Although the building of a healthy relationship between a kitten and an older cat can cause jealousy, it all starts with the introduction.
Because you only get one chance to make a first impression, knowing how to introduce your new kitten to an old cat is a critical part of establishing a lasting relationship.
If you have a senior cat, defined by PetMD as 11 years and older, introducing a lively kitten into the fold can be a daunting task. Set in their ways for many reasons, senior cats aren’t always thrilled about a new and considerably younger addition to the household.
In this guide, we’ll answer many of your questions about the introduction process. We will also help you to establish specific rules and what to if your kitten and older cat are having difficulty coexisting. We hope that you come away well-informed and better prepared.
Building a Relationship between Older Cats and Kittens
One of the most critical building blocks when attempting to establish a good relationship is respect for the elder feline. This not only means kitten to senior but also person-to-senior. Often annoyed, disgusted, angry, and uneasy, etc., senior cats can have a tough time coping with a new arrival and can easily become jealous. This is where owner loyalty can help immensely.
Although a new kitten should never be allowed to run roughshod through your home, your immediate concern should be for your senior cat. It will be their behavior, at least initially, that will require the most attention and observation.
In the quest to build a relationship, the journey begins with respecting your senior leader. Kittens are in the midst of adjusting to everything. When everything is unfamiliar, a “routine” cannot be impacted negatively. This is not the case for a senior cat.
Your first step, even before introduction, is to give your older cat the respect they deserve.
How Do You Introduce a Kitten to an Older Cat?
The introduction process can, unfortunately, serve as a make or break in some cases. If the meeting is premature and no plan of action has been established, you could have a difficult situation. This could involve an immediate altercation.
You wouldn’t want to be blindsided by an aggressive stranger, and the same applies to your older cat.
While not every step noted below has to be followed by the book, it is a good idea to have a course of action planned. Feel free to adjust and modify these suggestions (if needed) to fit your situation.
How Long Should I Wait before Making the Introduction?
The wait before introduction will depend on how well you have prepared your kitten and your home. Before introduction, it is necessary to familiarize your kitten with your living space while also arranging your home to accommodate your kitten.
During this period, your kitten can adjust to their new surroundings, and you will have time to perform what is known as scent swapping. This involves petting your kitten and then petting your senior cat without washing your hands. Mixing scents is a vital part of the pre-introduction phase.
You can also achieve this by bed swapping on a routine basis. Have your elder cat sleep in your kitten’s bed for few days/nights and vice versa.
You can further produce scent swapping by sharing the scent of both cats on furniture. By taking a small cloth and touching both cats, you can rub the fabric on various home items.
Because these actions are necessary, the waiting time before introduction will likely be an average of 7-10 days.
Make Sure Your Older Cat is in a Comfortable Setting
While avoiding a rushed meeting is vital, it is equally important to make sure your senior cat is comfortable in every aspect.
Something as simple as having your feline relax in his/her favorite location can make a big difference. Similar to people, cats are more open to engagement if they are in a comfortable setting.
Although securing a level of comfort will not guarantee a peaceful introduction, it is still a smart move. Appearing with a kitten while your senior cat is roaming around the house will likely lead to jealousy and aggression.
Here are a few ways to settle and relax your elder cat…
- Wait for a calm moment. If your cat is relaxed and comfortable, they will be more receptive to something new. Make sure they are content and purring before taking action.
- Pet your cat moments before introducing the kitten. Being affectionate to your older cat can remove them from any type of aggressive state.
- Does your senior cat have a favorite toy or blanket? If so, provide your cat with its favorite luxury. Make them feel like the crown jewel. This will introduce more love and stability. Cats can sense any tension. If your senior cat is free of stress, they will be more receptive to a new face.
How Can You Keep Both Cats from Feeling Threatened?
The best way to avoid an initial feeling of threat is to use a physical barrier during the intro.
Allow the cats to see and smell each other but do not allow them to touch physically. As an owner, your responsibility at this point is to play the loving peacemaker. Give both cats equal attention and communicate in a soft and warm tone.
Allow your kitten and senior cat to observe without force. Let the cats watch each other from behind the barrier and approach at their leisure. After a few minutes have passed, it is essential to provide both cats with food. This will also serve to break any tension while also creating a healthy association.
Another way to keep each cat from feeling threatened is to allow them to sniff each other. If you have scent swapped accordingly, the smells should not be foreign to either cat. Once scents have been confirmed, the hope is that each cat will recognize the smells thus creating a sense of ease.
The conclusion of “Oh! So that smell is YOU!” is what you should hope for as an owner. It is a critical moment when a visual has been placed with the scent.
Once a healthy level of observation, smelling, and eating have transpired, allow each cat to depart to their areas of the home without force. The first introduction should be short. You do not want to overwhelm either cat even if the visit has been positive.
- If tension and threatening behavior are displayed (hissing, yelling, etc.) you may wish to separate the cats for a short time. You can continue to scent swap and bring both cats together the next day. Just view this as part 2 rather than a re-introduction. It is possible that each cat is responding to the occasion rather than expressing disdain for each other. Senior cats, by nature, are very set in their ways and creatures of habit.
