Monday, January 27, 2014

Client Question: Moving old cats into a home with other pets

Can we be friends?
Hi, I need some advice. Unfortunately I have to move, and I have to move to a place that is probably going to make Venus and Serena pretty unhappy. I am moving to a home where there are 2 male cats and a boxer. I know in the beginning I'm going to have to have everything in my bedroom. Litter box, food dishes and their beloved tree. This is all making me pretty anxious, I really worry about their transition. Can you give me any advice on how I can make them more comfortable? This is going to be a huge change for them, and as they are older I want to do whatever I can to make sure they are happy girls. And how I can stop freaking out over this because I don't want them feeding off of my anxious feelings? I appreciate any thoughts on this.

Thanks! Aggie

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ECVH answer:

In addition to other suggestions that focus strictly on the girls' behavior, we would recommend bringing them in for a check-up, if possible, to ensure that they have no underlying health issues that would make the transition even harder - this would also hopefully help relieve some of your anxiety, if they both check out to be in good health. This way, we also have a current weight on your cat, so that if we need to eventually resort to medication, we can correctly dose it.

Prepare for some hissing and growling as you go along, even if things are going well.
Definitely, you are starting out right, by getting your cats used to one room where they can feel safe. Things like Feliway spray or diffusers have a calming pheromone that can speed up your cat's ability to acclimate to a new environment.

We also have NurtureCalm pheromone collars which they can wear (One of our technicians feels that they have really helped settle things down between her two old girls and her two new boys). We do warn that if they are not used to collars, the NurtureCalm collars may add stress, though, as some cats don't like having something around their necks. We have also had one patient who had a pretty impressive skin irritation after wearing the collar for 3 weeks.

Composure or Anxitane are non-medicated treats and pills that you can give (L-theanine and B vitamins) to elevate mood and calm stressed cats. In severe cases of anxiety, we can discuss the use of anti-anxiety medications such as Elavil, Buspar, and Xanax, if needed.

Under-the-door interactions are a good step forward!
When you feel that your cats are comfortable in their new bedroom, you can start to work on introducing them to the resident pets. I usually recommend putting the resident pets in the bedroom where the new cats have been and giving the new cats a chance to explore the rest of the house on their own. This also allows the resident pets to smell the scent of the new cats without seeing the new cats. When introducing cats, it is 99% about smell. The more the cats smell like each other when they first meet, the less stress there will be. They will be less likely to first think OMG STRANGER!" and more likely do think "You seem familiar - do I know you from somewhere?" Trading unwashed blankets between pet beds, using the same brush on all pets are other things that you can do to facilitate this.

Feed all pets near the bedroom door for a while. You can try encouraging play under the door with two cat toys tied together dumb-bell style and placed on either side of the door so both cats can play but can't steal the toy away. Eventually, prop the door slightly open so they can see each other while eating once you are sure that they will eat by the door. You may also consider replacing the door with a screen door for a while, or a tall baby gate, if your cats are not jumpers. If this is not an option, you can put your cats (the newer residents) in carriers and feed place the carriers in the room where the other pets eat and feed everyone - this allows visual interaction but not physical interaction, and allows the resident pets to feel non-threatened by the newer introductions to the house. Food lends a positive note to the experience. Once the animals are eating harmoniously, you can start to allow short, supervised interactions without the crates or screens. These interactions can gradually increase in length until you are comfortable letting them interact when they are not supervised.

The important thing to remember in this situation is that you need to relax and let the cats drive the progress. In some situations, the process of introduction can take a few days, in other situations, it can take months. However, the more willing you are to take a step backward as needed, the more likely you are to have long-term success.

Watch your cats for subtle signs of relaxed or stressed behaviors:


A great article on Feline Body Language was posted in the DailyMail.co.uk.
Life With Cats also has a great series of blog articles on Understanding your Cat's Body Language.

Cats usually try to avoid direct physical confrontation by warning off a strange cat, or ignoring them completely. When it does come down to a real, physical fight, here is what to expect. As it mentions in the article, aggressive cats stare at each other, trying to gauge the other cat's next action. You can de-escalate an aggressive interaction by blocking the cats from each other's sight. This gives a cat who doesn't really want to fight a chance to escape, unnoticed. It also distracts the aggressor by making him relocate the cat he is trying to provoke. This is not a long-term solution, but can calm things down if they start to escalate.

One of our techs introduced two new cats into her house this past year (August and October - she introduced the October cat to give the August cat a young playmate and deter attention from her old ladies) and there are still occasional altercations - nothing too serious, but some yowling and growling when one of the youngsters gets too feisty. She uses a combination of calming collars on her old girls and Composure treats for her young boys, and it seems to keep everyone fairly happy. Initially, one of her old girls became extremely distressed whenever one of the young
Often cat aggression involves conflict over a distance. The cat on the right is being aggressive and the one on the left is submissive, but neither is happy with the situation...
boys pounced on her playfully. One of the young males would posture over her in an aggressive dominance pose - about a foot away from her), which would also cause her to roll on her back, scream and urinate in defensive-submissive posture (both almost exactly as in the photo above). Now, she just growls a little and hisses to warn them off, and they have learned to respect her wishes and keep their distance (most of the time...). Each situation is unique, though, so we can help guide you in your decisions to help ease Venus and Serena's transition.

We also have a blog article with some additional suggestions  here:

Welcome Home! 5 tips to help introduce a new cat into your household.

We welcome any comments down below from people who have moved with their pets. How did you lower your cats' stress level? How did you introduce them to other pets already in the home?