How to introduce a new kitten in your family

Introducing a new cat or kitten into a household with other pets can be quite stressful. When we decided to adopt kitten Coco into our home, we already had Donja, a very friendly Bull Mastiff, Rover, a 12-year old british shorthaircat and Boeffie a 3-year old rescuecat. Because we planned ahead and made an effort to create the best introduction possible, we now have a perfect furfamily!

They say it is easier to introduce a dog to a cat than a cat to a cat. This is because a cat won't see a dog as competition for resources. The cat-cat thing is much more difficult. For Coco being a kitten it was much easier to introduce her into our family than if she had been an adult cat. A kitten tends to be less challenging for the resident cats. Kitten bodylanguage is less threatening and they don't know the concept of territory and competing with others yet.

Coco as a kitten
Coco as a kitten

Cats are territorial and tend to not take it well when an intruder shows up in what they consider their territory. Introducing a new cat in a way that doesn't feel threatening to your resident cat can take some time. It is easier to start things off slowly and let the cats build their friendship on their own terms than to just push them together and expect them to become best friends after they've already decided to hate each other.

A little bit of extra effort can make the difference between a good or bad relationship in the future.

Cat Boeffie is smelling little Coco when she arrived
Cat Boeffie is smelling little Coco when she arrived

Scent is very important

Because cats (and dogs) are so sensitive to scent, we brought a few blankets to Coco from our home to her home where she was born. We took the blankets back home before she arrived, so her familiar smell was in our home and the cats and the dog could smell her scent beforehand. The blankets also made Coco feel safe because she had the well-known scent of her mom and siblings in our home.

Big brother Rover and little Coco
Big brother Rover and little Coco

Take the time - plan ahead- prepare your home

It is best to collect your kitten on a day when you know you will have plenty of time to help settling it in. Take a couple of days over a weekend or during a time when you are not at work and the household is relatively peaceful. I just took a few days off work, because who wouldn't want to stay at home with a new kitten?!

Prepare your home for the arrival of the kitten. You can purchase a kitten pen and position it in a room that your existing cats don't favour, for example a spare bedroom. A kitten pen is a large metal cage with a solid floor that is normally used for cats after surgery that need to be confined. It is quite large with plenty of room for a bed, toys, food, water and a litter tray. They are easily collapsible to enable the pen to be moved from room to room.

We didn't purchase a kitten pen for Coco, because we have a spare bedroom. So everything she needed was in this spare room. This would be her own space for the next few weeks where she could feel safe. The room has a door that can be closed to prevent the other cats from coming inside.

Visit your kitten in the safe room as often as possible until you are able to introduce the kitten to the rest of your family and let the kitten out to roam the rest of the house.

Playing together is super important for the introduction
Playing together is super important for the introduction

It is really important to provide attention to the existing cats during this period but do not exceed the amount normally accepted and enjoyed. Existing routines should be maintained to show that the kitten represents no loss of resources or enjoyment.

After the cats have had a chance to get familiar with each other's scent for several days, it is time to allow the cats to meet face-to-face. For all the cats' safety, you will want to supervise the first few interactions between the new cat and resident cats before allowing the new cat full run of the house. If there are any problems, you will need to separate the cats immediately.

Boeffie and Coco sleeping on the shelve together after 2 weeks
Boeffie and Coco sleeping on the shelve together after 2 weeks

Start the introduction by opening the door to the kitten's safe room just a bit. Let the cats discover each other on their own, but keep a close eye on them. If you notice any signs of aggression, such as hissing or defensive posturing, separate the kitties immediately. Keep the first meeting short to avoid overstimulating the cats and to keep the first experience positive for both cats.

Over the next few days, let the cats meet each other under supervision each day. Increase the amount of time that the kitties spend together each day. While the cats are meeting each other, offer them treats, pet each cat, and play with them using wand toys. This will help to build positive associations with each other.

Cuddles with catdad
Cuddles with catdad

Give everybody the same amount of attention, so the kitten does not feel as a threat to the other animals.

When my husband and i where at home, we would let Coco, Rover, Boeffie and dog Donja all together in the livingroom, supervised ofcourse. But while we were at work, Coco would stay in her saferoom. We did this routine for three weeks, after that we felt comfortable enough to let her out in the entire house when we were at work. Ofcourse, as a crazy overprotected catmom i would check our petcam all the time...but no problems have ever occured.

Donja is smelling Coco's scent
Donja is smelling Coco's scent

Introducing a kitten to a dog

Because we have a very large Bull Mastiff dog, we were very careful because Coco was still so tiny. The Bull Mastiff is the sweetest dog ever, but she is big and doesn't know her strength. Kittens are more vulnerable than adult cats, so you will want to keep your kitten and dog separated while they get acquainted. It is up to you to protect your new kitten and set up introductions carefully so that the kitten feels safe and has a pleasant experience getting to know your dog.

Play together, be cheerfull and reward the animals
Play together, be cheerfull and reward the animals

Before letting your kitten and dog meet face-to-face, it is yet again important to introduce their scent. When animals share a common scent they consider each other as belonging to the group. This can be done by gently rubbing your cat and dog with the same cloth several times a day, or putting a towel your pet has slept on in the other animal's area. This is what we did with Coco's blanket too. As you can see, our extra effort in introducing little Coco into our family worked! 

Most important: play together with the pets and reward them together with treats! This will build positive associations with each other.

The whole furfamily
The whole furfamily