How to Introduce Cats to Other Cats and Kittens

How to Introduce Cats to Other Cats and Kittens

Have a new cat or kitten coming into your home? Here are the exact guidelines for how to introduce cats to other adult cats and kittens.

If you already have an existing cat or cats in your home, bringing a new cat into the mix isn’t something to be taken lightly. Cats are inherently territorial, sensitive creatures that are not likely to be immediately comfortable with a new animal in their midst. Cats are also picky – even if there are already two cats in your home who tolerate each other and live in harmony, introducing a third cat or kitten may cause more drama than you expect.

If you’re wondering how to introduce cats to each other, you’re already ahead of the game. Being prepared and intentional about how to introduce a new cat into your home is key. By approaching this introduction carefully and thoughtfully, you’re setting yourself up for greater success and a happy, cat-filled home.

Factors That Will Impact Your Cat Introduction

Every cat meeting is different. Cats have highly individual personalities, and a cat’s demeanor and attitude will play a huge role in dictating how the introductions proceed. Deciding how to introduce cats to your resident feline will be influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • The age of the cats being introduced
  • Each cat’s gender
  • The number of cats being introduced

Introductions Will Be Different Between Kittens, Adults, and Seniors

Introducing two adult cats will be different than introducing a cat to a kitten, or introducing two kittens to one another. Adult cats bring history and potentially trauma to the picture, which will inform how they interact with new cats. Especially if one of the two cats being introduced has a background as a stray, there are far more likely to be conflicts and anxiety around the entrance of a new feline to the household.

Senior cats will also bring some issues to the introduction. As cats get older, they tend to become more territorial and grumpy, and some senior cats can even experience dementia that will make it much harder for them to embrace a new feline into their environment.

Perhaps the easiest introduction will be a meeting between two kittens, who are both already processing new information every day and much more likely to learn how to tolerate or even befriend each other. Introducing a kitten to an adult or senior cat, on the other hand, can be a coin toss.

Some adult cats surprise their owners with a nurturing reaction to a kitten, while others find kittens a nuisance at best, or threatening at worst. Introductions may be slightly different if they involve a kitten under a year old – more on that in our instructions below.

Gender Will Play a Role in Cat Meetings

Male and female cats have different behavioral patterns, especially when they are not neutered or spayed. It’s highly advisable, especially with male cats, to make sure both are neutered before they meet. Spaying female cats is also ideal before an introduction, but for male cats, the surgery reduces their drive to assert dominance and makes it more likely they’ll be able to get along.

That said, male cats tend to be generally more social than female cats on the whole, so they are more likely to develop bonds with one another, whereas female cats may just ignore and tolerate the presence of a new family member.

Introducing a New Cat to a Household with Multiple Cats

If you’re introducing a new cat to a multi-cat household, it’s advisable to introduce the new family member to each cat individually before letting the group interact as a whole. Each individual cat will react differently to the newcomer, so it’s crucial you allow each resident cat to go through the process at his or her own pace.

You might have one particularly stubborn cat who is very resistant to the change, while the others are pretty laid back. If this is the case, you might want to let the new cat meet the menagerie and let the stubborn cat hang back in a private area for a while. The key is providing time and space for every resident cat to adjust to the new cat at their own pace.

Two cats meeting and interacting with each other

Tips for How to Introduce Two Cats

There are many steps in the cat introduction timeline, and it’s important that you allow plenty of time for each step. While you’ll need to adapt your introduction schedule according to the factors above, plus any other unique situations you find in your home, there are some basic steps to follow when introducing two cats to one another:

  • Set up the environment for success
  • Don’t introduce the cats immediately
  • Start with scent sharing
  • Allow visual contact before physical meeting
  • Start with a possible crate introduction for kittens
  • Allow a supervised physical meeting
  • Leave the cats alone for a short period

Design an Environment for Success

The way your home is set up when the new cat arrives will be crucial to the success of the introduction. Your new cat will need to have its own space in the early days, so the cats are not forced to share when they haven’t met yet.

This means setting up your new cat with a private space that includes all the important items: litter box, food and water bowls, bedding, toys, scratching post, and places for the cat to retreat and hide. Your new cat’s space should be very clean when they arrive and free from the scent of other cats.

