Introducing Kittens to an Older Cat – Behavior Blog

Published by VCA Inc. in Behavior, Behavior Blog, Cats, Tips November 12, 2016

The Techniques I Used to Introduce Two Kittens to My Older Cat

By: Amy Sturlini BS, RVT

When I was seven years old my father took me to get a new kitten; I can still remember how excited I was when I first brought tiny Miss Frisky into the house and set her down for the first time.  That was until our big ginger cat Tiger caught sight of her and started hissing and growling.  He puffed up and stalked after her the rest of the night.  I went to bed crying; I was so frightened he was going to kill my new kitten.  My mother tried to comfort me, and told me that it would work out.  As mothers tend to be, she was right, but it took several stressful days.

That type of introduction was not only stressful for the cats, but also for me as an owner; even at that young age.  In the years since then, veterinary behaviorists have come a long way in understanding cat behavior.  There are now several resources and guidelines out there on how to introduce cats to each other. These are better than simply throwing them together and hoping that they will work it out.

From One to Three

Recently, I put some of those guidelines to work for myself when I adopted two new kittens.  After a recent loss, I went from a two-cat household to a single cat home.  I took a long time trying to decide if Spitfire (my Ginger female) and I wanted new housemates.  Spitfire is the more independent type of cat. However since finding herself alone and with the long hours that I work, she had become much more attention-seeking.  It was hard deciding if she was just lonely all day by herself or if she liked getting all the attention for herself now that she was alone.  I debated a long time, but in the end decided to get two new kittens.  I decided on two kittens because I felt Spitfire would adjust easier to kittens than an adult cat coming into her territory.

two adopted kittens, one white, one black and brown, introducing kittens

Olympia and Clarice, the new kittens on the block

Also, if Spitfire did not want to interact with them, they could keep each company instead of pestering her.  I adopted two female kittens, a 16-week-old Tiger-striped that I named Olympia and a 14-week-old Calico I named Clarice, and this is where the fun began.
I brought the kittens home and the following are the techniques I used to help introduce Clarice and Olympia to Spitfire.  These techniques come from a variety of sources and trainings I have received throughout my twenty-five years as veterinary technician with a strong interest in feline behavior.   There are several published books that deal with this subject matter. As a point of reference you can refer to the “British Small Animal Veterinary Association Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioral Medicine the second edition” by Debra Horwitz and Daniel S Mills. The plan they lay out is very similar to the techniques that I used with my cats.

Do Some Prep Work

  • Feliway Multi-cat – Pheromone Diffusers – help to reduce stress. It is most effective if you can plug it in and allow it to work for about two weeks before bringing your new cat or kitten into the home.  I didn’t plan on bringing my kittens home that day (I just went to look). Luckily I had Feliway Diffuser’s stored away in the closet. I plugged them in as soon as I arrived home.  They may not have been as effective but something was better than nothing.
  • Bring your new pet in using a carrier and have a towel in with them that they sleep on, allowing them to get their scent on it. Also, have a towel or blanket handy that your current pet has been sleeping on.  I did have a towel in the carrier with the kittens, and Spitfire has several blankets that she sleeps on.
  • Have a room that you can use to isolate your new pet in for a couple of days; you’ll need to have all the essential items set-up in this room for your new kitty (a separate litterbox, food and water-bowl, etc.). This room can serve two purposes; first, it helps to make sure that your new pet is healthy before completely exposing it to your current pet.  Second, your current pet can start to sniff at the newcomer(s) from under the door and get the idea that there is someone new in the house.  This can be tricky I know; I live in a one bedroom apartment so during my own recent experience my new kittens had to stay in the bathroom for a couple of days, which made life tricky.

    Orange and white longhair cat, introducing kittens

    Spitfire, the ginger cat

  • Next you exchange the scents from your current and new pets. Take the towels or bedding that was mentioned earlier and swap it, allowing the other pet to smell it. In my case I took the towel from the kitten’s carrier and gave it to my cat Spitfire, and gave them the pillowcase she like to sleep on.
  • Scent rubbing is another way to help smooth the transition. To do this just take a dry face cloth and rub your cat around their head, neck and tail areas as these are where their scent glands are located. Then take the face cloth and rub it on your new kitty.  Now reverse the process so that you exchange the scent from your new cat onto your current kitty.

