How to get cats who get along
June 27, 2018 11:28 AM   Subscribe

If you adopt two unrelated cats, what is the best way to increase the odds that they will like each other?

We're told that it's key to get the two cats when they are still kittens. How young is young enough, to make them more likely to become friends?

We also hear that it's better to get boy cats rather than girl cats (assuming that all will be neutered/spayed at the appropriate age), because, they say, even neutered boy cats tend to be friendlier to others than spayed female cats. What do you think? And what about getting a boy and a girl?

What has not worked for us in the past: getting a female cat, keeping her by herself for several years, and then getting a younger female cat. The older cat always disliked the younger cat. And when the new cat became the old cat, soon after the loss of the older one, and we got another female kitten, the same thing happened again. We were disappointed, because it's so nice when the cats in a household like each other enough to sleep touching each other. They seem so happy then.

(Adopting littermates is not an option for us in this case, because we already know the source of one of the new cats, who will be a male kitten, and we can't get another kitten from the same source.)
posted by chromium to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My only experience, using a tip found on the internet (which in retrospect may or may not have been legit but sounded fine) was that making them smell like each other would help, so when we had an old (12+) year cat and a new kitten, whenever they would have a conflict I would pick them up and rub them together gently, after which they'd both be angry at me and each run off in different directions. They tolerated each other quite quickly (never really "best friends"), but I can't say whether my trick worked or not or just their own personalities.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:40 AM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you are getting a kitten, get another kitten from a different source. They are so young and moldable. They'll just be thrilled to have someone else to play with. I foster and I've never ever had a problem integrating kittens.
posted by Bistyfrass at 12:03 PM on June 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Female cats tend to be more alpha, and will not enjoy sharing their space with another cat that is vying for alpha status.

If you get them while they're kittens, they're more socially adaptable. But you can go older, and just be very clear about your intended living situation so the adoption agency can guide you to a cat with that is more open to other cats.

I picked my current youngest based on the fact that he was more interested in playing with the other kittens than some boring human. I figured I was patient enough to win him over, but my older female cat was likely to be very skeptical of any newcomer.

I also waited a week before introducing them face to face, despite being in a studio at the time. I would make sure to spend twenty minutes with my old cat. Then sit in the tub with the kitten and switch between active attention and passive attention (reading books, etc). Make sure to switch in clothing and towels that smell like the other cat to acclimate them. Cats are super sensitive to smell, and when they headbutt or rub up against you, that's to mark you as part of the family. So it sneakily does the same thing for them.

I sorta regret not going for a slightly older cat with a set personality. While kittens are highly adaptable, they are also giant balls of chaos. So while the kitten did it's best to become older kitty's best friend (and succeeded!) the older kitty was quite stressed out by getting much less peace. It was quite a production to spend lots of time burning off excess energy without making the older kitty feel neglected.
posted by politikitty at 12:04 PM on June 27, 2018

Best answer: From what I've seen and read, up to some single-digit number of months generally works well, and after that it's more due to cat personalities.

Males tend to be more accommodating and put up with younger kitten antics better. I had two littermate boys and when my brother got a girl kitten while living with us, they put up with her shenanigans pretty well. She's now living with my parents and is less-tolerant of the younger (though not kitten) boy cat they got as a second cat but they still sleep near each other.

Smelling like each other does help, which you can accomplish either by transferring their smells by hand (i.e. pet each cat within a short time of each other) or by giving them all baths at the same time. Be warned that some cats tolerate this better than others - one of my boys would just accept his fate and whine via yowling a bit, but the other turned into a kangaroo with scimitar claws and yowled so loudly my neighbor thought something was seriously wrong.

Other strategies to aid friendship include things like swapping things that smell like each other during the introduction phase, like taking whatever they sleep on regularly and switching it into each others' sleeping location. Give them both plenty of room when introducing each other and have vertical escape retreats like cat towers or shelving.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:04 PM on June 27, 2018

We get all of our cats via shelters/rescues, and one came declawed. He does not like the other cats and the other cats don't like him. I wouldn't recommend to have a cat declawed. I'll recommend that any second cat you get should have the same number of claws as the pre-existing cat.

I'll add to the anecdata that twice I've been in a household with a spayed female kitty and 2-3 years later a second kitty was added. Once a spayed female, and another a neutered male. In both instances the original cat never grew to like the second cat/kitty.
posted by nobeagle at 12:13 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We are in the process of introducing a younger female cat to our older female cat and it’s going well enough; the older one hisses some but the younger not at all, and they are increasingly able to saunter past each other without anyone having to have feelings about it. I expect the older one will eventually realize that the new cat is actually her ticket to snuggles, and get over herself. One thing we did a lot at the beginning was keep treats close at hand and just shovel them into the older cat (offered to both but new cat wasn’t interested in them) whenever she was looking at the new cat but not saying rude things. This had a noticeable effect; she would look at new cat, immediately look at me and then at the floor like ‘I am seeing her. Where is my prize?’ We also tried to let them have some interaction through a baby gate in the hall, but it turns out that the new cat could squeeze right through the bars, so that was abandoned.

Having fostered bunches of kittens I agree that if they are young enough it should be fine. The shelter here prefers to pair boys together so they can wear each other out, but in my experience most girl kittens have enough energy to keep up with their brothers.
posted by little cow make small moo at 12:14 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, get a second kitten and I think you'll be fine regardless of gender, but if you're getting a kitten and you're getting another cat at the same time, DO NOT GET AN OLDER CAT unless you have evidence that older cat is good with kittens. This can also be true of girl cats! I had a girl cat who babied both of the younger cats we got after her. My middle cat was not much of a mom but despite being about five was desperately in need of an energetic playmate and it's gone well, again both girls. But the oldest, when I got middle cat, was too far past the playful age and they've never gotten along well. Some cats seem to have strong parental instincts about kittens, some cats just like to play, but you need one of those two in order to make an older cat work well with an unrelated kitten.

