Introducing cats to each other is virtually always more complicated than simply putting them in the same space and hoping that they’ll get along. Cats, in nearly every case, need time after you introduce them. In fact, introducing them right after bringing them into the same house is a bad idea.
So how long does it take?
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), cats need upwards of a year before they’ll become friends. This is due to their territorial and temperamental nature. Many cats also enjoy solitude and dislike environmental change — personality factors that will play a role in your cat’s readiness for a new housemate.
There are a number of variables that will impact how fast your felines get along. Moreover, there are methods you can use to make the transition less stressful for both you and your cats. It’s important to consider these variables and have a plan in place before the big day.
Before you bring a new cat home, consider the following variables and tips so you can prepare your home for the move. Make sure you and your existing cats have everything you need in place and the transition will go much faster.
Number of Cats
The number of cats you have and will introduce into the home is going to make a difference in how long you will spend introducing them. Each individual pairing of cats will take their own time to get along. So, say you have three cats, two of them may get along faster while both of their relationships with the third take longer.
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It is much easier to introduce fewer cats at a time, so you may find gradually introducing pairs of your cats will result in faster friendships. If you only have two to introduce, that will make it much easier, but there’s no telling when you’ll bring a third into the home and have to worry about multiple relationship dynamics.
Age of Cats
As with any mammals, cats socialize better when they are young. They also socialize better with felines in their own age group. You will find it much easier to integrate cats of the same age into the same home, but that is not to say that you can’t have a kitten and a senior living together harmoniously.
In general, senior cats find kittens too rambunctious. Seniors like to lounge in the sun napping all day while kittens still want to play. If you have two cats with a big age difference, consider redirecting your kitten’s play time to you, and giving your senior a space of its own to sleep.
Two kittens will integrate faster than two seniors. If you’re introducing a senior kitty to another of the same age, you may find they never become friends. However, they will likely coexist harmoniously given time and patience.
Gender is not your biggest concern when choosing cat companions. However, it can make a difference. Male cats can sometimes dominate female cats in ways that bother owners while female cats can sometimes find it harder to get along.
Many female cats get along just fine in the same household, quickly becoming pals or tolerating each other enough for peace in the home. Many male cats can be friends with female cats and with each other. It will largely depend on the cats you select.
Cats that share the same feline family get along better than cats that don’t. Therefore, if you pick cats from the same line, they will get along faster than cats that are not, in general. You may even find that they get along right away.
If there was one strong indicator of how long it will take for your cats to get along, it is their personalities. Dominant cats will always struggle with being kind to other cats. Submissive cats will always find it hard not to slink around stressed and scared when other more dominant cats are around.
If you have a particularly bossy cat, you may find it will never get along with another cat. Some cats just do not ever play well with others, but that’s rarer than you might think. You can do things to calm the situation and make the cats accept each other, but these cases are going to take time, sometimes even months to years.
Calming pheromones have been known to help stressful cat dynamics. Learning to distract your cats from fights without becoming involved (loud noises from other rooms, as an example) is another helpful tool. Also watching out for bullying behavior and stopping it will go a long way to let your cats co-exist.
Availability of Food
Cats that have to compete for resources are not going to get along. It’s in their nature to guard resources if they are limited. Moreover, more timid cats may go hungry if there isn’t enough to go around.
When it comes time to make sure there is plenty of food available for your kitties, don’t simply put a lot of food in one place. It’s not uncommon for one cat to get overweight while pushing the other cats away from the only food source. Spread bowls around the house, making sure the more dominant cat or cats can’t guard them all at once.
Availability of Litter Boxes
Strangely enough, cats can be quite protective of their toileting areas. If there aren’t enough litter boxes to go around or you have a cat that litter box bullies the others, you may find yourself cleaning up a lot of accidents around the house. As with food, make sure there are plenty of litter boxes from which each cat can choose.
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Size of Home
Cats are territorial and often solitary creatures. While they can live in confined spaces together safely, those situations are not always ideal. The more space there is, the faster your cats can get used to each other on their own terms.
Cats will choose favorite spots in the house, typically a sunny window or a soft bed. If there’s only one sunny spot or comfy bed, there will be more fights. Eventually, that should calm down, but having additional spaces can make it easier for the cats to tolerate each other in the beginning.
Intact or Not?
Having intact cats in a multi-cat household can be stressful for everyone, yourself included. Yowling females in heat annoy the other cats and probably you. Males spraying around the house is more than a nuisance.
There are additional complications that come from having intact cats in the same household. Males will mount the females with more frequency, which can be alarming for pet owners to witness. There’s also the risk of pregnancy, for which you are responsible.
Spaying and neutering affect the personalities of your kitties as well. Neutered males get along with other cats better in general. Spayed females are less affectionate, but also less stressed out in general.
Not enough can be said for the health and safety benefits of having your cats fixed, for both your cats and the community. Indoor cats can and do escape homes, which puts them at risk for contributing to the overpopulation of cats. Spaying females can prevent infection and neutering males stops them from spraying around your house.
Spaying and neutering is a win for everyone.
Once you’ve chosen the right companion for your existing cat or cats, how fast they get along will depend on how you introduce them. It is essential that you separate the new cats from existing cats for as long as necessary. If you’re bringing in more than one cat and they don’t know each other, they will need to be separated as well.
Start by giving the new cats a small space of their own with food, water, and a litter box. The cats will begin to smell each other through the door. You can facilitate more scent sharing by moving around beds and toys between these areas.
Over time, start feeding the cats or giving them treats near the door to the quarantine space. They will start associating each other with food, which is a big motivator to get along. As time passes, you can use a baby gate or slightly prop the door open to let the cats see each other.
Once your cats have had eyes on each other and there was no hissing or growling, you can slowly start letting your new cats out. Depending on their personalities, they will likely slink back into their quarantine space every so often until they’ve adjusted.
Don’t be disappointed if there is still some swatting and hissing going on at this phase. This is how cats set boundaries with each other. As long as they are not having claws-out, biting fights, they are not hurting each other.
Spotting and Handling Bullying
Sometimes, cats will bully other cats in the homegroup in subtle ways. You may see the more dominant cat guarding doors where the submissive cat wants to go. They may also guard food and litter boxes.
Providing plenty of resources will go a long way to preventing cat bullying. Furthermore, putting those resources in areas with more than one entrance will help. If you have to break up a bullying situation, do it from the next room with a distraction or your cats will see you as part of the fight.
Sometimes, the dynamic shifts in relationships between cats. Whereat first, your existing cats clearly had the territorial advantage, new cats will eventually get comfortable. This may lead to spats down the line after you thought your cats were getting along.
As with most cat problems, making sure everyone has plenty of territory will help solve it. Plenty of toys, places to rest, litter boxes and food are really all cats want or need to live in harmony.
The long and short of it is that some cats can get along instantly while others will never get along. Thankfully, it’s rare for a cat to truly be unable to get along with others. The right owner can ease most bad behaviors and fearful kitties.
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If you have the luxury of selecting cats for their personalities, age, and gender, you will find the process of integration much easier. Still, it will take a little patience. Expect at least a week before tensions start to dissipate.
If you find yourself in a position where you’re taking in cats without being able to be selective, you may get lucky or you may need a lot of patience. Give it time and consistency, and you may just find two oddball cats can really get along, even if it takes a few months.
"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett