Adding a New Cat to Your Home

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.

Kitten Behavior Essentials

They say moving to New York City is tough, but the biggest challenge I faced during my first few weeks was unexpected: raising a kitten I rescued from the street, weaned off its mother prematurely. The veterinarian warned me that 3-week-old Andy was too young to survive away from his mother, but to me, Andy looked like a trooper.

According to The Humane Society of the United States, there are five stages of kittenhood. As I listenened to Andy's steady breath while he slept that first night, I vowed to see him through all five.

The Neonatal Period: Birth to 2 Weeks During a kitten’s first two weeks of life, its eyes and ears slowly open. Being with its mother is critical at this time because antibodies found in mother’s milk help to build immunity. What’s more, “if a kitten is raised without the ability to be comforted by a mom, it can begin life as a dysfunctional animal,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, author of The Cat Who Cried for Help (Bantam Books 1997). Uncertain of how much contact Andy had with his mom, I wondered whether his nestling in my hands was enough to ensure his well-being.

The Socialization Period: 2 to 7 Weeks Between the second and seventh week, kittens develop their senses fully and learn to run, stalk, pounce and avoid obstacles. To my relief, Andy began to do all these things, remaining healthy after a week of sleeping and bottle-feeding. His first feat was learning to jump from my bed into his own. Soon, the brave kitten preyed -- with boundless energy -- on the toys I made for him. It was entertaining to watch Andy blossom during this period, which Dr. Dodman calls “the starting point of their lives…where they learn everything before fear develops.”

Most Active Play Period: 7 to 14 Weeks After nearly two months, a kitten usually starts to scoop, paw and mouth. Andy seemed to turn into an acrobat overnight, often running as fast as he could before springing himself onto my bed. “Having gone through ‘acclimation,’ kittens continue using that talent [skills they learned in the socialization period],” says Dr. Dodman.

Ranking Period: 3 to 6 months “In this period, kittens are still continuing to learn…when to run away and when to fight,” says Dr. Dodman. Andy learned the hard way how “ranking,” or basic dominance and submission, works. As my two older felines ate side-by-side one night, he slowly crept up behind them. His small nose suddenly sniffing in their food bowls surprised them and caused Freddy, the oldest, to strike Andy on the head. Andy slumped back with his belly up and lay still on the floor, meaning no harm, while Freddy retreated into her favorite room. From then on, Andy stayed by himself more often.

Adolescence Period: 6 to 18 months During adolescence, kitten play and exploration continues, but the onset of sexual maturity is the biggest change. It was right before this time that I handed my kitten over to new owners. There were many reasons that I couldn’t keep Andy, but his new human family was ecstatic. For an unneutered, orphaned cat, Andy was surprisingly well-adjusted.

The Secret to Good Behavior
Andy’s adjustment to his new life was not a surprise, as I had nurtured him well in the socialization stage of his life. “If you introduce almost anything during this period, whether it’s kind and gentle handling or even your dog or bird, kittens will soak in the information like a sponge,” affirms Dr. Dodman. To ensure that your own kitten grows up to be intelligent and social, follow these five critical steps, especially during the tender socialization period:

  1. Handle your kitten often Wrap one hand around your kitten’s body under its front legs and scoop the back legs with the other hand. Studies show that kittens frequently handled by people are more likely to develop larger brains.
     
  2. Teach your kitten to love toys, not hands Drag or throw a toy and let your kitten chase and pounce on it. A small stuffed animal will allow your kitten to wrestle the way it would with littermates instead of grappling with your feet or hands. Conduct at least two 15-minute play sessions a day.
     
  3. Introduce your kitten to strangers Teach your kitten not to avoid people by exposing it to others early on. Let your friends play with your kitten, and bring its favorite toys into the session.
     
  4. Actively encourage/discourage behaviors Bribe your kitten with treats when it does well. When it nips you, squirt it, away from the eyes, with water mixed with a bit of vinegar. If the play session gets too rough, abruptly end it by walking into the other room and closing the door until your cat relaxes.
     
  5. Avoid physical punishment Flicking or hitting your kitten to reprimand it will only teach your pet to become afraid of your hands.

With proper care and socialization, a cat’s less-than-promising fate doesn’t have to be written in stone. Raising Andy, for me, was proof of that: I was able to overturn the veterinarian’s prediction and help Andy breeze through his fifth stage of kittenhood.