But if you get another kitten, you will not have this problem, even if they aren't littermates, they'll have forgotten about that very quickly. I don't think they need to be the same age, but I'd shoot for under a year old and ideally under like 6mos if you're bringing home a kitten that's 8-12 weeks.
posted by Sequence at 12:43 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

feliway diffusers work great at reducing tension.
posted by evilmonk at 1:25 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My unrelated cats were introduced at the shelter after I decided to get both. The female was a year and a half old at that point and had been in an enclosure by herself. The male was 6 months and had been housed with other young cats of a similar age.

The shelter put them together to see how they got along, and reported to me "They basically ignore each other, but no hissing or anything." They stayed in the same enclosure till they were driven over to me.

When they came home together, and they INSTANTLY became best friends. They wash each other, playfight, and the female (former stray) has taught the male (raised by humans) a lot about being a cat. Whenever they meet, they touch noses. it is the cutest thing.

There's evidence that stress or trauma-- in this case, the move-- can release chemicals in a cat's brain that briefly restore the neuroplasticity of kittenhood. I think that was why these two bonded-- they went through a stressful situation in which their only constant was each other.

So if you're getting unrelated cats from a shelter, see if you can get the shelter to introduce them before you bring them home. Otherwise, it does help if:

-- at least one is a kitten (often an adult cat's colony instinct will lead it to "adopt" a strange kitten)

-- you bring them home together, so neither has to feel that their territory is being invaded

-- Feliway. Lots of Feliway.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:35 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

We adopted our second (male, neutered) cat as a kitten about a year after we adopted our first (male, neutered) cat, also as a kitten. The play fighting sometimes gets out of hand, and we've had to re-introduce them to each other after any time apart more than a few hours, but otherwise, they are good buddies who enjoy snuggles and co-grooming.

Both of them had similar personalities when we interacted with them at the shelter--very outgoing, friendly, and energetic--which I think helped, along with them both being relatively young, and neutered males. We also introduced them to each other very slowly--over about a month or so (and the second had ringworm, and had to be quarantined at the beginning anyway.)
posted by damayanti at 2:22 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you call a local animal rescue, they will almost certainly have some cats who are already bonded to each other, possibly very strongly. I fostered ~20 cats, and I still remember how Maude would hug Lexie -- so cute! There's also these kitties (at Tiny Kittens in Canada) who are clearly very very best friends and have been helping raise each others' kittens.

The thing is, rescue orgs often think that they have to separate bonded cats in order to find homes for them; they think that most people only want one cat. It's heartbreaking! So, you calling them, saying you're looking for a bonded pair? That will make them very, very glad.

Please call a couple and see if you don't find more love than you imagined :)
posted by amtho at 2:28 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't have any advice, but here's our story.

We adopted a 4 month old male and a 3 month old female from a rescue. They were fostered together (in a house with lots of other fosters, but I think the kittens were separated from the older cats) and traveled in the same cage to the adoption fair. The male was terrified and the female was fearless. They definitely bonded immediately and have been good friends ever since (almost 10 years). It took quite a while for the male to become friendly, but he is now completely co-dependent on his humans and is the most attention seeking cat I've ever known. The female is diffident, but loving when it suits her.
posted by jindc at 3:35 PM on June 27, 2018

There's another Mefi thread about uncanny coincidences, and our experience at the animal shelter was kinda uncanny. We went in looking for 2 female cats, not kittens but not old. We picked out two random critters from the selection, and when we went to do the paperwork, it turned out that they had come in together, and they were buddies who loved each other, probably siblings.

Apologies if this anecdote might not quite apply to the question. If you're in Toronto, Toronto Animal Services is an excellent place to adopt a pet based on our experience.
posted by ovvl at 4:37 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We recently adopted two cats from the same shelter but from different sources, so not initially bonded. Rupert was 8 months old at the time of adoption, and Percy was 3. They have bonded pretty strongly now, though their bond mainly consists of chasing each other around & beating each other up.

One thing we did to ease the adjustment was to give them each their own room with litter box, food, and water, and to alternate who got the run of the rest of the house (switching a few times per day.) This lasted for a week or so. That way each of them got their "own" space, and got used to the new environment without having to deal with the other cat at the same time. If you have enough space in your house/apartment to do this, it might help.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:18 PM on June 27, 2018

Best answer: We adopted our cats as kittens and got them 6 months apart. There was some adjustment at first but 9 years later they are bffs. The bad timing on my part was that I got our second cat right as the first was recovering from being spayed. That added an extra month to the couple of months it took them to not sometimes hiss at each other. I also got two female cats and haven't had any problems or in going issues with them as a duo.
posted by toomanycurls at 8:19 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I wouldn't worry too much about getting litter mates. I don't think it's that very important. Match ages and energy levels as much as possible. Boy cats tend to get along with other cats better in my not too limited experience. And some are just more sociable than others.
posted by wotsac at 8:22 PM on June 27, 2018

Purely anecdotal but;
We didn't adopt 2 cats together, but we did introduce an 8 month old boy cat to our 4 year old female cat.
I did everything the internet told me to do, and it was still a bumpy transition.

Fast Forward almost 4 years and those little buggers love each other, hate each other, play fight, lick each other, sleep together, sleep apart.. it's been the perfect outcome honestly.

So I'm here to vote YES to boy-girl cat but also here to say that you have to be prepared for anything, be patient and don't give up... even if they don't get along at first that's not to say they won't come around!
posted by JenThePro at 2:18 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

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