A Cat Behaviorist's Guide to Introducing Your Cat to Your Partner or New Roommate
Introducing your cat to a partner, or a new roommate, is a big step. While it’s exciting to be moving in with someone new, you must remember that this can also be a stressful time for your cat and you’ll have to ease into the transition.
The most important piece of advice you must remember is to never force your roommate on your cat, or the other way around. Also, don't punish the cat for hissing, growling or any negative behavior displayed. If you want the cat to like your roommate, you have to give the cat a reason to think this is a good addition to her life, and not the reason she is being reprimanded.
Take It Slow
Be sure to tell your roommate not to look directly at the cat or approach her. Your roommate shouldn't reach down to pet the cat. Your cat may interpret this as threatening. Instead, let your cat take the lead! When she is ready, your cat will want to investigate and learn more about your roommate or partner, but you must allow her to set the pace of the interactions.
Be aware of sound sensitivity!
Some cats who have lived only with only one person, or who had previously gotten along with a new roommate may find the difference in footsteps or voice unsettling. Try to help your roommate be aware of how they walk into a room or talk. Cats prefer slower movements and softer/lower voices. It may take some awareness on the part of your roommate in order to ease the cat out of her fear.
Invite them to serve dinner.
Like us humans, one way to get on your cat’s good side is through her belly. Have your roommate be the one who serves the cat some of her meals. This is helpful because your cat will see it happen and the scent of your roommate will be on the dishes! Is your cat nervous or fearful of the new roommate? If so then she probably won’t appreciate having them stand right next to the bowl during mealtime, so once dinner is served, have the roommate step out of the way.
Let your cat sniff her way to comfort.
A useful technique to carefully engage the cat is to have your roommate or partner extend their index finger for the cat to sniff when they are sitting on the couch or floor. It helps if the person is not towering over your cat so doing this sitting down is key here. This is similar to nose to nose sniffing that cats often do when they first greet each other. The cat will either approach closer to sniff or she will back away. If she approaches, then she is making progress in the trust department (hooray!). She may then sniff and back away, which means she isn't ready to take this any further right now. That is OK! In these matters, it is always best to go at the cat’s pace.
Engage them with interactive play therapy.
Interactive play therapy with a fishing pole type toy is an important tool in helping the cat get more comfortable with your roommate or partner. Start by doing interactive play sessions with the cat while the roommate is within sight but still far enough away that the cat is well within her comfort zone. During subsequent sessions, your roommate can inch closer, but make sure they appear focused on something else, such as reading or watching TV. This distracted presence will help your cat get comfortable while seeing that having this new person in the vicinity isn't posing a threat. Another good idea is for your roommate to be holding something and have their eyes on that item. This is non-threatening to a cat. Good examples are a book, laptop, phone or even some knitting!
You want to work up to the point at which you and your roommate can be sitting or standing side by side during the interactive play session. When the cat is getting more comfortable, you can eventually hand the toy off to your roommate. You might even get to the point at which you don't even have to be in the room! Get to this point gradually though, because your presence is a source of security for your cat.
Enlist the help of pheromones.
One trick I often recommend to my cat behavior clients with roommates is to use Comfort Zone spray in an unconventional way! Have your roommate or partner give a spritz of this synthetic pheromone to the bottoms of their pants. You can also spritz the tips of their shoes (or socks if shoeless). The presence of those friendly feline facial pheromones often aids in helping the cat to make positive associations.
If you practice patience and take small steps in introducing your cat to new people in their life, she will eventually come around and develop more of an interest in getting to spend time with them - or at least be comfortable co-existing with them under the same roof! Just remember to go at your cat’s pace and never force interactions in order to achieve the highest chances of social success here!
Looking to introduce your dog to a new roommate or partner? The process can be different with pups, but we have you covered with more information on that in last week’s post!