Elizabeth Teal (Former ASPCA Animal Behavior Counselor) and Sara Kent
Whether your new cat is coming from a shelter, a home, an urban street, or a country barn, the first twenty-four hours in your home are special and critical. Before you bring a new cat into your life, it helps to understand a little bit about how cats relate to their world.
You can avoid pitfalls with your new critter and help them adapt more easily by following these new kitten tips:
Before You Bring Your Cat Home:
- A cat’s territory is of paramount importance. They view their territory the way most of us view our clothes; without them, we feel naked and vulnerable. Place us naked in a room filled with strangers and most of us would try to hide! It is common for cats, regardless of whether they come from homes or streets, to hide in a new territory. Very sensitive or under-socialized cats often hide for a week or more! Do them a favor and provide a small area to call their own for the first few days or weeks. A bathroom or laundry room works well.
- Fill a litter box with one or two inches of litter and place it in their room where they can use it undisturbed. After all, everyone deserves a modicum of privacy when pottying, and giving them that will help forestall litter box aversion. Not sure which litter to choose? Check out How to Choose A Cat Litter.
- Set up a feeding station with food and water bowls. Locate it away from the litter box. For more cat feeding and nutrition tips, visit our Pet Nutrition section.
- Cats love to get away from it all in small places, and you can provide one for your new cat as their own little safe haven. If they came home in a cat carrier, that might be a good choice. You can also make one by cutting a doorway for them in the end of a box. If you prefer, you can buy a covered cat bed at a pet supply store. In either case, make sure the space is big enough for the cat to stand up and turn around. Cat “feng shui” probably requires that he or she be able to see the door to the room from their hidey-hole, so they won’t be startled.
- A cat’s claws need to be worn down, and they do this by scratching things. Since you prefer that it not be your chairs and sofa, provide your cat with a socially acceptable scratching place. Some types are made of corrugated cardboard and lie on the floor; others are posts that have to be tall enough so that the cat can extend himself upward to scratch. You can encourage your cat (once they have arrived) to use the post by sprinkling it with catnip or dangling a toy at the top. They’ll get the idea. You’ll probably want a scratching post in each room where there is soft furniture, perhaps blocking access to it. You can also install sticky tape (available at pet supply stores) to corners of upholstered furniture to dissuade scratching. Don’t miss these tips on how to cut down on kitty’s scratching, how to choose a scratching post and facts about declawing cats.
- Look at your house 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 accessible and cover them up. A kitten can easily slither into one of these. You won’t want firemen in the house, jackhammering the concrete floor to extract your cat.
- If possible, buy a cat tree 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 not to startle them and to keep the door to their room shut.
- Bone up on how to introduce your cat to other pets. Keep their door closed and don’t let your other pet race in unexpectedly. See also: New Cat Introductions and Living with Cats and Dogs.
Now, you are ready for your cat’s homecoming. Preferably, bring them home in a cat carrier. It will feel safer for them. They have seen a lot of excitement, so take them directly to their new room. (Make sure the toilet lid is down if they are to acclimate in your bathroom.) Close the bathroom door before opening the carrier. Do not pull the cat out. Allow him or her to come out on their own and begin to explore their new home. Now, leave the room. Yes, leave…remember you are giving them time to acclimate. Go and prepare a small amount of premium quality cat food. Quietly place it next to the water bowl. Ideally, you would restrict their exposure to the whole family, but naturally, everyone is going to want to see them. Remind everyone of the ground rules you’ve set up.
- Sit on the floor and let the cat come to you. Don’t force them. Just let them get acquainted on their own time. If the cat doesn’t approach, leave them alone and try again later. Some cats are particularly frightened, and they may retreat to their hidey-hole and not come out when you’re around at all. They may only come out at night when the house is quiet. Give them time.
- Your newly adopted cat may not eat much or at all at first. It is common for re-homed cats to show no interest in eating, often for several days. If the cat is openly soliciting affection, eating, and not hiding, you can open the door and give them one more room. Do this slowly until you have introduced the cat to all the rooms in their new home. Be sure to change their water frequently and make sure that they are drinking.
It may take your cat a week or two to adjust. Be patient.
- Within a week of being adopted, take your newly adopted cat for its first wellness visit with a veterinarian. If you have a record of immunizations from the shelter, take it with you. Don’t have a vet? Check out these tips for finding the right vet for you and your cat.
- 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 them while they gradually expand their territory. They may be ready to play, so you can furnish some toys. Many cats like feather wands from the pet supply store, but homemade toys are often favored. A wad of tissue paper to bat around or a paper bag to hide in can be fun. For more ideas on how to keep your cat entertained see Keeping Your Cat from Getting Bored.
Congratulations! If you follow these tips for new cat owners, you’ll be on your way to having a well-adjusted feline family member.