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Considerations When Getting a Second Cat

By Monique Feyrecilde, BA, LVT, VTS (Behavior); Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM

Behavior, Pet Services

I am considering adopting a cat, but was told I should adopt two cats. Why?

Cats are family-oriented and usually live with their relatives. Cats will sleep together, share common feeding areas, and groom one another within family groups. For this reason, cats often do well adopted in pairs.

However, there is a caveat to this statement. Studies have shown families who adopt two kittens from the same litter are far more likely to keep those cats in their home long-term than families adopting a single kitten.

Most adult cats, in contrast, are not very tolerant of other adult cats outside their family group. When adopting an adult cat, it may be best to add only one cat to the family.

If I already have a single cat, should I consider getting another cat to keep it company?

If your cat is an adult and is established within your home as the only cat, then you should think carefully before introducing another feline. With time it should be possible to introduce a new cat into an existing household, but this may take days, weeks, or months for a successful gradual introduction. Even with great care some adult cats never accept another adult cat into the home.

All of this being said, each individual cat’s personality and genetic tendency toward or away from sociability with other cats will ultimately dictate whether they enjoy living with other cats in a home environment, or if they prefer to be an only cat. Therefore, the decision needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. If your cat has been seen in the company of other cats without excessive fear or aggression, it may be possible to integrate a new cat into the household. However, if your cat shows hostility to other cats, or hisses, growls, or marks territory if they enter your yard or garden, then obtaining another cat is probably not a good idea.

Keep in mind that relationships in cats are usually between pairs of cats. Just because your cat liked one cat, it may not mean that he will accept another. Some cats are naturally easy-going and friendly; others are timid and shy; still others are very assertive and active. Those differences in personality can have a profound effect on how two cats may get along. An easy-going cat may accept most other cats, while a timid and shy cat may be reluctant to accept another cat, depending on the new cat’s personality. An active and assertive cat may overwhelm quieter and more timid cats, making introductions difficult. Although, at first the existing housecat(s) may have a problem with the new addition to the household, in some homes the existing cat may try to initiate play while the new cat is the one that exhibits the most aggression. Attempting to match personality types may be useful when seeking out another companion for your cat.

My cat was raised with its littermate from an early age but has now been left on its own, due to the death of its sibling. Should I get another cat as a replacement companion?

The bond between feline littermates is very special and when one of a pair dies before the other, the surviving cat may show signs of feline grief.

Behavior changes after losing a sibling might include:

  • Searching for the other cat
  • Vocalizing
  • Changes in eating (increased, decreased)
  • Changes in grooming (increased, decreased)
  • Changes in social behavior and seeking attention from owners (increased or decreased)
  • … or you may see no signs at all.

If you truly want to add another cat to the household as a companion for your family, waiting until your surviving cat’s behavior returns to baseline is a good idea. If the only reason you would be bringing home another cat would be as a companion to your existing cat, please reconsider. This may cause more stress rather than reducing it.

I have decided to adopt another cat. I would like to know what age and what sex might be most acceptable to my resident adult cat?

We do not really know! Although it is generally accepted that related cats make the most compatible housemates, there is a distinct lack of information and research about how unrelated cats get along in homes. Some guidelines which may be helpful are to choose a younger kitten to join an adult cat, and to choose cats with compatible personalities. For example, pairing a very timid cat with a very outgoing cat might be too stressful for the timid cat. Pairing two highly outgoing, highly active or territorial cats may lead to fights.

I have just adopted a second cat, and I want to maximize the chance of successful integration. What should I do?

Integration should always be done slowly and with care. Set up a separate area of the house for the new cat, and provide bedding, feeding and elimination stations, and exercise stations.

First, watch for signs of stress:

  • Hiding
  • Walking crouched and hugging walls
  • Moving away/avoidance
  • Tense muscles
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hair standing up along the back
  • Puffed tail
  • Ears held to the side or back
  • Hissing, growling, yowling, or other vocalization beyond soft meows

While monitoring for signs of stress, try these exercises. Spend at least several days on each step to make sure there is minimal stress. If you see signs of stress, slow down the process and consider having a behavior professional assist.

Bedding Rotation: Swap bedding between the two separate sleeping areas so each cat can become familiar with the scent profile of the other.

Feeding and Play: Feed and play with each cat near the door that separates the two parts of the house several times a day.

Reward Investigation: If you see either cat calmly sniffing at the crack of the door or investigating, reward with a favorite treat or play.

Visual Introductions with Food and Play: Use a tall baby gate, screen door, two stacked gates, or a portable pen instead of the closed door during your daily feeding and playing sessions. Start far away from the door opening, but allow the sight and smell of the other cat to become associated with wonderful food and play. Move a little closer to the door with each session, over a period of several weeks or a month.

Swapping Space: If all of this has gone well, you may be able to rotate the cats through each space for periods of time, a few hours or a day at a time.

Protected Social Contact: Allow the cats to approach each other over time and visit through the baby gate/barrier. Watch for signs of stress. If both cats are relaxed, begin allowing them to share some space but under supervision.

Integrating a new cat is a lot of work! It takes care and consideration to introduce a new cat to an existing cat. The natural social habits of most cats do not include associating with cats from outside the family group except for mating, so special measures and attention are needed for the best chance for a good outcome.

Is it cruel to keep a cat as a single pet?

Cats need plenty of social interaction, physical exercise, mental stimulation, opportunities for play, and companionship. These needs can often be met by the human family! Remember to meet the needs of your cat or cats every day. Every cat deserves an engaged and involved family, regardless of if they are a single cat or part of a multi-cat household.

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