Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cat, Meet Kitten

So you’ve decided to bring home a new kitten. Great! Of course you realize that if you already have pets, there is the possibility that introducing new cuteness will temporarily disrupt the peace in your house. While most new kitten inaugurations have the desired results of adorable pictures of newfound friendships, some relationships take a while.

I won’t dwell on how to introduce kittens to dogs as the canine species usually feels less threatened than a cat does. My Maine Coon kittens are exposed to our dogs by around eight weeks of age; most will become very comfortable with our 10-year-old Golden Retriever by the time they leave at 12 weeks. Our puppy, on the other hand, has too much energy and plays too roughly for our cats so they maintain a safe distance from her.

Chardonnay gets a massage from Pipsqueak

Most potential kitten buyers I meet take the personality and needs of their current cats seriously when making the decision to get a new kitten, as they should. General considerations for people who have existing older cats at home and want to get a kitten are these: younger cats (under the age of three years) adapt better and should accept a new kitten more easily. If the existing cat has an outgoing personality and greets strangers who come in the house, that cat is a prime candidate for making new friends with a kitten, regardless of age. Geriatric or very shy cats will have the hardest time adjusting. In this case, bringing home two kittens is recommended. Two kittens will stick together and are less likely to annoy the resident cat as they will play with each other. A geriatric cat often prefers to watch kittens play rather than get involved.

There is a method to successfully acclimate your new kitten to your home if you already have a cat. Yes, you could just open the carrier and let the little guy out and watch what happens. Sometimes that does work, but not without additional stress for both parties. Since stress can lead to fighting or litter box avoidance, let’s see what can be done to make it easier for everyone.

Experts recommend you try to minimize the stress by setting up a safe room for the new guy. The safe room should have all the basic necessities your kitten will need; litter box, food, water, scratching post and toys. A bedroom where someone in the family sleeps at night works well. A guest room that’s completely isolated does not. The purpose of the safe room has many benefits; it provides the kitten a place to get accustomed to the smells and sounds of your home and learn important things like where the litter box is kept. After you let your kitten out of the safe room, it will become the place the kitten will seek if frightened. It also keeps your other cat from seeing the kitten just yet. Your adult cat will smell the kitten (and vice versa) under the door. The cat needs time to get used to the new scent in the house so the baby is not seen as a threat. While in the safe room, the kitten will gradually absorb the smell of your house, replacing that of the previous home. You won’t notice, but your older cat will.

As your kitten becomes accustomed to all the changes in its room, this is the time to acclimate your other cat to the idea that the intruder you brought home is not so bad. One method is to exchange scents by wiping the kitten with a towel, then taking that same towel and wiping it over the cat. Repeat. Swapping blankets or cat beds helps too. You want the cat to smell more like a kitten and vice versa.

Another tip is to bathe both kitten and cat so they smell more neutral to each other. Can’t handle the idea of putting Fluffy in the kitchen sink and risking your skin? Corn starch or baby powder sprinkled liberally and rubbed in helps not only to re-scent your cat and kitten, but it also absorbs any excess grease in your cat’s coat. Powder is safe; we use it all the time at cat shows for grooming. Just comb out the excess so you don’t have powder puffs everywhere your cat sits afterwards.

It may take a few days, but when your kitten is running to greet you at the door or trying to get out of the safe room, it’s time to open the door. Let the kitten explore the house at first without the other pets around. Perhaps let the kitten out and put the other cat in the kitten’s safe room for another scent exposure. Once the kitten seems comfortable and the claws are clipped on all parties to minimize injury, allow it to meet one pet at a time. If you have multiple pets, space out the introductions and do not let your kitten become surrounded by everyone at once. With the first face-to-face, be prepared to throw a blanket just in case the older cat charges the new kitten with the intention of inflicting harm.

A new kitten to cat introduction generally follows this scenario: sniff each other, hissing from older cat, hiss reply from kitten. Kitten backs up and gets distracted by all the new areas to explore. Older cat follows, curious, but cautious. Kitten starts playing, older cat is intrigued. Kitten tries to play with cat, but is rebuffed by a hiss and a swat. Kitten backs up and continues playing. If the kitten leaves to check out the rest of the house, the cat won’t be able to let the little one out its sight and will follow, obsessed by the mini intruder. After a while, the hissing diminishes. The kitten should continue to stay primarily in the safe room unless supervised to not only give the older cat a break, but to ingrain the location of the litter box in the geographic section of its immature feline brain.

As you don’t want to reinforce your resident cat’s natural defensive behavior, make sure you don’t coddle or punish hissing and growling. Reassuring anxious behavior by petting only tells your cat or dog that you approve of it. Pet and praise your cat only when it is behaving the way you want it to. As long as there is no fur flying, it is best to let them work it out on their own. In the feline world, older cats establish their place and teach kittens theirs by swatting. Don’t worry; kittens are blessed with short attention spans that enable them to forgive and forget easily.

Male Bonding

If your older cat is still having a hard time after the above-mentioned scent exchanges, try putting the kitten in a carrier in the middle of a central room. The other cat can see, hear and smell the kitten and still feel safe. For the very fearful and defensive resident cat, the above methods may have to be repeated for a week or two.

After the introductions have been made, your resident cat may seem to be okay with the newcomer, but not really comfortable. He’s curious, will follow the kitten around, but still hisses if the fur ball of cuteness comes too close. You’re getting there. To further facilitate their friendship, take out a cat teaser or laser to encourage them to play together. By focusing on their natural desire to play with a neutral object instead of each other, the cat and kitten often form a bond more easily.

I’ve heard of many first introductions in which instant friendships were formed. “You brought me a baby sister! Thanks Mom!” Of course, there are others in which the best the cats could manage was to coexist peacefully. Cats are individuals and friendships can’t be forced. The goal is to give them time to accept the change to the best of their abilities. With patience, planning and a little luck, you’ll have some really cute photos to share.

Our Short-haired Alliance of Remy, the Domestic Short-hair and Bubba, the European Burmese

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