‘Tis the Season to Adopt a New Cat

‘Tis the season of goodwill and kind acts—like adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue organization. It’s a good deed to bring a homeless cat into your family, and can be the perfect holiday present for all involved. But you can’t just breeze into your home with a new kitty. Adoption takes forethought and planning—especially when you already have a cat.

A Group Decision

First, and most importantly, the whole family has to be in on the decision to bring another animal into your home and heart. Children especially should be part of the process of visiting the shelter, meeting your potential pet and deciding whether he or she is a good match for your household. And your current feline companion needs to be an active participant in your planning.

The Perfect Match

The gender, age and breed of your present cat will play a role in your decision about a second kitty. Cats seem to get along best with members of the same sex. Age-wise, rambunctious kittens can annoy and try the patience of older cats. Then again, they can engage an older, sedentary cat in play, acting as a physical trainer and helping to promote weight control. Some breeds are more compatible than others, due to their temperaments. But ultimately it’s the two cats’ personalities that matter most—whether shy or aggressive or social. Include the shelter in your hunt for the right cat. Tell them about your current cat’s personality, and your family’s specific needs and desires, and they may be able to assist in a match.

Making Introductions

When you’ve found the match that meets your (and your cat’s) specs, behaviorists recommend keeping the new cat separate from your current kitty at first. Cats are highly territorial, and your current cat needs to be sure the newcomer isn’t a threat to her turf. Keep the new cat in a separate room with her own water and food bowls and kitty litter. The two cats should be able to smell and hear each other without touching or seeing each other. After a few days, switch the cats’ locations, so now the new cat can explore her new home, and the two can get used to each other’s smell. Take turns playing with each on either side of the door and leave treats for both, to encourage healthy investigating and positive reinforcement about the other cat’s presence. The cats may play, poking their paws under the door. This is a good sign, as long as it’s not accompanied by aggressive behavior, like cat howls, hisses, or arched backs.

After about a week, you want to enable them to see each other, without being able to touch each other. Insert a screen door or baby gate in the doorway between them. Continue to provide positive reinforcement, play and treats for a few more days as they get more and more used to each other. If this goes well, you can let them spend some time together, preferably when they’re calm, like after meals. These meet and greets can be of longer and longer duration until, finally, you’re assured they’re getting along—or at least tolerating each other without fighting.

If you have more than one cat in your household, it’s smart to introduce them one at time to the new family member, and prevent your group from ganging up on the newcomer. You must be patient and let the cats establish their friendship on their own terms. Experts say it can take eight to twelve months before they build a compatible relationship.

The Ultimate Reward

Adopting a cat in need will take effort and time on your part but will ultimately bring rich rewards of love, companionship and lots of furry cuddles. What better present than that to receive this holiday season?