Helping two cats go from strangers to friends

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Living with another cat owner can range from a heaven of companionable kitties, free pet sitting services, and purrs, to a hellscape of stinky litter boxes, constant yowling, and scratches. Where you end up depends on what sort of actions you and your potential roommate take in the very beginning of the relationship.

Evaluate your potential roommate's pet ownership style

If they allow it, visit prospective roommate's pet in their own home before cohabitating. This will give you an idea of both the personality of the cat and the conditions in which the cat lives. Walking into an ammonia filled room with a growling cat crouched in the corner and shredded curtains hanging in the windows does not bode well for future relationships. This can be a quick and easy way to eliminate anyone you and your own cat will have trouble living with.

You should also inquire about vaccinations. Any responsible pet owner will have their cat caught up on both their rabies shots and the kitty combo, a yearly concoction that prevents rhinotracheitis, calcivirus, and panleukopenia. A history of regular veterinary visits will also ensure that their cat is free of intestinal parasites, or anything else that could infect your cat or infest your home.

Communicate!

Before another person and their pet moves in, ask lots of questions.

  • Are you comfortable watching each other's pets for days, weekends, or longer trips? Is it okay to trade off this service?
  • Is one roommate gone so much that the other will be the primary caretaker of both cats?
  • Where should the litter boxes be kept and how often should they be cleaned?
  • What surfaces are cats allowed on? Is everything okay, or are tables and counter tops off limits?
  • Do either of you use spray bottles or some other type of discipline? Is it okay to discipline each other's pets?

The "Cat Demilitarized Zone"

Once all the two-legged beings are in agreement, it's time to move on to the four-legged ones. The best way to integrate two cats is through what I like to call the "cat demilitarized zone." This means that you set up territories for each cat. For example, the cat that was already living in the apartment continues to do so, but the newly occupied bedroom becomes the sole territory of the new cat. Keep the door shut for about a week. This will allow the new cat to become comfortable in her own environment, as well as train the existing cat to recognize that that area is no longer her domain. Allow the two cats to sniff each other under the door during this time so they can get used to each other's presence.

If you wind up in a situation where the cat needs to travel from the bedroom to the bathroom to use the litter box, for example, you can also purchase a cheap folding screen and use that as the door, so long as neither kitty is too determined to get past it.

Take things slow

After the one week adjustment period, it's time to start slowly introducing the cats to each other. Make sure both owners are present to comfort their own pet. Do slow introductions, opening the door when they are sniffing around and letting the cats interact naturally. There will likely be some growling, swatting, and other territorial or fear based behaviors – this is totally natural. Keep the interactions short until they appear to get more comfortable with each other. This step should take 1-2 weeks, depending on the individual personalities of the animals.

By working together to gradually lengthen your cats' time together, they should become used to each other, and eventually even friends who can share all the same spaces. It is important, however, that each cat retain a personal safe space (i.e. each roommate's own bedroom). This allows them to have some quiet time and their own territory to retreat to (just like humans!).

Finally – Cat friends forever

Following all of these steps is the best way to ensure that you end up in cat roommate heaven. However, just like in any other roommate situation, this is not guaranteed. If you have a particularly defensive kitty, like I do, she may never learn to get along with other cats. This means you should ideally try to avoid living with another cat owner. If you discover this after signing a lease, keep the cats separated until you can move out. However, most cats can learn to get along with other cats, and if done properly, you can end up in a situation that is purrfect for everyone involved.

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