BRINGING YOUR NEW CAT HOME
Be sure you have the following for your new cat:
- A confinement room ready.
- A soft, clean bed in a draft-free location.
- Some fresh clean water.
- Two to three bowls for dry and canned food.
- A litter pan filled and ready.
- A scratching post (3’ tall).
- You’ll also need a soft brush and a fine-toothed comb.
Let’s go over the above eight items in more detail.
Don’t try to confine your cat by placing a gate or other such barricade across the doorway. Cats are escape artists. They climb well and can move very fast if a chance to escape comes up. Just keep the door closed and watch closely when entering and leaving the room. A room is far better than a cage. She needs room to move about.
Cats are passionate sun-worshippers. They take advantage of every patch of sunlight. Only on the hottest summer days will a cat prefer to sleep in the shade. So, if possible, the confinement area should have a window to let sun in and also let your new cat have a chance to look out at the birds, etc. Put another bed here and pull the blinks half-way up, and/or open your drapes.
NOTE: It is wise to always pull your blinds up in the confinement area. Your new cat could destroy them if she tries to escape out the window. Most cats don’t realize there is glass in the window and they will try to go out that way. It’s cheaper for you to pull those blinds up and open the drapes.
Have a nice clean and comfortable bed set up in one corner. Use a cardboard box turned on its side (large enough for the cat to stretch out in). Cats like cardboard boxes. You’ll be providing a sleeping area that will feel secure since she will be enclosed. An old blanket or pillow, covered with an old towel or, better yet, a furry-type material or piece of fleece is ideal if the weather is cold. The box will provide a draft-free, warm area if it is winter.
NOTE: A frightened cat will want to hide. The cat won’t use a bed in the open until she feels safe.
NOTE: Most cats like their beds high up, though there are some who like to be down and under things. The place where you get your cat can tell you what your new cat prefers. Place the bed accordingly.
A cat’s sleeping place is very important! Of all a cat’s activities, sleeping is by and far their favorite. On the average, a cat will spend fourteen or more hours out of twenty-four hours sleeping (at least 2/3 of their time).
Cats have fundamentally different sleep behavior than people have. We normally sleep on an average of eight hours at a stretch, and that is usually at night. Cats sleep in a mixture of shorter and longer naps throughout the entire day. Cats tend to sleep more on cold or rainy days. They are surprisingly adaptable to their human companions’ schedules. In working households where everyone is gone during the day, a cat will sleep the hours she is alone. The cat will prefer to be awake and active when you are at home.
Cats have certain innate “wild” patterns of behavior, however. Almost all cats are up and around at daybreak. They will start their day with a prowl or survey of their territory. They will wander through each room. Cats become even more active in the early evening hours. In the wild, cats are twilight predators. They are more apt to run, and climb in these early evening hours.
A cat likes to seek out its own sleeping place in your home. We always placed a nice clean, soft bed there. Most cats have two or three favorite places where they regularly nap. Remember, cats sleep because they need the rest. You should respect this and leave them alone while they are sleeping.
Now that you have a bed set up in the confinement room, you’ll need to put out a bowl of fresh, clean water. Change the water daily. Twice a day is better. We change the water every time we feed canned food (morning and night). Keep the bowl itself clean. Rinse it out and wipe it each time before refilling. Fresh, clear water must be available to your cat at all times. You wouldn’t want to drink water that sat around all day and was in a dirty glass. It is also wise to place the water dish a distance from the food dish. The water will stay cleaner. It the water dish is next to the food dish, bits of food will get into the water as the cat drinks right after eating from the food dish.
Use a water bowl (dish) that has a broad base so it cannot be tipped over easily. If the bowl tips easily, you’ll have a wet floor to clean up and your cat will not have water available to drink. Some cats tend to pull their water dishes out each time they use them. We anchor our water bowls when we have a cat that does this.
Next, fill a bowl (again un-tippable) with dry cat food. We usually put out more than one kind of dry food. A choice of two to three dry foods is desirable. Your cat will definitely appreciate the choices. Use the same kind of dry food your new cat has been receiving and likes. The place you get your new cat from should be able to give you this information. Cats have digestive problems if their diet is changed suddenly. Change their diet slowly to prevent problems such as diarrhea and vomiting.
You will need another dish for canned cat food. It is wise to feed both wet (canned) and dry cat food. It gives your cat more variety in her diet. Don’t always feed the same thing every day. Boring! Give your cat a good variety. You wouldn’t want to eat the same thing for every meal; neither does your cat.
