Adopting a kitten with a senior cat is not a decision to make lightly. Older cats like to live a sedate and quiet life on their own terms. Kittens, on the other hand, are energetic and high maintenance. For the cats to live in harmony, introductions must be managed carefully.
Do not surprise a senior cat with a new kitten unexpectedly. Introduce the scent of the kitten before it comes home. Introduce the cats by sight but keep them apart physically. Create positive, unified experiences and assure your older cat that it has not been forgotten. Eventually, hissing will subside, and the older cat will accept the kitten.
Bringing a kitten home to a senior cat does not need to start a feline civil war. Just be careful about how much you expose the animals to each other, at least initially. If you master the early experiences of co-habitation, you stand a better chance of integration.
Can a Senior Cat Get Along with a Kitten?
Thanks to advances in medication, diet, and understanding, cats can live long, contented lives. This means that cats spend more time as seniors than in any other state. Most cats are considered seniors from the age of 10, and geriatric cats beyond the age of 15.
As cats age, they start to wind down. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery explains that many senior cats struggle with osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. This will leave such cats reluctant to play, hunt or even move.
Getting a kitten when you have a senior cat can reinvigorate your incumbent pet. Kittens have an infectious energy that some older cats enjoy. You may find that your older cat rediscovers a sense of playfulness and starts to interact with its surroundings more.
Unfortunately, the opposite effect is more common. Many senior cats find kittens excessively boisterous, energetic, and annoying. Couple this with the territorial nature of cats and you have a recipe for a challenging dynamic. “I just got a new kitten and my older cat hates it” is a common lament among cat owners.
It is possible to help your older, incumbent cat to accept the arrival of a new kitten. This is unlikely to happen overnight, though. You will need to manage the introduction of the two cats carefully. First impressions can set a lifelong precedent.
Introducing a Kitten to a Senior Cat
As discussed, introducing kittens to older cats must be done carefully. You only have one chance to make a first impression, and cats remember unwelcome experiences. Get the introduction wrong, and your older cat may hold a lifelong grudge against the kitten.
Never spring the arrival of a kitten on your existing cat. Felines guard their home from infiltrators. If not expecting a new housemate, the kitten will be treated the same way as any intruder. Your cat will assume the kitten plans to steal resources or territory and attack.
Prepare your cat for the arrival of the kitten through scent. Before your kitten comes home, start applying its scent to the home. Leave a favored toy on the floor and bring home a blanket that smells like the kitten.
This may still see your senior cat acting a little strangely. It will likely start hunting high and low for this new cat in the home, and it may become clingier as it fears being replaced. These measures will make the eventual arrival of the kitten less surprising, though.
Once you bring your kitten home, you are ready to make the necessary introductions. Follow this process to give yourself the greatest chance of success and a peaceful future relationship between the animals.
Introduce by Sight
Now that your senior cat is familiar with the kitten’s scent, it needs to learn how to recognize it by sight. This should be done from a safe distance and behind a protective barrier. Bring the kitten home in a carrier and leave it inside.
Allow your senior cat to approach and let the cats take in the sight of each other. They need to understand that both animals now live in the home. Keep these visual introductions behind barriers for a while. The senior cat is likely to start hissing and must be kept away from the kitten.
If you want to let the kitten free, let the cats observe each other from opposite ends of a corridor. Do not let them get up and close and personal, though. Neither cat is ready for this yet.
Restrict the Kitten
Kittens are naturally curious and energetic and will want to explore the home immediately. This is not an option. Not only does this place the kitten at risk of injury, but it will upset the resident cat. The kitten should be restricted to a single room for at least a week.
Your senior cat will have claimed large swathes of your home as territory. It will take time before it is willing to accept another feline in this terrain. This means you’ll need to keep the kitten out of its path while it adapts.
If you have a spare bedroom, this is the perfect place for the kitten. Fill this room with a bed, toys, food, water, a litter box – everything a kitten could need. You should visit the kitten in this room regularly, playing and petting to strengthen your bond.
Speak to your kitten, too. As per Animal Cognition, cats recognize their owners by voice rather than appearance. You may need to quickly get your kitten’s attention when you allow it to interact with the senior cat. Start the training early.
Arrange a Dinner Date
The way to a cat’s heart is through its stomach. This makes dinner dates a great way to enhance the introduction of senior cats and kittens. Feed both cats at the same time, divided by a barrier.
The best way to do this is to feed the kitten in its assigned room, placing a cat in the doorway. Place the senior cat’s food bowl on the other side of the barrier. As this is a change in routine, you may need to encourage your cat to eat in this unfamiliar locale.
With luck, both cats will tuck into their respective meals. The presence of the other feline will not go unnoticed, though. Both cats will associate the other with food. This is a good thing. Most cats will do anything for a favored snack, including accepting another animal.
This dinner date will also go some way to reassuring your senior cat that things are not changing drastically. The arrival of the new kitten does not mean you will stop feeding your older cat. Over time, trust will grow.
Schedule a Playdate
Now the time has come to bring the cats together. This should be done for a short time, under careful supervision. You are not ready to give your kitten the freedom of the home just yet.
If your home has such a thing, place both cats in neutral terrain. Placing a kitten in a senior cat’s territory will spark aggression – it will be seen as an invasion. Equally, avoid inviting a senior cat into the kitten’s territory. If a fight breaks out, the kitten may no longer feel safe.
Place the two cats together and make a fuss of both of them equally. If the two cats ignore each other, or better yet interact calmly, praise and offer them both a treat. This reinforces desirable behavior and makes the cats see each other as a source of pleasure.
