Integrating Cats: Supervised Visits
How to Integrate Cats, Page 3
by Margaret Schill
Click on the titles of each section to read details and the reasons for doing each step.
- 6) Short Supervised Visits: Brief, highly supervised visits paired with food or treats. Continue with the previous steps also.
- 7) Separation at Signs of Hostilities: Separate the cats at signs of hostilities, or great fear. Learn cat body language to tell when a problem is starting. Click on the name of this step to read about cat body language and to see some pictures.
- 8) Longer, Carefully Supervised Visits: Mingling under very careful supervision for up to a few hours, before total separation again. Adjust the length of time depending upon whether there are any signs of hostilities or stress, but no matter how well things seem, do not yet permit 24/7 free mingling. Continue with Room Swapping, but discontinue Scent Familiarization with towels or blankets.
After you read this article, if you have any questions, please post on the W. V. Cats forum at http://wvcatsforum.tuxedocatwebs.com/.
Once all the previous steps have gone well, with no growling or other aggressive noises, and not too much hissing, it is time to try some very brief, very, very carefully supervised together times. The first several mingling times should be short, as in maybe only 15-20 minutes, and while the cats are being fed some canned food or other treat or special dry food that they love if the cat won't eat canned food. Take up all dry food about 3 hours before you will serve the special food, so the cats won't be full on dry food and will have an interest in eating. Feeding them something they really like in the presence of each other helps pair a good association with the stranger(s).
The goal is for all the cats is to be able to eat comfortably within the presence of the new cat or cats, somewhat near each other, but not immediately next to each other. To start, the bowls have to be as far away as needed for each cat to eat in a relaxed, normal manner. This may be 12 feet apart or more. If the cats feel unease or upset, the main goal of pairing something good with the newcomer won't work if the cat is too upset to eat.
Before you start, keep the door to one room shut and be sure it is cat free, in case you need an emergency room to quickly stash a cat who is in attack mode, or the victim- whichever cat you can get to first or the safest one to be handled. Get some toys out, particularly a draggy Cat Charmer or length of rope, or a fishing pole type toy. You might need it as a distraction and lure to get an agitated cat away from the other. Also, get out a few bath towels, and place them in easy to grab locations in the various rooms. They may be needed to use to break up a cat fight. Do NOT use your bare hands to break up a cat fight.
In most cases, if you did do all the previous steps and they went well, things won't get to the point of needing to break up a physical fight, but, you never know how the cats might react. Some cats seem fine with the viewing other cats when they know they cannot make physical contact, but as soon as they can, things can get surprisingly unpleasant after you thought all was progressing very well.
Do not let the new cat out of his room until you dished out all the food and placed the bowls in spots that seem to be good for the particular cats. The bowls have to be placed in each cats' "comfort zone", which will differ per individual cat. Since you don't know what that might be at first, start all the resident cats far from the new cat, 10 -12 feet, then make adjustments as needed when they are actually out at the bowls. All cats need to have an easy "exit" from each other in case they get scared or one starts chasing the other.
If there are problems at the start of the meal from any of the cats, that cat who was upset, whether aggressive or overly scared, gets put in a different room without the food, but you will save it to give to the cat about 15 minutes or so later. Do have a litter box, comfy resting place and a scratcher in that room. (Cat's work out tension with scratchers, so that is why you want one in that room.) You do not give the food to the cat with the problem right away, as that could reward the upset feeling and encourage it. This is not a punishment. It is a kindness to let the upset cat have a private time to calm down. The cat feeling upset is not being bad, even he acted aggressively. But, one does not want to reward scared behavior, and certainly not aggressive behavior.
If the eating time goes well with all the cats, new cat gets to stay out for some short after dinner mingling, maybe just 20 minutes at first. A few hisses from any of the cats is fine. One cat cornered by another, with the cornered cat hissing loudly and rapidly, means that hissing cat is very scared and stressed, so one of those cats needs to be put in another room. Preferably, one puts the cat doing the cornering, the one making the other hiss, in a separate room. But for safety reasons, one picks up the cat least likely to react to stress with biting or scratching. Here is where a bath towel may come into play.