NOTE: Add about an equal amount of hot tap water to canned food and mix it in thoroughly when you serve it to your cat. She will eat it better.
Eating is very important in your cat’s day. Make eating enjoyable for her. Her weight can be controlled by serving smaller portions of a good variety of foods, rather than always giving her the same thing. She’ll definitely appreciate the variety. (See our section on Taking Care of Your Cat.) Also, you won’t create a cat who will only eat one kind of food. Certain foods are sometimes discontinued, and if that is all your cat will eat, you will have a big problem.
NOTE: Cats are stubborn. They won’t eat something they don’t like. They would rather starve. If your cat doesn’t like a particular food, don’t just leave it in her dish thinking she will eventually eat it when she gets hungry enough. Besides, canned food will spoil quickly. You wouldn’t leave your meal sit out all day. How unappetizing! It would dry out and become unsafe to eat. It is better to just offer her something else. Cats cannot go very long (only about two to three days) without eating before serious physical problems (like liver malfunctions) begin to crop up. Just change the food and remember what she doesn’t like, so you don’t give it to her again.
NOTE: Place the food and water far from the litter pan. You don’t want litter scattered in the food and water. Besides, look at it this way: would you want to eat next to your toilet??
Have a good-sized litter pan available. Your cat needs room to turn around in. Just be sure the sides are high enough to contain the litter well and to prevent the cat from spraying urine over the side if you have a male. Keep in mind some females also will spray. One part needs to be lower to make it easy for your cat to enter and exit. Many litter pans sold in stores are simply too small. Larger is better, so your cat can easily turn around in it. We like to use a rectangular storage bin (at least the 30 gallon size–24” x 16” with sides of at least 20”. We cut down a 10” wide opening in one side so they can get in and out, leaving about 6” at the bottom so the litter stays in. Be sure to run your finger over cut edges–if they are at all sharp, use sandpaper or a file to soften them. The taller sides prevent a cat from over-spraying the pan and getting your floor and/or wall. It also helps to contain the litter from flying out at some cats’ overly energetic digging.
A good scoopable litter is really great. That’s what we recommend. There are many sizes, shapes, covered and uncovered litter pans on the market. Most cats seem to prefer uncovered pans. There are also many types and brands of litter. Please refer to our section Litter and Litter Pans for more detailed information.
Cats like tall scratching posts so they can stretch out and still not reach the top. Many scratching posts are too short. Choose a tall one–at least three feet tall. See our sections on Redirecting Destructive Scratching and Making Your Cat Happy.
Leave some toys scattered about the confinement room. Your new cat probably won’t play until she feels comfortable with her surroundings. Once she begins to play, you’ll know the cat is beginning to adjust to her new home and is getting over her fears of all the newness. Refer to our section Playtime and Toys to learn some good cat toys to get. Toys and play are very important for your cat. Play is a good source of exercise and it relieves boredom for your cat. When you engage in interactive play with your cat, you strengthen the bond between the two of you.
All cats need some help in grooming. A daily brushing and combing help to keep the loose cat hairs under control. It also helps prevent so many hair-balls from being spit up. Obviously, long-haired cats need the most grooming from you. Grooming daily also helps to build a strong bond between you and your cat, since grooming is very pleasurable to the cat once she understands what grooming is. Combs for cats have long, very fine teeth to get through the coat to the undercoat.
Your new pet will be frightened and uncertain. Gradually add another room or two until she becomes comfortable and relaxed with her surroundings. She will adjust better. Don’t just turn her loose when you first bring her home. It could be hours, or even days, before you will find her if she becomes too overwhelmed and hides. Your cat needs to be confined at first, it is just kinder to her. She will also learn where her food and water are located and, most important, where the litter box is. You most certainly want her to use the litter box. Cats who are very frightened and hiding will sometimes soil their hiding place. It is too dangerous, in their minds, to venture outside of this area. It takes time to adjust to a new environment with all the new sights, sounds, smells and strange people and/or other pets. Be kind and understanding. Keep your new cat confined to one room (preferably with a window) for a couple of days or so. Then slowly introduce her to other areas.
Now that you have everything ready for your new cat, you can bring her home. Keep contact with children, particularly young children, to a minimum at first. They are usually too loud and move too fast. They could get scratched or bitten if the cat feels threatened. Don’t forget, your new cat will be frightened from the car ride home and all the new sounds, sights and smells assailing her upon entering your home. The cat’s level of feeling safe and secure will be at a minimum, if there at all. If you have other cats and/or pets, put off introducing them for a few days. Allow the newcomer to digest all the new changes.
