the house cats

When we first brought Yanni cat home, Odessa, our 11 year old resident housecat growled and hissed and spit. Six months after introducing the two, we would still sometimes find her percolating like a little coffee pot in the corner of the living room, staring daggers.

During those early months, I stressed over Odessa’s grumbles, wondering if I’d upset her beyond repair. And even after Odessa began to tolerate Yanni, I still stressed. I hemmed and hawed. I tapped my feet anxiously. I bit my nails. Those months went something like this. Odessa would bristle. I’d paced and watch her every move anxiously. Odessa would grumble. Yanni would tiptoe in to cuddle Odessa and she would growl. Yanni would snuggle with me instead. And repeat.

Bringing home a new cat is hard work. It’s scary for the resident cat. It’s unfamiliar for the new cat and it’s stressful on you. As a fur-baby parent you only want the best for both cats. Sometimes small tweaks in your behavior can help the transition. We set the stage by first taking the recommended slow steps towards introduction, such as isolation and room swapping. Read more on those steps here. Once we were safely into full-time cohabitation, we still had to help Odessa accept Yanni. Here’s what worked for us:

1 | Take your own anxiety out of the situation

My toe tapping, my tense shoulders, my furrowed brow – I now know that these were all one big mistake. My anxiety prolonged Odessa’s grumpy feelings for Yanni. Odessa remembered my relaxed pre-Yanni demeanor. In her mind Yanni equalled more stress for her human. I realized this when two months into their new life, I left for a prolonged work trip overseas and my husband took over sole care of begrudging Odessa and her unwanted sidekick. Two days after I left, I received an email titled “frienemies.” My husband had snapped a photo Odessa curled up on the couch with a snoozing Yanni by her side. When I disappeared, so did (most of) Odessa’s irritation at Yanni.

Successful introduction of a new cat to your resident cat hinges on tamping down your own anxiety… Click To Tweet

I’m not saying pack your bags and buy a ticket to Paris. Try, though, to tune into your stress. Go for a run. Take a bath or relax with a good book. Find ways during the early months to take care of yourself. Your cats will thank you by relaxing those puffed up tails.

(Above: Odessa and Yanni after they became best buds. )

2 | Play, play and more play

Before Yanni, Odessa wasn’t quite sure how to play. Lasers insulted her intelligence. Occasionally her eyes would follow a feather toy. Getting her to chase a feather, though, was harder than teaching her multiplication tables. Yanni, however, plays with shoelaces, paper, his tail, dust. To keep him purring, we played every morning and every evening. Eventually Odessa mirrored his play. She’d run in place, bolt at the toy, and then run into the bedroom to hide only to dodge back out a few minutes later. We realized this magical side of her appeared only when Yanni was distracted, and so we started to play with them simultaneously but in different corners of the living room.

3 | Don’t interfere with every tussle

Cats resolve their tensions by creating territories within your space. When we lived in our small Brooklyn apartment, Yanni and Odessa had a morning routine. Every morning, Yanni would get out of bed and prance around the hallway outside the bathroom while I’d get ready for work. Every morning, Odessa would also get out of bed, run over and punch Yanni in the nose. In the early days, I would shield Yanni. With every block, Odessa became slightly more offensive. She’d fixate on getting that punch in.

If your cats are showing strong signs of aggression, time away from each other in different rooms might be best. We knew, though, that Odessa’s “punches” weren’t hurting or even scaring Yanni. She was saying, “Move over. The hallway is my territory.” When she’d throw a punch, Yanni would give her space. Once out of the hallway, he’d usually snuggle right up to her. And she’d allowed it. When we stopped interfering, they defined their boundaries.

And so you might ask, how in fact did they transform from tolerating each other to the fearsome twosome, the Classic Cats? As soon as Yanni joined our little family, he thought he was Dr. Watson to Odessa’s Sherlock Holmes, Robin to OD’s Batman, The Sundance Kid to Oddy’s Butch Cassidy. And about halfway through that first year, his fantasy came true.

Yanni might look a bit scared of Odessa in the above photo. It was quite the opposite. Every hero/sidekick duo needs a common enemy. One fateful day, Odessa happily let Yanni sit by her. Just out of the frame sat that resident villain, the vacuum cleaner. It was obviously attempting to run them out of town. Odessa gallantly protected Yanni through it all. We have proof. Check out Odessa’s smile. She loves protecting her baby brother.

And so, we decided to do it again. Enter the true babies, Beaker and Scooter. 

twin cats

Much to our surprise, Odessa accepted the new kittens right away. Just goes to show that each introduction is different.

PS – I am not a licensed veterinarian and am speaking from my experience with my own quirky cats. If your cats are extremely aggressive or behaving strangely, please consult your vet or adoption center for further information on cat integration. Get more basic great cat introduction tips here as well.

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