You want short and sweet visits, where you end it before any of the cats get upset. If you wait until there are problems, the cats come to see each other as negative things. You want them to see each other as either neutral things or positive things. Try to remember that expression, "Always leave them laughing". Separate the cats while they are all content during these first mingling times. Do NOT follow any advice to "just let them fight it out". That can make it so the cats never get along, with things getting worse.
|New cat in the middle has accepted these resident cats, and they have accepted him- as dinner partners anyway. These cats are now ready to have longer free mingling sessions, but still with supervision in case things get out of hand.
In this case, new cat liked to engage in back jumping after dinner, which the other cats were upset with. Some human intervention was still needed at this stage.
Each day, try moving the food bowls an inch closer to the new cat, always adjusting the distance to where the cats feel comfortable enough to eat. With several cats, you might wind up with maybe one resident cat eating a foot from the new cat in a week, with the others lagging behind 6 feet away for maybe two or three more weeks. That is ok. Usually, cats who finally feel comfortable enough to eat within a foot of the other are safe to free mingle, but even then, in the early days, don't have free mingling the whole day. Some cats might feel fine to eat a peaceful meal next to a new cat, but NOT at all fine with the new cat wanting to play fight after the meal, should the new cat be wanting to do that, as many young cats do. Any after dinner upsets can make new negative associations that set things back.
One can also do another short mingling session without serving a meal later on after there was a hopefully pleasant shared meal time. Think of that second mingling time as dessert time. Get some sort of treats the cats like, or at least that some of them like, and serve those with the new cat around, but again, new cat not next to resident cats, but rather a distance away. For cats who don't like cat treats from the store, try little pieces of deli turkey breast or deli roast beef as the treat. Then let there be some short after dessert mingling, but separate the cats while things are still going well, so they go to bed with good thoughts about each other, rather than having nightmares about each other.
A word about interactive play with a fishing pole toy or draggy toy, such as the Cat Charmer, with the new cat and resident cat at the first mingling visits, which some articles suggest you do. I can tell you from bad experience, don't do it when cats are first meeting. When they both rush over to the lure you are waving around, one or both of them can then mistake the other for rushing to attack. That can then totally defeat your intention of trying to make the cats feel happy about being together. It can start a fight between them, as it did in an integration attempt I made, and then everything you did so far to get them used to each other is "erased", and it will be back to square one. So, no interactive toys at first when the new cat and resident cats are just meeting!
However, you might use a draggy toy to lure one cat into another room if he seems that he might be planning on getting wild with one of the other cats. This would work best if it is the case of a young, playful cat only honestly intending to play wrestle the other cat(s) (and you are SURE it is just playful intent), when the other cats are put out or even scared by that youthful exuberance. Do NOT try this if one cat is actually acting aggressive and going after another cat with the intent to fight. If the target victim does not realize he or she is being stalked for an attack, and decides to run after the toy, you can have wound up making the victim come into harms way unintentionally. Or, another cat, not the intended victim, might rush over to the toy, and then get the aggression meant for the original intended victim redirected onto him/her. Another lesson I learned from sorry experience.
This is not actually a next step in a sequence of steps. It will have been something you need to do from the start, when the cats are only up to peeping at each other from a cracked opened door, and continue to do all along until the cats are up to peaceful free mingling all the time.
However, since by now the cats are up to the point of brief mingling, it is necessary to realize what signs of aggression are so you can tell when to intervene, or not. Some tips have already been discussed in above sections, such as to separate the cats when there is a lot of hissing, growling, or any yowling at all (definitely separate for yowling as an attack is likely about to occur!) Some hissing is ok, but not prolonged hissing, as that cat is getting extremely stressed, which is what you don't want to have happen. As was mentioned above, before you have the cats out together, keep the door to one room shut and be sure it is cat free in case you need an emergency room to quickly stash a cat.
