The story of the jealous older child and the brand-new baby is an old standby at family reunions. My own mother loves to tell a version starring my 16-month-old self as the resentful toddler biting my brand-new baby sister’s toe. So when my husband and I recently decided to grow our family beyond the trio of me, him, and Ghost Cat, I knew this unfortunate bit of family history wasn’t something I wanted to repeat.
Whether you’re dealing with cats or kids, no one wants their oldest to feel like they’ve been replaced. Here’s how we kept our first cat happy after adopting a new kitten.
You can’t throw cats together and expect them to fall in love. Getting our little baby Specter was my husband’s idea. I think he wanted a cat of his own since Ghost Cat is so clearly bonded to me. I did want my husband to have his own cat, but I also went into this adoption hoping that Ghosty would connect with a baby cat in a way that she never did with grown kitties.
Of course, we had a backup plan (and separate bedrooms) just in case they didn’t click, but in my heart of hearts I wanted this kitten to become Ghost Cat’s best friend. Before we brought Specter home, I spoke with cat people who had experience adding to their kitty family, and I’d also read up on best practices for old cat/new kitten cohabitation. Everyone I talked to and everything I read said to integrate the kitten slowly. We kept the cats in different rooms for a few days (still pretty hasty by some standards). At first we staged short meet and greets, and by the end of week one they both had free range of the common rooms (under our supervision) for parts of the day.
Every cat needs a room of her own (at first). We had Specter’s sanctuary room ready the night we brought her home, and that remained her special place during the first couple weeks of separations and timeouts. As much as Ghost Cat wanted get in there and see what was going on with Specter, we couldn’t allow it, for both their sakes.
Later on, we started letting Specter out into common areas more, but her initial kitten excitement was obviously getting on Ghost Cat’s nerves. We decided we should give Ghost Cat her own place where the little one wasn’t allowed to go. Since Ghosty loves to spend time in our sunroom, we designated that her special spot, a kitten-free zone full of backyard sights and smells. As the weeks passed and their relationship deepened, Ghost Cat started crying at the door until we would let the kitten go out and join her in the sun. She was inviting Specter into her special space, and we knew a friendship was forming.
Getting a kitten is no excuse to ignore your older cat (obviously). As I mentioned, Ghost Cat and I have a bond like super glue, so despite Specter’s undeniable cuteness, I made sure to schedule quality time for Ghost Cat cuddles. In Specter’s first couple weeks of living-room time, she was most often found on my husband, as I wanted to keep my lap open for Ghosty. Still, there were a couple times in those early days when I had the little one on my lap and looked up to see Ghost Cat staring at me. My husband was quick to take back the baby cat so that I could baby Ghost for a while.
Quality time isn’t just about cuddles, either. I think the cuteness of a kitten can encourage cat owners to be more playful, but I’ve tried to be mindful of the fact that my older cat needs to chase the string, too. At the beginning, Ghost Cat would retreat to the sidelines if my husband or I tried to play with the kitten. We had to make sure we took the time to engage Ghost Cat in play, away from the kitten. We bought a new laser. Eventually, the two kitties began to encroach on each other’s play sessions until they were both chasing the same toys — and then each other.
Cats are pretty upfront about how they are feeling, especially if they’re feeling pissed off. During the introduction of a new kitten, I think it’s best to keep a close eye on things, and be mindful of how your older cat is feeling.
When we first started bringing the kitten out into common spaces, Ghost Cat didn’t take it so well. We have this one cabinet in our kitchen that is missing a door, and Ghost Cat kept going in there and hiding between the crock pot and the George Foreman grill. It was very sad. I knew I had to try harder to cheer her up, and maybe keep the kitten away for a while.
Another super obvious signal was a swat at the kitten. The first time Specter ever tried to suckle on Ghost Cat, that fluffy, little baby got a swipe right to the face. Nowadays, Ghost Cat is totally content to let Specter pretend to breastfeed all the time, but five weeks ago she wasn’t about to lie down for some strange kitten she had just met.
I tried my best to foster a relationship between Ghost Cat and Specter, and I’m pretty sure it paid off. I spent a lot of time in those first few weeks giving Ghosty extra treats and singing her songs about how she is still my No. 1 cat. Ghost Cat is now very nurturing (did I mention she’s breastfeeding this kitten?), and she’s acting more like a mother than a jealous sibling. I’m happy, but think my husband is a little bummed.
"Now you have a cat, and Ghost Cat has a cat, and I still don’t have a cat," he said, while we watched Ghosty groom Specter for the second consecutive hour. I think he’s underestimating little Specter, though. She has enough love for her favorite human (definitely my husband) and for her Ghost Cat.
Have you ever adopted a kitten who ended up being adopted by your cat? How did you make sure your cat saw the kitten as a friend and not a replacement? Share your stories in the comments!
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About the author: Heather Marcoux is Ghost Cat’s mom. She is also a wife, writer and former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts GIFs of her cat on Google +.