Cat Introductions

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A friend asked:

my mom is going to get 2 cats. She wants ones older than kittens. Any advice?

I thought this would make a good post. The short answer is to go to your local shelters and let them help you find the right pair. They will know the cat’s personalities and should be able to help you find the right pair. Here’s some of what the shelter people will be thinking.

In general, cats are social and it is kind to them to have feline companionship in the house. This is especially true for young cats who wan to play. But it is also true that cats are territorial and have a social hierarchy and that not all cats will get along so it is important to choose the right pair. If you choose a pair where there is a clearly dominate and clearly submissive cat this will help create peace. Two cats of similar social standing may end up constantly fighting for dominance. As a rule altered females are more dominate than altered males so:

  • A female and male is the best option
  • Two males is good
  • Two females could be trouble

(Unaltered cats are a different matter and not recommended for several reasons.)

Of course it really comes down to the individual cat’s personalities and there are plenty of exceptions to these guidelines

Often at PAWS we have bonded pairs and we really try to adopt them together. A strongly bonded pair would be truly unhappy if they were split up. Other pairs are just two cats that get along but would also do OK apart. Many of these pairs grew up together but there are examples of two adults who became fast friends on introduction. Pairs can be a little harder to adopt. Many potential adopters want one cat, either as a solo or as a companion for an existing cat. If you know you want two adult cats looking for a bonded pair is a good choice and a kindness to the pair.

If you can’t find a bonded pair you feel drawn to you can choose two cat-friendly cats you do like. There are plenty of stories of two cats becoming good house mates and even play buddies in their new home.

If you are going to adopt a kitten it is good to pair it with an older cat. The older cat will teach the kitten how to be a cat. It is just good for them to have mentors. All kittens want to be friends with other cats. As they go through the latter part of their first year they start to notice and then become engaged with social status. There is always the risk that a growing kitten will eventually challenge the older cat’s dominate position. Again, it is probably best that the older cat either be clearly dominate or the kitten be able to clearly take over that role.

One of the biggest uncertainties adopters face is finding a cat that will get along and even become friends with their current cat, dog, or both. The shelter often knows which cats are more likely to get along with a resident cat or dog. There may be history from the person to surrendered the cat, from foster parents, or from observation in the shelter. Still, there is no way to know until you bring the new cat home and introduce it to the resident, a process that can take weeks or months. That said, I believe there is a good chance to make a good addition if you let the shelter staff guide you in selecting the new cat and carefully introduce the cats.

On the topic of introductions there is a lot to say and it is worth it’s own posting. There is plenty of good information about it on the web, here’s one sample from PAWS.

One option for finding a good companion for a resident cat is to foster for a local shelter. You will have the opportunity to introduce cats to your resident with out the commitment of having adopted them. I only recommend this if you have some honest wish to help the shelter and it’s cats. There are some difficulties with this route. Many of the cats are sent to foster because they are ill, stressed by the shelter, or need work with some behavioral problems – they are not the most adoptable cats. If you are willing to work with these cats you will help them, the shelter, and may soon find yourself with a great new companion.

There are some cats who just don’t like other cats. These are somewhat harder to find homes for. If you know that you intend to only have one cat it is a kindness to choose one that wants to be an only cat. Ellen Leach, a Seattle cat behaviorist, suggests that singleton cat may be a result of increasing indoor-only cat policies. This limits their contact with other cats and opportunities to learn cat to cat social skills. Now, every time I adopt out a solo kitten from PAWS I wonder if they will be creating a cat-intolerant cat. PAWS always has several and they are a little harder to adopt. On the other hand, cats that started as feral have good cat to cat social skills and tend to like other cats.

More than two cats increase the chance of cat to cat trouble. Cori Gross, the behaviorist we are working with, said that most of her calls are to households of 3 or more cats. It can work out, it is just that with three you have created a cat society where conflict is more likely.

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Because our cats have been fractious we have been keeping them isolated. To make this easier we built a door for the top of the stairs to our second floor. The evening we put it up Luna jumped it.

Luna and Nelson - New Door

The door is about 5′ high from above and about 5’8″ from below (it is at a step) and there is little to grab onto. She probably stood on the bench to the left so it was not such a tall jump but the door is only 1/4″ thick so there is precious little for her to grab onto or stand on top of. Marie heard a kerfufel, a thump, and momentarily Luna came strolling into the room.

Before this door we were using the introduction barrier to block the upstairs:

Nelson and Jojo - Introduction Screen

I built this when we picked up Luna as a foster and wanted to introduce her to Nelson. It just slides into place and rests against the door frame. Originally it was about 5′ high and luna quickly learned to climb over that. I extended it to 6′ with some wood that didn’t quite fit edge to edge and Luna learned to get around that. The final solution was to add some plexi-glass to over 6′, full width. The clear glass lets us see through.

Problem is that it is awkward to move. Slipping through it while keeping a cat from slipping out is a skill. Doing this with even a cup of tea in hand it difficult. So it creates a barrier for both the cats and ourselves. Having it up for the one or two weeks of a successful introduction is tolerable. Having to keep it up for months of this slow re-introduction has been an on-going frustration. Using it at the stop of a flight of stairs (even with a small landing) presented an on-going risk of falling down the stairs so we are both glad to have

Meanwhile, the introduction barrier is set up at the door to Jojo’s room. Nelson seems to be upset when there are places he can not go and cats he can not, um, dominate? We are hoping that letting them watch each other will help them relax with each other.

