I got an ever so lovely email from a reader named Cindy who not too long ago stumbled across my blog posts about getting two cats to get along.
She’s herself in this situation and asked for some more help if I had any to offer her for her particular case.
The TLDR (i.e. “too long didn’t read”) version of her thorough message to me is the following summary:
She’s newly adopted a kitten, who she’s madly in love with (so happy for her!). She has an older cat who is around 5 years old, and this older cat has always had issues with anxiety to an extent.
The two cats don’t get along but she doesn’t necessarily mind if they’re not best friends. She’s just hoping she can get them to co-exist. And has used a lot of the tips and tricks I mentioned in my articles, and is asking if there’s any more advice I can offer her.
As I mentioned, in her message she said she read through my articles on this topic and mentioned she’d read two, so I hope you don’t mind that I link them now in case you want to read them yourself beforehand.
To my knowledge they are:
- How to Get Two Cats to Get Along: What I Did & Yes, It Absolutely Worked &
- My Lap Cat’s Personality Didn’t Change After I Got a Second Cat (This Did…)
These are both articles I wrote about my own personal experience. Before I had two cats I’d written some advice in these articles on the topic of getting two cats to get along as well:
- Help! My Cat’s Personality Changed After Adopting a Second Cat!
- I Got a Second Cat & Now My My Old Cat Pees Everywhere
So you can check those out too, as many of the tips are still relevant.
Now time to show you her email so you can delve into the details of her situation if you’d like. As a heads up, it’s a very long email, so you can skip past it if you like, but I LOVE long emails that give such detailed explanations of what is happening to your cats at home, because they help identify problems that can be fixed so much more easily.
So please oh please, if you take the time to reach out to me with a cat-related problem, please feel free to rant on and on and leave me as much information as you can, because it’s incredibly useful in getting me to see a fuller picture of what life is like for your cats and then offer much more custom-tailored advice to you.
And honestly please if you are thinking about asking me a question absolutely do not hesitate to. I love to get these and help any way I can. I just want all our kitties to be happy and healthy so I try to help if there are any bits of advice or tips I can share!
But without further ado – her email to me, and my advice to follow…
Cindy’s Story: An Adult Cat & Newly Adopted Kitten Not Getting Along – Is There Hope?
I found your website today and have found it unique (many of your ideas I’ve not heard before) and…I hope…helpful
Here’s my situation.
just adopted a 3 month old kitten Whois pretty much perfect! He is smart, loving, sweet and responds in ways I understand. Meaning I’ve had cats my whole life and he responds in ways that make sense to me. No problem here. Just joy!
My problem is my other cat who is a 5 year old female that I’ve had since she was 8 weeks old.
Unfortunately, she was separated from her mother and siblings for a period of time (don’t know how long) before she was given to me. She came from a farm. Her mother a barn cat. We live in the Bay Area and the summer she was born the Napa Fires (Napa Valley, Ca) were to horrible that even though we live 30 miles away…our air was seriously polluted with smoke. Dolly (her name) had a serious respiratory infection due to the smoke, that the owner thought was some other illness so she separated her from her litter mates and mother.
So…she came to me..physically and emotionally damaged. Fixing her physically was easy. A trip to the vet and antibiotics is all it took. Fixing her insecurities have been an ongoing project. I have spoiled and loved her in every way I know how over the past 5 years. But, she remains painfully shy, frightened of almost everything and everyone.
During the past five years…,Covid hit…bringing with it its isolation ( so socialization didn’t happen) as well as my husband has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and I am his caretaker. The ‘good news’ is I’ve been home with Dolly 24/7 as this is required to take care of my husband. But, as I said…this isolation from Covid as wells my husband needs help with all his basic needs (wheelchair/bed bound…needs help with dressing, eating, bathroom, etc.)…I mention all this because this major transition from leading normal lives to where we are today…has impacted everything more than I thought anything could. Point is…poor Dolly. Stress city has continued for her I’ve no doubt even though I’m a real animal lover and have been my whole life and I’ve worked really hard to spoil and play with her and meet her needs every day…she is still showing signs of major stress..signs I’ve never encountered before. Examples: she will be affectionate briefly but very quickly (I’ve come to be able to read her and most of the time…can avoid…her sudden 189shift to biting me and/or scratching me…hard! This is not over stimulated play time gone awry. She’s over stimulated which happens very quickly!!…and then ‘corrects’ me by biting to tell me to stop. Which I do. Or, if I’m playing ‘mouse’ with her ( toy mouse on wand..her favorite!) and the pick up the phone while playing with her, she will bite me to express her disapproval of me sharing my attention with something else.
