Living with Cats of Different Ages | Catzio

Living with Cats of Different Ages

Table of Contents

  1. Is a Kitten Good for an Older Cat? 
  2. How to Introduce a Kitten to an Adult Cat
  3. Why Does my Younger Cat attack my older cat?
  4. Will my kitten ever stop attacking my older cat?
  5. Keeping Senior cats happy with kitten roommates
  6. how do you deal with a territorial cat?
  7. cats fighting over litter boxes
  8. the importance of spaying and neutering in multi-cat homes

It's natural to want a kitten companion for your adult cats after a while. Over time, your only-cat might get tired of playing alone, especially if they usually have high energy levels. Still, introducing a new cat, especially a younger one, requires a lot of foresight to prevent unnecessary conflict, stress, and sickness.

How to live with two cats (or more) of different ages? Some of the most critical things to keep in mind when raising multiple cats of varying age groups in the same household are: a gradual, calm introduction period, multiple litter boxes, stress mitigation, and spaying/neutering. Managing all these factors will ensure your home stays peaceful.

Admittedly, this is a lot to keep track of, especially if you have more than two cats. Yet, with proper planning and patience, the responsibility is much easier to manage. Here are some of the most critical points to consider if you're planning on welcoming a younger cat into your home.

Is a Kitten Good for an Older Cat?

When adopting a kitten for the first time, many people tend to get stuck on whether they should adopt cats of the same ages or mix things up a bit with the adopted kitties' ages. On the one hand, it is generally a good idea to get your cat a companion of the same age range. This is because they can match each other's energy levels well and keep up with one another during rough-and-rumble play.

On the other hand, who says adult cats can't match a kitten's high energy levels? After all, some older kitties still bounce off the walls even as they age. For some, their bodies simply can't keep up with their young, vibrant spirit. Some adult cats appreciate the partner-in-crime youngster. Others naturally fall into a nurturing, caretaker role, taking the new kitten under their wing (or paw).

So, in this sense, a kitten certainly can be right for an older cat. However, this requires that you know your older cat very well. Otherwise, you risk introducing social conflicts into the household. Such problems could arise mainly from your older cat that has already established itself in your home.

If it's been the only cat in the house for quite some time, be aware that a newcomer could be seen as an intruder. This could be especially problematic when introducing a kitten. The youngsters have not yet had the life experience to respect other cats' boundaries as they should, which can lead to some serious troubles. If you're considering adding a new kitten to your family, consider the guidelines below for a safe introduction.

How to Introduce a Kitten to an Adult Cat

The key to introducing new cats to one another – no matter the age difference – is patience. The last thing you want to do is rush your pets along to love each other and be best friends when they're not even familiar with one another's scent yet. Since cats are territorial and solitary, they are generally quite hostile to strangers, especially those that enter their home unannounced.

For this reason, you must know both cats very well before attempting to introduce them to one another. Ask yourself a few questions before jumping into any social visits:

  • For your cat at home: Although it's lived alone for a while, does it have social inclinations? Would your cat benefit from some company and welcome it?

  • For the new kitty: Have you seen it interact with others in its litter or the shelter? Can it handle your cat at home based on your observations?

If you can confidently state that neither cat will react in an aggressive or excessively fearful manner when faced with the new feline based on your observations and your one-on-one time spent with both of them, then you might be ready for an introduction. Here are a few tips to make sure the encounter proceeds smoothly:

  • Introduce your cats slowly over an extended period (you may need to take a few days or weeks, depending on how the cats adjust).

  • Help them get familiar with each other's scents by swapping blankets, toys, and other things they make regular contact with.

  • If you can't trade items between them, the next best thing is to allow them to see and smell each other directly. The safest way to do this is to place them each in a cat carrier and position them facing one another, comfortably distant, in a neutral room.

Through all of this, you'll need to be mindful of both your cats' backgrounds. For instance, males are more likely to show aggression than a female-female pair or a female-male pair. Further, adopted kitties with rough backgrounds (with cats, humans, or both) will need a bit more time to adjust to the new dynamic.

