Earlier this year I went through the challenging process of trying to adopt a second cat and having it not work out. It was not a shock that they couldn’t cohabitate, but I was surprised by how emotional and stressful this experience was. Now that some time has passed, I thought I would share a bit about it in the hopes it might help those considering adding another furry friend to their household.
To preface I will state the obvious. Every cat is different and every situation is different. Some cats are clearly more open to other kitties and some really are best off being the only feline in the house. Then there are also those who learn to tolerate each other with or without occasional flare ups. You really have to decide for yourself what you are comfortable with. Would you go to great lengths to keep the peace even if it required lots of time, effort and possibly money? Do you have the space and time to make sure that each kitty has a rich environment, enough territory and attention? Can you handle the stress of them not getting along including not only aggression towards each other but stress related behavior like peeing outside the litter box? SO many questions. I would highly recommend doing your research and learning about some of the issues that can come up in a multi-cat household. This way you can be informed when you start to ask yourself these all-important questions. I’ve listed some links below to resources that I found helpful. There’s a lot out there and some of it can be a little contradictory, so I tried to include resources that I found the most reliable. Most importantly, be patient with the kitties and yourself. What works for some people might not work for you and that’s okay.
Alright, onto the kitties! Above on the left is the beautiful loving teenage boy cat we called Francis, a.k.a. the newcomer. The fluffy kitty on the right, Willy, is our resident cat. She is almost 6 years old, a “dilute” tortie, and moderately sassy. Let’s say she has mellowed with age. As a younger cat she displayed a lot of territorial and aggressive behaviors and still does but not to the extremes she did in the past. Essentially I was well aware that it would be challenging and perhaps impossible for her to warm up to another cat in her house. I’d done my research and it seemed like the only way to really find out if this could work was to give it a shot.
We decided to visit the local rescue Sante d’Or on a busy Saturday to “just see some kitties and ask questions.” I figured they could help with advice on what type of kitty would be a good potential match for Willy. After hanging out for a while and meeting lots of kitties we were told that there was a super sweet boy cat, age 7 months, who was at an adoption fair but would be back later that afternoon. We waited a couple hours and went back to meet “Declan.” He was beautiful. He was snuggly. I was in love. After meeting with their awesome executive director Christy and doing a home inspection we were given the green light to bring him home. Sante d’Or let us know that we could take as much time as we needed to decide whether Francis was a good fit and that any vet visits prior to our officially adopting him were covered. I would strongly urge anyone to make sure that wherever they adopt from is equally as patient. Sometimes you really need a good amount of time to decide, and as we’ll see with Francis, there can be health complications that come into play.
Ah little Francis. One of the first things we noticed about him was that he was so “un-kitten like,” so chill, so sweet, so mellow. I’d read articles that suggested a boy cat would be a good match for our female and that it was easier for an older cat to adjust to a younger one. In theory I thought she would let him know she was boss and being the sweet passive guy he was, he would back down. We made our preparations for a slow introduction by establishing our bedroom/closet as “his” space (with his own litter box – important!), leaving the rest of the house to Willy. I had read all about scent swapping and using food as a way to bring them in closer contact gradually. I had the Feliway plug-ins going. I was ready! We got him set up in his room and he seemed pretty comfortable and curious. We fawned over him and let him feel out his new space. He slept a lot and best of all gave us little kisses at night. Sigh. But all was not well inside the poor guy. By day two he started coughing at night – like really loud deep coughing that woke us up. I took him to the vet right away and learned that he had a pretty bad case of pneumonia. He was put on antibiotics and brought back home. Respiratory infections are not uncommon in rescue cats, so I learned, and in hindsight I am so glad we took him in right away. First lesson learned: if something seems off, take them to the vet. You can never be too careful!
Francis took his meds like a champ (pill pockets are your friend) but after about 10 days he was still coughing. His follow-up x-rays showed that his lungs were not totally healed and we started him on another stronger antibiotic. He gradually seemed to be getting better and after another set of x-rays 2 weeks later he was given a clean bill of health. Yay!! However, something was changing. Francis was no longer the excessively sleepy little guy he had been at the outset. Now that he was no longer sick he had gradually become a different cat. He was still a sweetheart/snuggler but now he had energy, was curious and most importantly was up in Willy’s space. This is where things started to get complicated.