Wait a While for Introductions

Don’t start the process of introducing the cats immediately – separate the cats. Allow the new cat or kitten time to get comfortable in their new space, with their new belongings, and with you. Let them adjust for a few days or even a few weeks before you start the process of introducing your resident cat or cats. This adjustment period gives your cat time to spread their scent on their special space and items, which will be a crucial part of the initial introduction process.

You’ll know your new cat is feeling comfortable in their space once they have regulated their eating and bathroom habits and they greet you pleasantly each time you enter their space. A friendly greeting such as rubbing your legs or meowing and purring when you approach is a good sign.

It’s possible your new cat won’t like being relegated to a single room, especially if they are an adult cat and not a kitten. In this case, you should try to block off an additional space for him or her (another area that can’t be accessed by your resident cat, such as a short hallway or bathroom).

If you can’t do this and your cat is showing distinctive signs of being frustrated with their limited space – such as constant vocalizing, pawing or scratching at doors and windows, or pacing excessively – you might need to speed up the timeline for introductions.

Start the Process with Scent Sharing

Cats communicate in large part through smells and pheromones. Cats of the same social group will have a communal smell, so it’s important to allow your cats the opportunity to investigate one another with their noses first.

Perhaps the easiest way to share this scent is by swapping the bedding of the cats. Observe each cat’s reaction to the other’s bedding, which will be drenched in that cat’s individual scent. If a cat reacts strongly and negatively to the other’s bedding, hissing at it or avoiding it, you’ll need to take this scent-swapping step very slowly.

Other ways to scent-swap include exchanging fabric toys or patting each cat with a cotton glove or washcloth and spreading their scent physically over one another.

If exchanging scent-laden items between the cats doesn’t cause any strong reactions, you can allow the cats to explore one another’s spaces. It’s entirely up to you who is allowed the initial exploration, but none of this should happen until the new cat is fully adjusted to their new home (as discussed above).

Remove one cat from its space (perhaps confining it to a bathroom or bedroom briefly) and allow the other cat to explore that space. This is a graduated step of scent sharing, as the cats will likely rub on items in the space and further meld their communal scent.

Graduate to Visual Contact with a Barrier

After the cats have become comfortable with one another’s scents, you can allow a brief visual introduction. If scent sharing goes smoothly, it might be tempting to jump to a physical introduction. Resist the urge to speed up the process. Cats can demonstrate wariness at any stage of the introduction process and it’s crucial that neither cat is rushed.

Visual contact can be allowed through a cracked door for a very simple, brief sighting of one another. Many owners also use a baby gate or mesh screen placed in a doorway to allow the cats to examine each other more thoroughly. Just make sure the cats can’t jump the barrier.

For Kittens: Consider a Crate Introduction

If you have crate trained your kitten, a closed crate is a reasonable tool for introducing your cat to a kitten. Your kitten needs to feel safe and comfortable with the crate before you allow a resident cat to come sniffing around for the visual introduction. Don’t do a crate introduction if neither cat is familiar with crates. Likewise, never use crates for introducing two adult cats.

If you choose to do a crate introduction, make sure there is a place for the kitten to hide within the crate. You might hang a blanket in the crate to create a curtain behind which the kitten can hide, or if the crate is large enough, provide a box the kitten can crawl into. Both cats should always have a way to hide themselves from view during the visual meeting.

The first visual meeting should be laden with treats for both cats. You want to encourage positive associations with this introduction, and treats are an easy way to do so for both animals. The idea of the visual meeting is parallel play: both cats should be pleasantly going about their business, perhaps playing with you individually or enjoying their favorite snack, while the other cat is present.

They may express direct interest in one another through sniffing, but avoid any negative behaviors like hissing or spitting. If this begins, try to distract the offender with treats or toys. If they can’t be distracted, end the visual introduction and wait a few days before trying again.

These initial visual meetings should be short. Ideally, they will end while both cats are content.