Why does my Younger Cat Attack my Older Cat?

Unfortunately, not all cats will get along, even after they've been carefully introduced to one another. In some cases, they may fight a little, especially when one is an energetic little beast. Please keep in mind that not all cat "fighting" is necessarily driven by aggression.

Often, what seems to be an intense altercation is actually just a playful exchange of punches and kicks between the two kitties. (For this reason, you should always supervise your two pets closely during playtime. This way, you can learn to identify the differences between when your cats are playing and fighting, a crucial piece of knowledge in multi-cat households.)

However, suppose it does turn out to be genuine aggressive fighting as opposed to playing. In that case, you'll need to uncover the source of the problem quickly. Here are a few of the most common explanations for this behavior:

  • Some kittens simply become overexcited when playing with a companion. An exchange may start out as a mere play fight but accidentally escalate into more once the energy levels get too high. 

    Note: This happens with kittens that did not get the opportunity to grow up alongside their littermates. Cats that are raised with their siblings learn when their behaviors are excessive or painful, as the other cats will signal with vocal or physical reactions. Without this knowledge, they're liable to hurt companions when they're older.

  • If one of your cats gets spooked, it may accidentally lash out in fear. This is known as "fear aggression," when your cat is triggered by a perceived threat or feels like they're cornered somehow. In many cases, this could also be driven by reactions based on past experiences. This is a particular concern for adopted cats, as you may not be aware of their triggers.

    Note: Fear aggression can also manifest as "redirected aggression." This is when the cat is in an overexcited state and doesn't know where to put its energy. If your kitty happens to see a squirrel or another critter outside and gets too worked up, it may end up having an outburst on the older cat.

  • Medical problems can also lead to your cat becoming aggressive. Pain or discomfort can make even the calmest kitties grumpy. If you or your other cat happens to catch them at the wrong time or touches the cat on a sensitive spot on the body, you might accidentally trigger some aggression.

Will My Kitten Ever Stop Attacking My Older Cat?

Chances are that the younger cat bullying older cat situation will stop. There's no reason to worry that these behaviors will continue indefinitely, especially if you've been able to identify the core of the issue. Once you're confident that you know the behavioral or medical problem driving the aggressive behavior, then it's time to start looking into some training techniques for the new kitten.

Each type of aggression requires a slightly different approach to maximize lasting effectiveness, but playful aggressiveness is the most important to manage for young cats in the beginning:

Provide appropriate toys for playtime. Your best bet for minimizing aggression during playtime between your cats is to give them a toy that redirects their attention away from the other cat. Wand-type toys are best for this, as it will prevent the cats from pouncing on and wrestling with one another, minimizing the aggression risk. It'll also be easier for you to supervisor playtime.

  • Provide them with environmental enrichment. This is another great way to divert their attention away from the other cat. By drawing their playful energy toward their environment instead, they can simultaneously be in the same (large) space. This will help desensitize them to one another's presence and perhaps introduce new opportunities for future interactions.

  • Set up safe zones in the house. If there is already tension between your cats, then it may be a good idea to set up safe areas in the house. These will provide your cat, either the kitten or the adult, with somewhere to run away to in case they begin to feel threatened. Remember that cats feel safest when they're perched up high, so you should consider the following items:

    Windowsill hammock: 

    This is an excellent option for diverting your cat's attention away from the tension in the house as they retreat to their safe zone. This can be beneficial for curious kittens, but do be careful. Too much time by the window raises the risk of redirected aggression, mentioned above.

Keeping Senior Cats Happy with Kitten Roommates

Senior cats can be much more sensitive to sharing a home with kittens than young adult cats. If you own one or more senior cats, you'll need to be extra mindful of their needs and triggers before introducing the new housemate. (You don't want to stress the old kitty out too much, as it can cause more serious wellness and medical issues.) See the following section for tips on creating a stress-free home.

Another one of the most prominent issues to be mindful of when caring for a senior cat is their immune system. Just like humans, as cats get older, they're far more vulnerable to sickness than their younger counterparts. So, what can be done about this?

