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In the past I had a pair of littermates who I'd adopted at the age of 10 weeks. When they were around 12 years old I asked my vet how old would be "too old" to adopt an additional cat -- that is, at what age would they not be able to tolerate an addition -- and she said "pretty soon". I had the impression that she was making this judgement based on their age and not an evaluation of their individual personalities.

My current cats are middle-aged (about 6 and 8), and while my spouse has informed me that we have no plans to adopt more cats, it got me wondering about my vet's past advice. Is there such a thing as "too old for new additions"? If so, when is it in general and how can I tell if my cats have reached it? How relevant is the age of the newcomer? (I can imagine arguments for getting another older cat and arguments for getting a non-threatening kitten.)

For purposes of this question, assume that all cats involved are basically healthy and well-adjusted indoor-only neutered cats.

  • I'm itching to answer this, but I'm not sure I can give conclusive argument ^^" In my opinion (and experience) it depends entirely on the cats' individuality and life experiences. Some cats don't want to 'share' when they're still young, some accept newcomers when they're relatively old. At one hand, there's my (well, not exactly my anymore) oldest living family cat who accepted kittens another cat gave birth to when she was 16 or 17 years old. On the other hand, there's my current older cat who's been living in a multi-cat household all her life and has always been good with kittens, but -- – Kaworu Jan 13 '15 at 6:00
  • -- when I took her to my new flat and brought a kitten hoping they'll keep each other company, they flatout ignored each other for 8 months. My older cat was 11 at the time. The difference in these 2 cases that I noticed was in power dynamics. The first cat is a matriarch and views all the new additions as part of her 'Pride'. The second cat has always been submissive. In the new home she tried to act as an 'alfa cat', but it didn't work (obviously ^_^). As soon as my younger cat grew up and assumed the position of power, my older cat 'fit in her place', and the conflict ended. – Kaworu Jan 13 '15 at 6:09
  • In my experience even the 'ignore' relationship is often better for the cat than being alone. When the partner to my 16 year old cat died, she was very lonely. She never warmed up totally to the new kitten, but she tolerated him and he was company in the same room when I was gone and she stopped showing the signs of distress she had been giving. – Oldcat Jan 16 '15 at 1:57
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In my experience, it depends a lot on the cats. My senior (geriatric - she's 20.5) cat has adjusted to a 5 month old kitten who joined the family when she was 15, and a 5 year old cat we got a couple of years ago.

When I married, she was 8 and my husband's cat was 10. The two of them adjusted in a kind of "we'll ignore each other and everything will be fine" kind of way - but when my husband's cat passed on some years ago mine got very demanding - which lead to the introduction of the 5 month old kitten.

Generally speaking, I've found that the more easygoing the cat, the more likely that cat will adjust well to other cats regardless of age.

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In my life I have integrated:

A 5 year old cat with a kitten
A 16 year old cat with a kitten
A 5 year old cat with a kitten
These same cats 7 years later with a 5-7 year old cat
A 16 year old and 11 year old cat with 2 kittens
2 one year old cats with an 8 year old cat.

The last integration is still ongoing, with the new cat hissing some at the kittens and staying in her room, but the kittens are willing.

The main reason a young cat might be too much for an old cat is energy. You can help by getting 2 young cats to work on each other, and the old fellows can watch or join in as desired. This worked very well in the second to last instance. Counteracting the age difference is that most kittens learn some respect for the veteran and don't hound them too hard.

It was very touching to have the kittens and the older fellow all playing with a robot toy in his last months of life - especially since he could never lift his tail up and look friendly to a cat when he was younger, so had difficult relations all his life until then.

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