I’m going to start this article off by stating – I’ve never had more than one cat before. Not yet at least, I expect to sometime in the (hopefully) very near future. Taking this household from a one cat, to a two-or-three cat household has always been my plan. But I haven’t done so yet for a couple reasons.
My first reason? Moving. I knew I was going to be making a massive cross-continental move from Canada to the UK, and didn’t want to be taking more cats on this trip than necessary, so I didn’t adopt a second cat while I was in Canada. My current reason for not adopting a second cat? Space. Right now I live in a studio flat, and while I’d be okay having two cats in this apartment, as I’ve ironed out most of the kinks when it comes to living with cats in small apartments, I feel it just wouldn’t be a good idea to introduce two cats in such a small space, where it’d be hard to separate the cats if I needed to.
Having been interested in adopting a second cat for quite some time (Edit 03/24/2019: I have, and so here’s a personal update to this post based on my perspective now), I’ve looked up and discussed potential issues that may arise with quite a few people; and since my brother is hoping to do the same, getting his cat Beau a sibling once he’s settled into his new place, we’ve chatted a lot about other people’s experiences with taking in a second cat even just between ourselves.
Then I get this comment –
Hi! I have two cats in my household, an almost two year old cat named Tonya and a kitten who is seven months named Sasha. Before adopting Sasha, Tonya and I were inseparable. It would physically pain me to leave her at home when I would go to school. But, every night that I came home, she would purr with excitement and played with me until she was tired. Then, she would always wait for me in bed to sleep through the night together. After adopting Sasha, I noticed a complete behavior change. Tonya became entirely standoffish- and as a result, runs away when I get near her, does not sleep with me at all, and meows in frustration whenever I pick her up. It breaks my heart because I love her and her sister equally, but I don’t understand the reason for this behavior switch. I can only assume it has to do with the adoption of her sister, but it’s been months since I’ve gotten Sasha and surely Tonya would’ve adjusted by now? What can I do to resolve this? Any and all advice would be very appreciated, thank you!
And I know I have to address this topic on my blog. It may not be as common a problem as cats scratching up your furniture, but personality changes in your first cat after you’ve adopted a second are not uncommon, and so I don’t think it’s a topic that should be overlooked.
When reading through this post, please keep in mind I have no personal experience with any of this. The opinions I have come from theories I have about cats and their behaviour, my own personal biases, as well as some research I’ve done digging through forums and social media posts for opinions left by other cat owners.
Please do your own research, talk to your vet, and all that jazz to help you make up your own mind, but my 2c is up here as a conversation starter at least, as well as for anyone who wants it.
Personality Change in Only Child Cat After Second Cat Adopted
The “Only Child” Velcro-Cat Personality
While not true of all “only child” cats, many who adopt a solitary cat into their household find their cat exhibits the traits of a velcro cat: incredibly cuddly, highly affectionate, and enormously needy and attention seeking.
What kinds of behaviours do these types of cats exhibit? To name a few: the cat will often follow their human around the house, become upset when they leave (even if it’s for short periods of time), sit and sleep consistently by their human’s side, and may even whine, cry, or try to grab attention in other ways when they feel the attention their human is giving them is not enough.
Some pet owners, while loving and appreciating their cats for their velcro-cat personality, also find the behaviours a bit concerning since they worry when they leave their cat alone at home, especially if they have to do so for long hours for work, their cat may be incredibly lonely.
So they, with the best intentions at heart, take in a second feline…
The Somewhat Common Personality Shift In the First Cat When a Second Is Adopted
I’m going to stress: this definitely doesn’t happen to every only child velcro-cat, but there are many firsthand accounts of pet owners witnessing their first cat’s personality change dramatically after the introduction of a second cat into their household.
The type of change we’re talking about? An almost anti-social attitude toward the human in comparison to before the introduction of the new cat. The first cat will sometimes refuse to be picked up, hate being petted, become agitated at their human for trying to give affection, while before the new family member came home, the first cat would have loved that kind of attention.
One thing I want to note here: many behavioural changes can happen to cats, not only after introducing a second, but even a third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth cat. Cats can develop a plethora of issues, from peeing outside of litter boxes to refusing to eat, when they are unhappy with the new addition to the family.
