I have a new cat and things are terrible.
May 6, 2019 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Please tell me if there is anything more I can do to integrate a new cat into my household. Please.

I got New cat in late December. I have completely failed at integrating her into the household. I have two other cats. Good cat and Mean cat.

New cat stayed in her own room for a few weeks. We worked up to very brief moments of door opening, sniffing, swapping cats between rooms to smell each other without interacting, tiny visits where they’d get treats or play and then immediately become separated again. I’ve done all these steps slowly over the last four months. I have had two feliways going in my apartment and even with the nicer weather I’ve left all my windows closed. I’ve tried letting New cat out to be among the others for a proper visit yet no matter what it immediately goes south. My cats hate each other. Mean cat immediately, aggressively attacks new cat. Good cat immediately goes up to New cat to go HI HI HI ARE WE BEST FRIENDS and New cat gets stressed and attacks Good cat. Good cat is unable to leave New cat alone. I’ve tried to do visits between just Good cat and New cat with Mean cat in a different room, and it goes better, but it’s five minutes to disaster, not one.

Three weeks ago, after fighting kept ramping up in intensity, I went backwards, and kept New cat completely closed off in her own room. I’ve kept her away from the other cats for that whole time, trying to hit the reset button. I try to spend time with her, but not 30 seconds after closing the door to be with her, Good cat starts howling. (It’s his worst quality; if I kick him out of my bedroom in the early am, he will literally howl until I come out, even if that’s three hours. He just cannot be separated from me if I am home.) I would go, hey tough shit Good cat, it’s not your turn, but his howls stress New cat out and she will attack me. This has been going on for months now. She’ll have a stressful interaction with my existing cats, I’ll go in quietly, even hours later, not looking at her or trying to touch her, and within one or two minutes she will attack me by biting and clawing me very suddenly.

Poor new cat has been mostly alone these last three weeks except for feedings and small hellos. She’s started crying at the door to come out. However, whenever I go in to visit, New cat will attack me within, no exaggeration, two minutes. When I go in, I sit quietly, let her come to me, pet her super tentatively (there’s one spot where she enjoys being touched), but Good cat starts howling or Mean cat is growling and hissing on the other side of the door or I’m doing something wrong and BOOM she bites and claws me.

Tonight, after having been away for 48 hours (like, we’re all chill, yes cats?) I put up two baby gates in the doorway so that New cat could see out and not be so lonely but still be separate and safe. IMMEDIATELY everyone started fighting through the baby gate. So I was like nope and closed the door. And New cat started crying. And so did I.

I have a firm commitment that cats are for life, and that you only bring a cat to its forever home. I am so stressed about this situation I’m not sleeping, and it’s starting to affect my own health. New cat is miserable. I feel so insanely guilty that I took her from the shelter to put her in this situation. My existing cats are miserable.

What am I doing wrong? What else can I try? If I had a network of friends, I’d be asking if anyone wants an only-cat. This is embarrassing, but I’m a real anti-social hero, and I honestly don’t have any local friends. Really. But I’m not bringing her back to the aspca. It was so crowded and stressful and noisy. What on earth do I do? She’s 9 and in quiet moments has show herself to be a real sweetheart with a playful side. I want to do right for this cat, and I will do whatever that is.
posted by missmary6 to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (I know Ask policy; I’ll swing in with photos later. All three cats are adorable. New cat is a tabby with a perfect spotted belly.)
posted by missmary6 at 5:48 PM on May 6, 2019

Is it possible to create a buffer zone with the baby gates so that they can see each other, but can't actually get close enough to fight?

Could you put a harness on Good Cat and hold them in your lap so New Cat can get away when the friend-making gets too much?
posted by hoyland at 6:08 PM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have a firm commitment that cats are for life, and that you only bring a cat to its forever home.

This is commendable as an ideal but just doesn't work sometimes. I foster and integrate different animals together on an ongoing basis and some animals just can't be with each other. It's nothing bad about you or them, it's just the way it is. Current foster cat adored now previous foster dog but was extremely uncomfortable around a friend's dog that I boarded last weekend. Had the dog been a foster, I'd had just swapped it out to a different home rather than make the cat miserable.

