Cats are territorial animals. They mark their territory, perform daily patrols and know every nook and cranny in and about their home. Cats are also creatures of habit and do not take very well to sudden change. They find being moved from one house and neighborhood to another very stressful.
Imagine what it must be like for the poor cat if she also has to get to know new owners as well as confronting changes in food, water, household routines, and rules. It is no wonder that some cats experience difficulties when they are introduced into a new home.
Different cats react in different ways to change, but they all benefit from a gradual introduction to a new household - especially when other cats are involved. Kittens are usually more adjustable and young kittens can sometimes make themselves at home within hours. Older cats that are often more set in their ways will take longer to adjust.
If you know you're about to bring a new cat into your home, be it from a breeder, from friends, or a stray from the street or a shelter, there are a few things you should take care of in advance to make the transition easier for both you and your new feline friend.
Getting the House Ready
Cats are very curious by nature and will eventually investigate everything in their new territory. This characteristic can get them into trouble, and it is up to us to make the house as cat-safe as possible. This is especially important when the new arrival is a kitten.
Here is a short list of things to look for and get out of kitty's way:
some common household plants can be very toxic for cats. While most cats tend to leave them alone, a curious kitty or a cat with a craving for greenery might be tempted. Some common plants to beware of are poinsettia, ivy, lupine, azalea, and rhododendron.
Cords and Strings
These are irresistible toys for many kittens, but they can be extremely dangerous. Chewed electric cords can cause a deadly electric shock, while swallowed strings or rubber bands may become entangled in the cat's intestines and cause severe internal damage.
Open doors and windows
Should the cat get out, she might easily get lost in the unfamiliar surroundings. Whether you plan to keep your cat as an indoors-only cat or allow her some access to the outdoors, make sure kitty cannot get out unsupervised for at least the first few weeks. Secure all doors and windows and be sure that no hatch can be opened by a curious cat.
It goes without saying that the usual toxic items, such as cleaning materials (sprays, fluids, powders) and various insecticides should be in secure cupboards. Insecticide containers are required by law to carry warnings about how their use around animals. Always read labels! Remember also that what is safe for use around dogs may be harmful to your new cat.
Other than that, use your common sense and have a look around, trying to see your home the way a cat would. Remove breakable objects from shelves and block access to any places where kitty may manage to squeeze in and get stuck.
Getting Family Members Ready
If you share your home with other people, you should get them ready as well. First explain the special situation kitty will be in and the need for patience. Excited family members will have to give the cat some time to adjust to the new environment before they can handle her, and this could take a while, particularly with older cats.
Don't forget to tell everyone about new house rules, such as making sure doors and windows are shut during kitty's settling in period, not leaving food on tables and kitchen counters, and double checking before turning on the washer and drier.
The rules the cat will have to live by, such as not getting table scraps or not jumping onto certain places, are best reinforced when everyone in the house sticks to them, so make sure these are clear and agreed upon.
The Sanctuary Room
Allowing the cat access to the whole house from Day One may be too overwhelming and create stress. For the at least the first few days, the cat is best off confined to one area or space.
Set aside one room that will serve as the "sanctuary room" before you bring kitty home. The room should be a quiet one with little or no human traffic. Make sure that the door can be locked, to avoid accidental intrusions or escapes and that all windows are well shut, so that your cat won't climb her way out.
Place the cat's feeding and water bowls In one corner of the room and a litter box some distance away. This is important because cats do not like to use a litter box in close proximity to their sleeping or eating places, and they may choose to use another place in the room for elimination purposes to keep their feeding area uncontaminated.
Add some cat toys and make sure that kitty has several safe hiding places. Under the bed is a good spot, but a cat carrier with its door removed or a cardboard box turned on its side can give your new friend an added sense of safety, especially if you put a warm blanket inside. (Don't forget that cats are fastidious creatures and like their bedding changed frequently.)
Bringing Kitty Home
Always bring a kitten or cat in a secure cat carrier. Never let the cat loose in the car or carry her in your arms into your home. Even the most docile cat can suddenly become frightened and claw her way out of your arms. The carrier makes kitty feel more secure - she can look at the outside world while being protected from it.
As you enter your home, avoid having excited family members greet the newcomer with loud voices and attempts to touch or hold it. Introductions can be made later on when the cat is more relaxed. This is especially true if you have other pets. Ignore their curiosity and walk with the carrier straight into the sanctuary room.
Once at the room, put the carrier down in a corner and open its hatch. Then get out of the room and let the cat get out of the carrier in her own time and explore the room. The cat's first priority is getting to know the new territory. Only after she's comfortable in the room, will she be able to meet and positively interact with people and other animal inhabitants of her new place.
Check on her every few hours to see how she is doing. Some cats will walk out of the carrier and make themselves at home within minutes. Others will take a few hours or even days before they feel comfortable enough to welcome you when you come. As long as the cat is eating, drinking, and using the litter box, you're doing fine.
If the cat is particularly timid, you may need to make an extra effort to integrate her into the household. Spend several hours a day (or as long as you can) befriending the cat. Sit on the floor in the room and try feeding her baby food from a spoon. You can also try coaxing her into some interactive playtime (especially effective with kittens). Talk to her gently and calmly, and, with time, she should start feeling more secure when you are around.
If the cat appears to be confident and looking for human interaction, allow other family members to come in and share some quality time getting to know the new cat. Do not let other cats or dogs into the room at this stage, because this can be very stressful for all animals involved.
When you sense that the cat feels safe in her room (usually after a few days to a week), open the door and let her explore the rest of the house.
This is best done at times when there are few people around and you have the time to patiently supervise kitty's first tour of the house. Don't forget to close the windows and doors!
If there are other cats in the house, this stage is done differently - please check our cat behavior section for more information about introducing cats. Always make sure that the house is as kitty-proof as possible, with all dangerous temptations out of the way.
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