Relationship Building Among Cats

Our client Tom adopts older cats from animal shelters.  This is not common, because most people want to adopt younger animals.  For his devotion to older cats, he is to be commended.  There are plenty of older cats that need homes but not many people willing to adopt them.

Tom usually has two cats at a time, sometimes he has three.  Recently, one of his cats died, and so he went to a local shelter to adopt another.  Tom is an experienced cat owner and he has introduced new cats to his existing family cats on several occasions.  But sometimes, despite being an experienced pet owner, and doing all the right things, things may not go well.

Both his existing cat, Jeeves, and the new cat, Oscar, have lived with other cats.  Tom kept the two in separate parts of the house for the first few days.  But when he put them together, Oscar chased Jeeves, frightening him.  Now Jeeves hides from Oscar and won’t even come out of his room. So why did this introduction go wrong, and what can be done to help these cats get along?

It’s clear from Tom’s descriptions of the encounters that Oscar isn’t being aggressive to Jeeves, but rather he is just curious and playful. Unfortunately, Jeeves isn’t responding in kind and Oscar’s overtures frighten him.  The good thing about this situation is that there is no fighting between the cats and that Tom has the space and time to work with the problem.

The key to the problem is to get Jeeves over his fear of Oscar and to teach Oscar different ways to interact with Jeeves.  We recommended Tom keep the cats separate, as he did during the initial introductory phase, and take steps to help both cats associate the smell and sight of the other with “good things” such as food and gentle petting for each cat.
Next, we had Tom allow the cats together in a room where Jeeves felt safe.  We had Tom reward Oscar for sitting quietly near Jeeves, then gradually let them interact more normally.  After a few weeks Jeeves became more comfortable in Oscar’s presence, but their relationship isn’t as relaxed and comfortable as we’d like.  Tom is still working with the cats, supervising their interactions, and because there’s never been any aggression, we are fairly confident things will work out.

Good relationships among cats start with each becoming familiar with the other and developing a good communication system.  If either cat becomes defensive or frightened before this familiarity develops, it will be much more difficult for them to become friends. Cats don’t have many reconciliation behaviors in their repertoire, so once relationships go bad, it’s very difficult for cats to repair them.

If cats new to one another have previously had good relationships with other cats, it’s a sign they likely have good social skills and the capability to form friendly relationships.  However, because relationships are based in familiarity, introductions must still take place in baby steps.

Cat-cat introductions should be done carefully and no assumptions should be made about how new cats are going to get along.  The best advice for introducing a new cat is to go slow, introduce the new cats using scents and sounds first, before allowing visual and physical contact, and prevent fear and aggressive reactions.



  • Linda Allen

    Reply Reply

    I obtained my current cat when she was like 6 years old. She was going to be euthanized if no one took her. I took her sight unseen as I didn’t want her to be euthanized. Unfortunately, she obviously has been through some traumatizing events prior to me getting her. She doesn’t like other animals and doesn’t like people to stay too long in our apt. I’ve always had 2 cats but am pretty sure she won’t accept another cat. Plus she can’t even have a regular vet visit because of her off the wall fear aggression. She has to be sedated.

    • abasuzanne

      Reply Reply

      Hello Linda – sounds like you have a difficult, and perhaps not well socialized cat. From what you describe I would not try introducing another cat to your family. Her temperament may be why she was slated for euthanasia by the shelter. You might try a veterinarian who makes house calls, but sedating her is better than having her experience further trauma. Plus it will help prevent your veterinarian from being injured and allow a more thorough examination.

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