Cats and, to a quite similar extent, dogs behave so much like young children in the early stages of their lives. And one of the things both kids and parents quickly learn is that “two’s company, but three’s a crowd.”
Bringing a third cat into the domain of two who have negotiated an uneasy sharing of territory over the years requires some tricky planning. Sometimes, though, there just isn’t time for careful preparation, only for smart thinking. Following are the basics for safely introducing a new cat into a multi-cat home, even for an emergency or rescue situation.
How to Bring in Cat Number Three:
1. The best way is to make the introduction slowly, in steps. Plunking a strange cat down in the middle of the kitchen can have unexpected to disastrous results. If he is small, the (presumably) bigger cats will use him as a hockey puck, batting him around the kitchen floor. If she is older, the hissing and sparring can be intense. You don’t want to be in the middle of that, and neither do any of the cats, especially if one is ill or frail.
2. Have someone else put your own cats in a neutral space, while you take the new arrival into a bedroom where he will stay for the next week. You’ll need to set up a separate litter box, feeding dishes, and some familiar bedding, if possible, or something else soft and comforting, if not.
3. After the newcomer is left alone to settle in and that bedroom door is closed, you can let the other cats out of their “prison”. They’ll detect a strange scent in the house immediately and make a beeline for the “isolation” bedroom. They’ll return to it for hours at a time, standing guard or crouching, looking for movement or a paw on the other side of the door.
4. After the incumbent cats are used to the new scent, and hear the mews or meows behind the closed door over several days, they’ll gradually desensitize to the idea of an intruder. That is, their red alert status will come down to orange, and perhaps, yellow.
5. Ideally, the next step is to let the cats see each other through a window or inside sliding door. But most houses can’t accommodate that. You’ll have to compensate by carrying the new cat into the general living area and holding him or her on your lap, or in your arms, for a few minutes several times a day. Then you can try the same by putting the cat on the ground, but stay alert and be prepared to step in fast to protect whoever is passive.
Introducing a third cat into a household is rarely without problems. Sometimes, issues of jealousy and irritability arise after several weeks. Perhaps a cat’s patience wears thin, or she gets tired of being “such a good girl” for Mom.
However, most disputes should be minimal, if the humans are giving attention to the old-timers, and watching for signs of stress and/or depression on all sides. These may be obvious, as with swearing, growling, swatting with claws outstretched, hiding, or even curling up on the litter tray. On the other hand, signs may include flattened ears, nervous licking, a change in appetite, or frequent vomiting. If unusual behaviors persist, you may need to have the cat checked out by a veterinarian.
The bottom line is never push a cat beyond what its nervous system can stand. And never force the newcomer into the circle of acceptance. It simply won’t work. Let the cats adjust at their own pace, and eventually, most days will be calm enough that everyone will be relaxed and happy. It’s 7:00 a.m. Race you to the Bird Feeder TV Channel!
© 2006 Shirley Ann Parker