Five Ways To Make Your Shelter Cat Feel at Home

Adopting a cat from a shelter can be one of the most fun and rewarding adventures. And while you’re probably feeling joyful and excited, it’s important to keep in mind that your new furry friend may have had some tough life experiences before you found each other. Though you may never know if they were living as a stray on the street, or in a chaotic, or even abusive environment, it’s very important to make the transition into your home as calm and smooth as possible.

Here we have five tips to make sure Felix feels that mi casa es su casa.                      

1. For the most part, car rides aren’t fun for cats, so try to make them quick and calm. When driving your cat home, keep her in a carrying case or crate. The confined space will make her feel safer and less stressed. Don’t play loud music, and ask the kids not to bother their new friend during the ride. It’s not a good idea to let the cat roam around during the trip either. You might think they would enjoy that, but what they really want is to feel safe and secure.

2. Give them time to acclimate. During the first few weeks keep the cat indoors so that she starts to think of your house as his home. You will want her to associate being there with positive feelings, as well as the place where he gets food, water and shelter. This way, if you do decide to allow your cat outside, she’ll know to always come back and not run away.

3. Don’t be surprised if your cat hides from you. If your cat hides for the first few days you bring her home, don’t be offended. It doesn’t mean she’s unhappy with you or your home. Cats can be quite nervous after a move, and they calm those nerves by finding a quiet and contained space. She may hide for several days under a bed or couch, or even in a closet. While this can be hard on owners—especially excited kids who have a new adorable pet!—if she’s safe, don’t remove your new cat from that space. Allow her time to gather her courage and come out on her own. But be sure that while she’s hiding, she has access to water, food and her litter box close by. 

4. Baby Steps. It can take cats one to two weeks to get comfortable in a new home. During that time, the best way to ease the transition is by creating a calm environment, which means keeping away children and other pets. Not only will this help your cat feel safe in your house, the less stressed your cat is when she meets your kids, or her new animal siblings, the better that meeting will likely go. In fact, it’s recommended that you find a quiet, safe room in your house and keep your cat contained there until he’s acting a bit more comfortable.

5. Cats need their sleep. Kind of like a teenager, cats do best when they are given ample alone time and can get lots of sleep. Often, they’ll find several favorite spots to catch a snooze. They like dark, quiet, non-drafty spaces. By providing your new cat with a soft bed, you can sometimes guide her to a particular location, but by nature cats are independent, so don’t be surprised if she ends up sleeping on your couch, or even between some books on a bookshelf. Try not to wake your cat when she’s sleeping, and remind your kids to do the same.

Keep these few simple steps in mind when you bring home your shelter cat, and your family will enjoy their new family member in no time at all!

Cat Volunteers Who Are Saving Lives

Each year, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals honors outstanding people -- and even cats -- who have made a significant impact on the lives of animals. Let’s meet some of the recent winners:

Mittens, ASPCA’s Reigning Cat of the Year
On a cold night in Baltimore, two teenage boys trapped a young mother cat in a milk crate while she was nursing her kittens, doused her in lighter fluid and struck a match. “The brave cat managed to escape from the crate, extinguish the fire and return to tend to her newborn kittens,” says Mallory Kerley, media coordinator for the ASPCA. “Mittens, as she was named, was rescued by local police as well as Baltimore City Animal Control officers. She was brought to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) with her kittens, where she slowly recovered from the loss of her ears as well as third- and fourth-degree burns covering 70 percent of her body.”

In spite of her injuries, Mittens continued to care for her kittens during recovery and was very affectionate toward the BARCS staff. Her inspiring story resulted in extensive media coverage, and she became the unofficial face of the fight for animal protection laws in the state. “Due in part to Mittens, the 2011 Maryland Congressional Session achieved unprecedented success as new laws were passed that had previously failed, finally giving a stronger voice to animals in need across Maryland,” says Kerley. “She now resides in the loving home of Cindy Wright, while the primary perpetrator in the case pled guilty to felony animal cruelty.”

Stevie Nelson: ASPCA Kid of the Year
Just before turning 5, Stevie Nelson lost his two beloved black Labradors. He and his family were devastated. Their search extended over five states, and they hired a private investigator and offered a sizable cash reward for their dogs’ return. Unfortunately, they never came home.

