The Mind of Your Cat: 04/04

Question: I have a four-year-old pre-owned female cat, and have realized that I have enough love in my heart for a second cat. My cat shared a home with a male cat in her previous residence. I would like to make the new cats transition as smooth as possible. Everything I have read states that I should put the new cat in a separate room in the beginning, and that I should provide a litter box for each cat plus one. This is not possible due to limited space – I live in a small apartment. Since my cat is docile and has shared a home with another cat, should I take the chance, or just have one cat?

Answer: For many years, cats were described as asocial. Cats do not travel in packs, and they tend to hunt as individuals. Therefore, it was thought that cats in general preferred a solitary existence. The observation that cats are not obedient in the traditional sense of the word served as support for the notion that cats answered to no one and would just as soon be left alone. People who spend much time away from home often choose to adopt a cat rather than a dog, assuming that a cat would be perfectly content to be left home alone.

Ideas do change as new information is gathered, however. In the absence of a traditional house, cats deliberately gather and rest near other cats with which they have bonded. Individual cats actually choose their companions, and reject or avoid less compatible cats.

Is there a way to predict whether two cats will get along, particularly in a limited area? Not exactly, as we cannot perfectly measure and assess personality types. The best we can do is try to identify traits that suggest the likelihood that one cat will accept another.

The fact that your cat has already lived successfully with another cat is encouraging. Still, things can go wrong. What if the other cat is outwardly aggressive toward her? He (or she) may lack social skills, or may be one of those cats that truly would prefer a solitary existence. Your first cat might not tolerate this behavior, and fighting may occur. Or, she may become frightened and flee, encouraging the newcomer to chase. Either situation would require behavior therapy that might be hampered by limited space.

In some cases, the resident cat is the one that initiates the aggression. This can occur even in the most social of cats. Aggression may be based on fear. That is, something about the new cat, whether his appearance or his odor, can trigger a fear response which would in turn trigger aggression. Resident cats may also behave aggressively when they perceive a threat to their status or resources.

Again, behavior therapy would be required to attempt to modify this aggressive behavior.

Finally, some cats are simply fearful, even when we cannot identify any threat at all. Fearful cats have a habit of running away and hiding. Even normal cats are unable to resist chasing a cat that runs away. Introducing a cat with a high level of fear can be a challenge.

As you see, there are many possible outcomes. It is best, even with limited space, to attempt to create a temporary barrier. First allow the cats to view one another through a glass panel or screen. When your cat is tucked safely away, the new cat should be permitted to explore your home.

If no aggressive behavior is evident, then you may move ahead with the introduction. Allow the cats to rub one another across a screen or gate. Pass a common toy for them to bat through the barrier. And begin to feed them within sight of one another.

Once the cats are calmly eating and playing together, you may allow them to share a space and investigate one another. Be alert for signs of arousal: Puffed tails, hissing and growling are obvious trouble signs. For mild arousal, you may be able to use a distraction such as treats before separating them. Never grab an aroused cat as you may be seriously bitten or scratched. For safety, keep a heavy blanket or water bottle nearby to interrupt a fight.

In summary, if your cat has a history of being social, she may very much appreciate a new companion, even in close quarters. An extra litter box is a good idea, as cats can be particular about their boxes, or impatient when they need to wait in line. If the cats get along well, the boxes may be side by side. And although your home may be small, cats make much use of vertical space, so provide plenty of areas for your cats to climb onto and tunnel into.

Try to learn a bit about the new cat before introducing him. Be wary of any history of aggression or fear, particularly during social interactions. A cat that has lived quietly with other cats may be a safer choice. Do try to select a cat that appears to share your cats level of activity and interest in play. Take your time seeking a feline friend that suits both you and your cat so that you can both be thankful for the new addition.