How Felines Can Make Friends, It Doesn’t Have to Be Cat vs. Cat


August, 2004
Pam Johnson Bennett’s latest book is about living with more than one cat.

Many people believe cats are solitary. Pam Johnson-Bennett says that’s not true. In fact, she’s says, “In general two cats are better than one. We think cats are antisocial because they don’t hunt cooperatively as dogs do. As for those who maintain we are no more than a food dispenser to cats and that dogs care more about us than cats, Johnson-Bennett says, “That’s just wrong!”

She does acknowledge that cats are generally more independent and less needy than dogs. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t require companionship,” she’s quick to point out. Cats often enjoy having feline pals. The secret to making friends is in a proper introduction.

Johnson-Bennett says, “There’s also a right and a wrong way to introduce a new cat to other animals, which is the foundation of how their relationship will be built.” Cats often enjoy feline pals just as dogs enjoy being with their own kind.

Johnson-Bennett, who is a member of The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Inc. is arguably the most successful author of books about cat behavior. Her latest is “Cat vs. Cat” (Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2004; $15).

The wrong way to introduce a new cat is to use great stealth, sneaking the newcomer into the house, tip toe to the center of a room, drop the new cat and head for the hills. There new cat will be terrified. And the existing cat(s) will be offended by the interloper. The right way to introduce a new cat is Bennett-Johnson’s ‘Eight Step Program’ for cat introductions.

1) Any newly adopted cat must see the vet, cats can pass serious infectious diseases to one another. Johnson-Bennett adds, “If one of your existing cats is ill or is having some sort of behavior issue, this is not the time to add a new furry family member.”

2) Create what Johnson-Bennett calls a sanctuary room for the new cat. Most often this room is an extra bedroom or a den, it can also be a sun room, basement, bathroom or closed off indoor patio or porch. She says, “If you can’t devote a room, you shouldn’t be adding another cat.”

The sanctuary room shouldn’t be a jail, the more often family members visit, the better. Of course, the cat’s food, water, litter box and something appropriate to scratch on should be here. (The litter at the opposite side of the room as the food dish).

Provide toys, but even more important – you play the new cat using an interactive cat toy (such as fishing pole-type toy with feathers or fabric) at least twice daily.

You want to encourage the new cat to come out from under the bed or the under the sofa. Create alternative hiding places by using boxes or paper bags. Cats will gain confidence if they can climb. Using tape, securely stack boxes onto one another in a way that the cat can climb. Cut the bottom out of a few paper bags and create a tunnel, a great hiding place for a shy cat and lots of fun for a playful kitty.

While you’re busy entertaining the new cat, don’t ignore your resident cat(s).

Johnson-Bennett says one purpose of the sanctuary room is to allow your resident cat(s) to sense the newcomer is there. For one thing, they’ll hear one another. If the new cat complains too loudly, then move the existing cat(s) as far as away from the newcomer as possible, or turn on the radio to try and drown out the wailing.

They can also smell one another. After a few days, help the process along by taking a clean sock and rubbing it on the cheek pads of your new cat that’s in the sanctuary room. Then deposit the sock near your existing cat(s) food dish. Reverse the process, and wipe the resident cat(s) scent on a sock and drop that in the sanctuary room.

Wait two or three days, and now do the old toy and/or bedding switcharoo, placing items from the sanctuary room to where your existing cat(s) can get a good whiff. And then take toys and/or bedding belonging to your resident cat(s) and place them where your new cat is.

Put the resident cat in the bathroom, or in basement with a family member for about 20 to 30 minutes, while you give your new cat his or her first tour of your home. Along the way, kitty can’t help but to deposit scent. Also, new kitty will become familiar with the house.

Finally the cats are ready to see one another, but for only seconds at first. Johnson-Bennett says, “Remember, with (introducing) cats less is always better.”

Start by opening the door to where the new cat is and offer a tidbit of tuna, salmon, baby food or some other treat. At the same time, a family member does the same from the other side of the room with your resident cat(s). They’ll all learn they only get this super treat (as many times as a day as you want – makes sure it’s a tiny morsel) when the other cat is present. Keep these meetings short in duration, and only very gradually add more together time as you ever so gradually shorten the distance between the new cat and the resident cat(s).

When the treat sessions end and the cats if the cats remain tolerant of one another, Johnson-Bennett says, “Now begin parallel play. Take a toy and play with the new cat while another person (or you can use your other arm) plays with your existing cat(s) using another interactive toy.”

Finally – the cats get to meet up close and personal. But an adult must be there to supervise until the cats are consistently getting along. “It’s perfectly natural for there to be some posturing and hissing. That means the cats are working things out on their own, which is fine,” says Johnson-Bennett. “Remember, through this entire exercise watch your cats. They’ll tell you when it’s okay to precede to the next step.” Of course, all these steps are further detailed in her book. And the answers for what to do when the cats create a road block.