"We really want to bring home a new kitten, but we're not sure how to introduce him to our existing cat and dog..."
We are often asked this question and there really is no "simple" answer. I've spent hours and hours tailoring introductions for clients based on their specific situations or pets. Just as there are many different cat personalities, there are many different ways to introduce two cats - or a cat and dog for that matter - each with varying time frames and degrees of success. "Success" may mean different things to different families. Do you want your pets to love each other or will it be enough for you if they simply tolerate one another's existence and live with you under the same roof? Either way, I'll go through the steps here that I suggest to our kitten clients when they are introducing one of our kittens to their dog(s) or cat(s) at home. This process may be used for the introduction of any new pet to any home, it's not strictly for use by our kitten clients.
Creating Kitten's Safe Place
The first thing to do (and something that is written right into our contract as the "quarantine period", so it's not to be taken lightly) is to create a safe room for your new kitten to stay when he arrives in your home. The benefits of the safe room are two fold: 1) the prevention of potential infectious illnesses; and 2) creating a less stressful transition for the kitten into his new home. This is the room where you will place his litter box(s), food, water, toys, cat tree/post for sleeping and scratching, and any other items he may be bringing from his current home (or our cattery, if that's the case), including the carrier and blanket he arrived in to act as a den and a secure place while he settles in. Leave the carrier in the safe room with him for him to hide in if need be - plus, it makes it easier to contain and transport him when you take him for his 72 hour vet check and when you decide to move him to a new area in your home. See our article on Litter Box Training for some additional tips on creating the safe room.
As mentioned above, our kitten contract states that the kitten you take home from our cattery must be kept separate and apart from all other pets in your home for a full two weeks. During this time, you may observe him with full confidence that the kitten has not been exposed to any outside contaminants since arriving at your home. If your kitten has come in contact (grooming, biting/playing) with other animals in your home - especially those who are allowed outdoor access (a dog going for walks, or a cat who free roams) our health guarantee is voided, as we have absolutely no control over what illnesses or viruses your kitten could potentially be exposed to via the other pets.
The successful transition of the kitten to your home goes most smoothly when use of the safe room is implemented. During the kitten's time in the safe room, he will have the opportunity to get a gradual sense of some of the smells and sounds of your home, thereby easing his stress with each passing day he spends in your home. A bathroom works very well as family members will be coming and going, talking to him, petting him and playing with him, but leaving him to his quiet and safe area when you are not in there with him. This is not cruel - this is exactly what the new kitten needs in order to feel safe and protected now that he doesn't have any of his litter mates or family with him. Everything is new to him and he's scared. The room will be his safety zone during the transition. Make sure the room has areas in the for hiding - a box, or a tunnel would work well.
Smell is Key
Smell is huge for cats and kittens. For this reason, try to bring something along with the new kitten from his current environment - a blanket, shirt, soft toy, etc that has absorbed some of the "scent of home" or of his litter mates. This will give him something that gives him comfort once his world is left behind to come to your house. Add clean cloth or towel into the kitten's crate at this time, or on his tree if that's where he spends most of his time. You will make use of this item in a few days to bring out of the safe room and introduce to your existing existing pets to smell and get used to, so they know the smell or the new family member before he is ever officially presented to them.
Introduction to Existing Pets
Gradual is the name of the game
"What about my other cat or our family dog?" Well, the great thing about bengals in particular is that they super curious and eager to make friends, so it will just be a matter of time. I've NEVER had a situation with a kitten client where a successful relationship between pets hasn't eventually taken place. If the introduction is done thoughtfully, your new kitten and existing dog or cat will be the best of friends for life. Because you implemented the Safe Room Strategy, he will also have had the opportunity to play "pawsies" under the door with other pets in the house and they will have gained a sense of each other by talking to and smelling one another for the past couple of weeks prior to the official introduction.
Lower Kitten's Stress with Play
The keys to a successful introduction are timing and playful distraction. During the two week quarantine period in the safe room, periodically close up your other pets in another room and open the door to the kitten's safe room and allow him to come out and explore. You can begin doing this one or two times a day beginning on about day 4 after bringing your kitten home and completing his required vet check. Toys are essential in this process - create a playful and inviting space just outside the door of the safe room by bringing some of his toys out for him. A feather teaser wand is a fabulous tool to use at this time to lower stress and entice your kitten out of the room and into the hallway or room just outside his room. Sit on the floor and play with him while he inadvertently takes in the smells and sounds of life outside his room for a few minutes.
