Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have a 15-year-old cat who is in declining health. She has inflammatory bowel disease and is under the managed care of a vet. She is doing OK, considering, but is very low energy. Last month I adopted a kitten, and despite leaving them in separate rooms for the first week and doing a gradual introduction as the vet directed, my older cat seems terrorized by the kitten. The kitten is just playing and being herself but she runs and pounces on the older cat and then the older cat hisses.
Now my dilemma is the kitten’s sister (now almost 5 months old) is available as well. I really want to get her, but my space is small (900 square feet). I don’t want the older cat to feel ganged up on or that she is outnumbered, but I hate to not get the other kitten as I’d love to give her a good home and keep the sisters together, but then I feel my first obligation is to my older cat. I feel really, terribly, torn and would appreciate your objective thoughts. Thanks very much.
Thomas: Well, Lisa, this is a really hard choice. We know from personal experience about having an old cat and a much younger cat in the same household. After all, Bella is only 3, and she was just under a year old when Mama brought her home. Siouxsie was almost 16 at the time, and she too had less energy than that little spitfire. Bella often chased Siouxsie around the house at first, too.
Bella: Hey, I just wanted to play with her!
Thomas: But you didn’t know at the time that Siouxsie was a lot older than you and she just wasn’t ready to play tag with you. Mama tried to keep your shenanigans to a minimum, and so did I, but sometimes Siouxsie just got the kit end of the stick.
Bella: That’s not nice. I loved Siouxsie just as much as you did. *sniffle*
Thomas: I know you did, Bella; you just couldn’t help yourself because you were practically a kitten yourself.
Bella: So that leaves us with — what do you do for your elder kitty and your kitten, Lisa?
Thomas: We’ve got a couple of ideas for you. First of all, make sure you’ve got plenty of ways your kitten can play and get her energy out. A nice, tall cat tree or some shelves that she can climb, for example, will give her a way to get her little kitty ya-yas out.
Bella: You can also do interactive play with the kitten every day. Tire her out by playing with a mouse or feather on a string until she’s panting. This may take 20 minutes or so, but it’ll be just as much fun for you as it is for her.
Thomas: Also, your elder kitty may be suffering from arthritis. A lot of older cats do, and sometimes medicine to control the pain and a nice, cushy heated bed can help a creaky senior cat feel more comfortable.
Bella: You could try getting the second kitten to see if the two of them play together and leave your old cat alone because they’re entertaining each other.
Thomas: But you may have to reintroduce them since they’ve been apart and will smell different than they did when they were spending time together.
Bella: But you’re right: your first obligation is to your elder kitty, so if you find that the two of them are ganging up on her, you may need to return one of the kittens.
Thomas: It’s really sad when that happens: Mama had to rehome a cat she rescued because she was making Siouxsie and Sinéad really sad by hogging all the lap time and fighting with them. She worked with her vet to find a new, wonderful home for that cat, but she says she still felt as though she’d failed in some way.
Bella: But in the long run, it was best for all of the cats that Mama’s newest rescue cat found a home where she could be the only cat.
Thomas: And I sure was relieved that harmony was restored, too. It was a hard job breaking up all those kitty fights while Mama was away at work!
Bella: You’re such a kind and wonderful cat, Thomas. It’s no wonder I love you so much. You’re my best, most awesome snuggle buddy ever!
Thomas: Awwww. I love you too, Bella, and snuggle time is my favorite time. Thank you for grooming my head this morning, by the way.
Thomas: So, as we were saying, you can try getting the second kitten, but you’re not going to know how that turns out until you have that other kitten in your home.
Bella: You may have to end up “playing out” both kittens in order to keep them from bugging your older cat.
Thomas: And you’ll need to let the rescue know that you’re going to do your best, but if the two kittens do end up ganging up on your older cat, you’re going to have to return the second kitten for your elder kitty’s sake.
Bella: They should understand, and most rescue groups are willing to take back a cat they adopted out if that cat turns out not to be a good fit for the household.
Thomas: Just remember to have plenty of litter boxes (three at least) so the older cat can go to the bathroom in peace, and like we said, have lots of vertical surfaces so the kittens can climb and so that there’s more territory in your home.
Bella: Also be sure to consider other things. Can you afford to have three cats and give all three of them appropriate veterinary care and good food? Cats’ vet care gets more expensive as they age, but we’re sure you’ve racked up some pretty good bills treating your elder kitty for IBD so you know what that’s about.
Thomas: Have you other readers dealt with old cats and kittens together in the same house? Do you have any other tips you’d like to share?
Bella: Please add your advice in the comments!