Remember that each cat will have to work at their speed. The perfect bond will not come overnight. Exposure, even if harmful in the early days, is essential. Familiarity can cure many ails.
How Can You Make Your Kitten Smell Like Home?
The longer your kitten is in your home, the more it will smell like your home.
While it is unwise to allow your kitten to explore freely, the act of carrying your kitten through your home will impact its natural smell.
There is more to familiarizing than visuals alone. Favorable and familiar scents are critical for helping your senior cat develop a strong relationship with your kitten.
Why is the Smell of a Kitten Helpful to an Older Cat?
The smell of a stranger can be frightening and intimidating. In the same way that an unknown face being in your home can be traumatic, the same can be said for felines and unfamiliar scents.
If your kitten has been exposed to the smell of home, your older cat will be more likely to relate to its smell. While a relatable smell is not the secret to eliminating all potential conflict, it can be helpful in preventing a possible fight. Your senior cat will be less likely to hiss, yell, and strike the kitten if a known scent is present.
The last thing you want is for your kitten to be physically harmed by your elder cat. Exposing your senior feline to a tiny ball of fur with a strange smell can potentially introduce a significant problem. Thus, canceling any hopes of a positive introduction.
Allowing the Older Cat to Routinely Smell the Kitten
Once the introduction period has concluded and several days and weeks have passed, let your older cat smell your kitten on a routine basis. This can be achieved through a physical barrier with owner supervision.
Daily scent exchanges can build the bond of trust and association, and that should be the objective. Anything more than that is just icing on the cake.
- Cats secrete potent pheromones when they urinate. This is how cats acquire knowledge about each other such and gender and status. Your kitten will slowly learn to respect your older cat based on its status. Once a bond has formed, it is not uncommon for kittens to crave attention and affection from the older housemate.
Why is a Kitten Potentially Stressful to an Older Cat?
Older cats (especially those 15 and over) who have never had to share space with another cat can become traumatized by the introduction of a kitten.
Creatures of habit and daily routine, having a kitten in the house can impact an older cat in every aspect of life. This includes physical and mental health. It is not uncommon for a senior cat to suffer from dietary issues, sleep problems, negative grooming (pulling hair out), and petty concerns.
Elderly cats, perhaps more than any life stage, have a more difficult time accepting change within their environment.
How Can You Make an Older Cat Feel More at Ease?
Affection and assurance are paramount. The best thing you can do for your older cat is to make sure his routine remains as unchanged as possible.
The objective to make sure that the only change in the dynamic of the household is the new kitten. Nothing more. Nothing less. If this can be accomplished, your senior cat will make the adjustments.
Giving your cat the same security as before can do a world of good. Your senior cat is more likely to get over its state of limbo if daily habits and routines remain constant.
The Importance of Physical Barriers
Although welcoming your new kitten to the fold is critical, it is equally as important to grant your senior cat proper respect. This means allowing your elder cat to live in peace and continue to live its life without being forced to make stark adjustments. Physical barriers can prevent the kitten, until things have become more established, from invading your older cat’s space.
If your kitten is only a month old, the last thing your senior cat needs during its time of adjustment is to be harassed. This can create additional stress and tension for your aged cat and potential harm to your kitten.
Animal Planet notes the importance of territory. You can help your old feline feel more assured by not changing its go-to locations. It is far more critical for the kitten to get used to the way things are than to ask your 11-year-old cat to change.
The established cat, through body language, will let everyone know when it has fully accepted the kitten. At this time, you can remove barriers and allow the cats to coexist and potentially form a trusting relationship.
Maintain Daily Routine (Affection) for Older Cats
Make sure that your aged cat continues to be loved. In the same ways that an older brother or sister can feel left out once a new baby arrives, it is essential to keep your elderly cat in the foreground. You never want to make your senior cat feel like they are being replaced.
Although it is essential to give your kitten affection while adequately training it for home life, you should never neglect your established feline. Affection can give life to the feelings of security. Your cat will adjust much faster if the warmth never takes a day off.
How Long Does It Take for a Kitten and Older Cat to Get Along?
This is purely subjective. Patience is a virtue, and you as a pet owner will need plenty. While forming a happy home could take a long time, an expression of core civility should take no longer than 30 days. However, so much will depend on your responsibility and how you have engaged the cats.
It is ultimately the elder cat who will offer the olive branch of acceptance. Things will be done on his/her timetable and not the other way around. This is the case in most scenarios.
How to Stop Hissing, Bullying, and Intimidation
The most effective way to stop the violent and intimidating behavior is to separate the cats for 24-48 hours.
Although clapping your hands and speaking in a firm voice can work it is best to remove both cats from the situation. This is important if the introduction process was mere minutes or hours earlier. Establishing a fresh restart is best. You can bring the cats back together at a later time when the environment is a bit more stable.
Listed below are some helpful tips on how to handle aggressive situations…
- Diffuse aggressive and negative behavior as soon as it occurs. Do not let it linger.
