I recently purchased a kitten, and being a dutiful pet owner, I researched from websites, including the RSPCA’s and some vets', how to introduce a new kitten into the household.
Feeling very confident, I brought my kitten home to a household with existing pets.
That’s when I discovered that neither the kitten nor the other pets had read the same websites I had.
After all the research, and the lived experience, I can tell you the right way to introduce a new pet into your household, and give you examples of how each point works in real life.
My new kitten is a seal point rag doll. Imagine a handful of cream-coloured fluff with darker paws, nose, tail and ears. If a cappuccino came to life, it would look very much like her. Her name’s Princess. My son keeps suggesting I change her name, so he can call her “The Kitten Formerly Known as Princess.”
One of the most important things to do with a new kitten is to keep it on the same food it’s been eating, and only gradually introduce it to new things. Kittens don’t adapt to sudden changes in their food. I dutifully bought a bag of the food Princess had been eating. She happily eats that. She also eats the bigger cat’s food, the dog’s food, and anything else she can get hold of, including paper. A photo frame in our hallway has seashells and other bits and pieces attached to it - she pulled off one of the shells and tried to eat that.
An older cat will readily accept a kitten of the opposite sex, so, If you are introducing a new cat into a household which already has a cat, it’s best to bring in a new kitten of the opposite sex. Princess is female. Our 14 year old cat, Bumpy, is male. Theoretically, he should accept Princess. Bumpy is a black and white mixed breed cat, whose personality is akin to Horse from Footrot Flats, or Scarface Claw from Hairy McLary. He was not impressed with the new kitten. He hisses every time he sees her. It doesn’t help that she helps herself to his food.
Princess is adorable and is at the very mischievous stage of kittenhood. She’s recently discovered pouncing, and she pounces everyone, humans, the dog, Bumpy cat. The humans and dog are quite indulgent and don’t worry about a kitten flying out from any one of a number of hiding places, to grab us with all four paws, and then suddenly let go and run off. Bumpy Cat is not so tolerant. He does his best to stay out of the kitten’s way, but will hiss, or swipe her with a paw if she doesn’t show him due respect. Far from accepting a kitten of the opposite sex, our old cat barely tolerates her.
Bumpy has been spraying all kinds of surfaces in the house, and starting fights with the possums that live in our yard in protest. He’s covered in bites and scratches, and refuses to come inside during daylight hours. (He has to come in at night - in our house, that’s not optional.)
To make your older cat more comfortable with the new kitten, use artificial cat pheromone spray to help keep your older cat calm. This stuff costs a truckload of money, smells worse than all the disinfectant used to clean up the older cat spraying, and makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.
Don’t let bigger dogs play with the new kitten. Especially don’t let a dog chase the kitten. They could get carried away and hurt the kitten by accident. When I saw Princess and my four-year-old Staffie, Fanta chasing each other up and down the hallway, I put a stop to it. I told them this was dangerous and Princess could get hurt. They both sat and looked at me while I told them this. Then Princess tapped Fanta with her paw and ran off up the hallway. Fanta ran after her full pelt. When they ran back to me, Fanta picked up one of her toys and shook it violently. Her point was clear, she could tell the difference between a kitten and a toy.
Far from being a threat to the kitten, Fanta goes out of her way to be friends, and will put herself between Princess and Bumpy to stop any nastiness.
Your kitten will feel safer and more secure, if you shut it in a room by itself during the night. Make sure it has food, water and a comfortable bed and toys. In fact, keep the kitten in the one room all the time at first, then slowly introduce it to other rooms of the house. I tried shutting Princess in a room by herself for her first night in the house. She yowled as if she were being tortured, and her paws reached under the door as far as they would reach. The room was, apparently kitty Guantanamo Bay. After ten minutes I let her out, and she slept in my room with the other animals. I do shut her in the room alone when I leave the house, so I can leave the dog door open so the other animals can come and go between the house and the yard. Princess seems to accept this, grudgingly - just not being shut in alone during the night.
Keep your kitten inside the house at least until it has finished its first course of vaccinations. Princess still has one vaccination to go in about a month’s time. We’re not letting her out to the yard, even though it’s cat-proofed, until she’s had that, in fact we may keep her in for longer because we’re afraid of losing something so small out in a large yard. At her current size, if she sat in the middle of a strawberry plant, I wouldn’t be able to find her. She does not think this is a very good idea. She sees the other animals regularly being let in and out, and is very determined to see what’s on the other side of the door. It’s a constant battle to keep her from darting out when one of the other animals comes or goes.
So what I’ve learned about introducing a new kitten into the home is that, no matter how careful you are to follow all the guidelines, anything at all can happen.
If you are thinking of getting a new kitten, the things you will most need are a sense of humour and the ability to cope with the unexpected.