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How can I help our older cat accept our new kitten?

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Question: How can I help our older cat accept our new kitten?

My boyfriend adopted a new kitten about a month ago. He already had a cat – a very friendly, loving, sweet, and docile 8-year-old female cat – and we hadn't really anticipated them having troubles getting along.

The new kitten is eager to make friends, but his older cat wants none of it. She's been SO sad – constant hissing, general unhappiness and sadness, and most recently, she stopped eating. We introduced them by keeping the kitten in the bathroom for a week or two, but now we wonder if we should have extended that period. It's been a month now, and she doesn't seem to be getting happier. Any advice?

Answer:

I do have one FAQ on introducing a kitten to an older cat, which is somewhat related. But your boyfriend's situation is also about the depression of the other cat. I'm not sure if keeping them separated longer would have prevented it. In any case, there you are with a young kitten that needs play, exercise, and companionship; and an older cat who feels displaced by this intruder, and alienated from your boyfriend.

Before starting the program outlined below, I'd like for the older cat to go to the vet to eliminate any physical cause for her apparent depression and weight loss. Hopefully, that will be ruled out and you can start your Kitty Behavioral Therapy plan. Feel free to share it with your veterinarian for his/her approval.

There's no single "magic bullet" which will turn their relationship around overnight, but a planned "shotgun" approach might work.

Part 1:

First, you and your boyfriend will need to re-establish the older girl as mistress of her domain. He, especially, needs to spend some quality time alone with her every day. He can brush her, talk to her, telling her how special she is to him, hold her, and pet her. You could occupy the kitten with interactive play elsewhere during that time. Then take turns, switching cats. On other days, both of you could spend the cuddle time with the older cat and the kitten could play with a play-alone toy.

During this period, if the older cat hisses and/or swats at the kitten when it approaches, don't interfere unless it appears that she's in danger of doing bodily injury to the kitten. To prepare for that possibility, I'd suggest reading my how-to on scruffing. It's unlikely you'll need it, but it's a useful tool to know. Hissing and swatting are normal behaviors, given the situation. The older cat is establishing her role as alpha cat, and the kitten will learn to accept it, and what behavior on her part is acceptable or not.

Here are a couple of other tools you might want to invest in:

  1. Feliway Comfort Zone Plugin
    Feliway mimics "friendly (facial) pheromones" and is a great aide to treating a number of behavioral problems in cats, including stress and depression. I am using it right now to help with a similar problem between my alpha cat and our latest adoptee. Another way of applying the friendly pheromone therapy that doesn't cost anything: rub a facecloth on the kitten's face and head, to pick up its pheromones, then rub it on your older cat. Using a fresh facecloth, pick up the older cat’s facial pheromones and transfer them to the kitten.
  2. Natural Remedies for Stress
    It probably wouldn't hurt to just put the suggested amount of flower essences into a mutual water bowl.

Part 2:

After a week or two, try to involve the two cats in mutually enjoyable activities a couple of times a day. This will tend to make them associate pleasure with the other cat.

  • Shared Human Time
    Try sitting on a sofa with a cat on each side. Talk to them as you pet both of them. Another time, you can give each one a treat, one cat at a time. The older cat will watch closely to see that she gets her fair share of the treats, and will be satisfied when she sees that she is.
  • Mutual play with a feather wand or a laser pointer.
    Cats love to chase things, and the older female may become so involved that she finds herself playing side-by-side with the kitten.
  • Shared Meal Times
    Try placing their food bowls on either side of their water dish (or automated water fountain). They will be aware of each other's presence without feeling threatened.

Give this program a month, then please let me know how things are going. I hope you'll be able to report a breakthrough, or at least some positive signs of progress. They may never become really close friends, but they very well may be able to co-exist comfortably and peacefully.

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