How to Introduce a New Kitten to an Older Cat

Kitten climbing on adult cat head
Kittens are very playful but your older cat may not appreciate their energy. junku / Getty Images

Many cat owners do not realize their friendly, single adult cats may have trouble getting along with a new kitten. A new kitten is typically eager to make friends but the older cats in the household want nothing to do with them. Often times the older cats will appear sad, reclusive, hiss a lot and sometimes even stop eating if they aren’t adjusting well to the new member of the family. These behaviors are because cats do not like change, especially when it involves their established territory.

Introducing a kitten to an adult cat can cause a lot of stress in your household, but there are some things you can do to help make the introduction go more smoothly.

Preparing for a New Kitten

Preparation is the key to a successful introduction of a new kitten to your older cat. If you prepare your cat for the new arrival and make the changes seem less drastic, then they are more likely to adapt to their new roommate.

  • Pheromones are useful for creating a calm environment for any cat and the weeks before the arrival of a new kitten is a great time to make use of them. Diffusers, sprays and wipes are all available and help your cat feel relaxed without the use of drugs. Try using pheromones for at least a few weeks before bringing home a kitten.
  • If you suspect your older cat will become stressed and anxious with a new kitten, consider nutritional supplements that are designed to calm a cat. These won’t drug your pet but will help them remain calm and relaxed. They typically work best if given a few weeks prior to the anticipated stressful event and can be continued after the new kitten arrives. The ingredients usually include L-theanine, phellodendron, magnolia, whey or milk proteins and other natural ingredients shown to be safe and effective for pets.
  • New items for your kitten, such as food bowls, beds, another litter box and toys should be placed in and around your home before the kitten comes home. Start putting these items in their new places about a week before the new arrival so your cat can smell them and get used to all the new things. If you can, try to include items that have the scent of the kitten on them already.
  • Make sure you are ready for the kitten. If you are stressed out and unprepared, your older cat will be able to tell and be negatively affected by it. Buy the kitten food and other supplies before you discover you are completely unprepared for another cat.
  • Designate a small room, such as a bathroom, for your new kitten to retreat to and spend the first week or so in. Your older cat should be able to get to the door of this room in order to hear and smell them, but not have any interaction with them. Place the kitten’s belongings in this room (litter box, food bowls, etc.) along with a toy that belongs to your older cat.
  • Make sure your older cat is healthy. Added stress to an unhealthy cat will only make things worse and you want your cat not only mentally prepared for a new kitten, but also physically ready to handle it. Take your cat in for a check-up with your vet to make sure they are healthy and that their vaccinations are current. Respiratory diseases are common in kittens and you’ll want your older cat’s immune system to be ready to tackle anything that comes their way. If scratching or biting occurs between the cat and kitten, you’ll also want the rabies vaccine up to date to avoid any problems.

    Introducing Your Cat to a New Kitten

    Now that the time has arrived to bring your new kitten home to meet your cat, remember to be patient. While an older cat will occasionally take to a new kitten right away, they typically need a little time to adjust to the changes. Sometimes cats never fully accept a new kitten but will simply co-exist, keeping to themselves away from the other cat in the house. You’ll want to make sure that no matter how your cat feels about the new kitten, that things stay peaceful and you have the best chance at creating a budding friendship from the start.

    • When you bring your kitten home, allow your cat to sniff them while the kitten is in their carrier or your arms. Go directly to the room previously designated and set up for your new kitten and allow the kitten to explore. Their litter box, food bowls, bed and some toys should all be easily accessible. Do not let your older cat have unsupervised access to the kitten. At night and when you are not home and unable to supervise the kitten and your older cat, keep the kitten in their designated room with the door closed. As your cat gets curious, they may stick their paw under the door, sniff under the door and listen to the kitten. Do this for about a week, depending on how your cat is acting with the changes. Don’t forget to provide a lot of attention to your older cat after playing with your kitten. They’ll need your attention and support and the scent of the kitten on your clothing will help them get used to the newcomer.
    • After about a week, let your kitten explore the house under your watchful eye. Allow your older cat to observe this exploration and retreat if they want to. Do not force an interaction between your cat and kitten. If your cat has a favorite interactive toy, like a feather wand or laser pointer, try playing with both cats at the same time. This will encourage a mutual activity. You can also give them both treats at the same time and feed them at the same time from separate bowls. Be sure to leave enough space between the food bowls so your older cat does not feel threatened.
    • Encourage any positive interactions your older cat has with the kitten using praise, treats and physical affection. You want your cat to associate the kitten with happy, positive things.

    Allow Your Cat to Establish a Hierarchy

    Cats need to have order and a new member in their home must know where they rank. Your older cat may have a period of time when they try to establish a hierarchy with the new kitten. They may hiss and swat at the kitten when they do something your older cat does not want them to do. This is completely normal and as long as they are just hissing and swatting, do your best to not interfere. Your older cat is establishing their role as the dominant cat in the household and the kitten is being taught where their boundaries as the new cat are.