Be kind, patient and understanding. Speak to your new cat in soft, gentle tones and move slowly until the cat accepts you freely. It shouldn’t take very long if you give your new cat lots of attention and love.
There is no yardstick to measure how long it will take your new cat to feel comfortable. Some will come around within a few days, and others may take weeks or even months. Patience and loving kindness are the keys to helping her to adjust.
Avoid talking loudly, and don’t make sudden movements. Don’t pick your cat up against her will, and don’t force her to come out of hiding. This will only frighten the cat more.
As long as she is eating food, drinking water and using her litter pan, you have won half the battle. If your cat is too afraid to come to you, try sitting quietly on the floor and talking softly to her. On floor level, you no longer appear to be a giant, and she is more likely to approach you. Try to entice the cat from her hiding place with a toy, something she can chase, or a tasty treat. This sometimes works well. Most important, let the cat come to you. A sudden move to scoop her up will only send your cat back into hiding. Let her come to you and check you out.
Until the cat feels secure enough to move about her room without fleeing when you enter, you should not give her access to any other part of the house. Only when she is relaxed and comfortable in her room, with you in it, should you open the door and let her explore a bit more of her new home, a room or two more at a time. Just take it slow. Don’t rush your cat.
When your new cat is feeling fairly comfortable and relaxed, you can begin to introduce any other cats or pets you may have. Just do it gradual. Let them get acquainted through a closed door first. Then, if you’re lucky enough to have a pet cage, put the new cat in the cage. Cover one end to provide a retreat area and a safe zone. Let them get acquainted more through the bars. If all seems quiet and uneventful, then try turning the new cat and your current cat/other pet loose in an enclosed room under close supervision. Cats usually hiss and growl at each other on first encounters then engage in staring matches. They usually will not fight unless both are toms. Allow brief, controlled encounters under close supervision until they accept each other. The time this takes varies greatly–just as personalities do. Under most circumstances, they will eventually become friends, though it could take months to do so. One will become the more dominant. One has to be the boss! Until this is worked out between them, peace and friendship will not take place.
Occasionally, you will find a cat, usually an older one, who simply will not accept another cat or pet of any kind. The cat simply won’t share her people and territory. Then perhaps you shouldn’t keep the new cat.
NOTE: If you already have a cat, that cat may feel threatened just be the mere presence of your new cat. After all, your home has been your cat’s territory and home. The new cat is an intruder. You can ease the tension simply by providing separate litter pans (plus one extra pan) and feeding them in different areas. This will reduce your existing cat’s stress. The competition (which will develop) will be lessened since each will have her own area to call her own. Don’t be surprised if the cats switch eating areas. That’s okay. If your existing cat goes after the new cat’s food, simply show the new cat where your existing cat’s food is at. This has worked well for us. Both cats will be able to get enough to eat. Sometimes your existing cat will try to dominate your new cat by driving her away from the food. Two feeding areas (in different rooms) will assure you that your new cat will be able to get her food. The same is true for litter boxes. If you provide a box for each cat plus one extra, then the chance of one cat eliminating somewhere you don’t want her to go is lessened. Sometimes one cat will attack the other one while she is using her litter pan, which the first cat considers as hers. More than one pan available helps stop this problem.
A similar process works in introducing cats and dogs. Many times they become good friends once they get over their fear of each other.
Always be around to supervise and break up any problems so no injuries will occur. Over time, less and less supervision will be needed. Never, never just put the new cat down in the center or the room thus invading your older pet’s space and territory. You’ll most likely have a nasty fight and possible injuries to deal with.
When bringing a new pet into a household already containing one or more pets, don’t make all the fuss and attention toward the newcomer. Show your existing pet that she will still have your attention and that she is still an important part of the family. Animals do experience jealousy! Try to cut this to a minimum. Give your existing pet some extra love and attention. Less problems will erupt.
Just don’t allow your feline friend to roam freely outdoors. The dangers are just too high. One day your cat may never return to you again and there is a good chance you’ll never know why.
MOST IMPORTANT REQUIREMENTS FOR A HAPPY CAT:
- Play time
- Time for cuddles
- Well-balanced, high-quality nutrition with lots of variety
- No harsh punishment (hitting, screaming); just kindness and understanding that the best way to correct a misbehavior is by distraction and to reward good behavior.
- Regular health checks and adequate preventative care (annual vet visits and vaccinations, removal of hazards such as poisonous plants from their environment)