You need to understand and "read" cat body language and postures, along with vocalizations, so you can separate the cats before an attack might occur, or when one cat is stressed or afraid even if the other cat is not sending out attack messages. Cats actually say more with their body language than they do with sounds. A quiet cat "just sitting there looking" at another cat, might in fact, be sending out an "I likely will attack you" staring message to the other cat.
Below are links with details about cat body language and communication that you should read. Some have photographs showing the various body signals written about.
Cat Communication, by Sarah Hartwell: http://www.messybeast.com/cat_talk2.htm
Understanding Your Cat's Body Language: http://www.purina.com/cat/body-language/understandbodylanguage.aspx
Cat Scratching As Communication http://www.clydesight.com/catcomm.html
Whiskers: Your Cat's Finger on the World: http://www.petplace.com/cats/whiskers-your-cat-s-finger-on-the-world/page1.aspx
Things to watch for are ear, tail, body and eye positions. An upset cat will flatten down it's ears, and narrow his eyes, as in the picture on the right. That gray cat is a cat ready to strike out if the other cat does not back off, but, he is a cat on the defense, not likely to pounce down and attack. This would be the time when you carefully move the "sniffing" cat away, before the gray cat feels the need to react, which could set off a real fight. It could be best to try to distract the sniffing cat away before picking him up, as he may well have noted the other cat's attitude and might also be in a defensive mood, even if it doesn't seem like it.
A confident cat on the offense, fully intending to intimidate or even attack another cat, does not flatten it's ears down, but rather will have them facing forwards, indicating assertiveness, or to the sides, and will tilt the head a bit down, in better position to stare directly into the eyes of the other cat. Direct, bold stares are challenging actions in cats. Tilting the head down slightly also prepares for the front of the neck to be protected in case the challenged cat should lunge and try to bite.
This black cat on the left is approaching another cat in an assertive, challenging pose. The humans should be on high alert, ready to separate the cats. Trying to distract the bold, challenging stalker would be advised to try first. Sometimes simply walking towards the challenging cat, standing in between the two cats and talking to the challenger, saying something in a firm, but normal speaking volume along the lines of, "Settle down now", or "Be nice, now," can be enough to make the challenging cat decide to stop for the moment. Clapping of the hands or stomping a foot near the aggressor while speaking a verbal direction can also break a stalking cat's attention from his/her "prey". If not, the cats should be separated in the safest way possible before the challenger decides to get into a physical challenge with the other cat. Getting a towel and waving it towards the aggressor, shooing it away from the direction of the potential victim sometimes works. But you may need to scoop up one of the cats in the towel and quickly put them in another room shutting them in. Never, ever pet the upset cat while he/she is upset. It does not calm the cat and you might get scratched or bit in a bout of redirected aggression.
The cat on the blue blanket is using an extended claw warning to the cat below, but as her body is remaining reclined in a mostly relaxed manner, and her ears are not flattened back, there is no danger of an immediate attack. Cats often try a subtle peaceful way to "gently" warn another cat to not come near, such as by simply extending their claws. This does present a handicap for declawed cats, who can't engage in that kind of "peaceful" warning. The black and white cat below has understood the warning, and did leave right after the picture was taken. You can see that she mostly looks alarmed, and not in a pose of anger to fight in response to that "claw warning", as some cats might. In this situation, you would watch carefully to see if the cat being warned does heed the warning and goes away from the other cat, and if the one doing the warning is satisfied and remains in a relaxed body position. No separation is needed if the warning was heeded. But you do need to supervise, as obviously the one cat feels disturbed by the other getting too close.
