Our clients frequently ask what the best way is to introduce a new cat into a home with other cats. Should the cats just be put together in a room? Should a dominant or territorial cat be treated differently?
It is not surprising that introducing a new cat into a household with existing cats is confusing, because so many techniques have been described in popular books and magazines. Most suggestions have been based on the concepts of dominance and territoriality. The common-sense understanding of these terms is that dominance (being no. 1, or top dog or cat) is good and is a highly sought position, and that one of its benefits is holding an exclusive territory. Dominance and territoriality are commonly believed to be the primary basis of social behavior.
Unlike dogs, cats are not obligatorily social, and they can live well outside of feline social groups. Many feral cats hunt and live alone, and many single cats do well living in a household with only one person. Moreover, in contrast to dogs, cats do not have specific dominant and submissive postures.1,2 Cats signal offensive behavior (slow side to side head turning, staring, slow approach), defensive behavior (ears back, hissing, crouch), and various combinations of offensive and defensive behavior (e.g., arched back, tail up, piloerection, and hissing). Defensive behavior is not the same as submissive behavior-it does not signal, "I give up," but more like, "I may be afraid, but if you come closer, I may scratch and bite."