I will try to describe this next phase in broad strokes. It was not pretty and it was heart wrenching. We would have good moments, especially at feeding time, at first on either side of the door and eventually together in the kitchen. There were times when Francis was still recovering that they were in the living room together and both sleeping. That was good! But when Francis was active and wanted desperately out of the bedroom it was hard to keep the peace. Hissing from Willy was common. Her having strange freak-outs where she would hiss and growl and spin in circles started happening. Francis wouldn’t even be in the room when this happened, so I wonder if it was stress related or her trying to seem intimidating. I tried to play with him as much as I could to keep him stimulated. We tried to use treats for positive reinforcement. I was furiously reading more and more. I bought a second kitty tower so they wouldn’t fight over Willy’s, but of course it was hers he wanted to be in and she was not having it. We employed a complicated system of baby gates to separate the rooms so he had more space. He learned to scale the baby gates and fights ensued. So then came a second and third baby gate draped in blankets so they couldn’t see each other. This failed too. The fights got worse and I was going insane. I started to wonder if we might have to medicate them to get a fresh footing to work from without fights. Was I really comfortable with that, though? The more time passed, the more I began to wonder if this was just too much for us to handle. Over 2 months I had fallen in love with little Francis. I felt like a failure. I wanted it to work so badly, but couldn’t decide if it were best to give up or give it more time. Throughout this period, Sante d’Or was very understanding. I kept them updated and kept a “kitty diary” to keep track of the experience. I listened to podcasts, read books and tried to stick with it. But in the end, it was not working. I was surprised by how intensely emotional it was, especially when I was in limbo trying to decide what to do. There were a lot of tears, but after much struggling it seemed like this was just not meant to be. We let Sante d’Or know that it wasn’t going to work and he went back to the shelter. We were told that even though it didn’t work with Willy, that we played an important role in getting him healthy. I comforted myself in knowing that now I had lots of detailed information about his personality to share with Sante d’Or and anyone considering adopting him. It was pretty clear he was such a little charmer that he’d have no problem getting adopted. And indeed, he found a new home very quickly. And also important, Willy was very happy going back to being the only cat in the house. It took a little time for her to settle down, but once she did I was sure we made the right decision.
I am intensely envious of those people out there who have been able to seamlessly introduce two (or more) cats to each other. I also have a lot of respect for those who push through and give kitties who may get off to a rough start lots of time to adjust. I realize that perhaps if I’d given it more time, maybe, maybe, they might have “tolerated” each other. But during this process I realized that I just didn’t have the patience or emotional fortitude to persevere through the madness. It does seem to make a difference whether or not you can keep your own personal stress and emotional involvement in check when things between the kitties are challenging. I learned that I was not cut out for this! And it is very okay if you realize you aren’t either. Perhaps if we had more space this would have been less challenging. I also feel that Francis’ age was another factor. He was a teenager for Christ’s sake! Of course he wanted to party! And of course Willy being the grouchy old lady she is, couldn’t take it. When I let my vet know it didn’t work out she said, “I could have told you a teenage cat wouldn’t have worked out well! You should have talked to me about it first.” Oooops. Well, another lesson learned.
In my mind I now envision an “American Graffiti” style epilogue where we get updates on where everyone in our story is at. “Francis is now living the high life in a palatial Los Feliz home and has a new name.” “Willy has contentedly resumed her position as queen bee and has found a new level of inner peace since the exit of ‘the invader.'” You get my drift. Devoid of the pleasures of a multi-cat household, I have started volunteering at Sante d’Or to get my fuzzy fix. I enjoy being in the presence of so many adorable kitties and loving volunteers.
So to wrap up, here are some of the lessons I learned and resources I consulted:
- Always be aware of potential health issues. If something seems off, have it checked out asap!
- Talk to your vet. Get their advice on how to choose another cat or cats. They likely have some good info for you on what to consider.
- Be patient. Sometimes it takes quite a while (like even a year!!) for two cats to adjust.
- Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t force it. Only you know what you can really handle.
- Be prepared. Do your research and have a plan for a slow introduction. If you are lucky it will go well, but be prepared to have it not go easily and have your best foot forward. This means appropriate amounts of resources, setting up space to respect each kitty’s need for territory, environmental enrichment, playtime, vertical space, you name it!
- Understand cat behavior and development. Know about the different stages of development cats go through so you know what to expect. Know how to read your cat’s behavior so you can respond appropriately.
- Stay calm. This one is hard when you are emotionally invested, but try to think about the kitties’ needs first. The more calmly you can react to situations of stress, the better off they are.
- Know how to properly handle aggressive situations. This can help keep fights from getting worse and keep them from hurting each other or you.
Cat Vs. Cat, by Pam Johnson-Bennett: http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/cat-vs-cat/
Cat Sense, by John Bradshaw: http://catsensebook.com/