I previously wrote an article titled, “Help! My Cat’s Personality Changed After Adopting a Second Cat!” where I addressed the fact that there are times when only-child, Velcro cat personalities take a turn for the less social, cuddly, and attention-seeking when a second cat is introduced into the home. I mentioned there that I had zero firsthand experience with the topic, but now that’s changed so it’s high time I wrote what’s essentially an update or part 2 to the original post.
Not only has my brother from over @ PetsOverload.com had firsthand experience with this that I lived through vicariously thanks to his texts and Skype updates, but a couple months ago, my husband Thomas and I took in a second cat as well, so I’ll be sharing what happened with both our cases a little here so you can get a better understanding of the struggles of Velcro cat potential personality changes based on our experiences. I firmly believe it’s possible to undo “damage” in the form of personality changes that occurred due to taking a second cat in now, but please let me know if your experience leads you to believe otherwise.
What spurred me to write this post before waiting a little longer (I usually like waiting to see how things turn out before writing posts, and Avery and Bjorn definitely are not bffs for life – at least not yet!) was an email from a reader named Sam:
How are Avery and Bjorn getting along?! I came across your blog while looking for reviews on top-entry litter boxes and already have the modkat on order. I have had my 11-year-old cat for a year and we are in love, she’s more than I could have hoped for! But I am destined to be a cat lady, and came across a sweet, shy 4-year-old kitty at a local rescue. I have had my eye on her for over a month, and even had one chance to pet her. She was a doll. I have been told that both cats have lived with other cats in the past, but now that I have all of the OKs (and a second litter box on the way), I am having a hard time following through because I would hate to disappoint my 11-yo fur baby. I’ve never had 2 felines. In so many of the 2nd cat info pages online, I don’t get the vibe that folks are in love with their sweet, social cat when they adopt a second. With yours, I get that vibe. I relate. So I’m curious to hear how it’s going, and any advice you may have on making the decision.
Let me dive straight into answering this question, best I can!
(Edit 05/30/2019: In case you’d like some further reading, I now have a live article with my tips on how to get two cats to get along together, so check that out once you’re done here in case you’re interested!).
My Personal Experience Adopting a Second Cat with a First, Only-Child, Velcro Lap Cat
I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the spoilers here. First, my brother’s first cat, Beau, is even more of a lap cat than he used to be (okay that’s not possible, as he was already at 100% lap cat, so let’s call it remaining steady at fully lap cat status). My brother adopted a second, a female kitten he named Kalista, and they are basically soulmates. I mean this, by the way, it’s not an exaggeration, check out this post & the video linked inside it, they’re crazy bonded.
With me? Well Avery’s still not the biggest fan of Bjorn. They don’t even fully get along yet, let alone allogroom and have naps together. Nonetheless, Avery’s Velcro-cat personality did not change after we got a second cat, and quite honestly, Bjorn is more of a Velcro cat than Avery is so they’re both golden in terms of their interactions with us.
There is something about Avery that did immediately changed that honestly influenced his behaviour toward me and whether or not he was cuddly or not – and that’s stress. I noticed right away that if Bjorn was stressing him out too much, gone was the possibility of Avery feeling comfortable enough to sit on my lap as is usual for him. If he seemed stressed enough, I got zero affection and even those lovely “kisses” (face rubs) I really adore disappeared. But realizing this made me work extra hard to figure out how to reduce the stress he felt, and while I know the two need more time to be more okay together, Avery’s absolutely still the same cat he used to be with me.
Ways I Reduced Avery’s Stress After I Noticed It Held Him Back from Cuddling
I will absolutely be getting into the way I introduced these two together (which was a process, let me tell you), but how I reduced Avery’s stress after I noticed it influenced his behaviour and made him too uncomfortable to be his regular, snugly self is a bit of a different story. Here are a few different things I did after noticing stress was the big problem.
1. Initially, I never fed them together.
Avery would lose his appetite in front of Bjorn initially – that’s how stressed he used to be. To prevent a complete change in his appetite, and potentially cause other issues (like weight loss, and health issues) from cropping up, I never fed them together at all initially.
Now, I feed them meals completely separately most days, while I feed them snacks that I hand over one at a time to each cat together. I’ll get into more of this, though, because actually I found it really helped.
