By Monica Weymouth
How do you introduce a human to a kitten? That’s easy: adopt a kitten, present the kitten, wait 10 seconds, then watch the human fall hopelessly in love.
But what about introducing a kitten to a senior cat? That, unfortunately, is a lot tougher. For all the many wonderful qualities that cats possess, they may not be so generous when it comes to sharing their space. If your resident feline is a senior cat, the process could be even more delicate—an older, established cat may be unnerved by a bouncy new roommate.
“Cats’ social structure is very different than ours—they’re solitary survivors, not pack animals,” says Dr. Liz Bales, a Philadelphia-based veterinarian who specializes in felines. “Cats in nature may live in social groups, but these are related groups of mothers and kittens. Cats are very territorial and are not innately programed to accept new cats into their territory.”
If you are thinking of adding a kitten to the family, follow these expert tips for introducing a kitten to a senior cat to ensure the comfort (and hopefully, approval) of your resident feline.
Carefully Consider Personality When You Adopt a Kitten
Many well-meaning cat parents assume a kitten will be good company for a senior kitty. But cats aren’t like people (or dogs, for that matter), and many prefer to spend their golden years alone.
“Really think about bringing a new kitten into your senior cat’s life,” cautions Dr. Bales, who notes that cat introductions have a 50 percent failure rate. “Most senior cats have some degree of arthritis, and prefer to move, groom and play on their own terms.”
If you do decide to adopt a kitten, try to select the most laid-back of the bunch. “If you find a very rambunctious kitten, which most of them are, then introducing this little ball of energy to your geriatric cat is not a wise idea,” cautions Dr. Jennifer Fry, a veterinarian in Berks County, Pennsylvania, who has eight cats of her own. “The kitten will want to play while the senior will just want to sit and enjoy the sunshine.”
Ideally, if you want two cats, both Dr. Bales and Dr. Fry recommend adopting littermates—the kittens will grow up as playmates and then grow old as like-minded friends.
Prepare Your Home Before Introducing Cats to Each Other
Before you bring home your kitten, you have some work to do. Keeping in mind that cats aren’t usually keen on sharing, plan to double all of your cat supplies. Dr. Fry recommends adding two more litter boxes (a general rule of thumb is one more cat litter box than the number of cats), extra scratching posts, an additional cat bed, double the amount of cat toys and a second set of food and water dishes in a separate feeding area.
While cats always enjoy vertical space, it’s especially helpful when introducing cats to each other. “Vertical space is very important to cats,” says Dr. Fry. “They like watching from above, so you should have a tall condo for each cat.” For additional spaces, consider cat window perches or wall shelves, keeping in mind that your senior cat may have trouble jumping and would appreciate some lower lookout points.
You’ll also want to prepare a temporary room for your kitten that has everything he’ll need (cat food, water, cat litter, toys, a bed, a scratching post and a cat tree) as you slowly work to introduce him into your home.
Week One: Take It Slow
When introducing a kitten to an older cat, slow and steady (and then slow again) is the name of the game.
When you first adopt a kitten and bring him home, Dr. Bales recommends taking him straight to his own room and shutting the door. Let the kitten and resident cat sniff each other through the door, but not actually meet face to face. Once your cats seem relaxed, exchange beds so they can get acclimated to each other’s scent while still enjoying the comfort and safety of their own spaces. During this introduction period, which should last about a week, schedule plenty of time to play with both cats in their respective territories.
You can also discuss holistic calming options with your veterinarian prior to introducing cats to kittens, including calming treats and feline pheromone diffusers like the Feliway MultiCat pheromone diffuser. These types of diffusers may help with the transition for both the senior cat and kitten.
Week Two: Make the Introduction
After a week, Dr. Bales recommends putting a baby gate at the door to your kitten’s room and, while you supervise, allowing the cats to meet through the gate. If there are no signs of aggression, allow them to interact for 15 minutes while monitoring for signs of stress or aggression. If all goes well, increase the number of supervised visits until your cats are relaxed, happy and ready to be proper housemates. Still sensing some uneasiness? Reinstall the baby gate and work through the steps again.
Having a flat piece of cardboard nearby is also helpful during face-to-face introductions in case a fight occurs. Place the cardboard between the cats and AVOID using your hands to separate them, as cat bites are very detrimental.
Above all, remember to be patient—introducing cats to kittens is a delicate process, and it can’t be rushed. “For the best chance of success, you are going to have to take your time,” says Dr. Bales.