Dear Critter Corner: I recently adopted Peanut, a 1-year-old cat, and would like to introduce her to my senior cat Mama, but am worried about them getting into a scuffle. How should I introduce them to each other?
It’s a good idea to introduce them as slowly and easily as your living situation and time allows. Cats can be quite territorial and not always the most welcoming to a new resident in the home. Try to keep them both separated initially, with Peanut secluded in a bedroom or large bathroom with her food, water, litterbox, bed, toys, blankets etc. If possible, allow Mama to have access to the majority of the home.
The first step would be to allow the cats to hear and smell each other without any eye contact or physical contact. Try feeding each cat on opposite sides of a door and schedule their daily feedings around this activity. Not only will they be able to hear and smell each other, they will be positively reinforced by the food within each other’s presence. As they become more comfortable with this, swap their toys and blankets so they can smell each other, again without contact. As the cats progress through this step, swap the cats themselves and let each cat safely explore the other cat’s area; so Peanut would get to explore the rest of the home and Mama would explore Peanut’s bedroom or bathroom. If both cats are doing well at this stage, open the door slightly or use a baby gate draped with a blanket to allow the cats to play with their paws through the open door or baby gate. This way they’ll have a positive interaction without the full on face to face. Try to practice this multiple times each day, slowly opening up the door further or the blanket and focusing the cats on toys or treats. Once the cats are visible to one another, the same concept can be practiced across the room without any barriers in place. Try to take the process as slow as the cats may need in order to become comfortable with one another, taking steps back if necessary.