Start small with this playdate, and do not push your luck. Initially, only keep the cats together for a minute or two. Over time, you can start to increase this time gradually. After a while, introduce games into the playdate to encourage physical interaction.
Leave the Cats to Interact
Eventually, you’re going to need to take a deep breath and allow the cats to interact freely. This does not mean leaving the cats unattended and unsupervised. It just involves seeing how well the cats tolerate each other when not guided.
Place the cats in the same room while going about an everyday task, such as the laundry. This means the cats will not be expecting you to govern their interaction. Keep one eye open and listen out for any signs of conflict.
There may still be a little hissing at this stage. As long as this is as far as it goes, that is fine. The cats are communicating. If claws are unsheathed, though, disrupt the right at once. A loud noise, such as clapping your hands, will usually do the trick.
If a fight does break out, the cats are not ready to co-exist just yet. It could be months before you reach this stage, so patience is essential. Return to restricting the kitten and try steps 3 and 4 again in a few days.
How to Get Older Cats to Accept Kittens
While kittens are great fun for their owners, they can be a real nuisance – and even a threat – to an older cat. There are many reasons why senior felines struggle to accept kittens. In addition to the unrelenting energy of a kitten, these include:
- Dislike of change and disruption to routine
- Fear of being replaced or forgotten
- Loathing of ceding territory or sharing resources
- Instinct to guard the home from infiltrators or intruders
- Lack of socialization for the kitten
The latter is a potential stumbling block for the relationship between a kitten and a senior cat. Kittens learn appropriate behavior from their mothers and littermates. If separated too soon, the kitten will lack critical social skills.
Most kittens are ready to be rehomed at 8 weeks. As per Advances in the Study of Behavior, the kitten is no longer reliant on its mother at this age. The next month remains critical for socialization, though. If possible, adopt kittens once they reach 12 weeks.
Even then, you’ll still need to work to ensure that your older cat and kitten live in harmony. There are various steps that you should take to achieve this.
Assign Separate Territory and Resources
If cats had a dictionary, the word “share” would not be listed in it. Cats retain the wild instincts of their ancestors. This means they guard their possessions carefully and claim anything that they can for themselves.
If you want an older cat to accept a kitten, do not ask it to share resources. Your kitten needs its own food and water bowls, bed, litter box, and toys. Your kitten may be willing to use the same resources as a senior cat, but this acceptance is unlikely to be reciprocated.
Ideally, keep these resources as far apart from each other as possible. Food bowls, for example, should start in opposite corners of a room. This will prevent the cats from coming into conflict during times when aggression is likeliest, such as mealtimes.
Both cats will also need their own territory. Older cats need a quiet place to call their own and watch the world go by. Ensure your senior cat has this territory, and it is not accessible to the kitten.
The same applies to your kitten. All cats need their own territory. If you do not assign an area for your kitten, it will start scratching stair carpets or furniture to claim the whole house. If both cats have their own terrain, they will happily ignore each other.
Getting a new kitten is a whirlwind of excitement. You’ll need to prepare the home for your new pet and watch it carefully. Kittens are curious and mischievous and could get into all manner of trouble otherwise.
This is important, but it’s equally critical that you do not forget your incumbent cat. Felines loathe and fear changes to routine. Cat depression after a new kitten arrives in the home is common. You need to retain a routine so that your senior cat does not feel forgotten.
Do everything you ordinarily would with your senior cat. Keep mealtimes to the usual scheduled time, and if your cat still enjoys play, indulge this as normal. If you are petting your new kitten, be sure to pet your senior cat too. Felines can, and do, get jealous.
This can be quite the balancing act. Kittens require a great deal of attention and energy. You must ensure that the needs of an existing cat are also met, though. If the cat feels like the cat is stealing its attention or resources, it will likely behave aggressively.
Permit a Hierarchy
All cat pairings have a dominant and submissive social hierarchy. Oftentimes, this is assigned by age. Alas, some kittens can be bold and try to assert dominance over a senior feline. In such instances, the kitten will likely need to be put firmly in its place.
This will typically see your older cat hissing or swatting at the kitten. Note that this is not the same thing as an older cat attacking a new kitten. The gestures should be born of ballast and act as a warning. If a genuine fight breaks out, the cats must be separated.
Animal Behavior suggests that male cats are less dominant than females, especially where food is concerned. The journal posits that male cats do not need to be in prime physical condition for breeding. A male kitten may be likelier to accept a submissive role without complaint.
The body language of a submissive cat is to lie flat on the tummy or back, making itself look as small and unthreatening as possible. Submission does not mean a cat is unhappy, as long as it is not being bullied. Cats just like to know their place in the pecking order.
How Long Does it Take for an Older Cat to Accept a Kitten?
Cats are not robots – they are living creatures with their own thoughts, feelings, and desires. Some senior cats will accept a kitten almost immediately. Others may take months to come to terms with a new arrival.
As a rule of thumb, no two cats should be expected to get along in less than a month. It may take 3-4 months before you can leave the cats alone. It depends on how cantankerous the senior cat is and how quickly the kitten calms down.
The more positive experiences your senior cat has, and the more you assure it that it will not be neglected, the faster it will accept the kitten’s presence. As discussed, a positive introduction is also critical.
Acceptance is the key word here. If you’re expecting your incumbent cat to act as a parental figure, you may be disappointed. Some cat pairings are never outright friendly. In many cases, simple indifference and tolerance should be considered a victory.
Getting a kitten with an elderly cat will always be challenging. These trials do not need to insurmountable. You’ll just need plenty of patience and understanding and to prioritize the comfort of your incumbent cat, at least initially. A positive, well-paced introduction will go a long way to achieving this.