Before You Give Your Cat a Sibling, Read Our Tips Straight From 2 Veterinarians

OK, I'll admit it. I "baby talk" to my cat. I've been doing it since she was a kitten, and I'm not ever going to stop, because even though the veterinarian considers her a senior cat, she will always be my fur baby. As most cats do, she likes to pretend she doesn't care about the love and affection I smother her with. But I see right through it, especially because of how she reacted when I brought home a new kitten one day. What was supposed to be a laid-back weekend of cat-sitting for my neighbor turned into an ongoing therapy session with my jealous, clingier-than-usual cat. I can't imagine how I (or my cat) would've handled it if the new kitten was there to stay. If you're about to introduce a new kitten to your cat, don't make the same mistake I did — plan ahead with these tips, taken straight from two veterinarians.

1. Take it slow

Cats are incredibly territorial creatures, so chances are your cat believes they own your home. This means that a new kitten will feel like an intruder rather than a welcome addition to the family. The best way to let your cat become acclimated to the new kitten is to introduce them gradually. "It is crucial that you exhibit patience," Stacy Hunvald, DVM, advised. "Cats tend to operate on their own time frames and don't often respond well to pushiness." Keep the two cats separated at first; then after a couple days, give each of them an item with the other cat's scent on it, such as a towel or blanket. Once they become familiar with each other's scents, you can increase their level of interaction.

2. Don't let them share a food bowl or eating spot

Classified as solitary hunters, cats thrive in familiar physical and social environments. Any small changes that you make to your cat's daily routine are much more significant than you think. If these changes are specifically caused by the presence of a new kitten, don't be surprised if behavioral issues like anxiety and jealousy arise. Ilona Rodan, DVM, said that maintaining any form of normalcy, especially surrounding food, goes a long way in new kitten situations, so don't move their bowl to a new place, and don't let the new kitten eat from it either. "Litter boxes, food, and water stations that are placed in different locations so that individual cats don't need to see each other reduces competition for resources, bullying, and stress," Dr. Rodan said. But if mealtime still remains a cause of tension between your cat and the new kitten, letting your cat eat before the new kitten can be helpful too.

3. Reward your cat when they are around the new kitten.

To help your cat adjust to sharing their territory, reward them with treats and praise every time they behave themselves around the new kitten. "Positive reinforcement may include tossing a few yummy treats their way — low to the ground as to not inadvertently hit or startle her — or placing a bit of catnip in the area for her to sniff and explore," Dr. Hunvald says. It won't be long before positive or neutral interactions with the new kitten will become second nature to your cat.

Unsplash | James Johnson / Mikhail Vasilyev

4. Make sure both cats have a "safe space" to escape to

Just like two roommates in a shared apartment are able to retreat to their own bedrooms, cats in a multipet home require a sufficient amount of personal space in order to feel at ease. "Just because cats come together for feeding or to sleep on the same bed, it doesn't mean that they like each other or that stress isn't occurring in the feline household, Dr. Rodan explained. "In many households, cats come together because the primary resources are placed in one location." This is especially important to remember when you bring home a new kitten. "Prior to bringing home the new cat, set up a separate room so that the new cat can have its own safe space with all resources," Dr. Rodan recommended. "This is an important coping strategy for a cat."

5. Set aside time to give your cat undivided attention

The best way to curb jealousy toward a new kitten is to set aside some extra time to give your cat your undivided attention. Though your cat might be feeling betrayed by your decision to bring a new kitten into their once comfortable home, a little one-on-one time will provide them with the assurance that they won't have to worry about competing for your attention. "Over time, the trust this builds will be much more likely to draw her to you and allow you to build a closer relationship," Dr. Hunvald explained.

It's no secret that cats are emotionally intelligent, and most cat owners swear they're natural empaths too. With that comes jealousy, anxiety, and clinginess, so be prepared if you're considering giving your cat a sibling. But no matter the situation, "do not give up on your skittish kitty," Dr. Hunwald emphasized. A little patience and careful planning is all it takes to cultivate a happy household with double the love (and double the cat hair).