The last installment reviewed cat behavior and factors that may impact the success of introducing a new pet in the home. If we have determined that our feline friend is adaptable enough to attempt bringing a new animal into the home, we need to figure out how to do it without injury and anxiety. This process should be expected to take time. You won’t get through this in a day, and it could take months. The reward of investing the time is worth it – we want to avoid injury or time-consuming behavior consults.
During introduction, restrict the new pet to a small environment and allow the resident cat to have the run of the home. The resident should be exposed to the scent of the new animal when it is relaxed. It can include some form of positive reinforcement. For example, use a portion of bedding from the new pet and expose it to the resident cat while they are napping. Bring along a special treat – one that is reserved for potentially stressful events. This could evolve into feeding both animals adjacent to a door with one on either side.
If the resident cat maintains a relaxed attitude, we move to step two which will be visual access without the ability to touch each other. It should start as a cracked doorway and can progress to a child safety gate with the animals on either side. If motivated to touch, this is ok if the pets are maintaining a relaxed posture. Include treats, we always want to positively reinforce animals during behavior training. This is a point where going slow is imperative.
Next steps involve increasing physical access. Consider using a harness during this process for safety. But of course, that means training cats to wear a harness, which can involve some training in and of itself. First, open a doorway a few inches or elevating the baby gate. If all is going well, next attempt play in proximity to each other.
If there is fighting at this point, you must stop and restart. This is a good point to consider whether behavioral modification drugs would facilitate the process. I do not hesitate to use them. I have seen them alleviate household stress for the humans and we don’t want to pressure an animal into a relationship that causes chronic stress. Stress can lead to medical conditions like lower urinary tract inflammation which manifest as urination in places perceived as inappropriate to human caregivers.
If proximity play was successfully achieved, you aren’t done quite yet. Next, we can include supervised free roaming. I wouldn’t leave the pets alone quite yet. The final step is increasing one on one time until we are confident we have established early friendship.
I could imagine people reading this and thinking it’s a lot of work. It can be. Cat personalities can be tricky because they are all quite different. You must know their preferences and have a good trusting relationship for this to work. The process can go fast if you have an adaptable cat that had early experiences with other pets. But if you had a cat that was separated from mom and siblings early, you may find you can’t get past step two. And of course, there is always support from either your general practitioner, depending on their comfort level, or a board certified veterinary behaviorist if needed.