Introducing a 10-week old kitten to the rest of the menagerie
January 10, 2021 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Unexpectedly got a new kitten, and I'm looking for strategies for introductions to our two adult cats and two adult dogs now that her isolation/quarantine is coming to an end. Are there any websites out there with a good step by step protocol for both cats and dogs? Complications and pet tax inside.

Three weeks ago, a stray sick kitten showed up in our backyard, hiding under a fire pit and crying pitifully, no littermates or momma cat to be found. We've nursed her to health and she's now a rambunctious ~10 week old ball of energy we call Dottie.

We have two adult cats, Marvin (2) and Milton (4) who so far seem unfazed by the kitten living in our basement bathroom. Marvin in particular really wants to play - lots of attempts at footsie between them under the door. Milton seems more interested in the kitten's food than her. I had the door open while cleaning out her room the other day and he just sat from afar looking at her. So, no aggression being displayed yet.

The dogs - Roxy (6) and Frank (3) are both greyhounds, perfectly fine with (and pretty much afraid of) adult cats. But I have no idea what they will think of a tiny squeaky thing smaller than some of their toys.

The complications:
- The kitten bathroom is in our finished but not really lived-in basement. The cats' litter boxes are down there, as is our at-home gym setup and a couch with TV for video gaming. But it's chilly (her bathroom has a space heater so she's nice and warm) and we just don't spend a lot of time down there. Of course we can hang out in the basement, but we can't sleep or work down there. The dogs can't manage the twisty stairs so they do not go in the basement at all.
- Our house is three floors, with an open stairwell connecting all three floors (no doors, open banisters on one side of the stairs), so closing off one floor at a time is impossible. And the main living floor is pretty open plan.
- One of the dogs sleeps in the first floor living room at night, the other in the second floor bedroom with us. The cats have free reign but usually both are in the bedroom for at least some of the night.
- We both work from home right now but also both have busy jobs with lots of meetings and things that aren't always flexible. My partner's office is on the main floor (with a door), mine is a guest room on the second floor (also has a door).
- The kitten is small enough to fit between the rungs of our only baby/pet gate.
- Dottie's vet visit is tomorrow night and we're assuming we'll get the ok for introductions then or in a day or two if we have to wait for any test results (the boys are fully vaccinated).
- Because life is never easy, one of the dogs (Roxy) is currently on a steroid that makes her pee a LOT, sometimes without her realizing it's happening, so we have to keep close eye on her and take her out frequently.

I've had dogs and cats for a long time but I'm trying to figure out how to manage this introduction. Are there any resources out there broken down into like "Day 1 - do this; Day 2 - if that went well do this;" etc? Especially ones that cover a kitten being introduced to adult cats AND dogs? Dottie has soooo much energy that is hard to burn off in a tiny bathroom even with all the toys and visits from us; I think the sooner she can be out of there, the better. But I also feel like we won't be able to leave her unsupervised with the other pets for a while - so does she just go back in her kitten jail when we're working and sleeping? That's so much of the day!!

Please help me game this out, I really like having a plan for things like this, even if I end up having to improvise.
posted by misskaz to Pets & Animals (8 answers total)
Best answer: We've added two cats since we've had our two dogs (who joined the household when we already had two older cats, now passed on) - one was an absolutely fearless kitten who ate dog food out of their bowls in front of them on his second day here and has taken no shit from anybody since. It took the second, more reserved one about three months to really be comfortable with the dogs, but even that transition was pretty peaceful and uneventful.

For us, the key has been to give the new cats a safe space from the dogs by using a gate with a small pet door that they could fit through but the dogs couldn't. We also put a secondary litter box in that room (so the dogs wouldn't be tempted to chase the new cat when it was on its way to the main box in the basement) which unfortunately now everyone is used to, so it's remained. In your case, maybe that space could be your partner's office? Of course, your kitten may find their own safe space - under a bed or dresser, etc.

Our older cats basically ignored or dealt with the new ones with swats and hisses until they realized they were going to stay and resigned themselves to having a new napping buddy. We never felt like we needed to monitor or police the cat interaction much.

I also think we started our introductions on a Friday afternoon, so we could keep an eye on things over the weekend (we were working outside the home at the time) - in both cases, I don't remember having to put the new cat back in "jail." Hope this helps!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:48 PM on January 10, 2021

Best answer: Time, patience, more time, more patience. Totally fine to let the kitten stay in the bathroom until you get it fully comfortable, can be weeks if needed.

Day 1-5: keep the kitten in as quiet and safe space as possible. Doesnt' have to be big, just away from the other animals.

Day 5: if the kitten is starting to get curious, trying to see what's on the other side of the door, you can crack the door and them look out. Assuming there is another of your animal crew out there, especially the dogs, give food to both the kitten and the established animals, so that they are eating on opposite sides of the door. Do that for a few days.

Day 7(ish): start letting them interact under your watchful eye. If there is any barking / hissing / biting, go back to the Day 5 plan.

