There are lots of articles online already about how to introduce your newly adopted cat or kitten to your current cats or dogs… but most of them, including the ones we’ve written (see them here) start out with something along the lines of: “Put the new cat/kitten in a separate isolation room.” While this very sound advice, as it allows your new cat to get adjusted to your home before trying to acclimate to other pets, what if you live in a studio apartment or loft? With a bathroom so tiny or dark or hot you can’t possibly keep a cat shut up in there for a week or two? Also, many times that is the location of your current cat’s litter box, and suddenly cutting of his access while at the same time introducing a new cat could really raise his stress levels, which could cause a variety of problems. All which can likely be avoided if you use the crate method!
What’s the crate method? The crate method using an extra large dog crate to create a tiny room within your room, when you don’t have another good isolation room you can use.
Important: Since the crate method is not isolating your new cat completely, make sure to talk to your vet about any preventative health care you should take with your current pets, before bringing your new cat home.
What is a crate? A crate is a large pet-safe enclosure, also called a pet carrier or kennel. There are three common styles of crates: fabric, wire bars or molded plastic.
What size of crate? If you already own a cat, you probably have a plastic cat carrier crate already. That will be much too small to use as an introduction crate. To use the crate method of cat introduction, you will need a crate big enough to fit a litter pan through the door, and room enough with the litter pan inside for your cat to sleep and eat. Generally at least twice as big as the litter box is a good rule of thumb. For example, a 36″ long by 23″ wide by 25″ high crate would be a nice size for a cat introduction crate.
What style of crate? If you will be using the crate for a baby kitten (under 4 pounds), we suggest the plastic style, i.e. an airline dog crate. The openings are smaller and there is less chance your kitten will be able to squeeze through the bars or try and get stuck. Still, check for openings where a paw or tail could get stuck, and securely block those with duct tape. If you are using the crate for an older kitten or adult cat (over 4 pounds), you can also use a wire style. Do not use the fabric style, cats can claw right though them.
How much do they cost? As of the writing of this article, you can get a brand new wire crate the size recommended above for $86 at the big pet supply store chains. You can find used less-expensive crates and kennels on Craigslist, thrift stores, and yard sales.
Create a moat! You will also need to set up a 2nd barrier around the crate, to creat a “moat” around your crate castle so your current pets can’t go right up to the crate. Some great ways we’ve seen studio dwellers do this include: putting the crate up against a wall, and making a waist-high U-shape cardboard wall taped with blue painter’s tape to dining chairs on the inside of the wall; putting the crate in the kitchen with a tall baby gate across the doorway and filling/blocking the pass through with a suitcase to prevent their cat from jumping into the kitchen; putting the crate on their dining room table, pushing in all the chairs, and blocking the remaining tabletop with empty plastic water jugs so their cat couldn’t jump on the table. You get the idea, you just need to be creative! The moat will also help you when you’re cleaning and feeding your kitty in the crate, in case they slip past you, you have a barrier to prevent total escape.
Visually block. If the crate is in an area like on the table or behind a baby cat that can be seen through, you’ll want to block the cats from seeing each other. Cover the baby gate with a towel, or cover the exposed side of crate with a very light weight sheet or gauzy fabric. You of course want to make sure the cat inside the crate will remain at a comfortable temperature with plenty of air. You can also lean flattened cardboard boxes up against the sides of the crate at an angle for plenty of airflow.
Once you’ve set up your crate and moat, you can then follow all the same advice for introducing your cats to your other pets. You can find our articles on bringing your new cat or kitten home and introducing him or her to your other pets linked towards the bottom of the articles list at http://www.adoptapet.com/blog/adopting-a-cat/