The other day, a friend was talking to me about getting a kitten. Her 2-year-old female cat was alone a lot during the day and tended to overeat. Having a playmate would take her mind off food, my friend thought, and a male kitten would probably be the best bet.
Being a conscientious cat person, however, she wanted to make sure that she had considered every angle — introducing the kitten, the right type of food, etc.
As we talked, I remembered when my brothers and I used to corner kittens behind the hay bales at our grandparents’ farm and bring them home. They’d spend maybe a week in the enclosed back porch, then go join the other cats out in the tool shed and eat the same cat chow that the older cats ate.
The feline status quo really has come a long way.
One Can Be the Loneliest Number
Now, of course, there is the occasional cat who really doesn’t get along with his own kind and needs to be “the one and only.” But cats on the whole are much more social than they’ve been given credit for.
“Human companionship is important but does not fully satisfy your cat’s need to romp and communicate with his own species,” writes Carole Wilbourn of The Cat Therapist. “He needs a buddy to stimulate his imagination, make his food more inviting and provide him with endless hours of fun and games.”
If there are no other felines to interact with, your cat can become overly dependent on you. And if you’re away a lot, the result can be one very unhappy cat.
That unhappiness can take many forms: spraying, biting, hyperesthesia, over-grooming and, yes, overeating.
Their anxiety, as Wilbourn realized early in her practice, “was triggered by the frustration of being neglected. The pent-up energy mounted, and there was no constructive way to release it.”
Having a buddy enter the picture gives your cat-in-residence a healthy outlet for that energy.
And, yes, 2 adult cats can become friends. In fact, one such friendship has sprung up between 2 rescues that another friend of mine has taken in. Sixteen-year-old Claudia and 9-year-old Captain Jack groom each other, nap together and clearly enjoy the company.
But kittens are generally much easier to work into your household. An adult cat won’t feel threatened by a little fluffer-nutter — and will even play with him when the mood strikes. Plus, kittens are blithely indifferent to who rules the household.
A Room of One’s Own
Keep the kitten in a separate room for a while. This will give your cat time to get used to the new addition.
Even if there are no other animals in the house, kittens are adept at getting stuck in closets, drawers, boxes, garbage bags…and in the back of washers, as my husband discovered, when my mom’s kitten, Jenna, went AWOL.
About a half-hour and one partially disassembled washer later, he managed to retrieve a tiny red tabby.
Find a spare room, preferably one with some good views. Fix it up with a cat bed, litter box, food and water dishes, and a scratching post. Scatter some paper bags (minus their handles), a crinkly cat tunnel and toys around, and you’ve got Kitten Club Med.
Watch as a cat meets a family’s new kitten:
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Leave the carrier in there, too, and keep it open, advises cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett. “This will help your kitten become comfortable with its presence,” she explains, “and you’ll eventually be able to do some carrier training to help desensitize your kitten to the experience of being in a carrier and also travel itself.”
The amount of time that kittens spend in “sanctuary,” as Johnson-Bennett puts it, will vary.
Magwitch, our snowshoe Siamese, was extremely tiny and stayed in the study a long time for his own safety. Solstice, an older and bigger kitten, carried on so much that she received her own get-out-jail-free card within a few days.
Whose Kitten Is It, Anyway?
He’s your cat’s, silly human. So don’t fuss a lot over the little one — at least not while the Big Guy or Gal is around.
In fact, interfere as little as possible.
“Remember that the newcomer is your cat’s friend, and it’s up to your cat to offer any attention,” Wilbourn cautions. “Your cat must make the fuss, not you. Don’t try to force them together so that they will become friends faster. The pacing is your cat’s choice.”