Don't rush introductions, even though it seems like a long wait its better to do this instead of traumatizing the kitten if one of your dogs has a bad reaction. Then you'll just have a scared ass cat for 20 years.
posted by RajahKing at 6:47 AM on January 11, 2021

Best answer: The above answers are good, I'll just add that in a cat-only situation, I've used a pet tent like this one with good results:

It let's them sniff/see each other, with zero risk of any physical attack. We had this in the kittens room in the week before we introduced him to our older cat. First step was letting the older cat smell the tent without the kitten in it - then the kitten got to smell the older cat's trace in the tent, then the older cat met the kitten through the tent. Still some hissing, but over time this helped.
posted by coffeecat at 10:49 AM on January 11, 2021

Best answer: Re: dog fears. I know that some greyhounds have to be cat-tested, but it sounds like you've already got that covered.
It's been my experience that the bigger the dog, the more likely they are to find a little meepy kitten adorable and fascinating. I'm much more concerned about introducing a kitten to a Jack Russell than to a Rottweiler. And kittens are generally unafraid of dogs unless they're actively barking at and chasing them.

The important things for dogs are a) a good smell investigation and b) being made aware that Kitten is Yours, or Pack Member.
You can introduce a new cat to a dog by simply holding it out butt-first and letting the dog get a good sniff, while you keep the cat distracted at the head end. Once a dog knows 'oh, THAT's where that smell has been coming from!' you're half done.

The other half is for them to know that you like this kitten, and it's Family now. Two tricks for this are 'smell my hand and fingers, now watch me pet the kitty (especially cheek scritches on the scent glands), now smell my hands with kitty on them. See? Both smells together = good'. The other is to sit cross legged on the floor, with kitty investigating your lap and trying to climb your sweater. Then let a dog in, and have them come investigate. Once they get the idea that Mom likes this little thing, and if they are nice and gentle they get praise or a treat, things progress quickly.

Cats, on the other hand, don't sniff butts as much. They smell each other's breath, or at least touch noses.
Stage one: are you real? There's likely to be some hissing, and what looks like paws reaching out as if to swat, at first. But let that paw make contact, let the cats touch each other for the first time on their own. I treat this like someone poking you in the shoulder or squeezing your arm, to make sure you're not a ghost or a hologram or something. Once a cat has touched another cat, and nothing happens, a lot of the hissing and aggression goes away.

Stage two: oh, you're a Cat! After that first paw, the next thing is touching noses. I don't know if it's checking what they've been eating by breath stink, or whisker-touching telepathy, or what. But once two cats have had a good nose-to-nose moment, they're pretty much introduced at that point. (Again, dogs use the other end to get acquainted)
Stage 3: Nap pile. So if it's poke, then sniff, the next thing is 'Fine, get in here, you're warm too.' Once you can get two cats to sleep on or next to each other, your work is done. A dirty trick I have pulled, once the hissing and hiding stages are over, is to leave the cats together without the heat on. Sooner or later, you'll come back to find them laying together in a sunbeam, or curled up together in a corner of the couch asleep. Once they're safe enough to doze off with one another around, or in a tangle of tails and feet, they'll start grooming each other. And at that point, the bond is as complete as you're going to make it by human intervention.

Things like play tents and screen doors can facilitate this New Thing that Smells and makes Noises. But you can also smuggle the kitten out of her protected bathroom for a bit, and let all the other animals take a tour of her smelly space. Then You show up with the Thing making the smell, making it clear that you are protective of It. A couple of play sessions like that, with the older cats observing skeptically, while the dogs knock the kitten over with their noses and the kitten follows them around, and you've got a new Member.
posted by bartleby at 12:27 PM on January 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 10 minute YouTube of typical New Kitten in a Dog & Cat household, using the playpen method of introduction.
posted by bartleby at 12:44 PM on January 11, 2021

Best answer: Watching too many animal shows seems to suggest you put up a screen, so kitten's one side, and other animals on the other side, and let them get used to each other's smells and sounds over a few days before moving away the screen.
posted by kschang at 6:42 PM on January 11, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks, all for your assurance and suggestions! I ordered one of those playpens; it's not only going to be useful for introductions but I suspect also when she's old enough to be spayed and we have to keep her confined while she heals up. (We do have a large dog crate but it's so much bulkier and harder to set up than the fabric playpen.)

I'm still not 100% sure what to do at night - maybe set her up in my office (across the hall from our bedroom) with a secondary litter box, etc and the baby gate? But I think we will be able to figure it out, and appreciate the help with how to handle intros. (Butt first to dogs - great tip!)
posted by misskaz at 4:29 AM on January 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again to everyone for the suggestions! Dottie has been roaming the house with no restrictions for a few days now and is doing great. She's also been free for the last two overnights without a problem. I'm not sure we needed the playpen but it's actually proving useful for feeding her and keeping the other two cats out of her way, since she gets fed a few additional times per day and gets that extra yummy/stinky canned kitten food.

Final pet tax (learning how to be a house cat from her big brothers).
posted by misskaz at 11:36 AM on January 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

« Older What's it like working for a "big four" mid in...   |   Sci-Fi for young readers? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.