Stevie decided he wanted to help other needy animals find homes. “Instead of asking for toys and games for his 6th birthday, he set out to raise $6,000 for the Northeast Nebraska Humane Society (NNHS), which was launching a capital campaign to build a new animal shelter,” says Kerley. “By his birthday on March 16, Stevie had surpassed his initial goal, and to date, he has raised more than $28,000 for NNHS to continue to help even more animals in need.”

Caroline Griffin: ASPCA Presidential Service Award Winner

Fed up with horror stories describing cruel acts against animals, Caroline Griffin of Baltimore decided that enough was enough. She used her training as an attorney to devote her life to advocating for changes in her city’s policies and procedures to better protect animals and prosecute their abusers. She was appointed to chair a task force to examine the extent of animal abuse and neglect in the city and to develop ways to improve the coordination of all the agencies and individuals concerned about the problem. “Her leadership of the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force led to heightened media and public awareness of animal issues and an unprecedented level of cooperation between groups,” says Kerley. “She has helped to create a dramatic change in the way the citizens and officials of Baltimore view our duties to protect animals.” As a result, Baltimore now serves as a model for other cities across the country.

ASPCA president and CEO, Ed Sayres, says each of the winners displayed tremendous commitment and compassion. “The distinguished achievements of these advocates are prime examples of the ASPCA’s mission of preventing cruelty to animals.”

Photo: ASPCA

Top 7 Ways to Help Homeless Cats This Holiday Season

Pumpkin, a 12-year-old abandoned cat, was given a new home and a new life after being cared for at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. Unfortunately, pumpkin is just one of millions of cats in need. According to the ASPCA, it’s impossible to determine how many stray cats and dogs live in the United States, but estimates for cats alone range up to 70 million.

This winter holiday season, help reduce that high number with one of these seven steps:

1. Adopt a cat. The No. 1 way to help is to open your home to a cat, even if you already have one or more in your family. Some shelters and organizations offer specials. For example, the Humane Society for Hamilton County in Noblesville, Ind., has operated a successful Purrsdays program, whereby all cats and kittens are 50 percent off on those special days. For a low fee, the owner gets a cat that’s been spayed/neutered, microchipped and vaccinated. Executive Director Rebecca Stevens points out that if conditions become overcrowded at her shelter, illnesses can more readily spread. “By reducing the number of cats in our care, our hope is to prevent the spread of illness and cramped quarters for the ones that remain.”

2. Foster a cat. If you haven’t lived with a cat before, or if you just don’t want to take on the long-term commitment of owning a pet now, fostering can be one option. “Fostering can be a great way to determine whether a pet fits into your lifestyle,” says Stevens.

3. Volunteer. During the holiday season, volunteering often takes on a new festive twist. For example, Macy’s and the San Francisco SPCA team up to create the much-anticipated Macy’s Holiday Windows, which feature kittens and puppies for adoption. The partnership has existed for 25 years now.

Says Jennifer Lu, communications manager for the San Francisco SPCA: “The holiday tradition is a wonderful expression of the holiday spirit in San Francisco. Volunteer with the San Francisco SPCA at Holiday Windows and be a part of the magic this season!” She explains that volunteers work over short shifts of about two hours, greeting the public, collecting donations and directing people to the SPCA adoption center inside Macy’s.

4. Donate. Consider making a one-time donation or a sustained financial contribution to your favorite shelter or animal organization. Most can usually inform you how your dollars will be spent to help cats in their charge.

5. Give the gift of adoption. If you know a friend or family member would like to adopt a cat, think about getting an adoption gift certificate instead of an actual kitty. Says Betsy McFarland, senior director of companion animals at The Humane Society of the United States: “The recipient of your furry gift may not be ready for the commitment involved with the lifetime care of a pet. Instead of a puppy (or kitten) among the presents, give the gift of adoption. Many shelters offer adoption gift certificates so the recipient can be actively involved in choosing the perfect pet who will share their home for years to come.”

6. Help via social media. Most major pet food companies have a strong presence at popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes just clicking “Like” or sharing content can help feed homeless cats, since the companies often track such activity and tie initiatives to it.

7. Purchase specially marked packages of pet food. This time of year, some pet food companies are also donating food or money based on sales of their own products. It can be a win-win situation because you would be purchasing cat food anyway, and if the purchase helps to support a charity, the organization gains as well.