‘Be prepared’ 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 them adapt more easily by following these guidelines:
Before You Bring Your Cat Home
- Cats are territorial, and coming into a new home leaves them feeling really uneasy. There’s all that unexplored space, and who knows what may lurk there! 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. Furnish the room with cat amenities, such as food, water and a litter box. You’ll want to spend time with your cat, so make sure there’s a comfortable place for you to sit as 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! Giving them that will help forestall litter box aversion.
- Set up a feeding station with food and water bowls. Locate it away from the litter box.
- 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 in. Cat “feng shui” probably requires that they be able to see the door to the room from the hidey hole so they won’t be startled.
- A cat’s claws need to be worn down, and they do this by scratching on 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 which have to be tall enough so that the cat can extend themselves upward to scratch. You can encourage your cat to use the post by sprinkling it with catnip or dangling a toy at the top. 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.
- 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 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 the cat and to keep the door to the cat’s room shut.
- Educate yourself on how to introduce your cat to other pets. Keep their door closed and don’t let your other pet(s) race in unexpectedly.
Now, you are ready for your cat’s homecoming. Preferably, bring them home in a cat carrier. It will feel safer to them. They’ve seen a lot of excitement, so take them directly to their new room. (Make sure the toilet lid is down, if they’re to acclimate in your bathroom.) Ideally, you would restrict their exposure to the whole family, but naturally, everyone is going to want to see them. Remind the family 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 they don’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’s best to give your cat the same food they had at the shelter or in their foster home, at least at first. Keeping some things familiar will make them feel more secure. Be sure to change their water frequently and make sure that they are drinking. If your cat hasn’t eaten for a few days, call your vet to ask for advice.
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 her 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, she’ll show signs that she wants to explore outside her safe haven. Make sure other pets or family members won’t startle her while she gradually expands her territory. She 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 a 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, you’ll be on your way to having a well-adjusted feline family member.