If there's one thing for sure about cats, it's that they don't like change. Some hide under the bed. Some stop using the litter box. Efforts to soothe others may be greeted with a hiss or a growl, or even a swipe with claws
While these are all normal feline reactions to stress, the bad habits cats may develop while coming to terms with something new could become a permanent part of their routine. Which is why, for your cat's sake and your own, you need to remember one word when introducing any change to your cat.
That word? "Slowly."
Introducing a second cat to the household is one time when patience is never more important.
Despite your pet's initial misgivings, adding a companion can be a wonderful idea, especially for an indoor cat. More cats today spend their lives inside, protected from deadly hazards such as cars and contagious diseases. There are trade-offs, though: An outdoor cat's life may be shorter, but it is filled with smells and sounds and other animals. We must make up some of the difference, enriching the lives of our indoor cats.
Cat trees, screened porches, edible indoor greenery and a wide variety of toys are important, but so, too, is a playmate. For pets who spend hours alone while their owners are at work, another cat can fill that lonely time.
If you don't have a cat yet, and know you'll eventually want two, it's easiest to adopt two kittens at the same time, preferably from the same litter. Kittens don't have the sense of territory grown cats have and will settle down together nicely.
But even a solitary adult cat can learn to enjoy living with a companion. Since the worst territorial spats -- complete with urine marking -- are between cats who aren't spayed or neutered, your chances for peaceful co-existence are many times greater if the cats are both altered before any introductions are attempted.
Prepare a room for your new cat, with food and water bowls, and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. (Separate gear may be a temporary arrangement, or it may be lifelong; it all depends on the cats involved.) This separate room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other.
Take your new cat to your veterinarian first, to be checked for parasites such as ear mites and contagious diseases such as feline leukemia. When you're sure your new pet is healthy, the introductions can begin.
Bring the cat home in a carrier and set it in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged animal, and don't be discouraged by initial hisses. Let your old cat explore, and when the new cat is alone in the room, close the door and open the carrier. If he doesn't want to leave the carrier at first, let him be. Leave the carrier door open and the cat alone to take things at his own pace.
Maintain each cat separately for a week or so -- with lots of love and play for both -- and then on a day when you're around to observe, leave the door to the new cat's room open. Don't force them together. Territory negotiations between cats can be drawn-out and delicate, and you must let them work it out on their own, ignoring the hisses and glares.
Eventually you can encourage them both to play with you, using a cat "fishing pole" or a toy on a string. And slowly -- there's that word again -- feed them in ever-closer proximity.
Most cats -- but not all -- will eventually learn to co-exist happily. When you see your two sleeping together, playing or grooming each other tenderly, you'll know the effort was worth it.
CYBERLINKS: The best Web site for cat-lovers is the Cat Fanciers home page (http://www.fanciers.com), a superb resource with hundreds of documents on breeds, health and behavior, as well as links to many other sites. The newsgroup rec.pets.cats.health(plus)behav is available for the discussion of health and behavior topics. And when you're through with all that serious Net surfing, visit The Amazing Cat Picture Page (http://www.islandnet.com/(tilde)jensal/cats.html) to see some fabulous felines.
Gina Spadafori, the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," is affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international on-line service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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