A great many cat lovers want more than one cat, but a great many cats would be happier alone. Or so think the cats, when a new pet comes home.
Introducing cats is a delicate operation, with many pitfalls along the way. Some resident cats hide under the bed when a new cat or kitten is introduced. 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 bared.
But most cats will eventually adapt to the change, and for some the addition of a companion is a wonderful idea.
If you don't have a cat yet, and know you'll eventually want two, it's easiest to adopt a pair at the same time. It might be even easier if the kittens or cats are siblings, since they'll already be familiar with one another. But even if you adopt two unrelated cats or kittens (or a cat and a kitten), bringing them into a new home together works well, since neither has established territory in the new environment.
That said, even an established adult will usually learn to accept a new cat or kitten.
Since the worst territorial spats are between cats who aren't spayed or neutered, your chances for peaceful coexistence are many times greater if the cats are both altered before any introductions are planned. You should also take the new cat or kitten to your veterinarian before bringing him home, to be certified free of parasites such as ear mites and contagious diseases such as feline leukemia.
Prepare a room for your new cat, with food and water bowls, toys and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. This separate room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other's existence.
Then, start the introductions by pushing no introduction at all.
Bring the new cat home in a carrier and set it in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged animal on his own, and don't be discouraged by initial hisses. Let your resident cat explore awhile and then put him on the other side of the door and close it. When the new cat is alone with you in the room, open the carrier door. Leave the new cat alone in the room with the door closed.
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.
As the days go by, you can encourage them both to play with you, using a cat "fishing pole" or a toy on a string. If they're willing, feed them in ever-closer proximity, taking your cue from the cats as to how quickly to go.
Some cats will always maintain their own territories within the house -- I've known pairs who happily maintained a one upstairs, one downstairs arrangement for life -- while others will happily share everything from litter boxes to food dishes. Let the cats figure it out, and don't force them to share if they don't want to. Some cats will always need separate litter boxes, scratching posts, bowls and toys -- and providing them is a small investment if it keeps the peace.
Most cats will eventually learn to live together closely. When you see your two sleeping together, playing or grooming each other tenderly, you'll know the effort was worth it. And your cat will too, although he'll never admit you were right.
PETS ON THE WEB
The American Animal Hospital Association has a pet first-aid page (www.healthypet.com/Library/petcare-36.html) that provides a list of emergency symptoms and what to do about them. The site is very clear in stressing that first aid should never take the place of veterinary care, and is meant to help until a pet can be placed in the hands of an expert. It's a good page to read in advance, to familiarize yourself with symptoms and emergency treatment. If your pet is seriously sick or injured, though, don't waste time cruising the Web for information: See your veterinarian right away.
A lot of people won't collar their cats, fearing that the material will become caught while the animal's roaming. One solution is breakaway collars, which offer an elastic panel meant to allow a cat to wriggle free if snagged. The problem with that, in the eyes of some, is that their wandering pets are constantly coming home without the collar, which becomes a bother and expense to replace.
If your cat isn't collared, consider this: Less than 2 percent of all lost cats are ever found, according to the National Council of Pet Population Study and Policy. For a roaming cat, the best insurance policy you can buy is an ID tag and a collar to hang it on. Also consider a microchip ID, which your veterinarian can insert under the skin with little discomfort to your pet.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Your article about getting a puppy "for the kids" was a real heartbreaker. I know it happens (quite often, I fear), as I saw it firsthand with some next-door neighbors we had a few years ago.
Could the problem have been avoided if the family had gotten an easygoing adult dog rather than a puppy? If so, that would be excellent advice for other people (and dogs) in similar situations. -- C.S., via e-mail
A: Yes, you're absolutely right: A well-chosen adult dog can often fit into families that don't really have the expertise or time to raise a puppy right. (If they indeed have the time to care for a dog at all, that is, and that's a mighty big "if.")
Problem is, a lot of parents won't even consider an adult dog, remaining stuck on the image of a puppy for the kids. And that's too bad, because a lot of adult dogs will die waiting for homes that never come, and many of these animals are exactly what these families need -- house-trained, relaxed and well past the chewing and general mayhem stage puppies go through.
Because some adult dogs come with behavioral problems that are too difficult for the average pet lover to fix, I recommend working with shelters or rescue groups when choosing an adult dog. The best of these organizations put their dogs through temperament testing -- and even some training -- before allowing the animals to go up for adoption. And then, they work to match a family's lifestyle with the dog who'll be right for them.
Q: Thank you for your wonderful article about adopting greyhounds. I have adopted retired greys for years, and have my fifth one now. All have been great companions.
One greyhound I had when I lived in Pensacola, Fla., was found in the woods by some hunters. She had been shot (I guess she must have lost a race), but was still alive. She was the best dog, and I was privileged to have her nine years before she died.
Well, enough of my reminiscing -- just wanted to say "thank you" for promoting adoption of my beloved greys. Next time, you might mention that greyhounds make wonderful "therapy pets" for taking to nursing homes, schools for children with special needs, etc., as they generally have such calm personalities. -- J.A., via e-mail
A: Too many racing greyhounds end up the way yours almost did -- with a bullet to the back of the head as a reward for trying their best and falling short. Thank heavens for rescue groups and people willing to adopt these mostly gentle and easygoing dogs.
Greyhound adoption groups are active even in states where racing isn't legal. That's because the organizations are loosely joined by a network of volunteers willing to move the animals from racetracks to areas with large populations of potential adopters.
One way to find a local or regional adoption group is to visit the Web site of the Greyhound Adoption Project (www.adopt-a-greyhound.org), which offers listings of dozens of such organizations. Greyhound Pets of America (www.greyhoundpets.org) also offers a toll-free referral number, (800) 366-1472. You'll also find lots of good information on what these animals are like on the Web pages, to make sure this breed is right for you.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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