Introducing kitten to a cat

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"Say hello to your new sister!"

Bringing a new kitten into the household is a special and exciting time for all the family... except potentially for your current cat!

Regardless of how good-natured your current cat is, she's still a cat and is therefore instinctively very territorial and aware of her place in a strict social pecking order. Adding a cute ball of fluff into her environment can potentially trigger all sorts of negative reactions. Jealousy, because the newcomer is suddenly getting all the attention. Discomfort, because cats are notoriously particular about the cleanliness of their own toilet arrangements. Aggression and moodiness, because an irritating youngster is 'in her face' every hour of the day.

However, with a little forward planning, good psychology and consideration, you can help make the process of introduction relatively stress-free and build a solid foundation for the sort of friendship and companionship that makes it such a delight to be a 'two-cat family'.

Step 1: prepare your home

If possible, before your new kitten comes home, take a new toy or a blanket to the breeder's premises or the pet shop, and get some of your new kitten's scent rubbed in. Then, leave this lying around at home for your existing cat to become familiar with. When they first meet, she'll recognise the scent as something non-threatening.

Prepare a separate room (maybe a spare bedroom, or the utility room) for the new kitten to occupy for the first few days, equipped with her own water bowl, food bowl, toys and bedding. Relax, this should only be a short-term measure.

Step 2: let them get to know each other's scent

On the day of the arrival, keep your existing cat apart in another room, also surrounded with her favourite things. Bring the new kitten into the house, give her a quick tour to start the process of acclimatisation and then settle her into her own room.

Only now should you allow the resident cat out of her room (but make sure she's kept apart from the kitten). Let her smell your hands, covered with the scent of the kitten, and give her treats to comfort her and build an association between the new smell and 'good things happening'.

Gradually introduce the kitten's scent into the household over the first few days, swapping food bowls and bedding. As soon as they are both comfortable with each other's scent, allow them individually to explore the other's territory, whilst still keeping them apart.

Step 3: finally, allow them to meet

The best time to make the formal introduction is at mealtime, when the desire for food will overcome all other distractions. As they meet for the first time, expect some growling and hissing - this is a normal part of them establishing their individual places within the hierarchy. Be ready with a blanket to separate them just in case a full-scale fight develops. But hopefully, your careful preparations will mean that by this stage, they 'recognise' each other sufficiently to co-exist for a few minutes over dinner.

Step 4: build on your success and treat them both equally

Immediately after that first mealtime together, separate them and keep them apart until the next mealtime, gradually increasing the time they spend together. Share treats, affection and attention between them equally during their time together, not only to build positive associations but also to demonstrate that there is no favouritism.

Remember, as the 'leader of the pack', it's not your responsibility to adjudicate between them or gauge who needs to be treated as 'top cat' - they will sort this out between themselves quite naturally. You just need to maintain impartiality and fairness in all respects.

Everybody loves a cute kitten, and part of the joy of owning a second cat is making an enormous fuss of the new baby in the family. But by taking a calm, paced approach to the process of introduction, by laying the foundations of a respectful partnership between the older and the younger cat, and by sharing the love equally, you'll all get even more love in return from both cats.

And that's a recipe for a very happy two-cat family!

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