As fickle as feline relationships can be, a good first impression goes a long way. Read our guide to find out how to introduce cats and how long it takes before cats get along.
How Long Does It Take For Cats To Get Along?
In general, it can take 8 to 12 months for cats to figure out how they feel about each other. Some cats end up becoming life-long friends and cuddling up together. Most will simply tolerate the other’s presence, but not interact with them too much.
The biggest mistake you can make is to just put all kitties together in the same space from day one. Introducing cats is a process that needs to be handled with caution. A misstep early on may set the tone for problems in the future.
Worst case scenario, your cats never learn to get along and become aggressive towards one another. If you don’t have the space to keep them apart and give them both a relaxed, stress-free life, then it’s probably better to rehome one of them.
Cat Breeds And Personalities
How long it actually takes for two or more cats to fully accept and trust each other depends both on how you handle their introduction and the cats’ personalities. Some cat breeds, like Ragdolls, are very social and will likely approach a new pet with a playful interest. But they are also really big and can be quite intimidating to a smaller, more anxious cat. It takes both of them to make this work, so you see how precarious the situation can be.
Kittens are generally easier to socialize and get accustomed to other pets, because they are still used to having their siblings and mother around them. They also tend to be more naive and may not see any threat in a dog or big cat walking up to them. Always monitor the situation when introducing a small kitten into the family.
How To Introduce Cats
When introducing your cat to a new feline sibling, the first step is to get them used to each other’s scent. You can do this in a non-threatening way through something we call “site swapping”.
Both cats are kept in a separate part of the house where they can’t reach or see each other. They will, however, be able to smell the other cat. Cats have a much stronger sense of smell than we do. So even though they can’t see their new housemate, they know they’re there.
Then, for a few hours every day, swap their places and let them explore the other cat’s territory. If for some reason you’re not able to actually swap the cats themselves, you can also just swap their beds and toys. Anything that has their scent on it will work. If you notice any discomfort in one or both of your cats during the swap, bring them back to their own territories and try again the next day.
How long it takes for either cat to feel comfortable in the other one’s space differs from one cat to the next. It could be hours, days, or weeks. Play with your cats during the site swap and give treats to make it a positive experience for them. Once they are at ease, it is time to start the visual introduction process.
Feeding With A Sight Blocker
Start feeding your cats at either side of a closed door. Place their bowls about 10 feet away from the door. They will be able to smell one another, but not make eye contact. If both cats eat their meals without charging the door or walking away in fear, move the bowls a few inches closer to the door at the next feeding time.
Once you have them both eating right next to the door without acting up, replace the door with either a screen door or a baby gate. Cover it with a blanket or a big piece of cardboard, so the cats can’t see each other. Place their bowls again at about 10 feet from the doorway and let them start their meals.
Raising The Sight Blocker
When they are both eating peacefully, raise the blanket or cardboard two inches off the ground. If neither cat responds, lift it up a bit more. But as soon as one of them starts to growl or tries to charge the other one, bring it back down. Distract them with toys and get their focus back onto the food. Repeat this with every feeding, bringing their bowls closer as you go and raising the sight blocker, until they are comfortably eating side by side with nothing in between.
I know it sounds like an arduous process, but with a bit of patience and a lot of consistency most cats respond to it very well. Once they are comfortable sharing their space while eating, you can let them out in the same room. Observe them closely, until you are sure that they won’t attack each other.
The final step in the introduction process is to integrate the new cat’s territory into your existing family pet’s territory. Bring their cat tree, beds and blankets into your communal living space and find a place for them that is comfortable and safe. By safe I mean that your new cat should always have the opportunity for escape, just in case she gets attacked.
Give your cats a choice between roaming the floor and climbing up high on some shelves or furniture. This gives all of them the opportunity to pick a spot that suits their personality, away from other cats.
Don’t forget to adjust your litter box area(s) to the new situation. More cats also means more litter boxes. Two cats, for example, require at least 3 litter boxes. If you don’t provide enough room for your cats to do their business, you could end up dealing with worse problems than them not getting along.
How To Tell If Cats Are Getting Along
Cats can be difficult to read. So how can you tell if your hard work is paying off? If they are cuddled up together purring their hearts out, you can obviously pat yourself on the back for a job well done. But what if they’re running after each other? Are they playing or is one of your cats getting bullied?
Play Versus Aggression In Cats
Two cats playing can look almost the same as two cats fighting. Both involve them chasing and tussling with each other. To determine which one it is, pay close attention to what they are doing.
If you hear them hissing, growling or even screaming, they are definitely fighting. If one cat is always chasing the other, it is clearly exerting its dominance, which is another sign of trouble.
In play, however, you will see cats taking turns in chasing and being chased. They may swat at each other, bite or even throw down for an actual wrestling match, but they won’t use their claws and avoid really hurting each other. They are simply practicing for when they encounter a real foe.
The body language of each individual cat will also tell you a lot. It could be that a seemingly more aggressive cat just wants to play, but your other cat doesn’t interpret it that way. You can solve a miscommunication like this by playing with your dominant cat and have your timid kitty observe the situation from a safe place. This allows her to get to know her sibling’s body language and see that there’s nothing to be worried about.
Signs Of A Happy Cat
A happy cat’s posture exudes confidence. If your cat shows the following signs, you can be sure that she is feeling as good as can be:
- Ears pointing up and forward
- Blinking softly
- Tail up in the air
- Standing tall, chest out
- Fur laying flat
Signs Of A Scared Cat
When cats are scared or feel threatened, they will do everything to protect their soft spots. If you see your cat take the following stance, she is in full fight-or-flight mode:
- Ears flat, pointing backward
- Eyes wide open and dilated
- Tail down or between back legs
- Hunkered down, close to the ground
- Fur standing up
Will My Cats Ever Get Along?
If your cats still aren’t comfortable with the other’s presence after a year of sharing the same space, chances of them ever getting along aren’t good. In this case, it is best to give them both as much space away from each other as possible. Minimizing their interactions also minimizes the risk of serious territorial disputes arising.
Consider yourself as part of their shared territory. It is easy to overlook one of your cats if she’s tucked away upstairs all day, so be sure to pay everyone a visit during the day. Cuddle with them and let them rub up against you, so that they can mark you with their scent and feel like part of the family.
Whenever you have the opportunity, engage both cats with something positive like play or treats on opposite sides of the room. They can observe each other from a distance and build a more positive connection, without being exposed to any immediate threat.
Having two cats is almost like having two (female) best friends. There’s bound to be some jealousy and tension between them. The best that you can do is show them again and again that neither is a threat to the other, and let their trust grow over time. Don’t get your hopes up by expecting them to fall in love with each other. Aim for them being in one room together peacefully, and anything beyond that will be a great bonus.