Q: I am trying to adopt a second cat as a companion for Bells, my 1-1/2-year-old calico. The kitten I am trying to adopt is a 5-month-old Manx female. The rescue foundation is reluctant to allow me to adopt the female Manx because my current cat is a calico. They told me that calicos are very aggressive and temperamental cats, and getting another female cat would cause behavior problems such as marking and fighting. Is there any truth in this? I have had my Bells since I rescued, domesticated and fostered her and her litter at 6-weeks-old. Just like her mother, she is a loving and a sweet cuddler, who loves to play. Does it really matter that she is a calico when it comes to adopting another cat?
A: Calico cats are not a breed, but they all have a particular patterning and color combination in their coats. Usually the colors are white, red, or orange and one other color. These lovely cats are mostly female, although there have been rare cases of male calicos.
There is an on-going study of canine behavioral genetics being conducted through the University of California, San Francisco. Included in their research are studies about coat color and temperament. Even though the research might link coat color with certain temperament tendencies, this does not determine an individual animal’s temperament or how she will respond in given circumstances. The environment and the history of the cat are equally as important in determining temperaments and dispositions.
How well Bells does with another cat buddy is not determined solely by genetics. The environment, both cats’ individual personalities, their ages and how the introductions are done are vital for helping to develop a good social relationship with another cat. When choosing a new buddy for Bells, look for a cat who has a history of getting along with other cats and who has an energy level comparable to Bell’s. Depending on Bells’ history, you may find she does better with a young male then a female. After you locate a suitable friend for Bells, confine him in his own room, away from Bells until he feels secure and comfortable in his new environment. Take your time when introducing Bells to her new friend. Stress-free introductions can take a couple of months. Proceeding slowly and gradually introducing activities the cats both enjoy will help ensure successful introductions.
While the cats are still separated from each other, exchange scents. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks that produce pheromones. These are friendly pheromones that cats use when greeting each other. First gently pet Bells’ cheek with a clean sock or small, soft towel. Then pet the newcomer’s cheek with another clean sock or towel. Exchange the scent-laden items, putting Bells’ sock in the new cat’s room, and the newcomer’s sock where Bells likes to hang out. The pheromone exchange should be done twice a day with clean socks or towels for one week or more. The length of time for each phase is dependent on both cat’s responses. After the cats are OK with each other’s scent, add another activity.
Food is a powerful social lubricator. Feed the cats their regular meals and treats, while still separated by the closed door. The feeding stations should be as close as possible to the closed door. If the cats won’t eat, then move the food away from the door and over a period of days, move the food closer to the closed door. When the cats are comfortably enjoying munching near each other, while separated, add another activity.
In addition to the pheromone exchanges and shared meals, encourage the cats to play with each other, while still separated. Slip a double-ended toy under the door for them to play with. Eventually they will start playing footsie under the door with each other. The mutual play activity is only effective if both cats enjoy playing.
The last phase in the introduction process starts by moving the feeding stations back from the door. The newcomer’s food bowl should be moved into his room, while Bells’ feeding station is moved a distance from the door. The goal is to open the door while they eat at the same time and then close it after they’ve eaten. The cats should be able to see and hear each other while eating. At the first sign of aggression or nervousness, close the door. Gradually, extend the time that the door is open after the meals. Supervise the cats and at the first sign of any aggression separate them and go back to a previous step where they did well together.