Zipper and Zoom: Cat Politics

May 1, 2020 at 8:20 pm (Cat pics)

As a rule, young animals are flexible in their friendships. A dog and kitten will probably end up best friends (if the dog isn’t too big and stompy). But personality and socialising both matter a great deal.

Zipper was rescued from a campsite, and she’s a little wilder than the average cat. She’s also extremely cautious by nature, and not easily bored—so she’s not entranced with the idea of a new kitten. However, she’s only two years old and when she was about nine months old we actually did have another cat in the household—our tenant’s cat, Maisie. They each had their own space, and Maisie would visit us via a cat door. Both were very jumpy, but it was clear they were approaching friendship.

I really hope Zipper and Zoom become friends. Indah and Ana never did, but Indah was old before Ana arrived. Can you imagine how cute they’d be, curled up together? That’s the dream for the two-cat household, and I’ve never achieved it.

Here is how to introduce a cat to another in a way that gives friendship a chance.

1. Prepare separate spaces for them, including separate food, litter, and water. I originally kept Zoom in our ensuite so there was a whole room between her and Zipper (only when I wasn’t in the room to keep an eye on her).

2. Give each cat items that smell of the other cat.

3. Make sure you treat the older cat as respectfully and affectionately as usual… and be prepared to take things very slowly. There may be weeks or months of careful supervision ahead.

4. When the cats show curiosity about each other, let them see each other through a window or other barrier.

It’s very hard to wait when emotions and fluffy love are so overwhelming.

Zipper usually spends her days in her box in the living room; she spent Zoom’s first day at the opposite end of the house. She didn’t even get close enough to sniff under the master bedroom door (although she very cautiously ventured almost to the door, once).

Zoom was busy exploring, playing, and sleeping. She seems perfectly content to stay in my room, except she sometimes meows if we leave her alone while she’s awake—and if she sees the rest of the house she wants to explore it fully.

Yesterday evening (the end of Zoom’s first full day), Zipper began sniffing around the master bedroom a bit more. After the kids were in bed both cats were sleepy (a good time to begin operations, since they wouldn’t automatically attack everything in sight—and obviously kids are overstimulating and too enthusiastic/impatient for such a delicate operation). I put Zoom back in her carrier and placed it in the middle of the living room.

Zoom immediately wanted to get out and look around; Zipper wanted to run away but settled for staring at Zoom from behind the couch. It was clear Zipper wasn’t going to come closer, so I took Zoom out of the carrier and held her from the loose skin at the back of her neck. It looks extremely uncomfortable (see the pic below!) but it doesn’t hurt young kittens at all. It’s how their mothers carry them around, and it causes them to reflexively go limp and curl up. I figured it might make her even less threatening.

So here they are, looking terrified:

Fortunately, Zoom is quite content to stay in her room or to come out (in my arms). She was never going to be the one struggling to adapt.

The door to the master bedroom is stiff, and the kids are in and out (mostly in) all day. This morning TJ wasn’t able to close it well enough, and to my surprise Zipper ventured inside. I immediately put Zoom on my lap (secure) and let them look at each other. Neither was interested in getting closer, so I tried sitting on the floor with Zoom (in order to be at Zipper’s height—cats always feel safer when they’re higher up). Zipper fled into the front entrance, but stayed and watched the terrifying Zoom for a little longer before going away.

We closed the door again, and let them each recover. There were several similar ‘meetings’ (at least a metre apart) throughout the day, including another foray from Zipper into the master bedroom.

You’ll notice this whole process is mainly about placating Zipper. As the older cat, she deserves respect—and she needs time to get used to having another cat around. Obviously a cat with a feisty personality would be much more threatening and dangerous to a teensy kitten… but at the same time, cats play fight with startling intensity at times. If they don’t draw blood or hiss at one another, it’s a friendly fight and/or a way for them to establish who is the boss. In their own way, cats are just as status-focused as dogs.

Some guides recommend feeding the two cats together during early visits, in order to associate each other with happy times. I think there’s a slight risk that they’ll steal each other’s food which might or might not be advantageous in the long term (maybe the older cat would be so pleased at the chance to steal the kitten’s food that it didn’t mind the kitten being there).

5. When the cats willingly approach one another and sniff each other without snarling or hissing (on Zipper’s part) then I will release Zoom and start letting them interact directly. There will probably be some hissing and snarling then, and they will need to be extremely well supervised for a long time.

6. If they start grooming one another, they are becoming friends and supervision can gradually get more distant (eg on the couch instead of arm’s length, then in the next room but still listening closely, then generally about the house, and finally if they’re really getting on it’s fine to let them roam freely even if there are no humans present—although starting with short periods of an hour or two is important in case they are only kept in check by the possibility of human intervention).

 

Here is a gorgeous video about the very smooth and successful process of gently introducing a bengal kitten to a mother and daughter (also bengals).

The terrifying Zoom.

 

TJ took that pic of Zoom and I.

I was able to buy more kitty litter today, plus some ‘wet’ kitten food (ie not dry food), although the brand she was eating before I met her wasn’t available. Unfortunately she hasn’t eaten any of the new food, and has continued to show signs of gut adaptation problems. It’s probably no big deal, but that’s my biggest worry at the moment. The last time she threw up was around 3am, but she was ‘scooting’ her bottom on the carpet last night, and again just now (it’s probably itchy or sore… I learned about anal glands last night, but hopefully that’s not the issue). She didn’t eat any of the new food, which might just be because her tummy is still upset from trying dry food yesterday (I’ve taken the dry food away but left her water). She’s not lethargic or generally unhappy.

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