Integrating Older Cats

Many cat owners do not realise their friendly, single adult cat may have trouble getting along with a new kitten.

A new kitten is typically eager to make friends, but the older cats in the household may want nothing to do with the younger one. Sometimes the older cats will appear upset, reclusive, hiss a lot, and even stop eating if it isn’t adjusting well to the new member of the family. These behaviours are because cats don’t like change, especially when it involves their established territory. Introducing a kitten to an adult cat can cause a lot of stress in your household, but there are things you can do to help make the introduction go more smoothly.

Preparation is the key to a successful introduction of a new kitten to your older cat. If you prepare your cat for the new arrival and make the changes seem less drastic, then it is more likely to adapt to its new companion. Give yourself (and your older cat) plenty of time to prepare for this adjustment with these steps.

Calm Your Older Cat

Pheromones are useful for creating a calm environment for any cat. The weeks before the arrival of a new kitten is a great time to make use of them. Plug-ins, sprays, and wipes are all available and help your cat feel relaxed naturally. Try using pheromones for at least a few weeks before bringing home a kitten.

If you suspect your older cat may become stressed and anxious with a new kitten, consider nutritional supplements, like Zyklene, that are designed to calm a cat. These won’t drug your pet but will help it remain calm and relaxed. They typically work best if given a few weeks prior to the anticipated stressful event and can be continued after the new kitten arrives. The ingredients include casein, a protein derived from milk, and other natural ingredients shown to be safe and effective for pets

Get Your Home Ready

New items for your kitten, such as food bowls, beds, another litter box, and toys, should be placed in and around your home before the kitten comes home. Start putting these items in their new places about a week before the new arrival so your adult cat can smell them and get used to all the new things. If you can, try to include items that have the scent of the kitten on them already. Make sure you are ready for the kitten. If you are feeling stressed and unprepared, your older cat will be able to tell and be negatively affected by it.

Designate a small room, such as a bathroom, for your new kitten to retreat to and spend the first week or so in. Your older cat should be able to get to the door of this room in order to hear and smell them, but not have any interaction with the kitten. Place the kitten’s belongings in this room (such as a litter box and food bowls) along with a toy that belongs to your older cat

Prepare Your Cat

Make sure your older cat is healthy. Added stress to an unhealthy cat will only make things worse and you want your cat not only mentally prepared for a new kitten but also physically ready to handle it. Take your cat in for a check up with your vet to make sure it is healthy and that its vaccinations are current. Respiratory diseases are common in kittens and you’ll want your older cat’s immune system to be ready to tackle anything that comes into the house.

While older cats will occasionally take to a new kitten right away, they typically need a little time to adjust to the changes. Sometimes cats never fully accept a new kitten but will simply co-exist, keeping to themselves away from the other cat in the house. You’ll want to make sure that no matter how your cat feels about the new kitten, that things stay peaceful and you have the best chance at creating a budding friendship from the start.

Introduce Your Cat to the New Kitten

When you bring your kitten home, allow your cat to sniff it while the kitten is in a carrier or your arms. Go directly to the room previously designated and set up for your new kitten and allow the kitten to explore. The litter box, food bowls, bed, and some toys should all be easily accessible. Do not let your older cat have unsupervised access to the kitten.

At night, when you are not home, and whenever you are unable to supervise the kitten and your older cat, keep the kitten in its designated room with the door closed. As your cat gets curious, it may stick its paw under the door, sniff under the door, and listen to the kitten. Do this for about a week, depending on how your cat is acting with the changes. Don’t forget to provide a lot of attention to your older cat after playing with your kitten. It will need your attention and support and the scent of the kitten on your clothing will help it get used to the newcomer.

Encourage Time Together

After about a week, let your kitten explore the house under your watchful eye. Allow your older cat to observe this exploration and retreat if it wants to. Don’t force interaction between your cat and kitten. If your cat has a favourite interactive toy, such as a feather wand or laser pointer, try playing with both cats at the same time; this will encourage mutual activity. You can also give them both treats at the same time and feed them at the same time from separate bowls. Be sure to leave enough space between the food bowls so your older cat doesn’t feel threatened.

Encourage any positive interactions your older cat has with the kitten using praise, treats, and physical affection. You want your cat to associate the kitten with happy, positive things.

Allow Your Cat to Establish a Hierarchy

Cats need to have order and a new member in the home must know where it ranks. Your older cat may have a period of time when it tries to establish a hierarchy with the new kitten, and may hiss and swat at the kitten when the newcomer does something unfavourable. This is completely normal and as long as it is just hissing and swatting, do your best to not interfere. Your older cat is establishing its role as the dominant cat in the household and the kitten is being taught where its boundaries as the new cat are.

Problems and Proofing Behaviour

Don’t give up if the first encounters are not positive. Older cats can take time to accept a younger cat. A common mistake is to rush the socialisation between cats and then getting upset or frustrated when it doesn’t work out. Keep calm and work in increments to bring the cats together. Try timing your interactions and slowly increasing the amount of time together. If your older cat is especially aggressive toward the new kitten, speak with your vet or a behaviour specialist for tips.