Integrating Cats Page 2

How to Integrate Cats, Page 2 of 3

by Margaret Schill

Click on the titles of each section to read details and the reasons for doing each step.

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2) Scent Familiarization: Scent familiarization with items, such as towels, rubbed on each cat then left in the area of the other cat, while the cats are being kept separately.

3) Visual Familiarization: Seeing each other with no physical contact, such as from a slightly cracked opened door a few times a day. Continue with scent familiarization as well.

4) Room Swapping: Switching the cats' places for a while every day, with no physical contact between them. This is added to doing Scent Familiarization and Visual Familarization when those two steps have gone well.

5) Developing Positive Associations: Start developing positive associations with no physical contact, such as by feeding the cats on opposite sides of a door when cracked opened and even when it is shut. Continue with the above steps as well.

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After you read this article, if you have any questions and want a personalized answer, post on the W. V. Cats forum at

Step #2 Scent Familiarization

Cats go greatly by smell to determine what "belongs" in a territory, especially which other cats belong. So, the first steps of introductions are with scent swapping and scent familiarization. The actual introduction technically has begun as soon as you have put the new cat in the "safe room".  Cats have a much keener sense of smell than humans, so can smell each other despite the closed door.  At first, the cats will simply sniff around the door that separates them. Some cats will hiss and growl at the closed door just knowing there is another cat on the other side. 

After about two or so days of the new cat arriving, and provided the new cat was checked by a vet and has no illnesses or parasites, put an item the new cat has lain on, or that you have rubbed the new cat with (such as a towel), out in the main area of the home for the resident cat(s) to sniff.  It would be best to wait at least a day or two after the new cat has been in the home to rub him/her with the towel, since cats give off various scents associated with their emotions and you don't want the "fear/upset smell" to be your resident cat(s)' first impression of the new cat.  Also, if the new cat had fleas, you want enough time to go by for the flea treatment used to have become very effective so as to not spread fleas to your other cat or cats via the towel or blanket!

Resident cat sniffing scent of new cat on blanket.

Likewise, put an item with the resident cat(s)' scent in the new cat's room.  Leave the items lying around for the cats to explore when they wish to and as often or as little as they wish. Do not force them to be near it as you want everything to have positive associations with the least possible stress.  Some cats get very upset just smelling a towel with a stranger cat's smell on it in their territory so being forced to be near the item will pair negative associations with the new cat's scent.  Don't be shocked if one cat urinates on the towel that has a stranger cat's scent on it.  Some cats will do that as a form of marking, to "erase" the scent of the stranger cat.  But that is not a very common reaction.  After a day or two, rub the item on the cats in that area, and switch the items.  This will result in the new cat getting back an item with his/her own scent combined with the scent of the resident cat(s) and vice-versa.  

Freshen the scents on the towels again after a day or two by rubbing the cats and swap them out again.  You can try leaving the cat-scented towels near the food bowls, depending upon how the cats have reacted to them.  If a cat has been hissing at or seeming to be disturbed by the towel with the scent of the still-stranger cat, don't put it near the food, as some cats then won't eat.  Keep doing the scented towel swapping, with refreshing the scents by rubbing it on the cats then leaving it on the floor, for as many days as necessary for the cats to accept it without showing signs of being agitated or distressed by it.

It is unnecessary and not advised to put artificial substances on the cats to "try to make them smell the same", such as putting a drop of perfume or vanilla extract on them or rubbing them with baby powder.  It won't really make them smell the same anyway, since cats emit pheromones and anal gland scents unique to the individual, that won't get disguised by other substances.  Cats will also lick off the substance while grooming, and some things could be toxic or cause an physical irritation to the cat.  If not that, the taste might wind up being repulsive to the cat, especially perfume. (Lick some off your own arm to find out how bad it tastes.)  You certainly don't want any negative associations made with a scent that would also be on the other cat. 

Using the cats' own body scents to rub on each other via a towel is the best and natural thing to do.  In nature, cats who are friends will rub against each other, depositing their scent on their friends, to re-establish the bond and to help identify who is their friend and who is not. So do likewise, by using the cats' own body scents.

Step #3 Visual Familiarization

After some days of scent familiarization from leaving a towel rubbed with the scent of each cat in the area of the other, allow a few minutes of peeps at each other through a crack in the door two or so times a day. Carefully and securely wedge the door so it is stuck at being opened only an inch or two, with no chance for a cat's head to fit through, nor for any cat to be able to push or pull it opened.  It works out well if you are on the side of the door with the door opening in towards you, with you then using your foot as the wedge, and your hand on the knob to hold the door steady.

Shut the door at more than a little hissing, and as soon as any growling, or worse, yowling, occurs.  Your goal is for the cats to develop positive associations with each other, and getting insistently and continuously hissed at, and definitely being growled or yowled at, won't do that.

Hissing is more so a noise born of fear, but with some hint of a threat.  It's basically a warning sound on the more mild side.  It is good for cats to see how another cat will react to hissing, as that gives them some information about how well the other cat might respect their message.  It is also necessary for you to see how upset the hissing cat is.  Just one or two hisses followed by simply looking for bit is a good sign.  Repeated, continuous loud hisses is not a good sign and the door should be shut then as the tension level will just keep rising.

If any cats growl or yowls, shut the door right away.  Those are fighting warnings and you want the tension to be stopped as soon as possible.  That would be not just for the sake of the cats, but also for your sake, in case you are on the side of the door with the growling or yowling cat.  He/she might attack you in redirected aggression.