Now…enter my new little bot kitten whom I knew it would take a transition (cats always do…it seems) but as I’m trying to navigate this new beginning…I’m realizing, perhaps for the first time(??…maybe I didn’t want to see it before) how damaged Dolly is…soooo very stressed…long before 7 days ago when I thought a friend might be good for her (she often acts bored and lonely ….diving to windows to watch outside cats go by or a squirrel etc,) as well as me…trying to balance my life which has become so out of balance as a 24/7 caretaker.
So…after reading your essay on tips for getting two cats to get coexist…I think I’m doing some things right.
We purchased a pet ‘’screen door’ that blocks the new kitten into his own room (full of resources for his needs) in order to keep him safe and separated from Dolly while the necessary acclimation time takes place…however long that takes…while allowing him to see into the hallway and for Dolly to be able to see and smell him too…without being able to injure him.
At first, Dolly wouldn’t even go down the hall even when I knew she wanted to…for example, to sleep with me at night as usual.
It’s been a week now. Dolly has laid away from the screen staring at the kitten who reacts only with curiosity ( no aggression) and continues to growl and hiss at him
That’s where we’re at. After reading your article, I’ve been doubling up on my loving of Dolly trying to de-stress her from…as I’ve explained, a horrible perfect storm of stress that Dolly has had to deal with…long before a week ago. And now what? Wondering if there’s any more insight into our story and if there’s hope that we, too, can at least coexist in some semblance of a happy family. Both these beautiful kitties deserve the very best home in the world (as they all do)…but feeling terrible that my ignorance has and maybe cannot make our home the best for them…which is almost impossible to write those words because I love them both so much.
I hope I’m writing to the right place to reach you as well as I hope I haven’t taken up too much of your time. Your experience, words and perspective seemed to ring true to me and, again, as I mentioned at the beginning, ones I haven’t heard about before (ie. Stress not the new cat is perhaps..the real cause of what otherwise appears to be a cat .problem
Any help/insight you might be able to give me would be so very appreciated.
If not. I understand. I’m out of ideas too.
Thank you, Elise, either way for even reading this (if you are) and for caring for kitties so much… for giving …so much… of yourself…in order to try and help…and love …these amazing animals.
God bless you!!
My Advice to Cindy: How to Help Her 5 Year Old Adult Cat Accept the New Kitten’s Presence With Less Anxiety
I would absolutely never want to give false hope to anyone, but in all my years having lived with, adopted off the streets, essentially fostered, and really well-loved many types of personalities of cats, I feel like there are few cats whose behaviours cannot be improved over time.
Sometimes the problematic behaviours are silly little things that all cats do that you can easily train them out of. Like jumping on counters. But the most difficult ones that really stick around for a long time, and are problematic in a way that makes you still ever-so-empathetic – those are almost exclusively down to stress and anxiety.
And so this can be very tricky to deal with! As you said, healing a cat physically is so quick and easy! So much easier than getting a cat to emotionally move past the stress and anxiety that they carry. Same for us as humans most of the time, isn’t it?
But back to your particular situation, because I honestly personally see a lot of hope here. And I’m not saying this air-headedly or lightly at all. There’s a lot of hope for a lot of reasons, but what you have going for you is:
- You’re trying. Which is the first and most basic step, but is one so few people really continue to do over time because it is hard to continue to try for a sustained period of time.
- You’re obviously empathetic. And really read them as best as you can. The times where you couldn’t predict something would happen before it did, you still understood why it happened after it did. Which is a massively useful tool that’s going to work for you to make this situation better.
- You are home a lot (and kudos to you for being the caretaker for your husband – not an easy job at all to be both wife and caretaker!! Very impressive!), which means you have the one-on-one time with the cats throughout the day which is so useful since consistent short bursts are much more useful when you’re trying to train a cat.
- You’ve got the basics down, and you’re still wanting more things to try. This is huge, so I’m going to try to give you a game plan here.
Now I’m going to say something you probably didn’t expect to hear…
It is possible that your new kitten can help your adult, stressed and anxious kitty to heal her anxiety and become less nervous.
I started writing about my firsthand experience with this change over time with my first cat Avery and how he now has a much better life thanks to the two cats, even though he hated them at first.
Then realized this was a post in itself, so I will tell that story another day. Subscribe to this blog and stay tuned if you want to read that story (and I will update this blog post with the link when it’s up). (Edit 2024-01-08: The new post is up now, you can see it here!)
But back to your case. Your old cat is acting out with you in ways that she would have acted out if she had siblings. She’s biting you as though you’re a fluffy little cat mamma and doesn’t want to hurt you, but also doesn’t know how to get her way – the attention she wants, and probably also only has you to get attention from, as it sounds like it’s just you and your husband in that home and he surely cannot give her the attention you do.
You’re all she’s got. Up until now. So you may find that these two begin to help and heal each other as they grow together. But first you’ve got to get them to co-exist, and then the magic happens slowly, over time, on their own, as they learn to forge a relationship with each other.
