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How Do I Introduce a Kitten to My Adult Cat?

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Question: We have a large adult male cat, Mako, who is about five years old. We were thinking about getting a kitten. After reading your recent column about multiple-pet homes, adopting a female kitten seems like the best choice.

Our male cat is very used to me and my husband and he gets a lot of attention from us. I am worried he will rebel or try to hurt a kitten if we brought one home. He doesn’t seem to like other animals very much. We have one friend who has a small dog that our cat tolerates. I don’t want to upset Mako and just wondered if I should attempt to get a kitten.

Answer: It sounds like Mako might be willing to accept an additional cat or kitten as he already tolerates a dog. Remember that this is no guarantee. Here’s some info for introducing a new kitten or cat to a resident cat.

Resident cats that have been exposed to other cats while growing up may adjust more readily to a new housemate. The best way to avoid conflict between cats is to carefully prepare for the first encounter. The resident cat may adjust to the newly introduced cat with less confrontation if they are able to share the house — but at different times of day, and without being in each other’s direct presence at first.

Ideally, you will have adopted a kitten from a reputable source, and she will have been vaccinated and tested for feline leukemia/FIV and parasites. For the first few days, keep the new cat confined to one room (not your bedroom, if this is your resident cat’s space). Provide fresh food, water, and litter daily. Make frequent visits to spend time playing, feeding, petting, and generally interacting with the kitten during its isolation.

Give it time to adjust to this one location, where it is guaranteed emotional and physical security. This will also help you establish a positive relationship with your new pet without distraction. This phase goes quickly with a kitten.

Meanwhile, your resident cat will sense traces of the intruder on your clothing and skin. The new pet’s odor and sounds will alert your resident cat to its presence. During this period, spend extra time with Mako, engaging in favorite activities in an effort to relieve any anxiety and minimize tension.

There will be a lot of under-the-door sniffing. Once there is less growling, hissing, or spitting by the door, it’s time to move on.

Next, confine Mako, with his own food, water, and litter box, to a favorite location (this is frequently your bedroom because it is associated so strongly with you).

Now, allow the new cat to explore the house for brief times while the resident cat is confined to the bedroom. Gradually increase the periods of free roam for the new cat. Do this over days to weeks — not hours.

Feeding tends to relieve an animal’s feelings of anxiety, so your first interaction between the two cats should coincide with a mealtime.

Let out the new kitty from her room and follow her so that you will be present when the cats first see each other. Some hesitation and hissing are to be expected from either or both cats. Don’t interfere unless the smaller kitty looks in danger of being mauled — but be careful: This is when you could get bitten or scratched, so make sure there are safe escape routes.

Feed the cats in each other’s presence, placing their food dishes at a comfortable distance apart. Wait only a few minutes after they have eaten to confine the cats to their quarters until the next scheduled mealtime.

If either or both cats seem so disturbed that they do not eat in the other’s presence, remove the food bowls and confine each to its own safe place, then try again when both cats are calm. Try again the next day. As things settle down, allow them to spend progressively longer periods together after they have eaten each meal.

Gradually, move their food dishes closer to each other at successive meals. If problems occur at any time during the introduction process, return to the preceding step described above. Be patient. Some cats are less sociable toward others and less willing to share their territory.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but most cats live to be 12 to 14 years old, so we’re talking about establishing a long-lasting and hopefully rewarding friendship between two pets who will be your best friends too.

This copyrighted article first appeared in the Residences section of The Palm Beach Post. It may have been updated since its original publication.