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Bringing Your New Cat Home

Remember the adage about first impressions being important? The same principle applies to your cat's first encounter with his new home. His experiences as you remove him from the environment he knows and introduce him to his new home will affect how well he adjusts. Let's see how you can make the transition easier for everyone—especially your new cat.

Because you'll probably be bringing your cat home in the car, a sturdy cat carrier will make the trip less frightening for your cat and safer for everyone (see Automobile Safety for Cats). If possible, give your cat a blanket or towel that she's slept on in the crate—the familiar smell will calm and comfort her.

Limiting the number of changes he experiences in the first few days will help your cat settle in. If possible, give him the same kind of food he's been eating and use the same brand of litter he's used to. Once he has adjusted to his new environment, a change in food or litter won't bother him as much.

Arrange an area—preferably a room you can close—where you can confine your new cat and where she can have some privacy, especially if you have a busy family or other pets. Put her food and water, litter box, scratching post, and toys in the room. Many cats will hide for the first few stressful days, so giving her “a room of her own” at first will allow her to adjust to the smells and sounds of your home without having to interact constantly with people and animals. Leave the open carrier in the room, so she has a safe retreat if she wants one. A very young kitten especially doesn't need the run of the house—there are too many things to get into that might hurt her.

Bring your cat home when things are relatively calm. If you have no other cats and no dog, let him explore the house for a while, and confine him only when he seems overly stressed or when you aren't around. Spend as much time as you can with him, but don't force yourself on him. Letting him make the early advances will develop his trust and speed up the bonding process. Talk softly, and pet him if he seems interested, but don't try to pick him up. It might take several weeks for a new cat to feel at home, or it might happen overnight, depending on his temperament, age, and prior experience.

If you want your kitten to quiet down when you're ready to go to bed, don't let her sleep for hours before you turn in. Interact with her—groom her, play with her, and cuddle her. You can do all this even while watching TV, and the time you spend will build the bond between you and also help you get some sleep later. If your kitten's still rambunctious during the night, confine her to “her” room with safe toys to entertain her. You might want to choose a room away from yours—I was awakened in the wee hours of many a morning by the sound of my kitten Malcolm playing “bat the ball” in the living room!

Introductions All Around

Try not to overwhelm your new cat as he learns his way around. Introduce human family members one at a time. Teach children how to interact with him calmly and gently. Show them how to stroke his fur, and don't let them chase him, hurt him, or bother him when he's sleeping, eating, or using the litter box. Toddlers often want to hug, but many cats don't appreciate the gesture, so supervise all interaction between your cat and young children. If you have a baby, don't allow the cat in the crib, and be sure to keep food and litter out of the way of curious little hands.

Cat to Cat

If you already have a cat (or cats), he may be less than thrilled about the newcomer. Let them each get used to the idea of feline roommates without direct contact at first. Confine your new cat to “his” room, and allow your resident cat the run of the rest of the house.

Cat Nip

If you're introducing a new cat into a home with resident cats or dogs, trim those kitty claws to keep damage to a minimum in case of an unfriendly encounter.

Smells are very important to cats. The chance to learn one another's personal odors will help your cats adjust to one another, and you can help the “scent introductions” in several ways. Let the cats sniff one another under the door to your new cat's room. There might be some hissing and growling at first, but that should subside in a few days. Rub your new cat with a towel and give the towel to the resident cat and vice versa, or switch the rugs or cushions they've lain on. When your new cat is comfortable with “his” room, take him out (preferably in his carrier), put your resident cat in the new cat's room, close the door, and let the newcomer explore the rest of the house for a while. Then switch them back.

Food can facilitate good relations. If possible, feed the cats on either side of the door to the newcomer's room. If that's not possible, rub each cat with a towel, and use the towel for a “place mat” under the other one's food bowl. Soon, they'll each associate the other cat's smell with food.

When both cats seem to be comfortable with the situation, it's time to let them see each other without full contact. (If you already have more than one resident cat, make the visual introductions one at a time, and give the new cat some time in between.) One way to do this is to put your new cat in his carrier and allow the resident access to the carrier. Or prop open the door to the “cat room” just enough to let them see each other and put a paw through. You can also place a screen or gate between them, but be sure it's high enough that they can't jump over it. Some people recommend letting the cats see each other through a window, but because this blocks smells, it's not the best option. When the cats are comfortable seeing one another, begin feeding them within sight of each other.

When they're eating and interacting well with limited contact, try feeding them at opposite ends of the same room with no barrier. Supervise mealtime, and separate the cats again when they've finished. Over the course of several days, move the dishes closer together until the cats are eating side by side.

Now it's time to open the door and let the cats have access to one another when you're around. Don't leave them together when you're not home until you are sure they'll get along well. If things are going smoothly at this point, it shouldn't be long.

Cat to Fido

Cats and dogs can be great friends, but it might take some time for trust and friendship to develop. If your cat has been with dogs be-fore and your dog is used to cats, things should go smoothly once they get used to the idea. If this is the first encounter with the other species for one or both of them, friendship might take a little longer.

Introduce your dog and your new cat slowly and carefully. If you have more than one dog, introduce them to the new kitty one at a time so the newcomer won't be intimidated. Establish “dog-free” areas where your cat can sleep, eat, play, and use the litter box. Put the new cat in a separate room , and supervise all interaction until you're sure they're okay together.

Let the cat explore the house while the dog is outdoors or confined to a closed room or crate. If the cat wants a look at the dog, let him look, but let the cat determine how quickly the relationship will develop. Talk to both the cat and the dog to help them understand that they both belong in the family now. Don't let the dog chase or rough up the cat. If the cat hisses or swipes at the dog, distract the dog. Don't punish the cat—she needs to set limits for her own safety, especially if the dog is larger than she is. If the cat is really upset, separate them and try again later.

Cat to Other Pets

If you have a bird or a “little furry thing,” always remember that your cat is by nature a predator. Unless the cat was exposed to animals that are normally his natural prey when he was between 2 and 7 weeks old, he's unlikely to form a bond of friendship with small mammals and birds.

It's up to you to keep vulnerable pets safe. Keep them in secure enclosures with paw-proof door latches, and consider preventing the cat's access to the enclosure when you aren't present. Place bird cages out of reach, and provide hiding places in mammals' enclosures. A potential prey animal is very aware of a predator's desires and can become extremely stressed if he's unable to hide.

More on: Pets

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat http://life.familyeducation.com/cats/health/45708.html 2005 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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