was terrified and hissy. Eventually he got over his fear (even though the kitten rode him around the house and body slammed him for fun) and was a much happier cat than he had been pre-kitten.
posted by Stonkle at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2017

We've introduced quite a few cats to older feline residents over the years, and the most recent by FAR was the most drawn-out. Our old cat Fidget is 21 y/o and doesn't have any interest in antics, but she also mourned the passing of previous oldest cat Puppy, and we felt she would benefit from a companion, so we got kittens for the sad old cat, one kinda derpy/lovey, the other, Purrcy, is more of an alert hunter, but she has good energy and is very bonded to the derp Orpheus.

When we adopted the two unrelated 4-month old feral kitties they already adored each other, so we kept them in their own (closed-door) room, and we'd go in there with them a LOT to play/feed/clean/spend time. We temporarily borrowed a crate from the pet shop while we went through the 'introducing everyone to everyone' time. The older cat hung outside the door and was interested, but mostly just to make cranky noises about dumb babies in the house. She was not thrilled, but she tolerated them.

After several weeks with this arrangement then we began hanging out with the kittens in the special room but we cracked the door juuuuust enough while we were in there that anyone who wanted to stick their nose out for a good sniff could do so. Cranky old Fidget stuck her nose in, and the kittens stuck their noses out to sniff the hallway a lot. The door was always blocked by a human, so there was no physical interaction between the littles and the old crank. She was not thrilled, but she tolerated them.

Then, after a few weeks of that, we put the kittens into the closed-door crate and we sat in the room with them when the door (to the room) was open. Fidget was free to come/go as she wished. She was not thrilled, but she tolerated them.

We kept this arrangement for months, until finally we let the kittens out to explore the house and put Fidget in the closed-door room - just reversed the setup so everyone could freely sniff everyone else's... whatever. We slowly let them all have access to the whole house at the same time, and while Fidget still hisses at them and offers the occasional swat four years later, she also allows them to clean her endless, curl up with her to snuggle and sleep, and they're not so bad after all.

Also, I don't use Feliway - one of the diffusers I once used started to melt within a week or so of purchase and it freaked me out enough to never use them again. We now use ThunderSpray for cats. Smells really nice, all three of our current kitties respond well to it. FWIW. I wish you meowy good luck!
posted by mcbeth at 2:00 PM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mr. Freedom got his old and new cat stoned on catnip. Not long after the cats were snuggling.

posted by chainsofreedom at 3:48 PM on November 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

These cats didn't like each other much at first. It took a while before the calico cat wouldn't leave the room when the ginger cat was nearby, and well, you can see how it eventually turned out.
posted by haunted_pomegranate at 5:10 PM on November 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

Thanks everyone... I have a little more hope now. Wish us luck.
posted by whistle pig at 7:42 PM on November 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

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