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How to introduce a kitten to a cat

how to introduce a new kitten
(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to introduce a kitten to a cat is a question that has often been pondered. Adopting a new kitten is an exciting adventure, but that excitement can quickly turn to anxiety when you begin thinking about how to introduce a new kitten to your existing pet cat at home. 

Depending on your adult cat’s personality, adding a new kitten may be a smooth and easy transition or a source of stress and frustration. Taking your time to introduce the two cats gradually and intentionally can maximize the likelihood that the two cats get along with each other and enjoy (or at least tolerate!) each other’s company, enjoying a peaceful existence for years to come. 

1. Prepare for your home for new addition

One way to work out how to introduce a new kitten before it happens is to set up a separate living area to house your kitten for the first several days or weeks. This might be a guest bedroom, a spare bathroom, the laundry room, or any other room that your current cat does not need to regularly access. In your kitten’s designated area, be sure to have the best kitten food and water bowls, a comfy bed, and the best kitten toys. Setting up a separate area for your kitten can minimize 'turf wars' between your cats, giving them time to adjust to each other’s presence without competing for the same space. 

While you probably won’t need to keep the cats separated long term, the items you buy for your new kitten may be used for a while. Having separate litter boxes, feeding stations, and resting areas for each cat, even once they are successfully spending time together, can decrease competition and increase the likelihood that your cats will get along with each other. Keep this in mind when purchasing items for your kitten’s temporary lodging and deciding how to introduce a new kitten to your home. 

2. Allow them to become familiar with each other’s scents

When you first bring home your new kitten, set her up in her room. This will allow her to become familiar with the location of the litter box and orient herself to her new environment. In most cases, your adult cat will soon notice the presence of a new kitten within the home, and the two cats will begin to smell each other and interact under the door. This allows the cats to become familiar with each other’s scent with minimal risk of injury. 

After a day or two, begin periodically confining your adult cat to a small area while allowing your kitten out for brief forays into the rest of the house. Through this process, your kitten will become familiar with the layout of your house and the smell of your adult cat. When you return your kitten to her room and allow your adult cat out of confinement, your adult cat will be able to smell your kitten’s scent throughout the home, making the process of how to introduce a new kitten to your home easier.  

Cats interact with the world largely through their sense of scent. Allowing the two cats to become familiar with each other’s scent will increase the likelihood of a successful outcome when the two cats are allowed to interact directly, and giving you more knowledge of how to introduce a new kitten. 

how to introduce a new kitten

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Let them meet 'in-person', under careful supervision

Once your cats have had several days to become familiar with each other’s scents and are interacting under the door without signs of aggression, you are ready to introduce them to each other face-to-face. Consider doing this at a time when your cats are slightly distracted, such as at mealtime. This can help alleviate tension by diffusing your cat’s attention so that they aren’t directly focused on each other. 

There may be a little bit of hissing and growling as your two cats get to know each other. When this happens, try to distract or redirect your cats with a toy, treats, or food. Distracting the kitten can help give your adult cat a bit of peace and quiet, while distracting your adult cat can help minimize aggressive behavior. In case a fight does break out, keep a blanket or thick towel handy. This can be used to separate the fighting cats, while minimizing the risk of you becoming injured.

4. Encourage positive interactions between your cats

In the first several days or weeks (depending on how well your adult cat takes to your new kitten), your cats should only be allowed to interact under direct supervision. Your goal during this time is to encourage positive interactions. Consider feeding your cats meals together, petting your cats when they are in the same area, and otherwise making efforts to help your adult cat associate the kitten’s presence with positive outcomes. If at any point the two cats begin to fight, separate them for a brief period of time. This gives each cat a chance to “cool off” after a negative interaction, minimizing escalation. 

Even as you give your adult cat and kitten more time together, ensure that they also have time apart from each other. Provide each cat with separate litter boxes, food bowls and water bowls, and sleeping areas to minimize competition. If you have an especially playful kitten, you may want to consider using a baby gate or other barrier to create an area where your adult cat can escape for some peace and quiet when needed. 

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

When considering how to introduce a new kitten to your older cat, remember that first impressions matter! 

Making introductions thoughtfully and carefully can create positive associations between your adult cat and the kitten, while a hasty introduction may not go as smoothly. 

Like humans, cats also appear to place a lot of weight on first impressions. If the first interaction between your cats is stressful, with lots of hissing and fighting, this may end up being a difficult setback from which to recover. Investing a little bit of time and effort up front can offer significant benefits over the rest of your cats’ lives together. 

Catherine Barnette DVM

Dr. Barnette received both her Bachelor of Science degree in zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Florida. She’s an experienced writer, educator, and veterinarian, with a passion for making scientific and medical information accessible to public and professional audiences.