Just like meeting a new person, first-impressions are insanely important when taking your new pet home for the first time. If the introduction is not done correctly and they start out on the wrong foot, it can be hard to bounce back and have harmony in your house. The first few days are vital, so lets make sure you do this right!
STEP 1: Give your new pet their own room.
Walking in the door and just opening the carrier is not how any new cat should be introduced to a new home--ever. Your new pet has been living in a rescue, in a cage or a free roam room, and this might be their first-ever home! A lot of rescue cats haven’t seen a TV, looked out a window, or even used stairs before. Then, add a new family and other pets into the mix and they can get overwhelmed quickly. To make the transition easier on both your new cat and your current pets, set them up in a "safe room" to start out in when you bring them home. A spare bedroom (maybe even your bedroom?!) works perfect! We do not recommend a laundry room or basement, because those can be scary. Set the room up with a litterbox, food, water, and some toys and start them in this room for the first few days. By starting with one room they will have: their food, water, and litter all close by, so if they want to hide you know everything is nice and close and they can warm up to their new home on their own time. Then, they can get used to you and your family coming in to visit and sit with them while they're warming up to your home! You will want to wait until your new pet eats, drinks, goes #1 and #2, and comes out to see you when you come in the room before moving on to the next step. If they run and hide when you come in, or they are hiding still, they aren’t ready to move onto the next step yet.
STEP 2: After a few days, let your new cat and your other pets smell each other by cracking the door.
After the 3 (or more) days of decompressing on their own, its time to let your new kitty and your current pets meet each other! You want to start this off slow, so I recommend you stand on one side of the door, and open the door just enough for the animals to smell each other, but not enough to be able to get out. This way, if one of your current pets is unhappy wants to run away, your new cat won’t chase them (or vise versa) and you can also be sure nothing will escalate to fighting. Let them sniff each other through the little crack and see how they react. Remember, hissing and growling are normal when introducing new animals to each other, and this should be expected. If it goes well, move on to step 3! If it didn’t go well, revisit this step a couple times a day until they are ready for step 3 -or- go to step 2.5!
Step 2.5 (the optional step, only use this step if your kitty is struggling with step 2!) The Jackson Galaxy Tip Some cats do great with introductions to other pets + new humans + new surroundings. For other cats, it’s really overwhelming and it can be hard for them. If this is your kitty, that’s okay! They just need this extra step, which I stole from the famous cat behaviorist, Jackson Galaxy! We’re going to take one of the many stressful things out of the equation. Instead of letting your kitty out to explore the house with your other pets, you’re going to give them time to explore the house without your other pets. Set up a room (it needs to be a different room than the one your new cat is using as a safe room) for your current pets to go in for a few hours and put them in it for a bit. Then, let your new kitty out to explore the house for a few hours without your current pets around! This will also help with introducing them later, because your new cat will smell your other pets scents around the house, and will also leave their scent behind to be smelled by your current pets later. But also because your new cat is able to explore and get a handle on their surroundings without worrying about the other pets they don’t know yet being there too. Be sure you leave the door open to your cats safe room, not only so they know where their food water and litterbox are but also because that is the room they are most comfortable in. After a few hours of exploring, you can let your new kitty back into their safe room, close the door, and let your other pets out. They will smell your new kitty around the house, so it will really help! You can toggle between step 2 and step 2.5 for a few days until your kitty is more comfortable and ready to move to step 3.
Let your new cat out for a couple hours at a time while you are home. Once your pets are acquainted, you can let your new pet out when you’re home. Make sure you leave the door open to their room, so they know where the food, water, and litter box are. Praise good behavior, such as smelling each other without hissing or growling, and scold any slapping, hissing or growling that may occur. If hissing and growling are still happening, make sure you put your new cat back into their room when you leave for the day or go to bed at night.
When it’s time, you’ll know. You’ll notice hissing and growling have ceased and maybe you even caught them laying together! That’s when it’s okay to leave the door open forever and even remove the litter box, food, and water from the extra room. Just make sure your new cat knows where the other litter box, food, and water are located in the house!
Remember, this process may take longer depending on the temperament of the animals and the situation. For some people, it may take a few days, for some people it may take a few weeks, and sometimes it may take a few months. The “magic number” that is recommend by behaviorist is 3-3-3. 3 days to decompress in their own room, 3 weeks to get comfortable enough to start being themselves and 3 months until they are fully comfortable and settled. Be patient and trust the process. You wouldn’t get rid of your child if they were fighting with their sibling, so please don’t give up on your pet either.