And yes, the magic happens in ways you don’t expect it to, often. And isn’t perfect. But it usually does happen.
To get them to co-exist, here are my tricks, which you should use as often as you possibly can. As they will help the process of acceptance.
1. Whenever you play with your adult cat, put your kitten in a carrier and place her nearby.
At first this will stress out your adult cat. A lot. I noticed what I thought was a strange behaviour at first with my adult cat Avery when I adopted my second cat, Bjorn.
Bjorn was far more playful, and Avery basically never played, but when Bjorn would play Avery would get mad. Furious. Hiss and grumble audibly and even at points where otherwise he was fine with Bjorn, this would always set him off.
I think being in play mode or seeing another cat in play mode is to us quite an innocent thing. It’s “play” to us, but to them, it’s probably “practice hunting” or even outright threat of a cat fight breaking out and thus potential injury. That’s not good when you look at it from their perspective. A cat they don’t trust getting hyperactive is gearing up for doing damage, and that could be dangerous.
So I started down the process of getting my cats to safely be able to watch each other play, and that was the last step for me to really get them okay with each other. But now that I know what I know, I think this last piece can actually begin first.
Get your adult cat to be the one to play in front of your younger cat, all the while your younger cat is safe in the carrier. The adult cat will get her needs met and be happy, and the younger cat will be perceived as less and less of a threat. When you’ve gotten a few playtimes under your belt then…
2. Flip the script, start putting your adult cat in a carrier and placing her nearby while you start to play with your kitten.
This will almost certainly really make your adult cat really pissed at first. But over time, after doing this process again and again, your adult cat will just stop caring. Magically.
Because she can’t care if every single time this stressful type of situation has happened, literally no problems happened. It’s exposure therapy essentially. But with the most extremely problematic situation (i.e. the adult cat has to watch another cat practice hunting and being aggressive) being watched over and over and nothing going wrong.
This I think likely will help the most over time.
3. Start putting the kitten into a carrier and placing the carrier on the couch next to you as you cuddle your older cat.
This process may take time to get to, and you may have to start off with the kitten in a carrier and sniffing and hissing and then slowly and steadily work your way toward your kitten being able to be in the carrier on the sofa while your adult cat is next to you.
But the ultimate goal is to have the two cats there, but the kitten safe, and the adult cat getting spoiled and love and affection of all the sorts she loves while the kitten is present and watching.
And nothing for the kitten to start with. All for the adult cat. This will help the adult cat understand that the new kitten will never get between you and her. And that the kitten isn’t a threat to her relationship with you. Actually, she may even begin to learn that when the kitten comes out in a carrier, that means she’s bound to get cuddles and affection, so she may even start to associate the kitten with happy thoughts and feelings, which is your ultimate goal.
4. Start putting the kitten in the carrier and let your adult cat roam for a few hours, and put your adult cat in a carrier and let your kitten roam for a few hours.
This will allow them to interact much more closely, but again, with no possibility of getting violent with each other.
What Should Eventually Happen
You should eventually see the cats begin to stop caring about each other because they no longer perceive each other as threats.
At that point, start feeding them together, start snuggling both at the same time, do as many things as the old cat loves with her while the new cat is present as possible. She should start to make the association that the new cat is just fine to have around.
If they’re overtly IGNORING each other – like you can tell that one is “watching” the other out of the corner of their eye and just not doing anything about it, you might be surprised to learn this is a good sign.
It means the other cat has gone from being an overt threat, to something the cat has begun to tolerate. Ignoring is the first step of pretty much any anxiety starting to dwindle down.
There’s a bit in your story that you shared where you said this: “Dolly has laid away from the screen staring at the kitten who reacts only with curiosity ( no aggression) and continues to growl and hiss at him.” I actually read that as a very good sign.
As curiosity and “keeping her eye” on the new kitten, is a first step toward ignoring in my experience. Keep at it, I feel like with time, they definitely are showing signs in co-existing without violence somewhere down the line.
Of course it can always go back a step or two, so always make sure your cats are monitored until you’re 100% sure there will not be violence if you leave them alone together. Keep them sperate with their own spaces as you have been, and even if they have a one step forward, two steps back relationship, if you keep at it, the script will flip and they should begin to make far more progress toward peace between each other.
I have a few odd tips and tricks insofar as your comment about your cat becoming overstimulated quickly and biting you to try to “correct” you – but again I will save these for another article because they are a topic on their own! Again for those interested subscribe to this blog and stay tuned if you want to about this, and I will also update this blog post with the link when that article is up.
Your Thoughts on Old Cats Hating New Kittens?
Have you had any experience with old cats hating the new kitten on the block?
Have you any stories to share with us? Any tips or tricks you can offer Cindy? Any word of advice or encouragement?
I’d love to hear all your thoughts and experiences in the comments down below! And I’m sure Cindy will appreciate every one you leave as well!