RSPCA’s top Tips for Feline Friends

Before taking on a new cat here are some tips for introductions

When introducing cats the first interactions are incredibly important to ensure your cats remain happy and healthy – so the RSPCA gives its tips on how to help introductions run smoothly.

RSPCA cat welfare expert Alice Potter gives her advice on introducing cats for those who are considering adding another feline to the household.

She says: “Before taking on another cat it’s important to think carefully about whether it’s the right decision and how your existing cat or cats may feel about a new arrival. 

“It’s always tricky to predict whether cats will get along as they are not inherently social like dogs, and many cats are happiest living on their own.”

This solitary nature comes from their wild ancestors and means for some cats living with another feline is a cause of stress, anxiety and frustration. Cats who are not friendly with each other will do their best to avoid each other and may even act aggressively. They are also likely to find it stressful having to share important resources like food, water, beds and litter trays. 

Some cats however do get along and will form close social groups. What we see with free-ranging cats such as feral and stray cats is that when resources are plentiful they will sometimes choose to live in social groups, these are typically made up of related females. Key signs to show that cats consider themselves to be friends include grooming each other, rubbing against each other, playing together and sleeping curled up together.

Things to consider when deciding whether to get another cat:

  • Has your cat or cats previously lived with another cat before? All cats are different so even if your cat has lived happily with another cat before it won’t guarantee they will get along with a new arrival. However, if your cat has lived alone for many years or has previously had bad experiences living with another cat then it’s likely they will struggle with a new addition to the household.
  • How many cats already live in the home? It’s often the case that the more cats in a household the more difficult it can be to ensure they all have unrestricted access to resources, space for privacy and the ability to avoid each other.
  • Is your existing cat or cats happy and healthy? If your cat has any behavioural problems, is generally nervous/timid or has any pain related health problems such as arthritis then it’s important to consider whether bringing another cat into the household is in their best interests.
  • Do your cats have access to the outside? Cats need to be able to spend time apart from each other when they choose – opportunities for this can be limited if cats are restricted to the house.

“If after careful consideration you decide to go ahead with taking on another cat then preparation is key and careful introductions are really important. The way cats are introduced to each other can make a difference to how happily they will live together. Don’t be tempted to rush the introductions, they should be gradual.” Alice adds.

Alice explains that before introducing your cats, the first step is to set up a ‘cat safe’ room for your new arrival. Access to the whole house can be a bit overwhelming for your new cat when you first bring them home, so having a safe space for them with everything they need (bed, water, hiding place, scratching post, food, something familiar smelling from where they previously lived) can help them gradually get used to new surroundings.

Once your new cat has been introduced to the ‘catsafe’ room you can begin the 5 step process of introducing the cats. Only move onto the next step if there are no signs of aggression:

  • 1. Hang a toy on both sides of the door or place some treats on both sides so both moggies will have a positive experience when they first smell or hear each other. At this stage keep the new cat in their special ‘catsafe’ room and avoid direct contact with the resident cat.
  • 2. Exchange scents by swapping your cat’s bedding between them then move to temporarily confining your resident cat in an area of the house where they feel safe, and allowing your new cat to explore the home.You may also want to remove your new cat from their room briefly to allow your resident cat to have a sniff and explore.
  • 3. Allow visual contact and provided there are no signs of aggression, increase these visual-only interactions so they become more frequent. This can be achieved with a transparent or netted door or a small crack in the door which must be narrower than the width of a cat’s body.
  • 4. Next allow the cats to have physical supervised contact. These interactions must be supervised to ensure there are no signs of fighting or aggressive behaviour between the cats. Increase the frequency of these meetings and provide both cats with treats and toys to make this a pleasurable experience.
  • 5. If the cats are not showing any signs of aggression then you can move on to unsupervised contact. Initially, keep these brief and the rest of the time the new cat should return to the ‘catsafe’ room.
  • If all is well, the door to the ‘catsafe’ room can be opened and both cats will be free to come and go and interact as they please.

Resources for multi-cat households need to be plentiful and located throughout the home to avoid any potential disputes. It’s also important to remember that even with the best efforts made with introductions not all cats will be compatible and if your cats appear to be very stressed by a new arrival action should be taken to help them. You may want to speak to a cat behaviourist for advice or you may need to consider making the difficult decision to rehome the incompatible cat.

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