We have also built a door on the basement stairs

Basement Cat Door

Basement Cat Door

For now we are keeping foster cats in the basement, isolated from our residents. Problem is, once the fosters have explored the basement they are ready to see the rest of the house. Their presence at the door increased resident cat stress and makes it very difficult for us to get downstairs with out the fosters slipping upstairs. We still need to fill some holes around this door, but hope that it will keep the fosters away from the actual basement door and make it easier to have them in our house.

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In late December we went back to the shelter, officially adopted Nelson, and then asked who else needs our help. This is a difficult question to answer. There are lots of cats who need our help – more than we can help. The shelter officers are not much help either, through no fault of their own. When we ask who needs help they often bounce the question back to us: who do you want to take. But it is not about who I want to take – it is about who needs help. Well, that and who I feel enough connection with to want to help. This question comes up every time we go to choose our next foster cat. Answering it has become a little easier as I rely more on the officers to tell me who they most want to see taken to foster.

On this day we saw several cute cats who had not been adopted for a while for one reason or another. Then we saw Lucky. She had licked the fur off her belly and flanks. There was a large bald patch on her left front leg. Her tail was strangely flat. And she would not come out of her cage. When removed she just jumped back in. She did not look appealing to me – I did not want to snuggle her or take her home – and these traits are exactly what made her a great foster candidate. But we knew we would have to change her name as she appeared to be anything but Lucky.

We sequestered her in the brown room and would spend time visiting with her. I built a barrier so that she and Nelson could see each other but not get into a fight. And we changed her name to Luna.

Marie and I are particularly sensitive to the suffering of loneliness. To ease her loneliness we would, at times sleep in the brown room with her. Mostly she would hide under the bed but at times she would come out, lay on my chest, accept very gentle pets, and purr. Then she lay in the chair next to me and fell asleep.

Luna behind the Introduction Barrier

Looking looking at me

Nelson and Luna Sniffing

Nelson and Luna Sleeping Near Each Other

Luna in Bed, Nelson Near

Nelson in Bed, Luna Kicked Out


Soon we could not imagine giving Luna to anyone else. She was a delicate flower and we did not want to trust her care to anyone else. By February, we had adopted her.

Being a two-time foster failure, the house was starting to feel full and we decided to get serious about the fostering part of being foster parents. Once again, we went back to the shelter and asked who needs help. This time we were sent home with Precious – a sweet young girl who had crawled into an engine compartment for warmth and was injured when someone started the engine. We cared for her for a couple weeks, keeping her well away from our other cats so she could heal from her injuries. She started to need company and our cats were too much for her state. At the same time, there were foster parents with a cat much too playful for their older kitties. An exchange was made and we said goodbye to Precious and hello to Jojo a playful boy cat who we thought might make a good playmate for Nelson.


Jojo and his toy mouse

Jojo is large and is intimidating when he’s scared. He growled at our other cats (through the closed door) and at us. We were both a little intimidated to go into his room. Introduction took a while but eventually he integrated with Nelson and Luna. And, Jojo and Nelson did become good play buddies. They spent several hours each morning – much to our sleep detriment – thundering around our bedroom. 90% of the play was mutual but perhaps 10% of the time Nelson would take it too far, would play too aggressively. Still, Jojo was big enough to handle Nelson and mostly they seemed to enjoy each other.

Our cat shelves

Maxwell, Sabine, and Blanca

Beginning of June we decided to adopt Jojo. At the same time Marie picked up a scared 7-week old semi-feral kitten, she named Maxwell, who had been found in an alley off Lake City Way. He was a darling ball of energy and quickly picked up the nickname “little peep”. Since he was semi-feral he needed socializing to humans and other cats. Marie slept on the floor of her office (where Max lived) for two weeks, and I made a point to spend time with him every day. After a couple of weeks, we picked up two more kittens, Sabine and Blanca, rescued from a hoarder and each around 6 weeks old, to socialize Maxwell to the company of other kittens. Their story is the topic for another post. In late June the girls got adopted to a nice family in our neighborhood.

Maxwell sprawled on Lap

Blanca and Sabine in cardboard cubby

In July we integrated Maxwell in with our residents and this caused a big upset.

Fractious Residents

Very playful Jojo soon realized that Maxwell was really, really fun and never got too aggressive. Soon Nelson was cut out of the play. Nelson became more aggressive toward Jojo. Jojo, in turn, became more aggressive toward Luna. Seemed like the only cat that could get along with every one was Maxwell. Soon we were separating Jojo and Max in one part of the house, Luna and Nelson in another.

By August, we redoubled our efforts to adopt out Maxwell and soon he went went to his new home on Capitol Hill to live with Dan and his resident cat Scraps.

(About this time the Seattle Animal Shelter sent out a desperate request for foster parents to take some cats from their overfull ISO unit so I picked up Whiskers and Kinka followed by Feather and Juliet. We housed them in the basement while their health improved and never integrated them with our residents, all a story for a later post.)

Present Day

This brings us to the present day. We have our resident cats, Nelson, Luna, and Jojo, who don’t quite get along. We have consulted with a behavior specialist and a natural veterinarian (and gotten good help from both). We are on a program of behavior modification to encourage the cats to re-integrate. Jojo has turned out to be a sweet heart, event spending some time in our laps. Luna is our darling girl. Nelson. Well Nelson, when he’s not pouting or playing king, is a real lover.

Luna has become subtly more confident. Confident enough to climb to the top of the scratching post.

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