Source: Inverse (Extract)
Posted: June 22, 2024

Adding a second animal to your family can enhance the joy, whether it’s another cat or even a dog. However, the transition for your existing solo kitty can be challenging. Fortunately, according to an animal behavior expert, there are effective ways to smooth out this adjustment period.

Cats are naturally solitary and territorial animals that thrive on controlling their environment. Introducing a new housemate can disrupt these tendencies significantly. Laura Watson, a veterinary nurse from Staffordshire, West Midlands, England, and a cat welfare assistant at International Cat Care in Tisbury, Wiltshire, England, emphasizes the importance of considering both pets’ temperaments.

“If a cat is shy or timid, introducing a lively Labrador could be very unsettling,” Watson explains to Inverse. Similarly, a playful kitten might not be a suitable companion for an elderly cat. The energetic behavior of a kitten could cause physical discomfort for the older cat, leading to defensive reactions such as swatting or growling.

Watson notes some benefits when introducing puppies into the mix. “You can shape the behavior of a puppy because they are still in their socialization period,” she points out. Conversely, when adopting an adult dog, it’s crucial to ensure they already have positive experiences with cats.

Swapping Scents

Once you’ve committed to a new friend, Watson recommends trying a technique called scent swapping. Bring a cloth the next time you visit your soon-to-be pet, and rub the cloth all over it. Then, bring the now-scented cloth home and put it near either your cat’s treats, food, or favorite toys. Associating the smell of a new animal with something positive will help your cat acclimate to its new buddy. Watson says that if there’s an initial negative reaction, keep trying.

When it comes time for the actual introduction, there’s no need to rush. “I think the best thing to keep in mind is it needs to be done slowly,” she says. If you have a room in your home that your cat uses less often, that can be a good starting place for your new friend. Just make sure that all your cat’s essentials, like its food, bed, and litter box, are outside that room. Otherwise, use the bathroom — but make sure to put your first cat’s litter box somewhere accessible.

Crates can serve as beneficial tools for dogs, contrary to some negative perceptions. Laura Watson explains, “People often misunderstand crates, thinking of them as cages. In reality, crates provide a safe space for dogs.” Additionally, introducing a dog to a cat while the dog is on a leash can help maintain control over the interaction.

Timing is Everything

When introducing your new pet to your existing ones, it’s essential to wait until the new arrival is relaxed and shows signs of initiation, such as seeking interaction or rubbing against your legs, according to Laura Watson. “We should only proceed with introductions once the new cat is completely settled and calm,” Watson advises.

Initially, confine the pets to a shared but contained space like a bathroom, where they can become familiar with each other’s scents. Allow your first cat to explore the area where the new cat has been to acquaint themselves with the new scent. “If either pet shows any negative reaction to each other’s smell, continue this process until there’s no negativity,” Watson suggests. If progress stalls, it’s okay to go back to earlier steps and start afresh.

When introducing dogs to cats, using a gate can be helpful. It allows the cat to observe and become accustomed to their new canine sibling while having their own safe space.

In cases where two cats simply cannot reconcile, Watson acknowledges that rehoming the new cat might be the most compassionate option. “There’s no shame in rehoming a cat,” she emphasizes, noting that sometimes it’s the best decision for everyone’s well-being. She cites instances where rehoming resulted in a happier outcome for both pets and their owners, underscoring the importance of finding the right living situation for each animal.

The most important thing is to let your pets go at their own pace. Before long, you’ll forget they were ever strangers.