Hello everyone! In this week's Sunday Read I'll look at how to introduce a new cat arrival into your feline family, and whether there's anything you can do to improve the chances of your kitties getting on.
If you're still wondering whether a new cat is the right choice for you, you might find it handy to take a look at last week's post - 'Should I get another cat?' - as it explores the science behind whether cats prefer to be together or alone, whether males or females get on better together, and whether kittens or adults are easier to introduce.
Right, are you sitting comfortably? Let's go!
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WHEN YOU BRING YOUR NEW CAT HOME?
"When introducing a strange cat to an existing group, some degree of familiarity must be established before the cats are allowed to directly encounter each other."
In feral cat colonies, cats build up friendships gradually over time. It takes multiple gradual encounters to for a stranger cat to become accepted into the group, and the situation appears to be the same in the home. (Crowell-Davis, S. L. et al. 2004).
So how can you recreate this gradual sort of introduction when your new kitty is about to come to live in your home? Here's the process currently recommended by the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia - where a lot of the behavioural research I've been drawing on in this and last week's post has been conducted (via Moesta, A. & Crowell-Davis, S. L. 2011).
HOW SHOULD YOU SET THINGS UP ONCE YOUR CATS ARE INTRODUCED?
What happens once you've finished your gradual introduction? Well, according to the experts there are a few things you can do to improve the chances of your cats getting on.
The first thing to do is to take note of the dominance structure that's been established in your house. Which of your cats is dominant and which is subordinate?
A subordinate cat will often (but not always):
- Look away and turn its head away, when it encounters the dominant cat
- Lean back and lower its ears a little when it is confronted by the dominant cat
- Crouch, lower and curl its tail and flatten its ears against its head if the encounter escalates
- In the most extreme encounters, the subordinate cat will roll over.
A dominant cat will often (but not always):
- Approach the other (subordinate) cat with stiffened limbs, stiffened ears and with the base of its tail elevated and the remainder of the tail drooping.
- Stare at the other cat, sometimes with its head wagging slowly from side to side.
(adapted from Moesta, A. & Crowell-Davis, S. L. 2011)
It's worth pointing out that none of the above are causes for concern - they're just the way our cats have developed of sharing resources and avoiding fights. As we saw in last week's post, where a cat is in the pecking order doesn't seem to have an impact on their stress levels.
But it is worth knowing which cat is the 'top cat' and which is the underling, because it means you can treat them accordingly. For instance, Professor Sharon Crowell-Davis (who has been a regular source in this and the last article because she has done much of the research into multi cat households) recommends feeding your dominant cat before the subordinate one:
"It is important to manage the cats so that the dominant status of the highest-ranking cats is acknowledged e.g. by feeding them first"
Some dominant cats will be fairly easy going, and let the subordinate cats share their resources. But others will attempt to control the key items in their territory, including food and water bowls, litter trays and even access to the cat flap for outdoor cats.
Because of this, Professor Crowell-Davis goes on to recommend that you make sure that all of these elements are available in plentiful supply, so that no one cat can control them all. The general rule is that if 'n' is the number of cats in your household, the number of items you need is always 'n+1'. So if you have two cats that means 3 litter trays, 3 food bowls and so on. It is also helpful to separate those objects around the house, otherwise - for instance if all of those food bowls are sat next to each other in the kitchen - your dominant cat will still be able to control them all!
DO HORMONE DIFFUSERS (E.G. FELIWAY HELP?)
Oh Feliway. I have bought a LOT of Feliway, and another product called Felifriend in my lifetime. It is seriously expensive, and I have never really been sure if it's having any sort of effect.
First, a little bit about the difference between the two. It turns out that five types of facial pheromones have been identified in cats - handily named F1, F2, F3, F4 and F5 (Vitale Shreve, K. et al 2017).
Let's forget F1, 2 and 5 for now, I'm sure we'll have a chance to revisit them in a future article!
F3 is the pheromone that's in Feliway (or at least the synthetic version of it is). In cats, this is the pheromone that they deposit on objects when they rub themselves on things, e.g. chair legs and door frames. It's thought that they use it to orient themselves spatially and to mark commonly used areas on their home turf (Pageat, P & Gaultier, E. 2003).
F4 is the pheromone that's in Felifriend (not available in the USA). In cats, this is the pheromone that they deposit when rubbing and grooming each other (they also leave it on us when we stroke them), and it promotes friendly behaviour - basically it seems to say to other cats 'I'm in your gang'. (Bradshaw, J. et al 2012)
I'll write a big Sunday Read about pheromone diffusers in a future episode, but for the time being, what I'm most keen to find out is whether there is any evidence that either of these products are useful when introducing cats to each other.
Studies have found that Feliway reduces cat stress overall, and makes them more willing to explore an unfamiliar space (Pageat, P & Gaultier, E. 2003). Because of this overall stress-reducing effect, it is thought to be helpful in keeping cats calm while a new cat is introduced:
Feliway recommend that you set the diffusers running 24 hours before introducing a new cat to give the pheromone a chance to build.
As for Felifriend, there is evidence that it can be beneficial during cat introductions too, this time by fostering feelings of friendliness and inclusiveness between the two cats:
So essentially, despite my initial doubts - the best information we have at the moment is that both Feliway and Felifriend are useful, and that it is best to plug in one diffuser of each per area of your house with cats in.
I should just caution that doing so is quite a financial investment - here in the UK where I am Feliway and Felifriend costs around £15 ($19) for a plug in diffuser and 48ml refill, so you're looking at around £60 ($75) for two of each, so this might not be an option for everyone. But I suppose it does pale in comparison to the vet and behaviourist bills you'd face if they wage a serious vendetta against each other - not to mention the heartbreak for all involved.
By the way, I couldn't find out anywhere why Felifriend isn't available in the USA - if any readers know, I'd love to find out!
That's all for this week - as ever I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback. And if there's a topic you'd like me to tackle in a future Sunday read, just drop me a note in the comments below, or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.