Adding a New Cat to Your Home

grey house cat

If you've decided to add another feline to your family, don't be surprised if you get a bit of cattitude from your current cat. Your feline friend may have some strong opinions about this new change, and the fact that it is being forced to share your attention.

There are, however, things you can do to create peace. Check out these solutions for the most common problems that come up when our feline family expands.

What's the best way to prep my current cat for the addition of another cat to the household?
A feline is fiercely territorial and may need to warm up to the idea of sharing its space -- and your attention. Two weeks before you bring a new feline into your home, show photos and videos of cats to your current cat, suggests Janet Riley, a cat behaviorist from Naples, Fla. "In a low, reassuring tone, tell the cat that it's getting a brother or sister," she advises. This way, your cat will have some exposure to other felines and be less hesitant about this change. Spending lots of one-on-one time with your cat in the days and weeks leading up to the homecoming will also help prepare your pussycat for the upcoming changes.

What's the best time to bring a new cat home?
Weekends are best, since you'll have more time to focus on orchestrating a smooth transition and to bond with both cats. "Choose a quiet time when the household is calm," says Riley. Avoid times when relatives or friends are visiting, or any period when your current cat is under the weather or recovering from illness.

Should I lock my current cat in a bedroom when I bring my new cat home? What's the best strategy?
Resist the temptation to lock your current cat away while you bring the new cat in. This will only increase its anxiety. Instead, veterinarian Ken Harkin, an associate professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, advises that you (or the person your cat is most attached to) sit together in its favorite spot. "Make sure your cat is relaxed," he says. Once your cat is comfortable, have a friend or family member approach with the new cat in its carrier. But skip formal introductions for now. This first meeting should be brief.

Next, place your new cat in a room that has a door and can provide a sense of safety during the transition. (A bathroom or laundry room is ideal.) This is where the new cat's litter box and food should be. Shut the door and allow the new cat to explore its temporary "safe room."

During the next seven days, work on slowly getting your cats comfortable with one another. Let them sniff each other's things from time to time, and crack the door of the "safe room" so they can see one another.

When they meet face-to-face for the first time, Riley suggests enlisting a friend's help again. Sit on opposite sides of a room. For ten minutes, play with your current cat while your friend plays with the new cat. Then, trade off -- you play with the new cat for ten minutes while your friend entertains your other feline. During each "play session," slowly move the cats closer to one another. This exercise teaches the cats that they get special treatment when they're around each other, and that neither is a threat.

My cat has been acting very vocal and aloof since the arrival of our second cat. Is this normal?
Yes. It's typical for your cat to feel anxious about this new arrival, especially if your cat was previously an "only cat." It may display signs of anxiety, such as hiding, increased vocalization or aggressive behavior. Extra attention will help your cat feel secure. Any additional grooming, playtime, or petting will also help to alleviate its fears.

How long will it ultimately take for two cats to accept one another?
This process usually takes about a week, but not always -- so be patient. "It may take a few weeks or more for the cats to establish parameters about how they're going to accept each other," says Dr. Harkin. Ease the transition by giving them separate litter boxes, which allows them each their own "turf." Heap attention on both, and allow the space and time for them to adjust. Eventually the felines will work it out for themselves -- and before you know it, you'll be one big happy family.

by Nina Malkin