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My cat (India) of 15.5 years passed away in April of this year. So, I have been a single cat owner for many years. About 2.5 weeks ago, I adopted a male kitten (he is almost 4.5 months old now, his name is Finnegan). A little over 1 week ago, I adopted a second kitten, a spayed female (she is about 5 months old now, her name is Caitlin).

I have done the basic slow introduction between the two of them. I originally had each of them in their own room. After about 2 days, I started feeding them on either side of the door to Caitlin's room twice a day - so, they would eat their wet food and then paw at each other under the door. No problems there (no hissing, growling, etc). I did that for a few days and then moved to feeding them on either side of the door with the door cracked open about an inch. They would eat and then sniff, paw, and interact with each other through the door opening. Again, no hissing or growling. During these first two phases, I also would occasionally switch rooms on them - so, they could be in the room that the other kitten had previously been in and get used to each others smell (as well as the two rooms). On Sunday, I put our large dog crate in Finnegan's room and had Caitlin in the crate for several hours so the two could interact through the crate door and ventilation slots. After having her in the crate for a few hours, I switched them so Finnegan was in the crate and Caitlin had the whole room to roam.

Last night, after another uneventful feeding with the door cracked open, I put the two of them together in Finnegan's room - both loose. Caitlin at first played nicely with Finnegan. However, after a few minutes (and about 3-4 play interactions), she started hissing at him. Then, it became hissing and growling. She would still initiate play with him and he would also still initiate play with her. Regardless of who initiated it, she would play with him briefly and then start hissing and growling. I also noticed that there were several times when she had her ears really pinned back (and flattened on her head) and it seemed like she was "playing" rather hard (ears pinned back and what seemed like a firm bite on Finnegan). Finnegan never made any noise to indicate that he was hurt and he was not deterred from playing with her (although, he would pause, and then sneak up on her and play again). After some minutes of this type of interaction (maybe 20-30 minutes?), I separated them and put them back in separate rooms.

So, here's my question - how do I tell if Caitlin's behavior is the more typical "establishing dominance" behavior compared to actual aggression and behavior indicative of a cat that is not going to get along with other cats?

I adopted Caitlin from my vet, and they told me to expect her to want to be alpha and that there would be hissing and growling as she established her dominance. However, what I see in Caitlin seems to be more than simple dominance, but I am not certain as I have never had two cats. I have had Finnegan longer, so if I can't get Caitlin to play nicer, she will have to be returned to the vet for someone else to adopt. I will then try to find another kitten that does get along with Finnegan.

Any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated!! I would prefer to keep Caitlin, but will return her if this behavior continues and can't be resolved. Thanks!

(BTW, yes - we do plan on having Finnegan neutered. He wasn't neutered when we got him and we had to clear up a slight respiratory issue. So, we haven't had a chance yet to get him in to the vet).
 

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They sound like they're doing just fine for only having been introduced directly yesterday. The goal of an introduction process is not to achieve instant friendship. It's to keep them from engaging in all out war. What you're seeing between them is very typical. If Finnegan is not hiding, is engaging in play, isn't wary of her then all is good. I expect you'll see Caitlin's behavior mellow out over the next few days/weeks, but some cats do play rough on a regular basis. Talking about taking her back is way too premature.

BTW, my Maggie was very resistant to Holly. She hissed whenever Holly got into her personal space for like 3-4 months. They're great friends today.

I think you'd benefit from reading Cat vs Cat by Pam Johnson Bennett, it provides really good insight into the hierarchy of a multi-cat household.
 

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Sometimes when my twins get going, their ears are pinned back, and they're best buddies. Sounds like it's going okay so far to me, too.
 

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I want to thank everyone for their replies. I appreciate the support and advice.

I do have an update - things are definitely getting better. Since my first post, I continued to put them together for small periods of time working up to longer periods. Yesterday was the first day that they spent the whole day together and it went fine.

Caitlin (the female) doesn't hiss/growl nearly as much anymore. Most of the time, they co-exist nicely and have fun playing with each other. Every once in a while I will still hear her hiss, but that is it. They seem to be doing well together and she doesn't prevent him from eating or using the litter box. She also will leave him alone for periods of time (while they sleep or simply hang out in separate areas of the room). So, to me, it seems like they are doing pretty well together, and I am calling their introduction a "success." Over time, I hope that she will stop hissing entirely (it seems likely given some of the other stories I have heard about cats eventually becoming inseparable). I am just happy that they seem to be getting along (for the majority of the time). They seem much happier together than separate - especially since they now have someone to play with throughout the day and night.

Thanks again for the advice and help. :)

-Christina (plus Caitlin and Finnegan)
 
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