Cat Etiquette 101: First Introductions

One of the most helpful things you can do for your cat is to introduce yourself and your family properly.

Sounds simple, right?

It is – provided you go about it the feline way.

Starting off on the right foot is vital, especially for a small, solitary animal. Relationships aren’t the priority – safety is. They just cannot afford to trust first. 

I personally didn’t think of this, back in the day. That is the benefit that we as the bigger, more powerful animal have. We don’t have to worry about getting this right or being careful. I learned the hard way, though. WWIII erupted in my home when I brought home Trinity to Princess. A month of growling, hissing, fighting and hiding ensued.

To this day, I’m embarrassed and guilt-ridden I even made that mistake. Thankfully, the guilt and shame made me research like mad. I read Cat vs Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett and fixed things, while properly planning out the introduction for our third addition – Luna.

So, what exactly does a proper introduction look like, then?

Introductions

Step by Step At Their Pace

Feeling safe is priority one and we can definitely help them with this.

By going at their pace, each step of the way, we can show that we – and our family – have good intentions.

That way, the cat has the chance to process this as best they can, without getting overwhelmed. If we want them to become part of our family, building trust is essential, after all.

So, tell your kids and spouse to be patient. Also, keep the family dog away from them for now. Lastly, keep them separated from other cats. 

 

Step 1. Indirect Introductions

First off, you want them to feel safe in your now shared home.

Introducing a new family member to their new home is really the first step in this process. Only after will they be ready to process the forming of new relationships.

From behind the walls of their safe place, your new kitty will hear your voices and get familiar with your scent. This allows them to pick up on a lot of information about you and your family, before there is any risk of conflict.

 

Step 2. Scent-Swapping

And now we start building trust. With you feeding them every day, they’ll already start to associate you with the food. In other words, they will start to associate you with good things happening.

Bribery is totally legal in kitty-land. 

But we can certainly go beyond that. If you have a dog, cat or kid, see if you can get a small towel or sock with their scent in it. Rub the other pets down with it, especially alongside the mouth corners and chin. Ask the kids to wear something or put it in their bed for a night. Now, put that piece of cloth underneath the cat’s food bowl so that when they eat, they associate that smell with good things too.

Oh, and don’t forget the other [insert pet] in this equation!

They too will have to be properly introduced, so see if you can feed them on the other side of the door. Add something smelling of the cat underneath their food bowl, so they can get used to each other. Trust me, they’ll be dying of curiosity and eagerly awaiting that ‘dirty’ sock chockfull of scent information about this intruder!

 

Step 3. Site-Swapping

Once they’re comfortable in their own room, and showing you a tail-up, it is time to do a site-swap.

Have your family members leave the house. As for the pets, put them in a carrier out of the way, or take them for a walk.

Then, open the door. Let your new cat get comfortable with all that territory they haven’t seen before – as explained in step 5 of the cat adoption article. Once they’re done, put them in a carrier, and put them in one of the other rooms for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, your resident pets get to check out their safe room. They’ll be wanting to check out and reclaim this part of their territory.

Then, put everyone back where they – for now, belong.  Repeat as needed.

Once we have ears and tails up all around, we’re a go for the next phase. 

 

Step 4. Meeting Face-To-Face

Finally, we get to the good stuff – meeting face to face.

Here’s where we take into account each species involved, to optimise our chances for a good first impression!

introductionsCat vs Cat

With other cats, you want to open the door as they’re eating on both sides of the door, ever so slightly.

Keep the interactions brief, and do this several times a day. Build up the amount of time that the door stays open. Also, be on the look-out for signals such as staring and focusing on the other cat instead of the food. Break the stare by closing the door before things escalate.

Eventually, you’ll be able to open the door fully without either one of them batting an eye. You may want to do this one cat at a time to keep the situation controllable for you. Also, it might be a bit too overwhelming for the new cat, otherwise. Personally, I always play this by ear.  I let any cat that wanted to join in join in, and only restricted their access when I saw that the new cat was backing away.

Dog vs Cat

With the family dog, you want to make sure that the dog is on a leash and focused on you.

At all times.

It is imperative that the dog focuses on you and actually listens to the command ‘sit and stay’.  Use treats if need be to focus their attention.

One idea is to place a scratching post nearby, so the cat can go up there to feel more safe. Let the cat dictate the pace of the interaction. Open the door to the safe room, and leave it open so they can retreat. Let them check out the dog while the dog stays focused on you. Keep these interactions again short and sweet at first, then build them up.

Eventually, you’ll see the cat go up to the dog and actually interact with them. It’s fine if the dog at this point turns away his attention from you in order to get to know them. Keep them on the leash, in case they get too exuberant, though.

With both types of pets, do not leave your new cat with the others without supervision. That is, not until you have witnessed them interacting long periods of time with each other without any issues. Only then should the safe room be dismantled.

Kid vs Cat

With the aliens knowns as ‘kids,see if you can teach your kids to let the cat come to them.

Show them how to respect their wishes, not stare at the cat and hold out their hand for the cat to sniff at the same time.

With smaller children, you may want to use a cat tree so they can observe the toddler from high up, where they’re safe from grabby little hands. Make it worth their while with treats if you have to.

Kids really are like aliens to cats – they are big (in comparison to the cat), unpredictable, flail about, jump up and down and scream very loudly at the weirdest moments – as lovable as they can be. It will take your cat some time to observe them from the safety of their cat tree. This will ensure that your kitty can predict your kid’s behaviour properly so they can feel safe around them.

One big icebreaker in this situation, is a wand toy. Equally beloved by both cats and kids, it can really help form a solid bond between them over the endless hours of playtime together – especially if the kids are taught how to use the toy properly. While I wouldn’t break it out during the very beginning of the first interaction when both parties are sizing each other up, it certainly can be a great help later on.

Human vs Cat

With adults, it is often enough to just sit down on the couch, ignore the cat for a bit and let the cat check things out at their own pace.

Though, performing feeding duties will very much speed up the bonding process.

Try to let the cat go at their own pace at all times and get used to one family member at a time. This is especially important when introducing cats, dogs and kids. Otherwise, it will be harder to control the situation and all the moving parts for you. At the same time, you run the risk of the cat becoming completely overwhelmed, which is counterproductive.

Always look for that tail-up.

 

And there you have it – polite introductions all around, setting the stage for you all to become a close-knit family!

 

So, how did your first meet-up with your kitty go? Was your kitty eager to get to know their new family, or a bit hesitant and in need of some encouragement? And for those with a multi-pet home or kids, how did those interactions fare?