- Under no circumstances should you allow your kitten and established cat to “fight out” their frustrations. This is a recipe for disaster.
- Reward both cats for good behavior. If your kitten and senior cat are getting along, reward the occurrence. The sooner that each cat associates peace with a treat, they will be more likely to repeat the behavior until it becomes second nature.
- Treats can also be given if aggressive actions are halted upon command. Respect for your authority should be rewarded.
What are the Common Signs of Affection?
Similar to the ways that cats show love and positive interaction with humans, they will entertain the same with other cats.
If you are looking for affirmation that your kitten/older cat relationship is on solid ground you may want to keep an eye on these signs…
- Cats that get along often rub their bodies and faces against each other. This action serves as a bonding gesture. Cats have glands that contain pheromones that are located on their faces. The willingness to mix pheromones is a display of trust and happiness.
- Similar to humans, cats that get along will naturally enjoy each other’s company. If you see your kitten and established cat “hanging out” together, you can chalk that up in the positive column.
- When cats feel comfortable with each other, they often curl up together and nap. If your kitten is using your elder cat as a pillow and your aging cat does not mind, you have hit the friendship lottery as an owner.
- One of the things you may have to worry about during the introduction period is hissing and slapping. On the contrary, a sign of friendship and trust is the ability to slap fight and chase each other without taking it too far. A sign of respect and friendship between cats is when both sides have a strong enough bond to play and get “rough” without pushing the limits.
- Cats love to groom, and cats that have bonded will groom each other. If you glance over one day and see your established cat gently licking your newest addition, then you know a friendship has been formed. If your senior cat cares enough to groom your youngest feline, then you are in great standing as an owner. The hard work of training and patience has paid off.
How to Maintain Peace Between a Kitten and Older Cat
Once the introduction period has come and gone, the real struggle begins. The ability to maintain a positive association can be the hardest part of the equation.
Creating a situation of territorial respect while promoting civility and casual physical contact can be quite daunting.
Let’s explore a few ways you can make the task a bit easier.
Individual Food and Drink Areas
Never force your senior cat to compete with the kitten for food and drink. This can lead to high tension and fighting, not to mention hunger and thirst.
Establish an area for your kitten to eat and drink without changing your established cat’s setting. Maintain their area the way you always have while adding a new area for your kitten.
If you do not offer a reason for the competition, they will be more likely to maintain peace.
Individual Litter Boxes
Restroom time is personal time. Forcing your older cat to do his or her business in the same box as your new kitten can be traumatic.
Senior cats, especially 15 and older, can develop digestive problems and difficulty going to the toilet. While typically not serious, things move a bit slower than they used to in this regard.
This means your established cat likely requires a bit more time to finish their business. In this setting, the last thing you need is a bouncing bundle of fur harassing the senior cat. This can lead to fighting and great frustration for your elder cat.
Similar to food and drink stations, establish a litter box for your kitten. Never make your established cat change their restroom routine.
Small Pen (Cage) for Your Kitten
Setting up a small pen/cage for your kitten can solve many issues. Not only will this grant separation for your older cat and kitten but it will also prevent your kitten from running wild during the overnight hours. Broken items are often an unfortunate side effect of having a new kitten in the home.
While physical coexisting is vital for relationship building, your older cat will still need their space in the early stages. The ultimate way to keep the peace is to have your new kitten in their own mini home.
During the overnight hours, you can place a small litter box, food bowl, water bowl, and play items in the cage. You can even line the bottom of the cage with a nice towel. An old beach towel will do the trick. Make the kitten feel comfortable without feeling imprisoned.
Supervised Socializing and Playtime
Let the cats be cats. Playtime is suitable for both the established cat and kitten. Learning how to play can be critical in the relationship building process. Cats that learn how to play without rough physical contact leading to a fight can often bond faster.
If your kitten “play slaps” your senior cat and that action does not prompt a return action, then you are moving in the right direction.
Having a supervised socializing and playtime is a trust-building exercise if nothing else.
Why is Coexisting More Important Than Friendship?
As the owner, friendship and a tight loving bond is likely your goal. However, that goal may not be built in realism. Just because the cats are failing to meet your expectations does not mean they are not associating healthily.
Coexisting is more important than friendship because without positive association you have nothing. You have no common ground and indeed no foundation to build a bond.
Your kitten and senior cat do not have to cuddle to be content with each other. Staying in the same room each day for hours without an issue is the definition of peace and civility. This is the case even if they never give each other no more than a passing glance.
Unless the cats are in a constant fight, allow them to build their relationship. Attempting to force the cats to be best friends will only backfire. Allow the cats to develop their relationship rather than the one you want for them.
As long as everyone in the home is happy, the cats are content, there is no aggression, and your house is in one piece, you should consider that a victory.
When introducing a kitten to a senior cat, the goal should always be to add the cat without taking away from your home. It is the concept of addition without subtraction.
If your kitten is living the good life and your senior cat has continued to live out its golden years in peace, then you should consider that to be a job that’s well done.