Bringing a new pet into the home, whether it be a permanent addition to the family or a temporary foster situation, requires painstaking yet loving attention to the new pet as well as the ones that already live there. Most everybody realizes that.
But my favorite thing about bringing a new cat into my house is observing them when they’re getting to know each other and establishing initial boundaries. No matter how many times I’ve witnessed this, it never happens the same way twice. And I always learn something new.
I’ve written here about Lucy the foster cat before. Well, the introduction of Lucy and my two cats was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.
It’s vital that the new cat have its own space where he or she can settle in behind closed doors. Cats will get to know each other through smell and sound. Seeing each other should only be introduced – and only with human supervision – once they seem to have accepted each other. And I emphasize “seem to” because you can never be absolutely sure what could happen after the cats are within a paws distance.
And during this time of “no visibility” the established cat(s) will communicate their dominance through vocal cues, specifically hissing. Ideally, a new cat accepting its subordinate position will not respond. This is what you want.
Well, on the day that Lucy arrived, after sniffing around the closed door to learn a little about her, my two boys decided not to hiss. They came back a few times each day, sniffed, and then didn’t hiss. I was confused by this because they usually gave a new foster cat a couple of days of good solid hissing, just to identify themselves as masters of the house. And there was no hissing coming from Lucy’s side of the door either.
After five days of this, I decided to supervise a face to face introduction. Upon being allowed out of their room, most new cats will sniff everything, rub on whatever is at neck level and generally make a slow, deliberate and somewhat hesitant entrance into the house. But not Lucy.
When I opened the door to the guest bedroom where Lucy was staying, she immediately and with no hesitation ran full speed into the center of the house, spotted my cats happily napping in a sunny window, ran right up into their sleeping faces and shouted, “MEOW!” Needless to say, they were shocked. They jumped up, a little off-balance having been rudely awoken and ran toward the master bedroom.
Lucy took chase and cornered them under a desk. That is when my sweet, docile boys decide they should start hissing – five days too late. Lucy cocked her head in confusion and again shouted, “MEOW!” And they said, “HISS HISS HIIIIIIIISSSSSSS!” Lucy kept moving forward, but they had nowhere to go. I was so afraid that if she moved any closer that paws and claws might appear, so I sweetly called out “Lucy, Lucy”. She turned to look, saw that I had her favorite shoelace toy and was instantly distracted and followed me pouncing on the shoelace and purring with delight back to her room.
As you might imagine, after that dreadful encounter, Lucy and my cats never became friends. To her, they were desired playmates who had never established dominance when they had the chance. To them, she was some weird exchange student who didn’t speak their language and especially didn’t understand that they didn’t want to play with her. It is important to remember that while most cats can understand each other, they do have different dialects that may be hard to interpret. And you better believe that my otherwise gentle cats started adamantly hissing at her door after that.
Had I wanted Lucy to be a permanent part of my family, there are methods of behavior modification and re-introduction that could have been employed. But as a foster cat, I decided to introduce her to a kitten instead that was also a temporary guest, and they got along famously, playing in the guest bedroom, behind a closed door.
Remember that if your cats are ever having trouble understanding each other like this, contact Friends Forever Counseling, your friendly feline interpreter.