2. I gave Avery breaks from having to deal with Bjorn, and Bjorn a break from potential violence.
Avery absolutely still swats at and hits Bjorn to this day, but from day 1, if I noticed him being aggressive, I’d scold Avery and separate the two by immediately placing Bjorn in “his room” (a fully decked out room with food, water, a view, litter box, scratch post, bed, literally everything he could ever want and need) away from Avery’s reach. I found Bjorn would appreciate the peace and Avery would appreciate not having to worry about this intruder in his territory. Usually, the aggression and frustration happened most before meals, which I picked up on quite quickly. Look at hitting and aggression as a sign of stress and see if there’s a pattern in your household, and if there is, strongly consider separation before the stress and aggression occurs. Essentially, it may not be about the new cat at all, the new cat may just be adding to the stress of regular, every day things, like dealing with hunger, the aggressive act itself being nothing more than a release of frustration.
3. For months, I only allowed them to interact while I was physically at home.
I had the two completely separated initially – probably for around 3 weeks, Bjorn getting a room to himself and Avery having the rest of the house. Then when I first started introducing them, I’d do little test runs a few times a day, and Avery would be pissed, so I’d increase these slightly, but none of those “distracting techniques” worked with Avery, so I just had to be patient with that initial process since he was so angry about Bjorn being in his house.
Finally, Avery started to be mildly okay with Bjorn in the house with him, but still would be very aggressive at times, so I’d absolutely always want to be around whenever the two were interacting, and sometimes would put Bjorn away as soon as the stress got to be too much for Avery and he started chasing Bjorn around aggressively.
Even now, two months in, I’ll let them both have free access to the house (or rather – to the rooms I will allow Bjorn access, since I still don’t trust him around wires), but not if I know I’ll be gone for too long. If I’m in the garden, or head to the kitchen, or if I’m in a room where I need to close the door, they absolutely have access to each other. Maybe if Avery’s napping in the sun before I leave to the grocery store, I’ll leave them be and let them both maintain all access to each other and the house. If I go out for more than 2-3 hours? I keep Bjorn in his room and give Avery the rest of the house. I don’t want Avery’s stress to mount and for him to feel aggressive enough with Bjorn to get too physical. That being said, if he wasn’t ever swatting or hitting aggressively anymore, I wouldn’t do this any longer. And once Avery only hits Bjorn playfully or non-aggressively, I’ll have them both out together all the time.
4. For especially stressful parts of the day, like before meals, I would trap Avery and Bjorn together in a room with me monitoring.
Avery is a ridiculously good cat who honestly, in my opinion, has always felt guilt and never ever wanted to upset me. He’s a real softy, a gentle giant (I mean that, he’s real tall!), and while he knows he isn’t supposed to be hitting Bjorn, I do notice stress mounts sometimes and he almost can’t help it.
This lessens a lot in my presence (vice versa is also true – the hitting happened a lot when Avery thought I wasn’t around or going to notice). I’m not sure if it will be true of your cat(s), but if your first cat is less aggressive with the newbie when you’re around, you may be able to follow along the same lines I did.
If I keep Avery and Bjorn in a room with me together, both of them will try to cuddle up with me, or lie in the sun – they’re very similar in that regard, and while I initially thought that would generate some serious competition and annoyance, while there was mild annoyance on Avery’s part when he couldn’t get into my lap because he didn’t want to go near Bjorn (who often got to my lap first), he will now sometimes overcome his anxiety.
At first, this never happened. What would is Avery would be having a nap in my lap, then Bjorn – the courageous little feisty he is – would try to jump into my lap even though Avery was there. I learned from Bjorn’s insistence that when Avery’s in a full on nap state, he’s basically sedated and calm enough to “handle” Bjorn’s close-proximity presence. That’s actually how the first picture in this post happened – it was the first time they’d ever been in my lap together ever. Bjorn tried 2-3 times to get into my lap in a half hour span with Avery hissing and being pissed off each time. Bjorn would jump off, understanding he should leave. Then try again some time later. Avery would often leave my lap in annoyance if Bjorn tried to do this enough, but that day I thought I’d try putting my arm behind Avery to create a buffer between the two cats when Bjorn attempted to jump on. Thanks to Avery’s dozed state apparently that buffer was enough for him to be okay with Bjorn. Once pusskins #2 was on my lap, Avery couldn’t care less about Bjorn’s existence unless Bjorn began to move too much, though that rarely happens once they’re both settled in. Honestly, it’s strange, but that’s the rub.
