Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I recently moved from my family home to my first apartment (a very small 1-bedroom) with my 3-year-old declawed (not my choice!) female kitty. There are lots of nice windows for her to watch the birds, but there’s not much room to run around and she doesn’t have the company she’s used to. I’m a student, and while I’m not gone a lot right now, when the fall comes I won’t be home much.
She adapted to the move very well, but I can tell she’s a bit lonely. I schedule playtime with her into my day, but I still think she’s not getting enough exercise. I’m considering adopting a kitten in order to keep my cat company. The thing is, my cat has never had other cats around, and I don’t have an extra room where I could keep the kitten for a “proper” introduction. Also, would it be fair to bring a kitten into a small apartment? I’m against declawing cats, so I would NOT have this kitten declawed — but when the kitten got big, would it be dangerous to have one cat with claws and one without?
Basically, do you think I should adopt a kitten or not, and if so, what would be the best possible way to do it for both my current cat and the new kitty?
Siouxsie: Well, Laura, it’s hard to tell how your current feline resident will react to another cat. Given the fact that she’s used to having lots of other kinds of company, she may enjoy having a kitty friend. We don’t think it’s a bad idea to try adopting another cat, but you need to be prepared for the fact that it may not turn out quite as well as you’d hoped. We’ll give you some tips to help the adoption go as smoothly as possible.
Thomas: First of all, we don’t think it’s unfair to bring a kitten into a small apartment. No matter how small your place is, it’s bigger and nicer than a cage in an animal shelter!
Dahlia: Speaking of animal shelters, we highly recommend that you adopt from a shelter. Most rescues will give you a seven-day grace period so you can find out whether the adoption is going to work out well for you and for the kitten. If for some reason things go badly, you can bring the cat back to the shelter.
Siouxsie: You don’t have to adopt a very young kitten, either. You can try for a kitten that’s between six months and one year old instead. By that point they’ve gone through most of their curtain-climbing, trouble-making “kitten crazies.”
Thomas: Anecdotal evidence suggests that getting a younger cat of the opposite sex tends to work out best. Speaking personally, I just fell in love with Dahlia the minute she popped her head out of her carrier and we’ve been best buddies ever since.
Dahlia: We lived in a very small place at the time — it was just one room, about 12 feet by 30 feet in size — and there were no issues at all. Sometimes adoptions just go really well.
Siouxsie: Speak for yourself!
Thomas: Anyway, Laura, here’s how to prepare for the adoption. Get another litter box and separate food and water dishes for the new kitten. You’ll want to feed the kitten a few feet away from your current resident, and by providing the kitten with her own dishes and toilet you’ll reduce the risk of territorial disputes.
Dahlia: Buy a Feliway plug-in diffuser. The “happy cat” pheromones it releases will reduce stress in both cats and make it easier for them to get used to each other.
Siouxsie: It’ll help if the kitten you adopt has a temperament similar to that of your adult cat. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell how a kitten’s personality is going to develop. You will have a better sense of that if you try for an older kitten or a young adult (1 year old or so).
Thomas: Let your current cat check out the new cat while he’s still in the carrier. Don’t be surprised if there’s some growling. When your cat completes her investigations and has calmed down a bit, open the door of the carrier and let the kitten out. Show him the litter box right away because he’ll probably need to use it.
Dahlia: Leave the carrier out with the door open in case the kitten feels like he needs a safe space.
Siouxsie: As long as the growling doesn’t escalate into yowling and hissing and (heaven forbid) fur-flying fights, everything will probably work out all right. This is particularly true if the cats have come to some sort of truce, or perhaps even a loving relationship, within that one-week grace period.
Thomas: You can help the cats to develop a positive relationship by playing with both of them at the same time
Dahlia: Keep an eye out for signs of stress by observing the cats’ body language. If you hear growling or you see one of the cats stalking or too-intently observing the other, distract them by playing “separately together” with them (e.g., use two string toys, one for each cat) so they begin to associate fun times and happiness with the other cat.
Siouxsie: Make sure your cats have plenty of vertical space — tall cat trees, window seats, or specially designated shelves — because that will make the territory (your apartment) seem larger and reduce the cats’ stress. And once your cats are getting along well, the fact that the younger cat has claws and the older one doesn’t — won’t be a problem at all.
Thomas: The odds are pretty good that all will go well. But if they don’t, you need to think of your original cat’s needs first. If that means re-homing the kitten, that’s what you’ll have to do.
Dahlia: It’s a good idea to get all this cat introduction business out of the way before you start school; if the cats are going to live together, you want to be sure they’re comfortable with the arrangement before you get buried in your course work and the social life of a student.