Imagine handing out treats and name tags at the front door of your home for your new cat and your resident pets. Imagine happy munches and friendly meows or woofs as they blend and bond instantly and forever.
Then blink twice and remember that you are living in reality and not in an ideal parallel universe. But armed with a set of realistic expectations, your reality when introducing a new cat to family may ultimately be just as ideal.
Introducing your new cat to the pets already in your home is a process. To succeed, you must start with a plan and a promise – to yourself -- to be patient. Very patient... because the process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks (and in extreme cases, a few months).
To improve your chances of a happy blending of old and new, choose a cat as close as possible in temperament and activity level to the pets you already have. Both cats and dogs are creatures of habit, and most dislike disruptions in their daily lives and routines. Some dogs and cats are naturally more relaxed and more social than others. Some just don't enjoy sharing at all. Unhappy with the arrival of a newcomer, they may demonstrate their disapproval by fighting with the “intruder” or by marking.
Allow your new cat to adjust to you and his/her surroundings by keeping him/her in a separate room with his/her bed, litter box, food, water, toys and a scratching post for several days. Spend as much quality, comforting time with your new arrival as possible.
Maintain your other pets’ regular routines – from feeding and pottying to exercising, playing and together times – to reassure them that nothing has really changed.
Since smells are of utmost importance to animals, get them used to each other’s scent as soon as possible. One way is through that most reliable standby -- food!
Try feeding your resident pets and your new cat on either side of the door to his/her room, encouraging them to associate something pleasurable with one another’s smell.
Once your new cat is using his/her litter box and eating regularly, walk him/her slowly through your home, room by room, allowing him/her to become familiar with its sights, sounds and smells. Keep your other pets in your cat’s room to allow your new cat a sense of safety and privacy while promoting a further exchange of scents between them. Repeat this several times a day for a few days.
Next, use two door-stoppers to keep the door to your new cat’s room propped open just enough for the animals to see each other. Repeat this several times a day for a few days.
BUT remember! For now, every time you leave your home you should leave your new cat in his/her room with the door closed.
Hopefully, when you’re ready to make “formal” introductions, your patience and your animals’ pre-preparations will have paid off. And they will not only recognize – but start to accept -- one another by what they see and smell.
Armed with the tastiest treats and most tempting toys, you can expect sniffing and circling, approaching and walking away, a kind of ritual dance repeated again and again as each takes the other’s measure. Reward good behavior with praise and treats.
Once again, patience is key. This too is a process, which may take time until the blending is successful and your family is calmly and contentedly one.
Article written by Nomi Berger. Nomi is the bestselling author of seven novels, one work of non-fiction, and two volumes of poetry. She lives in Toronto, Ontario and now devotes all of her time volunteering her writing skills to animal rescue organizations throughout Canada and the USA.