Watching the tails is also important. A cat lashing it's tail back and forth is not a happy sign, as it is in a dog. It's the opposite- a very agitated cat. If one cat is looking at the other while lashing it's tail back and forth, it could be time to separate the cats. Here is where things are not cut and dried. A young, playful cat will sit in "stalking" position, swishing it's tail, while planning on a play pouncing on another cat, but it's eyes will not be narrowed into slits and it's ears won't be flat back on the head like the gray cat in the above picture. The playful cat will look "perky" and even in what one might consider a "looking for mischief" demeanor. In this case, the cat is not angry, but is tail swishing due to the excitement of his daring plans. If the cats are having their first few short meetings, it would be best to not let the playfully intending-to-pounce cat carry out the plan. The other cat might take it as an attack, not play. That can then turn into a real fight, or make the other cat afraid of the new cat. Both outcomes will set things back for peaceful full time integration.
But, if the cats have had several brief, calm meeting times and seem to be doing fine together, you can watch carefully to see what the playfully stalking cat might do, and the reaction of the other cat. If the other cat takes only mild offense, by hissing, growling and some air swatting near the pouncer, and IF the playful pouncer backs off immediately and moves away, adopting a calm, docile pose, then separation is not needed right away. That playful fellow would still have some active play urges that need to be met, so it would be good to separate them shortly after, and then engage the playful feeling cat in some interactive play with a streamer or fishing pole type toy.
If the cat about to be pounced on shows signs of being upset, such as with ears back flat and making harsher hissing, growls or yowls, from noticing the other cat in pounce pose, then distract the playful pouncer, and then put him in a separate room so no chance of a fight can occur. Remember that the goal is for neither cat to become highly stressed by the other, so even if one cat was seeming to only be meaning to play, if the other cat isn't viewing it that way, they need to be separated.
It is difficult to determine how much intervention is best, and when it should be done. While you want to be quick to separate the cats before either becomes very stressed or becomes physically aggressive, you also want to not jump in at the least little thing. The cats do need to have the chance to let the other know when some behavior of the other cat is bothering them or when something they are doing is upsetting to the other, so they can learn how to best coexist.
For example, if one cat is walking towards the other, and the other starts hissing or mildly growling, or slightly lifts a paw in a hint of warning, one should wait a second to see if the cat doing the approaching respects the hisses or growls, and moves away, and if the one hissing and growling seems to be content to stay in place and let the other move on without chasing after it. In the picture on the left, the black cat has approached the gray cat in a "looking for mischief" pose. Maybe it is for play, maybe not. It's hard to know just yet. But, the gray cat has lifted his paw in readiness as he clearly realizes the black cat is up to something. Neither has made a sound. So far, alert, nearby watching by the humans, at the ready to intervene with a towel or blanket nearby, is all that is needed.
If the approaching cat doesn't move on, but keeps his/her ears, paws and tail in a friendly pose, and doesn't make any hisses, growls or yowls, but rather seems to just be stubbornly curious, then wait another second nearby to see how things might work out. In the picture on the right, the black cat may seem to perhaps have respected the raised warning paw of the gray cat, but, she is leaning in towards him, so all may not be well. The gray cat seems to not be distressed, however, he is keeping careful watch, as the humans should also do.
The irritated cat might swat the curious one with a warning swipe. This is ok. If the curious cat then moves away, and the swiper seems content to stay in place, satisfied with the result, then no intervention is needed, except to keep watch that the curious cat doesn't become a mischievous pest.
If the approaching cat does not heed the hissing, growls and warning swipe, but then poses in a challenging manner such as by leaning forwards, perhaps cocking his/her head to one side, moving the ears forwards in assertiveness, and maybe lifting a paw to swipe back, then it could be time to intervene, as it might happen that a real fight may break out.
