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House cat does need playmate
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I have a two year old neutered male cat. He is very lively and energetic, as well as affectionate and friendly to everyone. However, he is home by himself all day, and we are concerned that he is too dependent on us. When we are home he is usually in the same room with one of us at all times and follows us wherever we go. Sometimes he is more aggressive in his search for our attention and initiates games, climbs on our laps, or plants himself in the middle of whatever we are working on. We are considering getting a kitten so he will have a playmate while we're gone. Does it seem that our cat needs a companion? If so, how can we acclimate him toward the presence of a kitten without making him afraid of or resentful toward the newcomer? We are worried because he has exhibited fear of other animals in the past (although he lived with a large dog for several months). Thank you. C.D., Dover
Dear C.D., Getting your cat a playmate sounds like a wonderful idea. He is energetic, loves to play, and it will likely ease his over dependence on you. You probably won't need to worry about his fear of other animals. While the sight of an adult animal may be intimidating to him, it is very unlikely that a smaller, less mobile and less coordinated kitten will evoke this response. When you get a kitten (6-7 week old), bring it home and put it in a room with a litter pan. Make sure the sides of the pan are low enough that he can easily climb in. Close the kitten in the room and go get your cat, if he has not already followed you into the room out of curiosity. If you restrain him (sitting on the floor with him, holding him, petting him, all at a distance from the kitten), his curiosity with the new object will overcome him and he'll probably want nothing more than to get away from you to check out the new creature, especially if you or your mate (whichever of you he favors) is involved with the kitten. This is exactly what you want. When he's struggling with you, let him go. If you just put him in the room, or try to force him to interact with the kitten, his uncertainty of the situation might make him a bit reluctant. With this bit of restraint, you can build up his confidence and certainty in wanting to get to know this potential plaything. Let them get acquainted for a minute or two, then play with them at the same time with different objects (feathers, string, etc.). Periodically, give them a treat. And while your cat is still enjoying the company of the kitten and the encounter in general, remove him from the room. By giving him a positive initial experience and then removing it from him, it will leave him wanting more. From there you can gradually increase the length and frequency of exposures over the course of 3-4 days. Begin these encounters with restraint/petting of both cats for about 1 minute, and with each encounter, decrease the initial distance between the two. Introduce new objects (paper bags, boxes, etc.) that they can both explore. When the two are not together, avoid play and limit the attention/affection you give your cat. The contrast this creates will make kitten time all that more enjoyable. When selecting a kitten, look for one that is just moderately active. Avoid the most active ones, as they can become too bothersome to an older cat who has grown accustomed to life at a slower/less active pace.