Introducing Kittens the Right Way

  • Allow your new kitty a chance to explore your home without your current pet(s) around, this way they can figure out good hiding places or escape routes if necessary. For my situation, I put Spitfire in her carrier; let the kittens out of the bathroom and then put Spitfire in the bathroom while the kittens explored their new world.
  • When you feel they are ready, allow them supervised interactions. Another option during this stage is to buy a wire crate and put the new pet inside and introduce them through this.  It allows for more visual stimulus, but still maintains a physical barrier.
  • Make sure that the food, water, and litterboxes are still kept far enough apart so that all parties feel safe getting to them. In my small apartment Spitfire preferred to be fed on the counter that kept her away from the kittens.

Tools and Tips

  • Give your cats lots of mental stimulus in form of toys and places to get away from each other. Remember that cats like vertical space as well. Make sure to have a cat tree or provide places for your cats to get up and away from each other.  Provide places to hide and if all else fails remember most cats love to hide in boxes.  I had a nylon cube that they all took turns laying and playing in, a cat tree and a regular shoebox that Spitfire loves to just lay in.
  • Treats – One thing I did to bridge the gap was to give treats.  Luckily my cats, including the two new kittens, all loved the Temptations treats.  I give them treats before I leave for work and before bed.  I would give them all treats, at first starting far apart and then slowly moving them closer together.  They were all so focused on eating their treats and getting more that they quickly quit worrying about who was where. Pretty soon they all were eating treats side by side.
  • Patience! Allow your pets to dictate the pace. Don’t rush things and don’t try to push them too fast.  Have realistic expectations; just like we have different relationships with the people within our own families or a better example may be our work place, so do cats.  Remember, we are asking these animals to live in an artificial situation that we have set-up for them.  Just as we get along better with some people and just tolerate others; that is what cats do as well.

It takes time and it can be stressful and emotionally draining because we love our pets. Even though the introduction of my kittens went relatively smoothly I still had feelings of guilt. Spitfire was spending a lot of time off by herself again.  After two months, Spitfire has started to come back out more and has begun to return to her old routines; a little more each day.  She has started to interact with the kittens more, and I have even caught her playing with them.

These are just some basic techniques that I used to help introduce my kittens to my older cat.

Spitfire and Clarice, showing some love

Spitfire and Olympia, showing some love

These techniques are not meant to be a definitive guide as there are many techniques and resources available out there.  The best resources are always the professional resources available to you; from your Veterinarian to the Veterinary Behaviorist; don’t be ashamed to ask for advice!

If you are considering adding a new kitten to a home that already has a cat or two; please think about it first. Consider how getting that new kitten is going to affect your life and the life of your current cat(s).  If you decide to go forward with getting a new kitten, please make a plan ahead of time.  You will make your life and the lives of your cats so much better.

It takes time and work to introduce new kittens to your home. If you take the time to do it right from the start, you decrease the likelihood of having problems down the road.

About the Author

Amy Sturlini is a Registered Veterinary technician who graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Animal Science. Right out of college she started working in one of the largest emergency clinics in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago as an emergency/critical care technician. She worked there for six years, working herself all the way up to a supervisor position. Along with one of the staff veterinarians she started a charity walk-a-thon to benefit a local rescue group.

Amy has worked as a Critical care technician and as a specialty technician in Internal Medicine, Oncology, Neurology, Ophthalmology and currently works at VCA WLA in the Behavior department. She has long had an interest in behavior medicine starting back in college where she worked in the behavioral department and continuing through her internship at the Cincinnati zoo and her work at the LA Zoo’s behavioral enrichment program.

Amy has an interest in Disaster Medicine and Preparation and serves on the California Veterinary Medical Association’s Steering committee board as the Major Urban Coordinator for Los Angeles. Amy’s hobbies include screenwriting, watching movies and spending time with her three cats Spitfire, Clarice, and Olympia.