When you add a new kitten or young cat to the household, you hope the older, established cat will be happy about the new playmate. In the best case scenario, the two make friends and playful behaviors develop between them. But, sometimes, the new cat is more exuberant than the established cat can handle. If you do not intervene and manage the situation, the older cat may decide to avoid the younger one, and a significant rift can develop between them.
Best Ways To Introduce Cats
First impressions are important for cats as well as people. If you haven’t yet brought the new kitten or cat home, be sure to read about the best ways to introduce cats.
Allow the cats time to sample each other’s scent by rubbing each with towels and sharing with the other, or sharing favorite napping pads or cat beds with each other. There’s a big difference between knowing there is another cat in the house, and having that other cat lunge at you, hiss or swat. Who wants to be mugged in the hallway? Managing the distance between them, and the general tone of the introductions is important.
If the initial introductions didn’t go well and there is discord in your household, you can always give the cats a break from each other for a few days by confining one of them to a bathroom or spare bedroom, then starting the process over.
Ways To Meet The Needs Of Both Cats
If the main problem is the younger cat chasing and jumping on the older cat, there are several ways you can intervene and help the relationship.
Younger cats spend a lot of time and energy learning how to use their muscles and athletic skills. Dangling wand toys and tossing “scootable” toys to engage the kitten in play is a great way to expend his/her energy. This should develop the habit of playing with toys instead of pouncing on the other cat’s tail. Play is an essential need for kittens and growing young cats, so, while you cannot expect to suppress the behavior, you can at least channel it in an appropriate way.
If the older cat feels intimidated and runs away, it might encourage the younger cat to increase the chasing. Making the older cat feel safe and secure is an essential part of keeping balance between them. This might require some intervention on your part.
A simple timeout for the younger cat can be an instructive tool. The kitten can learn that the consequence of chasing or “bugging” the older cat is a timeout in the bathroom by herself. You do not need to be rough or harsh with the youngster; simply pick her up and deliver her quietly to the private room. No need to speak to the cat, yell at her or use corporal punishment in any way. “Solitary confinement” for three to five minutes is plenty to get the point across. However, you may need to go through the cycle several times before she grasps the lesson.
Encourage Bonding Between Your Cats
At first, it might seem like you are playing referee, but these bonding tips should soon have your two cats living together in peace.
- Giving your older cat a chance to play with some of the new kitten toys, as well, will build a bond between the two, if the activity of play is fun and enjoyable. If the older cat doesn’t wish to play, perhaps you can provide soft stroking for the older cat while dangling an interesting toy for the younger cat.
- Stop the play from time to time and offer each cat some valuable cat treats. This will also build a good feeling about being in the presence of the other cat.
- Find ways to give the older cat a respite from play attacks. If you can see the older cat is not enjoying the interactions, you can either give her a chance for a nap in another room, or put the kitten away in a crate or room with toys to play with alone.
- Cats can be trained to come when called, and to sit in a particular place. Use a marker/reward system (usually called “clicker training”) to teach the kitten what you want her to do — and what she will get “paid” to do!
- Don’t forget the potential of a shared experience like a nice catnip party. If both your younger and your older cat like catnip, you might give each a pillowcase or similarly sized pad with a small pile of catnip. If they enjoy the experience while in the presence of each other, the “party” experience may give them an appreciation for time spent together. Supervision is a wise choice until you are sure how each cat reacts to the effects of catnip.
Exercise Your Young Cat’s Brain As Well As Her Body
Feeding your younger cat using food-dispensing cat toys is another way to engage the kitten’s hunting skills, which stimulates the younger cat’s mental skills and uses up energy. Whether you use well-engineered commercial feeding toys or create simple, inexpensive ones like poking holes in an empty toilet paper roll and filling it with kibble before you seal the ends with masking tape, the result is a cat who is entertained and engaged for longer than she would be eating from a bowl. That additional mental stimulation might be enough to leave the younger cat ready for a nap with her older sibling.
Janet Velenovsky is a past president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) and Associate Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) with IAABC. She is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA, “knowledge assessed”). Janet owns Kaizen Pet Training & Behavior and is a co-creator of the patented Gentle Leader® “Come With Me Kitty” Cat Harness and Bungee Leash by Premier Pet Products, where she served as Training & Behavior Education Department Manager for almost eight years.
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