Anyway, this led to me trying to reduce the stress and tension by – an hour before bed – keeping the two trapped with Thomas and I in our bedroom where we would all end up watching Netflix (or Supernatural!) in bed. This worked so well, and Bjorn loved sleeping under the blankets so much, I began to do “overnights” together with all of us in a closed room, then set them free for breakfast in the morning. It’s helped a lot. Avery is much less aggressive in my presence in the first place, and if I hear a fight break out (happens really rarely now) while the two are with me, I call Avery over and try to get him to cuddle for a distraction. Or I throw Bjorn under the blankets (which he loves and which gets him out of Avery’s line of sight – plenty enough for Avery to simmer down).
5. I started sitting training sessions (fuelled by kibble bribes!) with Avery and Bjorn together.
Bjorn is a feisty, zero chill wildling of a cat – especially around food. He is absolutely positively a lap cat, but he’s crazy. He reminds me of Stitch from Lilo & Stitch. Avery, by contrast, is a calm, dignified poised and royal-like kitty who is the most gentle sweetheart you’ve ever seen, though he’s not really sociable and his personality is definitely understated. Bjorn absolutely freaked him out with all the craziness, so I knew to create peace, my best shot would probably be to train Bjorn to have at least 1% chill.
So I started training the two cats to sit in front of each other.
Now, this partly also helped with a problem Bjorn developed where he’d throw up when he was expecting a meal. If I fed him treats throughout the day at random times he couldn’t predict, I figured he’d stop having these sensitive stomach issues – and yup, it worked.
What I’d do is pull out a jar from the closet in my office, head over to the hallway, call both cats over (yeah, this didn’t need to happen most days, since cats + food = <3 <3 <3). Then I’d tell both cats to sit, tell Avery by name to sit, Bjorn by name to sit, and once they did, I’d give them each a treat.
Bjorn got his treat first, one on the floor so I didn’t lose an entire hand to kitty bites, and Avery got his hand fed to him right after. Initially, Avery had trouble swallowing the food in front of Bjorn, due to his high level of stress, and there were situations where Avery would lose his shit and walk off. But eventually things went smoothly every single time. I’d do these sessions 3-4 times a day initially, giving a few pieces of kibble each time, and now I do them around 2-3.
Because I want Bjorn to be calmer, I slowly started to increase the amount of time he had to wait before he got the kibble. Then I began to train him to not go after the food until my fingers were lifted from the piece of kibble (I did this by taking away the kibble, saying “no”, and forcing him to essentially restart sitting for a while all over again when he left before my fingers were lifted). Prior to teaching him to do this, I had to place the kibble behind him so he didn’t take off one of my fingers along with the bite of kibble. By the way, I’m dreading the day when Bjorn realizes he can eat human flesh – I don’t think I’ll make it if that ever happens; this cat is legitimately nuts around food! But he was feral for years so it really isn’t surprising.
6. I had so many different hiding spots, sleeping spaces, scratching posts, and even litter boxes out, and motored their use of them closely.
Honestly, the hiding spots, scratch spots, extras of everything helps so much but it’s not an end-all-be-all solution. You should make note of things one cat uses versus the other, and if your first cat is anxious, increase a lot of the spots your first cat will use that the second cat won’t even bother with – or if they both like that type of thing, put two right next to each other so each can use the exact thing at the same time.
Cardboard boxes for multiple cats – easy to make & sooo useful (until your newly adopted feral cat starts to pee on them like Bjorn did!). Cat beds, super handy. Small cat trees and scratch posts you can move around at a moment’s notice – you can’t understand how useful they come in. Obviously, extra litter boxes come in handy. Watch your cats when they first start to pee in each other’s presences, I had instances where Avery would try to hit Bjorn while he was in the restroom and vice versa – so discourage that and eventually they do leave each other alone, so you’re good.
Amazon Basics Large Cat Activity Tree – Amazon / eBay
The Last, Most Important Bit of Advice for Reducing Stress
One on one time may need to happen between you and your cats individually. It may take a long time to get to the point where your first cat can show you affection in front of your second cat.
And honestly, I firmly believe separation is an incredibly powerful tool that you should absolutely utilize quite often whenever stress begins to mount, because you don’t want your cats to begin to associate the thought of each other with stress and anxiety – you want them to have as many happy moments as they can with each other and maximize the happiness in those moments as well as the length of just those happy times.