But, while these behavioural changes are incredibly important to pay attention to and take seriously, especially as they can always be signalling something besides stress is actually wrong with your cat, these other behavioural changes are not what I’m talking about here.
What I’m specifically addressing is the aspect that seems to be different about the introduction of the second cat. The personality change many “only child” cats undergo from being overly cuddly to being a bit anti-social to their pet owners – and not any other behavioural change.
Again – all behavioural and personality and behavioural changes are serious, and should be paid close attention to in case a cat is ill or unhappy and needs the stress to be remedied through human intervention. But I’m not going to get into other behavioural changes besides this one in this post, since behavioural and personality changes over a new feline family member in general merit an entirely different article.
What Could Account for the Shift In Personality?
For the most part, we only have theories. Not enough research in general has been done on cats to know even the most basic things about them. We still don’t even know what their ideal diets are, let alone why they socialize the way they do and how to make life perfect for them inside our homes.
But the theories we do have are helpful and make a lot of sense.
The likely explanation for the personality change in a first cat after the adoption of a second cat? Pretty much the exact same thing that accounts for a behaivoural shift in any resident cat when any new cat (third, fourth, fifth, sixth…) is introduced – your resident cat is stressed out by the new addition to the family, and this stress is causing your resident’s cat behaviour to alter.
The good news? If it all boils down to stress over the new cat – there’s one simple solution you can try that may fix everything. And no, it’ doesn’t involve giving your new cat away.
The Likely Solution: Re-Introduce the New Cat Very Slowly
Yes, you may have tried to introduce your cats before, but either you didn’t do it right, or your first cat wasn’t a fan of how quick the introduction process took place.
So what can you do? Just start over. Pretend that first bit never happened. Been a few months since they were introduced? Feel it’s impossible to get the first impression right after so much time has passed? Honestly, while first impressions are a big deal – you can have a second shot at a first impression with re-introduction. Don’t write it off before you try it, no matter how much time it’s been since the two were initially thrown together.
How to Re-Introduce Cats Successfully
I’ll do my best to get a full fledged article out on the ins and outs of introducing cats, including some tips for troubleshooting, but in the meantime, here’s a not-so-short play-by-play of what the process of re-introduction should look something like:
- Keep each cat in a different room.
Make sure each cat has everything he or she needs (litter box, water, food, scratching post, etc.), and ideally, make sure the cats can’t see, hear, or smell one another. So don’t have one cat roaming the living room, able to sniff beneath the door of the other. Keep each in an individual room and shut the doors so neither can access the other at all. Spend enough time with each of them, essentially maintaining a “two only child cats” household.
- Give the old cat some time to reset and become less anxious.
Your old cat will undoubtedly smell your new cat on you when you come in to spend time with him or her, and this is almost guaranteed to make your old cat anxious, so don’t feel bad if your cat doesn’t reset back completely to his or her old personality just because they have their own room. Nonetheless, with his or her own space, your cat’s anxiety should get a lot better. Once the anxiety looks like it’s subsided a considerable amount, proceed to the next step.
- Bring in blankets and clothes that smell like the first cat into the second cat’s room and vice versa.
Obviously, there’s likely to be a lot of hissing at first. But keep making your cats smell the scent of the other cat. The hissing and anxiety should really lessen over time. Once you’re at that point…
- Introduce your new cat to the old cat through the bottom of the door.
Don’t jump the gun and put the cats together in a room. Just let the new cat roam around the outside of your old cat’s room. Your old cat, again, will probably throw a hissing fit, but that’s okay. Leave the new cat outside the door to sniff for a few minutes, then take him or her back into their own room. Rinse and repeat 5-6 times a day until your old cat seems to finally be okay with the new cat being outside. Then finally…
- Bring both cats together into the new cat’s room.
I think it’s probably better to be bringing the old cat into the new cat’s room so your old cat doesn’t feel his or her space is threatened by the new cat. But of course, I haven’t done this before, so please correct me if you think I’m wrong in the comments. Ideally, when you bring the cats together, you should have one person with each of the cats, doing your best to distract them both with play, food, catnip, and anything else the cats like. Keep trying to have visits once or twice a day until the two cats are finally okay with the other’s company.
