“Be prepared & patient!” – This should be your mantra when bringing a new pet into your home. Cats are particularly sensitive to new surroundings, and some may hide under a bed or in a closet for days or even weeks.
You can avoid pitfalls with your new cat and help him or her adapt more easily by following these guidelines:
Before you bring your cat home:
- Cats are territorial animals, and coming into a new home leaves them feeling really uneasy. There is a lot of unfamiliar and unexplored space, and they are unsure of what may lurk there. Do your new cat a favor and provide a small area to call their own for the first few days or weeks. A bathroom, quiet laundry room, or a small bedroom works well. This allows the cat to familiarize themselves with the sounds and smells within the home without being overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of your family. Furnish the small room with cat amenities such as food, water, and a litter box. You’ll want to spend time with your new cat, so make sure there’s a comfortable place for you to sit as well.
- Make sure that wherever you place the litter box, it is in a safe and quiet environment. Everyone deserves some privacy when pottying, and making sure that there are no unwanted visitors, or sudden loud noises while using the loo will surely forestall a litterbox aversion. Especially for kittens in a new home – make sure to pick up your kitten and place him in the litter box roughly every hour for the first day. This allows the kitten to find their way around their new environment from the litter box, and they will always know the way back!
- Make sure that your new cat’s feeding station is away from the litter box. Water bowls are also better used when they are in a separate room from food bowls and litter boxes. No one wants to eat next to the toilet.
- Cats love to get away from it all in small spaces, and you can provide one for your new cat as their own little safe haven. If they came in a carrier or box, find a quiet space to put it so the cat can access a familiar place on their own. You can also make a safe place by cutting a doorway in the side of a box, or purchase a covered cat bed at a pet supply store. Remember, this is your cat’s safe place, please resist the urge to reach in and pull them out, or else they may find a different space that they find is safer.
- A cat’s claws need to be worn down, similar to you needing to do routine nail care for yourself, but cats prefer to do their own manicures and pedicures by scratching on things. Since you probably prefer that it is not your chairs and sofa, provide your cat with a socially acceptable scratching place (or two, or three). Offering various surfaces is always a plus; cardboard, rope, carpet, emery, and wood are a few of the many options. Also, providing a variety of shapes and sizes will help; some lay flat, others are angled or swooped, and some are vertically tall so that the cat can extend themselves upward to scratch. Always remember, this should also be in a centralized location of the home, or in a high-traffic area, as scratching on surfaces is also a way for the cat to re-establish what is “theirs” in the home.
- Look at your home with a curious cat’s eye view for its climbing and exploring potential. When your cat is acclimated to your home, you may be surprised to find them on top of the upper kitchen cabinets, so make sure there’s nothing on display there or on other high shelves that can be damaged or knocked off.
- Look for holes or registers that leave ductwork or tiny spaces accessible and cover them up. Many cats can easily slither into one of these.
- If possible, buy a tall cat tree or install cat shelves for your new family member. Cats like to survey their territory, so a high perch is often a favored resting place.
- If there are other human family members, go over the ground rules about your new pet. Remind them to try not to startle your new cat, keep areas closed that they don’t want the cat to explore, and not to chase the cat.
- Make introductions to other furry family members slow and positive. Keep them separated for a little while, and provide lots of praise and remain calm when you finally decide to have them meet face to face. Some cats do best if you can feed on opposite sides of a closed door, or share toys every couple days so that they can get used to the other cats’ scent. After a few days or so, you may even choose to swap the pets’ locations in the house for a few hours; let the new cat roam the house, while the resident pet checks out the small room where your new cat has been staying.
Now, you are ready for your cat’s homecoming. Preferably, bring them home in a cat carrier as it will make them feel safer. They will have seen a lot of excitement for the day, so take them directly to their new room. Ideally, you would restrict exposure to the whole family so it’s not so overwhelming, but pay attention to your cat’s personality and needs. Some cats need lots of attention for reassurance, while others need quiet time to mentally absorb all the changes that are happening.
- When you visit your new cat in their safe room, sit on the floor and let them come to you; don’t force them to receive attention. Let them get acquainted on their own time. If your new cat doesn’t approach, leave them alone and try again later. Give your cat time to adjust, but also make your presence positive – bring yummy treats, offer a special toy that’s exciting to them, or simply talk to them so they can become familiar with your voice.
- Your newly adopted cat may not eat much or at all at first. It’s best to give your cat the same food she had at the shelter or previous home, at least at first. Keeping some things familiar will make them feel more secure. Be sure to change their water frequently, and check that they have used the litter box by the second or third day.
It may take your cat a week or two, or even a month to fully adjust. Be patient!
- Within a week of being adopted, take your newly adopted cat for their first wellness visit with a veterinarian. If you have a record of immunizations from a shelter, take it with you.
- As your cat adjusts, they’ll show signs that they want to explore outside their safe haven. Make sure other pets or family members won’t startle your new cat while they gradually expand their territory within the home.
Congratulations! If you follow these tips, you’ll be on your way to having a well-adjusted feline family member!