Cats | June 8, 2017

Bringing Home a New Cat

Catherine Mazurenko
By: Catherine Mazurenko

So, you’ve decided to bring home a new cat – that’s great! Adopting a cat is a noble choice and it can be very exciting, though you should expect to encounter some challenges during the initial introductory period. Follow our guide to bringing home a new cat to help ease both of you through the transition.

Transporting Your Cat

Safety is paramount when it comes to bringing your new cat home. Many cats dislike being in the car and some get car sick. Make sure your cat is safe and secure by investing in a quality pet carrier that is just large enough to contain your cat comfortably without too much extra space. Use a seat belt by threading it through the handle on the top of the carrier and into the seat belt buckle.

You shouldn’t be surprised if your cat whines or cries during the trip but, whatever you do, don’t let him out of the carrier. If he gets loose in the car he could panic and cause an accident or get stuck under a seat. To help avoid potential car sickness and to minimize your cat’s stress, cover the carrier lightly with a towel.

The First Days at Home

During your new cat’s first day at home, it is important that you give him time and space to settle in. It might be tempting to start playing right away, but you’ll want to make sure he has adequate time to adjust to his new surroundings. When you get home, place the carrier in an enclosed room away from heavy traffic and leave the door to the carrier open so your cat can come out when he’s ready. Be sure to provide a litter box on one side of the room and place food, water, and toys on the other side of the room. Avoid using bathrooms and laundry rooms as these are typically too small and noisy.

Some cats will adjust more quickly than others, but you should be prepared to give your cat several days in this room until he is ready to explore the rest of the house. This will also give any existing pets time to adjust to the fact that there is a new animal in the house, and vice versa. And of course, spend time together in the room so you have chance to bond.

When he starts coming to the door and looking past your legs, or trying to slip out, he’s telling you that he’s ready to go exploring what’s beyond the door. Keep in mind that cats will often think of this first room as their place of security, so down the road if kitty gets spooked by a loud noise or new people, this will be the room that he retreats to.

Establishing a Routine

As your cat begins to expand his exploration into the rest of the house, you should start settling into a routine. Try to stick to a feeding schedule with your cat and move his food and water bowls to their permanent location if it is different from where you originally had them.

Many cats do not like to eat near their water as they consider it to be contaminated. This goes back to the fact that cats are hunters. When they catch prey, things can get messy, contaminating nearby water. While our indoor cats are not usually catching prey, the instinct of the hunter is still strong so put their food and water dishes on separate sides of the room or in different rooms.

Make sure you have several litter boxes spaced throughout the house in low-traffic areas (one litter box per cat is the rule of thumb) and provide your cat with scratching posts and things to climb. Putting catnip on the scratching posts will encourage your cat to scratch there and not the furniture. Be sure to include some play time in your daily routine as well so your cat starts warming up to you, but don’t force him to socialize if he isn’t ready yet.

Making New Friends

As eager as you may be to introduce your new cat to friends and family right away, it is best to wait until he is comfortable in his surroundings before you bring in anyone new. Make sure your cat is eating, drinking, and using the litter box regularly before you make any changes to his daily routine. When you do introduce new people, start slow – don’t let them handle your cat if he isn’t ready and avoid situations with large groups of people or boisterous children.

If you have other pets in the house, you should also be careful. Make sure dogs are on a leash and hold them while you’re making the introduction. That way if the cat decides to run away, the dog can’t chase after it. You want to avoid the “chase” so the dog doesn’t associate this with something fun to do.

With other cats in the house, you can expect a certain amount of hissing and raised paws. As long as it doesn’t escalate into a fight, allow the hissing to take place without scolding any of them. Before long, they will work things out. Always supervise interactions between your pets and your new cat, and cut the meeting short if any of them become frightened or overwhelmed.

Recognizing the Signs of Stress

As you go through the process of getting your cat used to his new surroundings, be on the lookout for signs of stress. It is normal for cats to be a little anxious during the first few days, so don’t be surprised if your cat doesn’t eat much at first or if he spends a lot of time hiding. Make sure he is eating, drinking and using the litter box and has come out from hiding before you release him from his starter room.

Don’t be alarmed if the cat doesn’t eat or drink anything on Day 1. If Day 2 comes and he’s still not eating anything, tempt him with some treats, tuna, or anything to get him started. If by Day 3 he still isn’t eating, talk to your vet. Cats can start to develop fatty liver disease if they go for too many days without eating and it can become fatal, so while most cats will settle in easily, this is something to be aware of.

You should also be aware that your cat might act out aggressively if he becomes frightened or overwhelmed, so always use caution when interacting with your cat and don’t force him to do anything he isn’t ready to do. If you notice any worrisome behaviours, again, talk to your veterinarian.

Though it may take some time for your new cat to adjust and become comfortable in his own home, it will happen eventually – you just need to be patient and give him the time and space he needs. Before you know it, you will be the best of friends!