|The black cat now clearly is challenging the gray cat, with that paw being lifted ready to swat. At this point, it is a judgment call whether to intervene or not. If the cats are both quiet, the aggressor is staying still, and the other cat is in a passive or neutral seeming pose as the gray cat in the picture is, then you can wait at the ready to intervene if necessary. Sometimes the aggressor cat may just be posturing to tell the other cat he/she is "tough", or is testing to find out if the other cat is an aggressive kind of cat by giving a bit of a challenge, but doesn't really want to fight.|
|The gray cat responded to the black cat's challenge by raising a paw, but has stayed in place. This means he is not planning to attack, but isn't going to just sit there and get attacked. Still, he is not too perturbed, as his ears are not flattened, and he did not make any sounds, such as hisses or growls. The black cat seems to not be so tough after all, by drawing back from seeing that raised paw when it wasn't even near her. At this point, you would keep watching, and if the black cat cuts out the posturing and moves on, all is well.|
|If the gray cat were hissing, growling or making yowling noises and had his ears back, and for sure if the black cat was yowling, then the cats should be separated. Or, as in the case of our gray and black cats pictured on the left, if the one cat moves towards the other cat again, in "ready to do something" position, or just maintains a pose of "about to do something" (as the black is), it is time to put an end to the visit. Pick up that nearby towel but first simply briskly walk right up to them saying something such as, "Be nice, cats!" in a firm, but not overly loud voice. That is sometimes enough to get the aggressor to move back and away if the intent was not truly hostile. If not, try talking more sharply, perhaps clapping your hands. This will startle many cats, and might result in one or both cats running off.
On the other hand, it could backfire, with perhaps the docile cat turning his attention to you, with the aggressor cat using that chance to attack. Or, the aggressor cat may have lunged right away in response to the other cat lifting his paw. Both cases would be the time to toss the blanket or towel on top of the aggressive cat, and either carefully and quickly scoop it up while wrapped in the towel and rush it to another room that has no other animals in it, shutting it in, or quickly getting the victim cat out of the area before the cat under the towel emerges.
If the cats wind up in a scuffle, try hard to not get overly exited, with yelling or screaming, as that can make the cats more upset and fight harder. It is very hard to not make loud, excited sounds, though. Get the blanket or towel you should have nearby, and toss it on them both, or if one is not nearby, perhaps grab a pillow and toss that towards them, but not socking them with it. Both actions should momentarily startle them so the victim can get out of the grip of the aggressor. Then you corral one of the cats, which ever one you can, into a different room.
Do NOT punish any of the cats in any manner, not by yelling, not by deprivation of comforts and food, and most certainly not by physical means!! They are not being "bad", but merely acting like normal cats under stress. Punishing will only make things worse, since the cats will not understand why you are acting that way. It will also make them mistrustful and fearful of you, and can add to their aggression. If the cats did get into a scuffle, you need to backtrack slightly with the integration steps, and hold at the previous step a few more days before trying the next step again. Or, if the scuffle occurred during the after dinner mingling phase of the "Short Supervised Visits " , simply only let the cats eat together, separating them without any after dinner mingling for a few days. Then try again with some short after dinner mingling and see how it goes.
These two cats are doing fine with long, supervised visits, happily sharing a window perch. They were a well matched pair that got to this point in only eight days. Things aren't usually this comfortable so soon with many pairs of cats.
When the short, highly supervised visits are going well, and you have become more knowledgeable about cat body language and signs of hostilities to better know when to intervene and separate the cats, start letting the cats mingle together for increasingly longer lengths of time after shared meals.
When that goes well, try have more than one mingling time per day, and don't stay right next to the cats, yet don't be very far either. Remember, even if it seems things are fine, do not yet allow unsupervised visits until a whole lot of days of carefully supervised visits go very well, even a month's worth of days. Some cats don't attack new cats right away. They wait to size them up as they have more and more time out with them. Such cats don't want to be on the losing end of a fight, so they will start out with a few mild challenges to test out the other cat. At first, it may seem to the humans that that will be the extent of things. But for some cats, it's just the beginning of ever increasing challenges that will culminate in an attack. Some cats also wait until the humans are not close by before they attack another cat.
You need a whole lot of days of these longer supervised visits to better assess each cat's reaction to the other when they have full access to one another. So don't be too hasty to leave the cats unattended.