You've given this a good four months and it's not working for any of you. It's not a failure on your part, it's just the way it is. It is kinder to work with the rescue to find her a new home, even if does involve some stress going back to the rescue, than to keep her in an unworkable home.
posted by Candleman at 6:40 PM on May 6, 2019 [28 favorites]

Agreeing with Candleman that sometimes you're not an animal's Forever Home. Also agreeing that sending a 9 year old cat back to the shelter would be awful.

Last time we got a cat we tried Craig's List, but every time someone had already taken the cat home. You could put a "cat offered" ad and see what happens.

Good luck to all of you!
posted by kestralwing at 6:47 PM on May 6, 2019

I can feel how stressed this is making you through your written words. It breaks my heart, truly.

now, my initial thought is that "a few weeks" (two to three?) seems like a long time to have a strange creature locked behind a door in my house... as a cat I'd probably be highly stressed after say the first couple days of wondering what/who the heck is that creature in the locked room all of a sudden? weeks might drive me nuts. cats are known for their curiosity.

That aside, it sounds like you've been trying everything possible given the current situation and it's not working. Pretty much the only option left, and this is a last-ditch attempt kind of thing, and ONLY if you can afford it (vet bills potentially some stitches), is to set up N+1 litter boxes in all four corners of the dwelling, open all doors and just let them figure it out organically. I had a similar situation to yours (goofy new friendly cat introduced to two somewhat older cats who have an existing dynamic) and tbh our "bad cat" never really stopped slapping around our new cat, but it did die down to a dull roar and they would (disdainfully) tolerate each other the rest of the time. I wouldn't call that outcome 'ideal' but it sorta worked?

It's a hail mary play but it could work. You can't chase them around and try to break it up tho, it takes a bit of grit to let it play out but i mean, cats are tough.

I'm not saying it's GOOD advice, but... it's advice?
posted by some loser at 6:57 PM on May 6, 2019 [12 favorites]

I think you've basically done everything you can reasonably do. I would not judge you if you decided to re-home new cat. The only other thing I can think of is cat Xanax for all three, you'd have to go to a vet.

This worked wonders when my cat couldn't handle New Dog. Calm became the new normal and after two months I weaned Cat off the pills, he had a history of positive interactions and didn't mind Dog anymore.

Also are all of these cats fixed? Have you tried just keeping them all integrated and seeing if they find a new balance? This would obviously be a bad idea if anyone was drawing blood, but it could just be bluster.
posted by Bistyfrass at 7:05 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

You cannot make "homes are forever!!1!" more important than "these actual animals and I are miserable." It's not a promise you can make in the first place, and it's not to the animals' benefit, just your sense of virtue.

Work within whatever local systems you can find to rehome one of these cats. You could probably work it out with Good Cat and New Cat, but only if you rehome Mean Cat (who maybe needs to live alone, you should consider the well-being of both of them if Good Cat is so needy for companionship).
posted by Lyn Never at 7:07 PM on May 6, 2019 [11 favorites]

As for how to rehome, if you tell us generally where you are located, maybe there are MeFites who can help? If you are in the Boston area, I have friends who are involved in animal rescues and adoption, and you're welcome to borrow my network. I'm guessing that you're somewhere smaller, since it sounds like there's only one shelter near you, but we still might be able to help.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:09 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

I could have written this almost word for word. Before getting our own New Cat, we had 2 cats in the house. We just returned New Cat to the organization we got her from this weekend.

Our existing cats were very curious about New Cat. New Cat, however, hated their guts. We introduced them slowly, like you did. We exchanged blankets so they could get used to each other's scents. After a week, we let them peek at each other through a door. Growling and hissing ensued, we gave it another week. Eventually we ventured an attempt to let them mingle through a gate, which also didn't go well. The few times we were able to have all 3 of them in the same room, New Cat attacked them. She ended up being sequestered in a room for most of the day for weeks, and she was not very happy about it (much like your cat).

We eventually took her to the vet, who told us we'd done everything right, and we could consider a 30 day trial of casein to reduce her anxiety. She said if it didn't work we should seriously think about rehoming. We tried it, and it did not help. The next step would have been kitty Prozac. After talking to our vet, we decided not to go that route and contacted the shelter.