- Let the new cat into the house, and when the old cat is ready, open his or her door into the house as well.
First, allow the new cat to roam the house freely so the old cat feels his or her constant presence outside his or her door and becomes okay with it. Once your new cat is ready – and you should be able to tell by anxiety being a lot lessened even though the new cat is always around outside – open the door for your old cat, but leave the room as is, in case your old cat feels a need to retreat. I’d recommend keeping your old cat’s room door closed after he or she leaves so the only cat allowed in is your old cat. Once your old cat is finally happy and rarely ever runs back to his or her room to escape, you can ditch the room made just for him or her and place everything wherever you want in the house.
Why a Re-Introduction Should Help
Since your first cat is likely only behaving differently because he or she is stressed, re-introducing your cats should help your first cat to be a lot less anxious about the new cat.
Why? It’s a lot easier to get used to something completely new when the introduction happens gradually.
Ever heard a song on the radio you thought was weird or annoying and really didn’t like? Then heard it a couple more times and thought, “Meh, I guess it’s okay but still not great.” Chances are, if it became a hit and you slowly and gradually started hearing it more and more often, you’d get used to the fact that it was around and maybe even come to enjoy it and not just tolerate it.
Re-introducing cats slowly and gradually is something like that process.
How Long Will Re-Introducing Properly Take?
Honestly, I have no clue. It really depends on your cats.
From what I’ve seen, introduction and re-introduction could take little to no time a tall – a day, half a week? But if your old cat is really anxious around the new one, it could take up to a month, maybe even more than that. I have no real timeline to share with you on this one.
What Happens If I Don’t Re-Introduce My Cats?
Without re-introduction, there’s the possibility that the two cats will over time become okay with each other’s company, or even begin to enjoy it, but this could take ages to happen, and there’s no guarantee it ever will.
Re-introduction significantly improves the chance your cats will be okay with or even start to like one another, so it’s definitely advisable to attempt a re-introduction if you aren’t happy with your cats’ current relationship.
Obviously, you should take the process seriously and slowly to get the best results, but done right, the re-introduction should drastically help reduce stress.
Is The First Cat’s Personality Guaranteed to Revert Back Normal?
While the re-introduction will almost certainly help, it is possible your first cat will not go back to normal.
I’ve seen accounts of first cats going back to normal 100%.
I’ve seen accounts of first cats going nearly back to normal, but being less needy because they begin to get more attention from a source besides you (the new cat), and thus aren’t so desperate for your attention – a situation I consider to be a great success if you were worried about your first cat being lonely while you weren’t home and that’s what led you to adopt a second in the first place.
I’ve seen a couple accounts where both cats turn out to be crazy attention-lovers, and actually end up competing for their human’s attention – which I mean, I’d never have expected to hear that, but sound to-die-for levels of cute to me!
But I have to admit – I have also seen accounts from pet owners saying their cats have not gone back to velcro-cat personality types at all, really, and that upon the adoption of a second cat, their first simply behaves in ways that “normal” cats typically behave – being a little standoffish and putting up with petting at times, but not always following them around the house, looking for cuddles, like they would have been before.
What I’d recommend in situations where your cats are fine together but your old cat doesn’t return to normal? Give your old cat some time, and tackle the particular problems that arise as they do. If your old cat begins to run away from you, train him or her to stop running away. If he or she stops liking cuddles, re-train your cat to be cuddly. Things should improve considerably over time, though it may take more time and effort than you’d hoped.
Do You Have Any Advice for Cat Owners Adopting a Second Cat?
I would love to hear your thoughts and experience with regards to taking a household from a single-cat household to a multi-cat one.
Have you done it yourself? What was your “only child” cat’s personality like? How did you introduce the cats and did your cat’s personality change when the new cat was introduced?
If your cat’s personality changed, did it ever go back? Did you try re-introduction? Did re-introduction help, and if so in what ways did it work or not work?
You would be helping out so many pet owners thinking about adopting a second cat, as well as ones who have already taken the plunge in becoming a multi-cat household: so please do share any and all insights you have below!