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2009-12-02 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Cats are like potato chips. It is hard to have just one. Thatsaid- there is a right and wrong way to introduce a new cat to your feline residents. Throwing them together while saying, “Fluffy, I would like you to meet your new brother, Felix, who will be sharing your food bowl, litter box and my lap from now on” can create chaos. Cat to cat intros should be gradual and carefully planned so all the cats involved associate initial interactions with pleasantries like treats, attention and play time. First impressions are important to fine tuning household harmony.

Some kitties find us. We have no choice over the cat that appears on our doorstep and wants to be assimilated into the fold; but when selecting an adult cat from a shelter, it is preferable to choose one who previously lived with other cats or one the staff knows gets along with others.

At certain shelters some cats have communal cages or possibly a mini-mixer while their cages are being cleaned, so the kennel attendants can recommend Mr. or Ms. Congeniality. You might want to match personalities. An active youngster deserves an energetic friend whereas a sedate senior would be better alongside another couch potato. If you insist on a kitten and your cat is elderly or grumpy, adopt two, so the kittens have each other to pester. Of course, spayed and neutered cats are much easier to integrate than intact adults.

No one introduction method is gospel, but many experts suggest that the new cat be a “mystery guest”, housed in a separate, comfy area for at least a week. This way each feline has the time and space to get used to the sounds, smells, and glimpses of each other from a safe distance before meeting face to face.

Your cats already have their established territories so the newbie’s temporary quarters can be a bedroom or bathroom equipped with litter box, dishes, toys, scratching post, and bed. It is best to include a large open carrier or crate, so Felix has a hiding place if he feels stressed while acclimating to his new environment. Close the door behind you, and then go visit your other cats. They will smell the new guy on you. They will also sense him through the door. Give them tantalizing treats so they make a positive connection to eau d’Felix. Then spend quality time with Felix rewarding him with goodies too.

Cats have glands in their cheeks that produce pheromones. When a cat rubs its cheek against your leg or furniture, these secretions promote comfort and well being. Pheromones are similar to a glandular pen pal. You can set up a scent exchange by brushing the cats with the same brush, trading blankets or towels, or even using synthetic pheromone Feliway® spray or plug-in products which help relieve excitably.

Thenfor several days rotate rooms, giving each cat contingent a chance to inspect the lair of the other. Thisway the newcomer gets to explore the whole house while rubbing his facial calling card on strategic spots. Feed the cats (still separate) tasty wet food in each area. Cats are like menthe way to their heart is through their stomachs.

Finally visual meet n’ greets can be done behind baby gates or by opening the door a crack. Another way is to bring the newcomer into the room inside a carrier. Let everyone sniff through the bars for a time. Try this for several days, if necessary. As an alternative, folks who frequently foster cats and kittens often set up larger cat exercise pens within the main traffic flow of the home, but their resident cats are usually accustomed to four-legged visitors.

If you try this, you can cover the ex pen with a sheet when the new cat needs security. The expen method lets the new one witness his peers up close. Cardboard boxes with exit holes make safe retreats when all are free together. (If there is significant aggression, separate the cats and start the sequence again, but more slowly.) Play time is a special way to cement a bond. Fishing pole toys allow the new cat to participate in the fun from afar. Other tips include adding drops of Bach Flower Essences (Rescue Remedy) to the water bowl or feeding the cats at opposite ends of the room and gradually moving them closer. Treats may entice the cats to stay near each other.

The process can take days to weeks to months depending on the cat dynamics. There will probably be some hissing and spitting. If a huge ruckus erupts, distract them; then praise them when it’s calm. Do not rush things. If a cat runs away to hide, do not force close encounters. Even if progress is made, monitor all minglings for the first few weeks. When no one is home, the new cat should stay in his “safe room”.

Your patience may well pay off. Some cats eventually become soul mates. Your cats may never be best buddies; some, like Garbo, would rather be alone; others merely tolerate each other. When you think about it, there is nothing wrong with peaceful co-existence, either the feline or the human kind.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Leo” a large tabby and his tuxedo girlfriend in the lobby are two of the many Babylon cats that like other cats. This young male Beagle mix in Cage 8 is adorable. Hopefully Hallmark’s Sunday movie-“A Dog Named Christmas” will help to empty the shelter for the holidays (and beyond).

More Cats: “Smitty” orange kitten C-5; “Ninja Baby” C-6 & “Silent Meow” C-2- female tabbies; the bonded duo- “Winston & Penny” also in the lobby.

Male Dogs: mature but frisky Shepherd Cage 5; huggable “Teddy” Cage 6; comical Corgi Cage 3; “Pops”- mini Poodle in the Puppy Room.

Female Dogs: “Nelly” brindle Whippet mix Cage 34; Pit mixes extraordinaire-“Hallie”, “Roxy”, “Ginger”.

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