You should make it as easy as you possibly can to separate your two cats in a way that keeps both happy. My advice is to stick to what I’ve done – create a safe room for your new cat and leave it as that for many months past introducing the cats, until the point where the two are fully fine with each other and you keep them together, and maybe even past. Hell, Bjorn loves his room, he’s happy to have a time out from Avery there. He just naps in his favourite bed. He even spends a lot of time in there when the door’s wide open and he can leave (speaking of which, I have a feeling he’s there right now…).
Just try to keep the peace. In any way you can. If you think something bothers your first cat, try to make that problem go away, whether or not it has to do with your second cat. If it does have to do with the newbie in the household – like your old cat doesn’t like the new one being in his spots, doesn’t like having to share litter boxes, doesn’t like snuggling when the new cat is around – do your best to give your first cat what you think would ease or completely rid him or her of that anxiety – more sleep spots, a second litter box next to the first, more time 1-on-1 with you. Literally whatever strikes you as being a potential way to ease that stress, try it. Then try some more things. You absolutely can do this.
My Advice for Velcro Cat Owners Who Want a Second Cat
Have a Velcro cat like mine? Really want a second cat, but don’t want your right-now-only-child kitty to stop being such a snuggle-wuggle puss? My advice to you: Do it. It will probably be fine.
And if it isn’t, I honestly believe that may be true of first, but that if you work hard to reduce the tension, if you work hard to make their experiences together positive ones, to get rid of the anxieties and things that make your original cat tick about your second – it will be fine later if it’s not now.
Yes, it might take months, but your Velcro cat – based on my experience – will likely still be a Velcro cat, you just need those stress levels down as low as you can get them.
Honestly, I don’t know if Avery and Bjorn will ever get along really swimmingly together. They absolutely care for each other now, and maybe they never will. But I do know that they get on fine with each other, and individually (and sometimes together!) get on gloriously with me. And it’s absolutely fine if things never progress past that, where they put up with each other and live peaceably, but both are affectionate toward me.
So based on nothing but my single-situation firsthand experience, if you’re okay with your cats not being head-over-heels soulmates and loving each other to bits, but still each give you the kind of love you’re used to getting (from the old one) and think you’re going to get (from the new one), I think you’re a-ok getting a second cat, personally.
Definitely try to get a cat as close in personality to the first as you can. But even if you’re a bit off (like I happened to be without realizing!), things should work out well enough for you that it’s absolutely worth giving a cat who needs a good home that home in your snugly, currently single-cat household.
Your Thoughts on Velcro Cats Getting Siblings?
Now it’s your turn, and I’ll take this moment to remind you – if you have any advice for other pet owners on this topic, you could really be helping them out.
Ever adopted a new cat? What was the experience like? Do you find it’s more difficult for only children cats to get used to a newbie, or really just depends on the cat and the personality of the new feline in the household and whether they mesh?
Do you have any tips or tricks for easing the stress levels of cats? And do you agree with my sentiment that stress is likely the issue when it comes to personality changes of first, only-child Velcro cat personalities? Or do you think there’s more to it than that?
Really and truly looking forward to hearing your comments, especially since I’m living through this all myself right now! 😉
Kelly Fleming says
I am two month in to living with two cats. my 9 year old resident female Milo and 14 week old kitten Luna. They started in separate rooms with feeding between the door. Then a screen was added to the door. Now they each have half of the apartment divided by a large screen. They get supervised visits. It goes well when Luna is calm, but she often wants to play which stresses out Milo and makes her hiss. It is so much work but hopefully worth it in the end. I imagine it will be months before i can remove the screen
Oh boy, I’m glad I found your post!
Sooo… I have a giant, affectionate, dog-like cat named Ollie. He’s 6 years old and, last month, my husband and I adopted a 6 week old kitten when it’s mama went MIA. Using some of the same techniques you mentioned, Ollie went from outright attack mode to grooming the kitten head-to-paw. I love seeing that progress but am now noticing that Ollie spends maximum amounts of time in our basement and isn’t as affectionate with his hoomans as before. I don’t want to lose my foofy Ollie’s personality over this and am considering finding a new home for the little guy. Your post has given me some hope, though. How are Avery and Bjorn doing now that they’ve had a bit more time?