If you haven't gone the vet route, I would say it's your last-ditch effort. Perhaps casein or anti-anxiety medication will help. But please don't feel like you HAVE to stick this through no matter what, because you do have to consider his quality of life. He is unhappily sequestered, he lashes out at your cats, and he lashes out at you. He's not happy where he is. He can't be forced to be happy. Please don't consider it a moral failing if you decide it's not working out - it's not anyone's fault. He could have a chance to find a new home where he can be the only cat hogging all the human attention. Best of luck.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 7:12 PM on May 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

I tried for six months to integrate a cat into my household, and couldn’t overcome the hatred my current cat has for the newcomer. I ended up bringing him back to the rescue where I got him from and he ended up in a better house with a cat who loved him. I felt the same way - he was my responsibility- but in the end the right thing to do was to get him back to the (no-kill) rescue and let him find a home where he wasn’t always under stress. You sound like you’ve been doing all the right things but sometimes cats just don’t get along.

Later we ended up with a sassy girl cat who integrated with no troubles at all and who now is best friends with the dog and gets along happily with the original cats. You may just need a better fit, or your Mean cat may resist any new additions.
posted by PussKillian at 7:16 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hey, this sounds so rough, and you are beating yourself up a lot about it. This is not your fault and you did not fail. Did you ever have to do a group project with people that you just didn't get along with? That's all this is, but with cats. Your cats aren't a good team, and that has nothing to do with anything but their feelings and pheromones. It's no one's fault.

It sounds like you've tried really hard. I second the recommendation that you let us know your general area. It would probably also be good to talk to your vet about this. They may know some local options. And perhaps trying medication while you figure out how to re-home her might not be a bad idea.

Best of luck, and please don't beat yourself up. I imagine that you imagined this whole thing would go differently. That is a loss, and it is okay to feel grief about that. Take care.
posted by sockermom at 7:36 PM on May 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Caveat to the posts advising you to re-home the cat: you very probably signed a contract which includes a clause requiring you to return the cat to the shelter rather than rehoming her yourself.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:41 PM on May 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

This sounds SO stressful, and I can tell that you are a true cat-lover who is trying their best!

I looked up Jackson Galaxy's website to see if he had ideas you haven't tried and the main one I found there has to do with PLAY. On this webpage, he says:

Remember, the worst thing you can do for any kind of in-person/no barriers introduction, is to bring both cats into a shared space without giving them something to do. In that ill-advised scenario, the other cat becomes their “something to do,” and you’ll likely find that the “staredown" soon turns into a "throwdown.”

So once you get the gets in the same room, they are supposed to do 'Eat, Play, Love'. Sounds like you need at least 1 more person to help with this (maybe 2 more since you have 3 cats). In short, distract the cats with play when they are in the room together, and end the togetherness session while everyone is still intact! Repeat, repeat, etc.

This is another page of his about aggression and the different types; again, he seems to recommend 'play' to help with this problem.

And here is his page talking about what to do after a cat fight (which it sounds like you've done: start from scratch). But perhaps there is something in here you haven't tried previously.

The only other thing I can think of is what I see in some of his TV shows: do the cats have high places to run to/hide away from one another? Jackson usually recommends re-arranging furniture and adding in some escape hatches in the cats' favourite rooms.

All the best to you and your kitters. If it doesn't work out in the end after all of this, you can't beat yourself up! And hopefully New Kitty will find a home that 'fits' better.
posted by Halo in reverse at 9:51 PM on May 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

P.S. My kitties didn't along well at first: Kitty 1 immediately hated Kitty 2 and would let her know with hisses, lunges, and swats. Kitty 2 wanted to be friends with Kitty 1 and couldn't understand why this was happening.

Fast forward to today: They are in a truce and basically own different areas of the house. And when they are in the same room, they pretend the other isn't there. Well, Kitty 1 pretends Kitty 2 isn't there, while Kitty 2 still steals secret glances at Kitty 1 in her neverending hope that they will be friends.

So I think something like this might be what you're aiming for: a truce (rather than BFFs) and some carving out of territories. Again, best of luck to you all!
posted by Halo in reverse at 9:56 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I suggest feliway diffusers. also one more litterbox for number of cats helped a lot in our house.
posted by evilmonk at 1:53 PM on May 7, 2019

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