Allow a Supervised Physical Meeting Between the Cats

Eventually, after a few uneventful visual meetings, it will be time to remove the physical barrier. Make sure both cats are happy and occupied when you do this. Do not force the cats to interact or call attention the moment that the barrier is lifted and they have physical access to one another. The graduation to physical contact should be done with as little fanfare as possible.

If this goes well, you can feel free to allow it as often as possible – but this physical contact needs to be supervised for a while. Don’t immediately leave the room. When introducing two cats, you need to take your time with each step, even if everything appears friendly and positive.

Two cats laying down next to each other on a couch relaxing and interacting

Briefly Leave the Cats Alone Together

After a few days of supervised physical contact, you can allow the cats to be alone briefly together. If all has gone well to this stage, and you’ve been patient and allowed plenty of time at each type of introduction, this phase will probably go smoothly.

It’s unlikely a cat will wait to attack another until you’re out of the room, but it is certainly possible. Keep the unsupervised visits short at first and graduate to longer periods. Before long, your cats will be able to roam freely as part of a communal pair or pack!

What If Two Cats Don’t Get Along?

If your initial cat introduction doesn’t go well, there a few options for how to proceed:

  • Remember that ranking is normal
  • Don’t rush or force the process
  • Ensure both cats have a solid wellness routine
  • Consider keeping your cats in separate physical spaces
  • Consult your veterinarian

Your Cats May Need to Establish a Hierarchy

Don’t fret if you notice your cats doing some occasional hissing, spitting, or even scratching after they’ve been fully introduced. Cats are animals and need to establish a hierarchy among one another. It’s normal for them to have spats while they establish who is the alpha and who needs to be submissive.

While you don’t want to allow any of these negative behaviors in the early stages of introduction – such as the visual and supervised contact – an occasional disagreement is normal after the cats are living together.

Don’t Rush or Force Any Stage of Introductions

The power of taking this process slowly can’t be overemphasized. Many cats are slow to adjust to change and they need to be allowed time and space to feel comfortable. Each stage of the introduction process needs to be completed and both cats need to feel fully comfortable before moving on to the next stage.

Never, ever force two cats to interact by pushing them face to face towards each other or placing them in a small area together. For many cat owners, “success” is when two cats simply ignore each other. Don’t expect your cats to be best friends – though if they do develop a cozy relationship, that’s great!

Both Cats Need an Individual, Complete Wellness Routine

Introductions will be much easier if both cats are feeling healthy and have all their needs attended to. Each of your cats needs a healthy, well-balanced diet; plenty of mental and physical stimulation daily; attention and love from you; and a safe space where they can retreat to rest as needed. Furthermore, your cat might have specific wellness issues that need to be addressed, such as kidney issues, before they are feeling well enough to take on this type of change in their environment.

Attending to each cat individually and ensuring they have all the tools they need to be successful will be a major indicator of success in the introductions. If you notice one cat is struggling to remain calm and relaxed throughout the introduction process, you might consider adding a little bit of calming oil for cats to their daily routine to support their relaxation.

Are Separate Physical Spaces an Option?

If you have the space in your home, it might be a good idea to separate the cats from one another. Especially if one has really adjusted to its room in the house, such as the guest room, you might be able to keep your cats living parallel but separate lives if they really don’t get along.

This approach obviously takes a lot of effort and requires more time and energy on your part, because every care task (feeding, litter box cleaning, play time) will have to be doubled. That said, if your cats don’t get along, it can be one of your final options.

Your Veterinarian May Have Advice or Other Tools

Your current veterinarian will be able to provide advice before, during, and after you introduce your new cat into the home. They might suggest other tools for smoothing out the introductions, such as pheromones sprays that relax some cats. Veterinarians – especially those who also board animals in their clinic – are uniquely informed about how to introduce cats, so use their expertise to your advantage during this process.

Hope for Friendship – But Some Cats Are Only Children

No matter how you introduce your existing cat or kitty when you bring your new cat home, any outcome is possible. Friendship between two cats is never guaranteed. In fact, a relaxed ambivalence isn’t even always an option.

Some cats are just meant to be only children and will struggle to accept a new kitty sibling. But if you follow these tips and guidelines for how to introduce cats and take your time, success is far more likely.