This is an exciting time for you and your family. You’re about to bring home a new furry family member. Regardless of where the cat is coming from (shelter, rescue, breeder), here are some basic tips to help make the transition a bit easier for everyone. It’s important to not rush the process in order to give your cat time to adjust to her new surroundings and new family members. A little extra TLC during this time will help ensure a smoother transition. If you haven’t yet chosen your new cat, read the article on our website about making a good match.
1. Visit the Veterinarian
Even if your new cat is already up-to-date on vaccinations, visit the veterinarian for a medical check-up. This is important no matter where the cat from, but most especially if you don’t have any medical records. To give this newest family member the best start, have her checked by the veterinarian. This is also the time to talk to the veterinarian about any questions you may have about your new furry family member. During this visit you can also have her microchipped. Your cat may also be dewormed for internal parasites and you may be advised to start a flea control program for external parasites.
2. Cat-Proof Beforehand
It’ll be much easier to spend the time making sure your home is cat-safe before you bring in your newest family member. If you haven’t lived with a cat before you’ll be surprised at the places a kitty can hide and the trouble she can get into. Look at cat-proofing as you would baby-proofing but consider this “baby” as a super toddler who can jump almost seven times her height, squeeze into spaces that seem completely impossible, use her teeth to chew through cords, among many other talents that a new cat parent probably never thought possible.
3. Give Your New Cat a Place of Her Own
Even though you plan on providing this wonderfully loving home for your new cat, she’s not ready to see all of it yet. A cat is a territorial creature of habit and it’ll be overwhelming for her to simply be placed in the middle of the living room the first day you bring her home. If you do that, the first thing she’ll very likely do is run for cover somewhere. Instead, set up a sanctuary room (usually an extra bedroom or any room that can be closed off) so she can take time to get her bearings.
4. Provide Resources and Hiding Places for Your Cat
Her sanctuary room should be supplied with a litter box, scratching post, water, food bowl and toys. In addition to the basic resources, set up some hiding places and private navigation paths. If you just put the cat in a bedroom without any private paths she’ll just hunker down under the bed. A better option is to create tunnels so she can privately go from one hiding place to the food bowl or litter box without feeling so vulnerable. You can buy soft-sided cat tunnels at your local pet product store or you can make tunnels with paper bags. Cut the bottoms from the paper bags, open them and then tape one to another to create a tunnel. Fold a cuff around the end of each bag to create more stability. You can even cut a few peek holes in the middle of the tunnel so the cat can stop halfway and look out at her surroundings. Other options for hiding places are to turn boxes on their sides, line them with towels and create safe napping areas or set up donut or A-shaped beds.
5. Allow Time for Your Cat to get her Bearings
Depending upon where she came from and her anxiety level, it’s normal for her to not want to eat, use her litter box or drink any water right away. Provide a small amount of food and give her privacy. She may feel more comfortable to eat when no one is around initially. If she doesn’t show any interest in eating the first day, just keep providing small meals and fresh water. Don’t put out too much food so you can monitor whether any is actually getting eaten or not. By the second day she should be hungry enough to start nibbling. If not, talk to your veterinarian. You don’t want the cat to go more than a day without eating but your veterinarian will provide specific instructions on how you should handle the situation based on your cat’s specific history and circumstances.
6. Let the Cat Make the First Move
Go at the cat’s pace when it comes to interaction. It’s tempting to try to hold, pet or interact with your cat right away but depending on where she came from and her current comfort level, she may not be ready to have you get too close. You can use a fishing pole-type toy to conduct a casual, low-intensity play session to ease her anxiety. If she’s curious and seemed interested in checking you out, extend your index finger and let her approach to sniff it. Don’t try to pet her at first – just let her sniff your finger and if she wants further interaction, she’ll move closer to you.
7. Slowly Introduce Other Family Members to the New Cat
Everyone in the family will be anxious to get to know the new cat but she may not be ready to have several unfamiliar people crowded in her sanctuary room. Do individual introductions slowly. If she’s hiding and seems not yet ready, back off and let her continue to gain confidence in her new surroundings. There will be plenty of time later to make formal introductions.
8. Let Your New Cat Explore
When your new cat feels comfortable and is no longer hiding, you can start to let her explore beyond her sanctuary room. If you live in a large home, don’t overwhelm her by letting her wander around in every room. Let her explore slowly, a little at a time so she always knows the route back to her sanctuary.
9. Introduce Other Family Pets to Your Cat
If there are other resident pets in the home then the introduction of the new kitty must be done with finesse and patience. Cat-to-cat introductions can be very tricky so take the time to give the cats a reason to like each other through a gradual intro and positive associations. Keep in mind that the resident cat will feel as if his territory has been invaded and the new kitty will feel as if she has been dropped across enemy lines. If the resident pet is a dog, use care to ensure safety for all concerned. Don’t leave the cat and dog alone until you’ve completed the introduction process are absolutely sure both the cat and the dog will be safe around each other.
10. Begin Trust-Building and Training
It’s never too early to start training. Your new cat is always learning and what she learns depends on the messages you send. Be consistent and humane in your training process. Provide what she needs, use positive, force-free training that sends a consistent message and always let her know when she’s done it right. The decision to bring a cat into your life may have been a sudden and impulsive move but providing for her health and happiness should never be. Take the time to educate yourself on what cats need for physical, emotional and mental health.
Need More Information?
There’s so much for a new cat parent to know when it comes raising a well-adjusted cat. You can find step-by-step instructions in the book Think Like a Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett. You can also find the latest information in her brand new book, CatWise.
We’re sorry but Pam is unable to respond to questions or remarks posted in the comment section. If you have a question about cat behavior, you can find many answers in the articles Pam writes for the website as well as in her best-selling books.