Choosing a companion for your cat

Cat behaviour explained

Choosing a companion for your cat can be difficult. How do you find a cat that will be a good match for your resident cat? What sort of age should the new cat be? Should the new cat be male or female? Will my resident cat accept a newcomer?

The reason people decide to add another cat to the household varies but often the decisions falls within these categories: Companion for a single cat,  companion for a cat who’s current companion may have passed away or companion to help behavioural issues in a current resident cat.

Cats are not like dogs and don’t require a ‘pack’ or friend to be content in their environment, however, if you are working full time and leaving your cat for long periods a buddy can certainly help to combat boredom and prevent destructive behaviour. Unfortunately, this isn’t guaranteed so you could quite easily end up with double trouble!

Often cats will tolerate each other even if they are not the best of friends and multi-cat households are a very common occurrence. If your current cat is used to having a buddy around then a bereavement can really affect them. They may become very withdrawn and out of character so acquiring a new companion for them may seem like a natural step but proceed with caution.

Sometimes cats can present behavioural problems that might improve with the addition of a buddy. I have personal experience of this being the proud owner of a once very anxious cat. The decision to introduce a companion here needs to be taken even more carefully that the two scenarios we’ve mentioned above. The risk of exacerbating the situation further with the addition of a new cat is high.

In all the above scenarios you need to use your best judgement to determine if your cat will accept a newcomer. Here are some tips that have worked for me when choosing a companion cat.

Age

Just like humans, cats change with age. It is not recommended to add a new kitten to an older cat household as an older cat is likely to be much less tolerant of a new kitten’s rough play. The new kitten will soon grow into a feisty adult, one which could end up dominating your older cat. If your cat is more on the senior side seek out a companion of a similar age for them instead.

A younger cat who still has playful tendencies is much more likely to accept a kitten and will enjoy the extra stimulation that a bouncy new playmate offers. Kittens offer far less of a perceived threat to an adult cat being sexually immature and without social skills.

There are more factors at play here than just age though so read on to find out more.

Temperament

In my experience, this is a key factor in a successful companion introduction. Consider your resident cat’s temperament. If you have a timid cat, she would probably do better with a laid back, calm, mellow cat. A more dominant cat will most likely do better with a self-assured, calmer cat. If you’re fortunate enough to have one of those happy-go-lucky cats who loves everyone, she will probably get along with a cat from either end of the personality spectrum. It’s fairly easy to diagnose what type of cat you currently have from their behavioural traits.

Size

This is a less important factor in my experience but something definitely worth considering. If you cat is a small timid female then adding a large male to the equation might not go down well. It is relatively easy to judge a cat’s potential size (if you are getting a kitten) by looking at both of the parents.

Gender

I would say this is the second most important factor after temperament. The general consensus with cats is that females are more aloof and males are more affectionate (this is certainly my experience of both sexes). Male (neutered) cats are generally believed to be more accepting of other cats, both male and female. Female cats tend to be the dominate gender so sometimes other females may not be tolerated. This is less of a problem when talking about neutered house pets as opposed to breeding queens and studs.

Speaking from experience

This is my experience of introducing a companion cat to my resident female:

At the time Grace was almost three years old and due to her being very anxious around strangers we decided that a companion might help bring her out of her shell. She had come from a multi-cat household where she did not get on with the other females so only a male cat would be suitable. Another adult cat would have presented a significant threat so a kitten was the best option in this case and Grace was still very young and playful.

I spent a long time looking for a male kitten who’s temperament was likely to be relaxed and easy-going. It is hard to tell what a kitten will be like when it matures but often the parents can give a good indication of this. When I visited the kitten for the first time he was one of five brothers so well used to be bossed around. He was playful but not boisterous and after about 20 minutes had fallen asleep on my knee so I knew he was perfect.

When the kitten first arrived home Grace was not at all impressed, she spent the first day sat outside on the patio as far away from the house (without leaving the garden) as possible. She then sulked in the kitchen on top of the fridge and was generally grumpy for about two to three days. Eventually, the kitten came out of his safe room upstairs and began exploring the house. Grace observed from a distance at first but within a week she was comfortable to sit and watch the kitten at ground level. When he got too close she made her feelings clear and that resulted in a clear pecking ordering being established. We reinforced this order by greeting Grace first when we arrived home and feeding her first. Herbie soon grew much larger than Grace and although sometimes he gets a sneaky swipe or pounce in, on the whole, Grace keeps him firmly in his place.

Companion Cat

Grace definitely tolerates Herbie and they certainly don’t snuggle up together or lick each other’s ears (Herbie tries), but the change in Grace’s behaviour was almost immediate. She went from being scared at every little noise and running up to the spare room every time the door bell rang to being the first to welcome new guests, explore new objects and her ongoing over grooming problem stopped completely.

The addition of Herbie to our household completely changed Grace’s personality she became much more content and confident, even bold in some circumstances. Herbie is scared of his own shadow but is very laid back and relaxed which helped a lot in making them good companions.

Regardless of how you choose your new feline companion, introduce the newcomer slowly. Proper introductions will go a long way toward ensuring harmony in your home.

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