Greetings, everyone. We’re sorry we’re a day late with our update, but we had to let Mama take care of some family obligations (and have some fun — we know she could use a break from her constant hard work in taking care of us and being our typist, publicist and webmaster). Anyway, we’re here, better late than never, on a lovely winter day. Well, lovely from the inside, anyway. We’re not fond of all that cold wet snow getting on our fur and in our toes …
Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have 2 feral kitties which I adopted 4 months ago (they’re now 10 months old). I recently also adopted a stray, Louie, who is very sweet but hisses at everything from my other two cats to the walls, shoes and everything. He hasn’t really shown any signs of aggression but he just hisses at everything. How can I integrate Louie with the other two? Any suggestions would help.
Siouxsie: Well, Nina, it sounds like your new kitty is scared. The best way to determine your cat’s mood is to look at his body language. The way he positions his body or holds his ears can tell you volumes about his emotional state.
Thomas: A quick way to tell who’s the aggressor and who’s the defender in an inter-cat conflict is to notice their positions relative to one another. The aggressor cat usually faces his opponent straight on, whereas the defender will hold himself sideways and look over his shoulder at the other cat. The defender is trying to make himself look bigger and more intimidating by showing off his whole body to the aggressor.
Dahlia: But as Siouxsie said, since your new kitty is hissing at everything, he’s probably scared and overwhelmed.
Siouxsie: We’re not sure how you went about introducing your new cat to your home and family. Some cats will do fine if they’re just plunked down in a room and left to their own devices, but many cats need a more gradual introduction. This is especially true if there are already other cats in the household.
Thomas: You might have to reintroduce your little one into your home, in order to help him overcome his fear. The best way to do this is to prepare a room for him. Make sure it’s a warm and comfortable room, not just a nasty old shed or something, and make sure the room has a door that closes firmly.
Dahlia: In that room, you’ll want to have everything the new cat needs: A litterbox, food and water dishes (positioned as far away from the litterbox as possible), a bed, comfortable resting places, and toys that he can use to entertain himself.
Siouxsie: Let the little guy become the “master” of that room. Go in the room regularly and give him affection and play time.
Thomas: When Mama introduced me into her household, she set up a place for me in her office. It was warm, and she spent a lot of time in there so I didn’t feel at all lonely. After a few days, I started to feel like investigating the rest of the house. But I always felt like the office was my special home-place.
Dahlia: You’ll want to keep the new cat in that space until he starts acting very comfortable in it. You’ll know he’s comfortable because he won’t run and hide when you come in or skulk around the edges of the room. His body will appear more relaxed, and he may play and purr more readily.
Siouxsie: While your new cat is in his room, you can start exchanging scents. Rub each cat with a sock to get their scent on it, and bring the scent of the new cat in for the other cats to investigate.
Thomas: With the little cat, bring him one sock at a time so he doesn’t feel so overwhelmed by the scent of two cats at once in his space.
Dahlia: Once he’s feeling comfortable, he probably will want to come out of the room and start exploring the rest of the house. Let him do this. He’ll know when he’s feeling brave enough to visit the other cats.
Siouxsie: Once the new cat feels braver, he may start tussling with one or both of your other cats. This is normal feline behavior. We all go through periods where we try to jockey for a higher position in the feline hierarchy. As long as it doesn’t result in injury, you don’t have to worry too much.
Thomas: We cats really don’t like to get in fights. That’s why we do so much hissing and growling and snarling — all that cussing is done to avert a fight before it gets physical.
Dahlia: One thing you can do to help your little guy feel more content is to use a feline pheromone diffuser. The most popular one is sold under the brand name Comfort Zone or Feliway. These are sold at pet stores and veterinarians’ offices, and can also be found online. Here’s a great FAQ on Feliway/Comfort Zone from Cat Faeries, one of our favorite kitty websites.
Siouxsie: Mama used some of that with us when she introduced Thomas, and all of us felt happier. The introduction was easier, and Sinéad (my sweet baby sister, may she frolic forever in the catnip-filled fields on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge) even stopped spraying on the refrigerator!
Thomas: There’s just one more thing. You didn’t say where this stray cat came from. If you saw him on the street and rescued him, he too might be a young feral cat.
Dahlia: There is a critical “window of opportunity” for socializing kittens. It occurs between the ages of 2 and 7 weeks. Some kittens who have not been exposed to people — or who have had bad experiences with people — during that period have a lot of difficulty getting acclimated to living with humans.
Siouxsie: It’s not impossible to socialize a feral kitten — as you obviously know, since you’ve adopted two others. But if this kitty came from the tough streets and has never been inside before, you’re going to have to be exceptionally patient as you work on getting him used to his new digs.
Thomas: If you haven’t already had him neutered, we’d recommend that you do so. Neutering will make him a more friendly cat in the long run, and you’ll avoid the malodorous problems associated with tomcats who don’t like their position in the feline family and who do like the pheromones coming from female cats in heat!
Dahlia: If your new guy allows himself to be petted, make sure you do so on his level. Sit on the floor so your towering body is less intimidating, hold your hand out and allow him to investigate it. Touch him very gently and see if he accepts your touch. Generally speaking, cats feel less intimidated by being touched on or near their shoulders than anywhere else.
Siouxsie: Thank you so much for rescuing feral cats and taking in this new stray baby. We hope that things work out well for all of you. Please let us know how it goes.