Integrating Kittens with Cats: Mingling
Introducing Young Kittens to Adult Cats
by Margaret Schill
- 1) Isolation: Isolate the new cat completely for a few days.
- 2) Scent Familiarization: Scent familiarization with items.
- 3) Room Swapping: Switching the cats' places for a while every day, with no physical contact.
- 4) Visual Familiarization: Seeing each other with no physical contact.
- 5) Developing Positive Associations: Developing positive associations with no physical contact.
- 6) Short Supervised Visits: Brief, highly supervised visits paired with food or treats.
- 7) Separation at Signs of Hostilities: Separate the cats at signs of hostilities or fear.
- 8) Longer, Carefully Supervised Visits: Mingling under very careful supervision for up to a few hours, before total separation again.
9) Limited Free Mingling: Free mingling with moderate supervision.
10) Free Mingling Full Time: The cats are let together freely all the time when all the above steps have gone well but NOT when the people are not home. You ought not have total full-time 24 hour free mingling of young kittens (under 5 months) and adult cats for the reasons discussed below. Backtrack to the limited mingling if the cats weren't quite ready to be together all the time.
After you read this article, if you have any questions and want a personalized answer, post on the W. V. Cats forum at http://wvcatsforum.tuxedocatwebs.com.
Keep in mind that a kitten under 5 months old is an infant, not just a small cat. There is a great difference in size, strength, motor skills and interests between baby kittens and an adult cat. So you must stay on guard to keep the young kitten safe and unhurt.
As things go well with the longer supervised visits, and even get better and better, you can reduce how much immediate, direct supervision you do. But, until you are positive things are fine between the two cats, keep the kitten safely in his own room any time you cannot actively supervise the adult cat with the kitten, such as when you are asleep, involved in a complex task, or not in the house. Adult cats understand how humans “interfere” with things, so may act differently when you are not around. Do leave the room for a very short while on purpose at times, but you need to be able to hear any sounds of a problem. Do some unexpected, random spot checks on the cats, to get a feel for how they are getting along when you were not in view.
For example, if you find one cat cowering in a corner hissing, that lets you know another cat had intimidated the hissing cat. (Remember, hissing is a defensive sound, not an aggressive sound.) A cat doesn't cringe in a corner hissing unless something threatened and scared it. And that something would be the other cat. It could even have been the kitten that wound up intimidating the adult cat! So, you would separate the cats until they calm down.
Keep in mind that a tiny kitten is not a match as an intended companion and playmate to an adult cat in terms of life stage, size and strength. So you need to wait a few weeks for the kitten to mature more physically before you think about any full-time, unsupervised mingling.
After many, many days of things going very well with limited free mingling, and once the kitten is older than 16 weeks, you can try free mingling for most of the time. With young kittens (under 5 months old), you really won't have total full-time 24 hour free mingling, for the reasons discussed below. If it turns out to have been too soon to allow so much time with the kitten and adult cat out together freely, simply backtrack to the previous step that seems best.
Keep the young kitten in his safe room when you are not home or are asleep, for safety.
Continue to keep the young kitten in his Safe Room (which you have made "kitten proof") when you are not home or are asleep, until the kitten is at minimum 16 weeks old, even if your adult cat has fully accepted the kitten.
This is necessary to keep the kitten safe from possible dangers in the home that you may not be aware are problems until a curious kitten gets into trouble. Kittens are extremely curious, but don't have much "sense", being babies still. Tiny kittens can squeeze under and behind places, such as appliances, you did not think they could, and sometimes they get stuck, or hurt on things. Their bodies are actually smaller than they look under their fur. They also teethe up to approximately six months old, so will often chew on wires and risk being electrocuted.
If you are not home or are asleep when the kitten has free reign of your home, the kitten could get injured, or killed. In the Safe Room, you will hopefully have made sure it is a safe place for a curious kitten, and have covered all wires, or not have any where a kitten could get to them.
No matter how well things have gone with supervised visits, do not allow unsupervised, full time free access by adult cats (except a kitten's own mother) until the kitten is at least 16 weeks old. Prior to then it is too small and fragile to be left unattended with other adult cats full time, unless you have that exceptional kind of cat who chooses to act "motherly". That is not the norm, though.
Even if older than 16 weeks old, kittens want to play fight almost all the time, and that is very irritating and stressful to adult cats. Some adult cats will even feel the mock fighting of the kitten is real fighting, and may feel under attack. A kitten has a great drive to play fight a lot, an inborn programmed behavior to help kittens learn about their bodies, develop their strength, and learn how to defend themselves. They can be relentless with trying to play physically with whatever living creature is around. You might not think a larger cat would be afraid or feel threatened by a little kitten, but some are.
Even if not afraid, the adult cat will wind up being subjected to "harassment" from the kitten too much throughout the day. This can result in a greatly stressed adult cat. Little kittens are not born knowing "cat body language", so they don't start off respecting adult cat subtle body language cues to stop. Some adult cats will finally react with aggression if the kitten does not stop when the adult cat ran out of patience. Due to the extreme differences in size, strength, and physical abilities, the young kitten could get hurt.
For the sake of both the kitten and the adult cat, do have times when the adult cat gets some "kitten free" time. This really is important. Otherwise, the adult cat may come to "hate" the kitten if the adult cat never gets some peace without the risk of being pounced on by an overly energenic kitten.
Even if your adult cat seems fine with the young kitten when you are around, there is no telling what may happen when you are not present, so it is not overcautious to recommend no full-time completely unsupervised access until the kitten is approximately 5 or 6 months old. You do need to be within hearing distance so you can intervene if there are sounds of a problem and you do need to continue to do periodic visual checks, even when you don't hear any thing that sounds like a problem. Remember, young kittens are babies, not just small sized cats.
It can take several months for some adult cats to accept a new kitten. Mostly, that is because it takes that long for the kitten to outgrow the need to constantly try to play fight! But, often, they do come to at least live and let live" sooner than that, if not become friends.
Eventually, once the kitten has settled down a little, learned to use his stuffed toys more often to play fight with rather than the adult cats, has grown up some more, and the adult cats have gotten used to the "little pest", things usually wind up fine.
How we Integrated a Kitten with Our Adult Cats
Read the details, with pictures, of the integration of a three month old kitten, Seamus, into our home with 5 adult cats at http://wvcats.com/seamus.htm. Each of our cats reacted differently, and took differing amounts of time to be able to tolerate Seamus' pesky (to them) little kitten ways.
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