It’s obvious you and your new rescue cat are a perfect match. But what about the other pets back at home?
Rescue cats need a little extra love and attention when it comes to socializing them with other furry family members. They come from a troubled past, which may or may not have involved bad encounters with their four-legged peers.
These socialization tips will help your rescue cat coexist with other furry companions.
- Create a sanctuary for the rescue cat: When your new kitty arrives home, they and other household pets should be kept separated at first. Confine the rescue cat to a room your current pets barely use, such as a bathroom or laundry room. Remove dangerous or fragile objects from the sanctuary, then deck it out with essentials like food, water, toys, bedding, a litter box and scratching posts. It’s very important that no other pets enter the sanctuary, since this is a place where your rescue kitty can feel safe and adjust.
- Introduce bedding with the other pet’s scent: The rescue cat and resident pets will hear and smell each other before they meet face to face. Strengthen this initial impression by presenting new and existing pets with a piece of bedding from each other. This helps current pets become familiar with the rescue cat’s scent and vice versa. When they eventually meet in person, all the animals will already recognize one another by smell.
- Put a baby gate in the doorway: You don’t know how your pets will react to seeing each other for the first time. A baby gate allows the rescue and current pets to have some physical interaction while keeping them separated in case someone gets aggressive. Keep meet and greets through the baby gate positive and brief, ending the interaction before tension escalates.
- Monitor pets when they’re in the same room: The baby gate phase could last days or weeks, depending on the comfort level of all animals involved. Once they show calm behavior in each other’s presence, let them meet in a neutral common area to avoid the risk of resident pets becoming territorial. Keep dogs on a leash so you can retain control in case they try to chase the cat. If any of the animals become aggressive, divert their attention with a treat or toy, then coax everyone to their respective safe spaces.
- Establish positive associations with one another: The rescue cat and current pets should feel relaxed, happy and content during their interactions. To achieve this, reward good behavior with the animals’ favorite treats, which are reserved solely for meet and greets. Ending play time on a high note is especially important for rescue cats because they’ve undoubtedly made negative associations with animals in the past, and you don’t want that to happen again. Prove your other pets are worthy of the rescue’s trust!
- Watch the animals’ body language: Keep a close eye on the rescue cat’s and resident pets’ body language in order to stop fights before they have a chance to break out. Signs of aggression in cats include swishing tails, flattened ears, hissing, stalking and hair raising along the neck. Dogs that feel threatened may growl, bark, snap, bare teeth or tense their body. If these signs occur, separate all the pets and reintroduce them another day once everyone has calmed down.
- Provide the rescue cat with high perches: Any cat would feel anxious in a new home. However, an assortment of safe spaces is essential for a rescue cat because they could become frightened for reasons pet parents don’t understand. Your rescue cat might’ve had a traumatic experience with other animals or had to fight their peers for resources. In any case, rescues need accessible escape routes so they can be alone. Create high perches with cat trees, furniture, shelves and ledges.
- Let your rescue cat decide the pace: The socialization process could take days, weeks or even months. It differs for every rescue cat, depending on their prior experience with other animals. Progress to the next phase only when your new kitty—and current pets—display signs of comfort in each other’s presence. Be patient with your pets and trust that they’ll eventually be on good terms.
Don’t stress if you encounter setbacks along the way. If playing in the same room doesn’t go too well, return to interactions separated by the baby gate. A bit of wariness doesn’t mean the rescue cat and current pets will never get along. New playmates just take some getting used to. With time and patience, all your furry friends just might end up in one big snuggle pile!