Do the peeps through the crack in the door two or three times a day, for as many days as it takes until the cats can both look at each other without hissing, growling or yowling.

Step #4 Room Swapping

When the above seems to be going well for a few days, have the new cat and the resident cat(s) swap places for a while every day. This must be done carefully so that there is no chance for physical contact between the new cat and the resident cat(s).  Putting one of the cats in a carrier to do the exchange is the best thing to do.  As you carry the contained cat out of one area, the cats will likely see each other.  You will need to set down the carrier contained cat to then corral the other cat(s) to the other area.  During this time it is fine for the loose cat(s) to approach the carrier contained cat for a look and sniff, but try to not let that go on for more than very short time. It is very uncomfortable for a cat to be confined then stared at by a stranger cat or worse, a group of cats (as in a multi-cat home) and you want to avoid as much stress as possible. If there is any insistent hissing, any growing or yowling, get the cats separated behind closed doors as soon as you can. 

Simon is using his cheek scent glands to rub out the scent of where a new cat walked. Simon is not yet ready to mingle!

Room swapping is done for two reasons.  The new cat has not yet explored the rest of the home, so needs to find out about it without having to worry about the other cat(s).  The other reason is that by letting cats from each group walk around in the other(s)' section, they will all leave scents from their foot pads as well as from their cheek glands rubbing on items.  That will help them get used to the smells of the other(s) being all over the home, making it seem normal for the home.  Then later when they meet in person, they will have a sense of familiarity.  That doesn't equal acceptance, though, but familiarity is a necessary step for acceptance. 

Do the room swapping for several days, along with the peeps through the door held opened a crack a few times a day.  Further visual familiarization combined with scent familiarization can be done by having one cat in the carrier, and allowing the other(s) to freely roam around at will.  Take turns with which cat is in the carrier.  Do not leave any cat in the carrier on "display" for long.  Fifteen minutes is about a long as it should last, with less time if the contained cat is distressed or the roaming cat is at the carrier making threatening sounds.  As soon as one of the cats is acting or sounding upset, separate the cats by a closed door. 

Always remember the goal for the cats to come have good associations with each other.  The more negative and stressful interactions they have, the more that can wind up being their habitual way of acting.

Step #5 Developing Positive Associations

At this step, you want to start to develop positive associations with the cats for each other, but with NO physical contact at all.  Feed both cats on either side of the closed door.  After they both eat comfortably on either side of the door with it shut, open it a crack with you firmly holding it so it is impossible for either cat to get out while they are eating.  If either cat hisses, growls, or stops eating and walks away, move the bowls as far away as needed for both cats to eat happily when the door is cracked only one or two inches.  For some cats that might be many feet away at first.  Work on moving the bowls 1/2 inch closer each day, until they cat both eat happily three feet apart with the door wedged opened one or two inches, and can look at each other calmly through the crack after eating.

An alternate arrangement is to put one cat in a large carrier, and feed the cat in the carrier in the same room as the other cat. Start with the carrier far from the food bowl of the loose cat, many feet away. If either cat will not eat, they are too close to one another to feel comfortable.

When it is not a meal time, during the "peep through the crack" times, give some cat treats to the cats near the door, but not if there is growling, yowling or other threatenting noises.

Have some petting or play sessions with the cats near the door to help associate the nearness of the other cat with good things.  Even though the cats are separated by a closed door, they are very aware that the other is on the other side of the door.  WARNING- do not try to pet a cat if he/she is hissing, growling, spitting or yowling.  Petting an upset cat does not calm it, but it can lead to the cat redirecting aggression onto your hand and arm, which can result in a serious bite wound.  Cat bites are serious and can get infected quickly.

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Multi-cat introductions


Cats are independent individuals, and each cat will take a different amount of time to adjust to the new cat.

Some cats in a multi-cat household will be ready to free mingle with the new cat sooner than some other of your cats. Be sure to pay attention to how all of your cats are reacting, and do not allow the cats not yet accepting the newcomer to free mingle with the new cat until they are ready, regardless if other of your cats are up to the free mingling point.

In the case of multi-cat homes, it is sometimes erroneously thought that when the resident "alpha" cat accepts the new cat, the other cats will "fall in line" with acceptance.  This is NOT true.

Cats are not pack animals like dogs and do not follow a strict hierarchy, following the leader. 

Rain Treats!

To help cats develop positive feelings about being in the presence of each other, dispense plenty of special treats when they are in the same area without any signs of aggressive behaviors.

The treats below do not have any additives or fillers.

Kitty Kaviar
Kitty Kaviar 1 oz
Kitty Kaviar is dried bonito filets, carved paper thin. Bonito is a fish in the tuna family. Many cats consider bonito flakes a very special treat! Bonito flakes helped with integrating Simon and Galen with Seamus.

One of Seamus' happiest days was when our order of many bags of bonito flakes arrived. He knew what was in those bags and couldn't wait:

Since we had a lot of cats loving bonito flakes, we bought it in large bags which were sold for humans to eat. The jars of Kitty Kaviar sold for cats didn't last long enough in our home!

cat themed

Halo Liv-a-Littles Whole Chicken Treats
Freeze-dried chicken. Most cats really, really love them! These treats can go a long way to make positive feelings- at least for the human who passes them out!

cat themed

Kitty Kissers Chicken Liver Treats
Kitty Kissers 100% Chicken Liver Treats (0.8-oz box)
Freeze-dried chicken livers. Cats don't get quite as excited for the dried chicken livers as they do the Halo freeze-dried whole chicken meat above, but they still really like the chicken liver treats. And, they are less expensive.