The most useful thing you can do is ensure your kitten is vaccinated before bringing it into the home. The last thing you want to do is introduce a new cat into the household carrying any viral or bacterial infections that your senior cat's immune system can't fend off. The core vaccinations your kitten needs include:

  • Feline distemper (panleukopenia)

  • Feline herpesvirus (viral rhinotracheitis)

  • Calicivirus

  • Rabies

Remember that your senior cat's skin is not as resilient to bacteria as it once was, either. So, you'll need to monitor all the house's cats' hygiene much more closely than before. Additionally, it would be best to keep a closer eye on them all during playtime. This will ensure that you notice and treat wounds as soon as possible to diver the risk of infection.

Minimize Stress in Homes with Cats of Different Ages

Make sure that you do all you can to reduce and maintain low-stress levels in the home. This requires that you give your senior cat individualized care while simultaneously monitoring their interactions with the new youngster. To strike a healthy balance in these necessities, it would be best to provide your older cat with their own space in the house while you're away.

This is an excellent idea for senior cats that struggle with one of the most common effects of aging, spatial disorientation. If you've noticed that your older kitty has a hard time getting around the house, set up a senior-friendly room where they can easily navigate around obstacles to find food, water, their scratching post, and toys.

Plus, this will prevent accidental aggression if, by chance, the senior cat does not recognize the new kitten. Older cats are prone to confusion and poor memory. So, there may be times where they're surprised to run into the youngster when wandering throughout the house. If they're caught off guard like this without your guidance or assurance, it could lead to conflict.

Lastly, senior cats may require more hiding spaces than their younger housemates. This is because they'll likely run out of playful energy before the others do. You'll want to give them as many hidey-holes as possible to get away from the chaotic energy, so they don't get too overwhelmed or fed up with the others.

How Do You Deal with a Territorial Cat?

Territorial problems are among the most common causes of aggression between cats. However, this is unlikely to be the driver behind your younger kitten's behavior, especially if they are new to the household.

This is because the kitten is just getting to know the home and hasn't had the opportunity to claim a space for itself. The kitten is more likely to merely explore the house and won't be interested in defending a specific room quite yet. (Maybe they'll fight for some toys, but that's about as far as things will go for a short while.)

With all this in mind, it's far more likely that your older cat will try to bully the little one out of spaces in the house. This is part of the reason why you should be careful when introducing the cats to one another in a neutral area (a room that your older cat hasn't already claimed for itself). Still, the aggression may build up after a gentle introduction.

Here are a few things you can do to calm the tension between the older and younger kitten:

  • Identify which room your older cat is defending against the younger kitten. (If you don't already know it, you can tell which room the older cat has claimed by looking for their scratch marks on walls or furniture or recalling if they've marked the room in the past.) Neutralize the room by preventing access to it and removing items with their scent.

  • Get two or more scratching posts and place them in separate rooms. This will allow each cat to have the opportunity to claim a room for themselves or at least a different side of the room in large spaces such as living rooms.

    Note: If there are existing territorial problems in the house, it may be best to let each cat roam the house one at a time. This will prevent either one of them from being triggered by unwanted interaction. It will also give the older cat a chance to choose their preferred scratching post without the kitten's interference.

  • In cases of severe territoriality in the house, you might also want to consider the use of artificial pheromones. These will help your cat to remain calm if it starts to get worked up about the younger kitten invading its space. Talk to your veterinarian about this solution to ensure it's right for your cat.

Cats Fighting Over LItter Boxes

One of the most important things to keep in mind about living with cats of different ages is that they need multiple litter boxes. Yes, you've probably heard this a million times, but it's worth repeating! Litter box territoriality can become a big issue with other consequences than aggression.

Cats that don't have proper access to litter boxes will inevitably have potty problems. They won't feel safe going to the restroom in the designated spaces since the other cat in the house may be actively preventing them from accessing the litter box.

