Depending upon how reactive your resident cat is, you can also let him do some exploration of the sanctuary room. Put the newcomer in another room so she can explore safely (or place her in her carrier and put then put the carrier in another room) and then open the door to the sanctuary room so your resident kitty can check things out. Keep toys and treats handy for distraction. Whether to let your resident cat into the sanctuary room depends on how reactive he is so you’ll have to be the judge here. For some cats, the sanctuary room of an unfamiliar cat is too over-the-top. For other cats, it’s a chance to do a more in-depth scent investigation in a safe way.
Step Four: Peek-a-Boo Kitty
The next step involves opening the sanctuary room door just a crack during the feeding sessions. Feed the cats within sight of each other but far enough apart so they don’t feel threatened. Do short sessions where you’re offering a tiny amount of food and then close the sanctuary room door. It’s better to do several short sessions a day that end on a positive note rather than attempting one long session where someone’s tolerance is tested and a fight breaks out. If one cat routinely tries to bolt through the door, use a door stop to prevent the door from fully opening. You can also place a hook-and-eye closure on the door temporarily.
Step Five: Fully Opened Door
When do you move onto this step? That’s determined by your individual situation. There’s no set time limit on how long you should stay in one phase before entering the next. If your cats aren’t comfortable enough yet with eating on either side of the door when it’s cracked open then you aren’t ready to move onto to the fully opened door. Cat introductions shouldn’t be rushed. Take each phase slowly and watch your cats’ reactions to determine whether to move on.
When it comes time to open the sanctuary room door and you’re worried one cat may charge through or if one or both cats have already attempted that then you take an interim step by putting two or three baby gates across the entrance or install a temporary screen door (with secure pet screening). This will allow the cats to see each other without being able to charge. When the short feeding session is over, close the actual sanctuary room door again. You can even use just one baby gate during the feeding sessions if you’re standing by the door ready to close it in case the worst happens. Even though the cats could easily hop over the gate, it can become a psychological barrier — just enough of one to relax the cats so they’ll be comfortable to eat.
Keep doing sessions where the cats see each other while eating or getting treats. Gradually increase the exposure time.
Continue the Clicker Training
As you gradually increase the time the cats are exposed to each other, use clicker training and click and reward for any positive move. I tell my clients to click for any absence of an unwanted behavior. For example, if one cat breaks a stare or walks by the other cat without hissing or swatting – that deserves a reward. Again, even if you’re not using clicker training, offer a food treat or verbal praise for any positive sign.
Use interactive playtime as a way to help the cats have more positive experiences with each other. Do parallel play by having a fishing pole-type toy in each hand or enlist the help of another family member. This way, each cat will have their own toy. You don’t want the cats competing for one toy or risk having a cat feeling intimidated by another cat. When you use two toys they get to enjoy the game while seeing the other cat in their peripheral vision.
Final Step: The Cats’ Environment
Set up the environment to encourage security, fun and plenty of territory for everyone. This will be very important when the cats are spending more time together and no longer separated. Use cat trees, perches and hideaways to create low, medium and high levels. If you increase the elevated territory in the environment you’ll greatly increase the cats’ perception of the amount of territory they feel they have. Vertical territory also helps a cat feel safe because he knows he can’t get ambushed from behind and he has more visual ability to survey the environment. Some cats also use vertical territory as way to display status and it can often avert an actual physical confrontation.
Increase environmental enrichment to give the cats ways to divert their attention, release energy and have fun! Set up food-dispensing toys, puzzle toys and other opportunities for solo playtime. A bird feeder outside the window or some cat shelves for climbing and playing may divert attention and ease tension.
Have more than one litter box and more than one scratching post in the environment. The litter boxes and scratching posts shouldn’t be in the same room because you don’t want one cat having to cross another cat’s path. Place important resource items in each cat’s preferred area. This will give the cats more choice and often helps when it comes to a peaceful co-existence.
Continue to do the mealtime training where the cats eat in the presence of each other but keep in mind that they may never feel comfortable enough to eat out of the same bowl. It’s a good idea to feed in separate bowls anyway because it’ll train them for the possibility in the future of one cat having to be on a special nutritional program.
Remember… Don’t Rush the Cat Introduction
I always advise clients to go at the pace of the most stressed-out of the cats. If one cat is ready and willing to make friends but the other cat isn’t, you have to go at the pace of the unhappy kitty. New cat introductions take time but it’s worth it to increase the odds of helping these two cats develop a good relationship.
Need More Information?
You can find the latest information on cat behavior in the revised and updated edition of Cat vs. Cat, the best-selling book by Pam Johnson-Bennett. Get your copy of the brand new edition of the best book on managing multicat households.
You can find more information on cat behavior and training in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s best-selling books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s behavior or health, please contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care. This article is for information purposes only and not offering medical advice or providing a medical diagnosis.