When Cat Meets Cat

When Cat Meets Cat – preparing to introduce a new cat to an old one

Gayle Goddard-Taylor

Plan ahead to avoid purrsonality conflicts.

She was a lean charcoal sketch, swatches of bright orange swabbed behind her alert feline ears. She was also noticeably aloof as she lay in her cage awaiting adoption. The sign on her cage hinted at why: “shy, aggressive.”

At nine months of age, maybe her problem was just that she was terrified. Or so thought Providence, Rhode Island, resident Betsy Shea-Taylor, who brought the calico home to be a companion to her 15-year-old cat, Lily. And, she admits, to be a salve to her future bereavement.

“I also think a large part of it was that she had been there six weeks, and I felt she wouldn’t be adopted,” says Shea-Taylor of the adoptee she named Rose.

Although the two cats got off to a shaky start–Lily welcoming Rose with characteristic grace and Rose responding with a bite and a hiss–the two ultimately set aside their hostilities largely because of Lily’s accommodating nature.

Three years later, following Lily’s death, Shea-Taylor decided to present Rose with a new roommate. Faithfully following the shelter worker’s advice, she confined the new cat, an adult neutered male named Colby, in a room for four days. Rose then took a turn in the room for a few days while Colby explored more of his new quarters. They took turns in a cat carrier in the kitchen as well.

When it seemed the time was right, Shea-Taylor let Colby totter out of the bathroom and trot upstairs. In an instant, Rose followed him up, and within seconds, the second floor was transformed into a boiling, hissing, screeching mass of fur and claws. Grabbing a broom, Shea-Taylor rescued Colby from the furious Rose and sequestered him in the bathroom once more. But several weeks later, after several introduction attempts, things still hadn’t improved.

“For the first time I returned a cat to a shelter,” says Shea-Taylor. “And, no, it wasn’t Rose, although I secretly considered it.”

In some ways, Shea-Taylor’s experiences with the three cats seem to contradict the advice given by animal-behavior experts. Although she was fairly casual about introducing Rose to Lily, the two cats were ultimately compatible. And although she scrupulously followed the gradual-introduction routine recommended by the shelter worker, her efforts to meld Colby into her home failed. She’s now convinced that personality ultimately plays the largest role in whether two cats can abide one another.

“Experts suggest this switching of environments so that familiarity is acquired gradually,” says Shea-Taylor. “But there is no expert who can guarantee which animals will hit it off and which will not.”

Of course, some flack among felines is normal during the introduction process, advises veterinarian Amy Marder, an animal-behavior consultant for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/American Humane Education Society (MSPCA/AHES), who also practices out of New England Veterinary Behavior Associates in Lexington, Massachusetts. “It may take as long as two weeks for the major hissing and growing to die down,” she says. But “if they are still very aggressive after months, this is not a good sign.”

Fortunately, most cat-to-cat introductions can be accomplished with far less turmoil than Colby and Rose experienced–and usually are, says Marder. The most important precaution you can take, she says, is to evaluate the personality of your potential adoptee–and how it will mesh with that of your current cat–before you bring another cat home.

“There are some red flags to look out for,” cautions Marder. “You should watch out for cats that don’t like other cats, and this is very evident in a shelter.”

At some shelters, such as the MSPCA/AHES shelter in Springfield, Massachusetts, screened cats are allowed to play together in a special “cat habitat,” which can help potential owners determine how well a particular cat gets along with other cats. While most people concern themselves with how well a cat responds to humans, its ability to socialize with other cats is just as important if it is coming into another cat’s home.

“If you see them playing together in the common area or if you see a cat trying to play with the cat in the cage next door, that’s a really good sign,” Marder says. “You can also see how intense their play is … some cats’ play can be very aggressive.”

At the Nine Lives shelter in Norton, Massachusetts, cats are transitioned from the quarantine area to a room where cages surround a central play area. On one particular Saturday, Punkin, a sweet-natured eider statesman, lounges atop a carpet-covered box while two other cats explore the tops of the cages. All three appear to be at ease with each other. But hidden deep within a plastic “cave” inside his cage is Bongo, a black cat with massive yellow eyes that miss nothing. Bongo won’t be mingling with the others.