Even if this is not the case, urinating and defecating (although rare) aremethods of claiming territory. So, if your kitten smells the adult cat's urine or feces in a litter box, they may feel more secure looking for another place to potty. If they're caught trespassing, your older cat may lash out. Here are some preventative actions you can take to resolve litter box-related aggression:

  • Place litter boxes in different rooms, preferably on different sides of the house. This will give your cats enough space to escape from one another's odors and make the potty area feel like their own. Plus, it'll reduce any chances of them crossing one another's paths when it's time to relieve themselves.

  • If the kitten has taken an interest in using the adult cat's litter box, you might need to encourage it to find its own potty space. In this case, you'll need to find a way to train your kitty to use a new litter box. Use the tips below to attract the kitten to its new box:

    Use a scented litter, at least 3" deep*

    *Using a scented litter is essential for kittens. The adults may not like it, as cats' noses are far more sensitive to odors than humans, and it may be too intense for their liking. However, although a kitten's sense of smell is still more powerful than people's, a scented litter can help attract them to the new litter box and make it easier to find.

    You don't necessarily have to buy a scented litter for more control over the litter's scent, but get a litter additive instead. Just sprinkle a bit of the attractant on top of the existing litter, and the earthy smell will draw the kitten in to relieve itself.

    Place the new box in a quiet area of the home
    Use an uncovered container, so the kitten feels welcome to step in
    Note any differences in litter preferences between your cats and use their favorite type in their individual litter box. 

Presenting Different Litter Options for Your Cats

You can also minimize conflicts over litter boxes between your cats by offering several different litter options at various potty stations in the house. So, imagine that your adult cat prefers unscented, fine-particle litters. You might want to designate one specific litter box in the house with that type and offer the kitten another.

You may be wondering how to determine which kind of litter is best for your kitten (especially if it's not yet housebroken). If you're unsure, the best thing you can do is offer the cats a "litter buffet." Line up a few litter boxes beside each other with three or more litters you think they'll like.

Supervise the cats to discover which cat prefers what, and note your findings. Based on what you learn about your cats, offer them the appropriate litter type to match their preferences. That way, you can ensure that they'll always go to their own litter box since they won't feel as comfortable relieving themselves in another potty space.

The Importance of Spaying and Neutering in Multi-Cat Households

Only-cats should be spayed and neutered, of course, but the matter is much more important in multi-cat households. Intact cats are significantly more aggressive than their spayed or neutered counterparts and display territorial behavior far less often, too. Getting your adult cats and kittens fixed can help ease tensions in the house on multiple fronts.

Plus, if you have a male and female cat in the house, you can enjoy the peace of mind that you won't come home to surprise babies one day. If your male or female cat were left intact, this would also increase the risk of physical altercations between the two. Male cats can get quite aggressive when females are in heat and may start to harass her or other cats in the house.

In houses with multiple male cats, neutering is an even more serious matter. They can turn their sexual aggression against one another when they don't discover a mating opportunity. Not only can this lead to fighting, but it may also cause potty problems. The intact males will begin spraying areas of the house, perhaps outside their litter box.

So, they will be soiling problematic areas of the home themselves and simultaneously making other cats in the house uncomfortable with going potty in their usual spaces, leading to more soiling outside the litter box. (If you've got a house full of intact females, males will be visiting from the surrounding neighborhood to soil your yard, too.)

These problems can arise sooner than you know it, so don't put it off just because your kitten is young. Cats typically reach sexual maturity around six months of age. So, if you only get the adult cat fixed but want to leave the younger one's neutering or spaying for later, think again. These little buggers can cause just as much of a ruckus as they're older housemates!

Living with cats of different ages can be quite a challenging experience. Throughout their life stages, cats require different care and attention levels to prevent excessive stress and conflict in the household.

If you're preparing to introduce a kitten into a household with an adult or senior cat, consider stocking up on beds, scratching posts, litter boxes, and food and water bowls to ensure they all have a designated space in the home.


About the Author

My name is Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy, and I am a science communicator and web content writer. Since 2015, I've been producing scientific content that is written in plain English. My love for life science has influenced my professional and academic aspirations since I was a kid. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and 21 units of a Master's education in Environmental Policy & Management (concentration: Fish and Wildlife Management). You can learn more about me and my science writing and reporting work at my website, Black Flower Writing Services.

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