If the kitten decides to confidently wander beyond the zone you've created, let him do so. Follow him quietly while you observe him taking in the sights and sounds of his new home. Make sure the home is relatively quiet at this time - kids are at school, home reno construction is not occurring in your kitchen, etc. Also, remember to be careful about putting away and removing any and all targets for inappropriate peeing before letting him out to explore.
Keep it Short
Don't spend more than 15 minutes allowing the kitten to explore... it can be overwhelming and may be sensory overload for a young stressed kitten, so after 15 minutes gently entice him back into his room and play with him a few minutes more in the room before closing him off again from the rest of the house to relax and reflect on his positive experience. It's important to entice him, rather than carry and place him, back in the room. This will teach him how to find the room when he needs to - if he wants to flee the main living area or needs his quiet time. Teach him the route "home". Now, let your other pets back out and allow them to explore where the kitten has been to become more and more familiar with his scent with each passing day of completing this exercise. Repeat this process at least twice a day during the quarantine period.
Meet and Greet at Last!
At the end of the two week quarantine period, begin to leave the door of kitten's safe room slightly cracked open while you stand back and carefully observe. Watch to see who comes to the door first - the kitten to see who's on the other side, or the existing pet to finally meet the secret occupant. Either way, carefully monitor the meet and greet - from a bit of a distance, but not too far away that you can't intervene to separate them and close the door again if need be.
Create a United Front
It's critical at this stage to talk to your existing pet in calm tones, reassuring him that he is being a "good boy" while he is tentatively sniffing at the new kitten. If it doesn't disrupt the introduction, move in closer and place your hand on your pet and scratch or pet him in a way he likes so he feels like you are meeting the newcomer as a united front. Remember it's his house being invaded and not the other way around, so at this time priority must be given to creating a positive and encouraging atmosphere for the existing pet in welcoming his new housemate. NEVER reprimand (vocally or physically) the existing pet during this introduction. You will essentially be teaching him to resent the new family member if you do this. It will create a negative experience which is the opposite of what you want to do. If hissing and/or growling ensues (completely normal and expected!) remember that you need to allow the animals to communicate with one another without your interference unless there is clear evidence that one or both pets will be hurt in a full out brawl. If the introduction goes well, and the two begin to sniff or even lick one another, continue to keep a close eye but allow them to do what animals do - lick, groom, sniff, chase, etc. Theirs is a secret language that we do not have the benefit translating in full, so this is where we need to "let nature take its course" so to speak.
Once the introduction has taken place, and you are confident that it is going well for the most part, leave the door to the safe room completely ajar for all of the pets to come and go as they please. Continue to observe and monitor the interaction. Leave a litter box and your kitten's tree in there so he can go back into the room when he feels like it for comfort and add a few more litter boxes to the other areas of the house. ** Best practice is to bring the litter box he's been using in the safe room out into another area of the home for easy recognition, and replace the one in the safe room with a new box.
For at least another week or so, continue to put the kitten in his safe room when you need to leave to do errands or go to work, etc. You don't want to risk undesirable behaviour such as unsupervised brawls (unlikely, but you never know!) or peeing accidents while you're unable to monitor. For an even longer period of time, keep placing the kitten in his safe room overnight to rest and use his litter box. We have some adult cats in our home that we continue to do this with. This is a sure way to avoid waking up to broken lamps, torn papers all over the desk, and a host of other "bengal mishaps".
You're on your own!
Well, I've put into one place all of the things that come to mind when discussing the issue of introducing a new kitten to a home with existing pets - I'm sure I've left some details out - as each situation I've helped deal with has had its own peculiar intricacies, as I'm sure yours will too. My main goal in writing this article is to give kitten clients and others a succinct resource containing the basic steps of a "successful" introduction. Feel free to tweak the procedure as it translates into your particular set of circumstances, and.... good luck! Like I've said, we've never had a situation where a new kitten and the existing pet have not become fast friends when the appropriate measures are taken for a stress free introduction. Heck, even when everything is done ALL wrong, the animals seem to figure it out on their own eventually, leaving us scratching our heads in amazement. It just depends on how smoothly and quickly you want it to go. Most of all, enjoy your new family member!
Carmen Klassen, Owner of Jewelspride Bengals