“We’re almost 100 percent sure he’ll tear another cat apart,” says shelter founder Patricia Cotterill. This is a cat that needs to live in a one-feline household.

A cat adopter may also want to consider other factors before bringing home a second cat. Marder suggests choosing a cat that is the same sex and roughly the same age as your cat. Studies have shown, she says, that introducing cats of the same sex and similar ages generally results in fewer incidents of urine marking.

If your cat is mature and you really want a kitten, Marder advises getting two: if the older cat isn’t interested in playing, the kittens can vent their youthful exuberance on each other. That’s what Sally Small of Franconia, New Hampshire, discovered after rescuing two abandoned male kittens from a snowbank and introducing them to her full-grown cat, Dundee.

“Dundee hissed and growled when he first saw them, and they just clung to each other,” she says. Dundee was relegated to the bedroom for a few days, where he was allowed to sleep with Small and husband Ron. Eventually Dundee accepted the presence of the kittens–Haggis and MacDuff–who by that time were more interested in playing with each other than with the older cat. “He eventually accepted them and they never fought,” Small says. “But I still think it was because there were two of them and they were roughly the same age.”

A little reassuring attention to the senior feline can also work wonders. That’s how Irene Amsbary of Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, has managed to keep the peace in a household that has held as many as eight cats at a time. Amsbary instinctively knew her resident cat, Louie, would need to be assured of his top-cat status during the introduction process.

“I’d have Louie in my lap when the new cat came into the room, and I’d allow them to sniff,” she says. “If you show the old cat as much attention as you do the new cat, or more, things are okay.”

Understanding the personalities of her felines has also guided Amsbary in assimilating each of her new cats. Over the years, she has had only one outright failure: Orson, a male stray that Amsbary describes as “a real nasty character.” The tom actually insisted on moving into their basement and showed his intense dislike of. her older female Siamese by attacking and urinating on her. Orson has since been neutered and relocated to a home where he’s the only cat.

If it all sounds like too much juggling to you, then you might want to reexamine your reasons for bringing home another cat. Does your current cat really need a companion? If it is well adjusted and happy being the sole cat in command of a house full of humans, why not leave well enough alone?

“Ask yourself if your cat really needs a companion or if you’re really doing this for yourself,” says Marder. “An old cat that has lived alone its entire life doesn’t need a companion. And an elderly cat doesn’t need to be subjected to a young cat. A cat can become fearful if she doesn’t have the freedom to roam the house the way she used to.”

And as long as you’re examining the qualities of your potential adoptee, take a minute to examine your own traits as well. Are you a patient person, or do you want instant results? Cotterill says that those who have returned cats to the shelter have sometimes been defeated by their own impatience. “We had one woman who took a cat on Saturday and brought it back the next day,” says Cotterill. “She wanted her pets to get along right away, and that doesn’t always happen.”

Despite the occasional horror story, says Marder, most cat-to-cat introductions work out if the proper care has been taken to select well and to do things gradually. But, she adds, you can expect problems to mount the more cats–and different personalities–you introduce into one household.

And then there are those inexplicable moments when the stars align and the cat that you once considered the feline equivalent of Attila the Hun decides she will mend her menacing ways–or the owner just happens to hit upon a situation her pet can accept. There was just such a happy ending for Shea-Taylor, who recently decided that the once thorny-tempered Rose had mellowed and might just welcome a tiny dust bunny of a kitten named Eddy.

“Either she fell instantly in love or her dormant mothering instincts engaged,” says Shea-Taylor. “That very first week, the Great Nasty One began cleaning Eddy’s ears and licking the top of his head. I knew he was here to stay when he plopped up against Rose’s jelly belly and fell asleep and she just grinned and purred.”

Gayle Goddard-Taylor is a freelance writer based in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group