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When is it time?

 
 
 
 

The politically correct procedure

 

Kittens are probably the most entertaining household members in any home. They always find something fun to do and have the ability to do it in such a charming way that even behaviour that would normally be frowned upon is often instantly forgiven.

So it is not surprising that people who already own cats, are so easily tempted to get a new kitten.

It is sad that sometimes the new addition can end up causing more heartache than pleasure, when it and the existing cat or cats just do not see eye to eye. It is important to be sensitive when introducing a new kitten to the household – the process can be just as challenging as brokering a political deal.

The new individual and the existing individuals will naturally feel threatened by each other – from the kitten’s point of view, it’s a new and potentially hostile environment, and from the existing cat’s point of view, there is suddenly another user of resources (i.e.your attention and love, food, space, toys etc) so the accessibility of existing resources is in jeopardy.

The good news is that, just like a political integration done with care and forethought, a well-planned feline introduction has a good chance of resulting in domestic harmony.

 

Policymaking

 

Before an integration can be considered, there are certain basic policies that need to be in place. The existing home environment must comply with a few conditions before the addition of a newcomer is considered:

Firstly, the existing pets must all get on well together. Acquiring a new pet in the hope of solving an existing social incompatibility will be more likely to exacerbate the social tension than alleviate it.

Secondly, there must be sufficient physical space. The more existing pets there are, the more difficult an introduction becomes, because social tension and territorial aggression increases with population density. So if you already have several cats in your home, reconsider that new adoption carefully!

Thirdly, the new kitten must be healthy and free of infectious diseases such as ringworm and snuffles. If not, a quarantine period is necessary.

 

Planning the integration process

 

To be a good feline politician, you need to plan the introduction in advance. The secret is to replace the initial threat with mutual trust. Trust doesn’t develop overnight, so patience is important.

The ideal introduction is slow, easy and democratic: It must be gradual and unforced, while the existing pets must not lose any of their existing privileges.

The new kitten needs to be kept confined for at least the first two weeks. During this time, the first introductions can take place. This period may need to be extended to include an initial quarantine period for kittens with infectious diseases.

Plan where the kitten will be placed when it arrives – it cannot be a place that the existing cat(s) consider to be of high value. Places of high value would be places where they spend a lot of time with people (living rooms, bedrooms), and places where they tend to spend time resting, e.g. window sills and beds. A bathroom or spare room could be considered. Provide an attractive crate or cage with comfortable bedding, toys and treats which the kitten can get used to. A litter box and food and water bowls will also be needed.

Ensure that existing cats are not neglected in terms of quality time spent with people, and keep other privileges such as being allowed in certain parts of the home or on furniture. Schedule “quality time” sessions with all the pets, even before the new pet arrives, so that the existing pets do not associate the arrival of the newcomer with an immediate reduction in time spent socialising. Five to ten minutes per day of quality time per pet is good enough when there are many pets. The newcomer, especially, will need one-on-one attention. Encourage all family members to engage in positive interactions with the new kitten.

Spray some Feliway (a feline pheromone spray that encourages a sense of safety and security in cats, available at veterinarians) around the house and where in the room and crate where the new kitten will be confined. Use this one day before and at least a week into the integration process on a daily basis.

 

Integrate with sensitivity

 

Both parties need to be reassured that the integration will not result in something unpleasant. The first few introductions must be controlled, short (a minute or two) and positive. If there are many existing pets, place the newcomer in a comfortable cage so that they can investigate each other safely.

If they are calm in each other’s presence, feed and pet them in sight of each other. Let them move closer together gradually. Only once they are comfortable in each other’s direct presence, should you let them interact freely.

At any sign of aggression (hissing, growling, rump up and base of tail raised) from either side, back off to a level where they are comfortable with each other. If the aggression continues, banish the aggressor to a neutral area for a few minutes. Reintroduce them and if there is still aggression, distract the aggressor with a squirt of water from a water pistol or anything that will distract the cat without hurting or frightening it. Reward appropriate behaviour with treats and petting. Do not reinforce aggressive or fearful behaviour by comforting a scared or angry cat – don’t tell them it’s okay when it isn’t.

The secret is patience and democracy. Don’t ever force an introduction - allow the cats time to get to know each other. Respect the existing cat’s rights, while considering the needs of the new kitten and hopefully, with this political common sense, you will achieve a peaceful integration.

Dr Quixi Sonntag
Specialist Veterinary Behaviourist

 
     

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