Bringing Home A New Cat or Kitten

Going to a new home is one of the most stressful and frightening experiences in a cat or kitten’s life. Compare it to the stress we would experience if our homes burned down, we were fired from our jobs, and our friends and family disappeared—all in the same day. Adult cats are very territorial, prefer being in familiar surroundings. and don’t like change. Kittens adapt more readily, but all cats would benefit from a gradual transition into a new home. Some cats adapt readily to their new homes and are contentedly purring away in their new owners’ laps in a few hours, while others may take days or weeks. Some may spend the first few days or weeks hiding until they feel safe in their new environment. Regardless of whether your pet comes from the shelter or a loving foster home, it will find you and your home strange and frightening. You can minimize the stress your new kitty experiences if you follow a few simple rules.

Step One: Setting Up A Neutral Territory

Your new kitty should spend at least its first day or two in its own room. This is particularly important after spay/neuter surgery; when activity and stress should be limited. A quiet bedroom or bathroom with a window is ideal. It is a good idea to set the room up before kitty’s arrival or before you bring kitty in from the car. Place food and water dishes, a litter box, bed, scratching post, and toys in the room. Bring in the carrier containing the new cat, close the door to the room. and open the carrier door. Allow the cat to come out and explore at its own pace. The limited area also assures that the cat knows where the litter box is and keeps it from dashing out an external door before becoming familiar with your home.

Being in its own room will allow the kitty to become accustomed to the sounds and smells in your home without the additional stress of confronting a complex physical environment. Let kitty adjust to her new territory. Visit the room often and talk quietly to the cat. Pet and hold the cat if they want attention. Extremely shy cats may need to be coaxed a little, but don’t overdo it.

When the cat is comfortable in this room, it will usually let you know by making motions to follow you or leave the room and explore the rest of the home. This may take a day, a week, or more. Leave the door open and allow kitty to explore at her own pace and be able to return to the safety of “her room” when she needs to.

Step Two: Introducing Kitty to the Rest of Your Home/Family

Homes With Small Children
If you have small children, it is especially important that they leave the kitty alone during this time. Because small children make sudden loud noises and movements. they are particularly terrifying to cats. Introduce children gradually. Ideally, these visits should occur when the child is in a quiet, attentive mood. Tell the child. “We’re going to visit kitty now. We have to be very quiet and gentle, and move slowly, so that kitty will learn to trust us.” Do not leave small children alone with a kitten under 6 months of age.

Homes With Resident Cat(s)
Follow the same basic guidelines as Step one with a couple of exceptions. The newcomer must be given a safe place to retreat, and the resident cats must be given adequate time to get acquainted and work things out among themselves.

The new cat should stay in its own room for at least a few days. This room will then smell like the newcomer, and the resident cats will be more likely to treat the room as the newcomer’s territory. The new kitty will, thus, have a refuge when you finally open the door. This also allows both the newcomer and resident cat to become familiar with one another’s scents before their first face to face interaction.

Allow the kitty to come out of it’s room and explore for short periods when you are at home. If both cats are relatively calm, allow them to interact for about one hour, then return the new cat to its room. The time apart allows them to regain their confidence and sense or territory. It also allows them to process the information gained while they were together and encourages a favorable interaction at their next meeting. Continue this process daily, lengthening the amount of time they are together a little each time. Do not leave the new cat and resident cat alone together until they are fully acquainted. The introduction period is usually short with kittens. but takes longer with adult cats.

Be patient and give the cats plenty of time to adjust. Hissing and growling are normal first reactions to unknown cats. For the most part let them work out their relationship to each other. However, you should intervene if one is physically hurting or continually chasing/dominating the other one. By using a “start response” (loud noise, such as clapping hands, banging on wall, etc.), you can usually distract them long enough to offset an attack. Do the “start” when you see the “look” don’t wait for the attack to occur. Don’t scold the cats, but praise them when they become distracted and are acting appropriately. This gives positive reinforcement to the situation. If you act anxious, the cats will become anxious too. Be sure to give equal praise and attention to the resident cat and new cat. Do not get in the middle of a cat fight, it can be dangerous. It usually takes from 2 weeks to 2 months or longer for cats so establish rules for their territory.

Homes With Resident Dogs
Introducing a new cat to a dog is similar so introducing it to other cats. The new cat needs it’s own territory or safe haven. However, before introducing your dog it is vital that the dog knows basic obedience. The dog needs so be in control at all times, especially if the dog has not lived with cats before.

You may want to start by letting the cat explore the house while the dog is not there. The cat will then be more comfortable and self-assured in this territory when confronted with a new, potentially stressful situation. When the cat appears fairly relaxed in most areas of the house, let them meet. The best way to do this is to introduce them while the cat is in a safe place, like on a counter, cat furniture, or in the carrier. Bring the dog into the room on a leash and keep at a safe distance. Observe their interactions. If the dog is growling or lunging, correct him by asking him to sit, lie down, or go to his place. Praise and encourage any friendly behavior.

Repeat this process for short periods each day. Keep the dog on a leash. let him wander around the house. Let the cat approach at will, or run and hide if it wants to. Continue to praise friendly behavior. Repeat these exercises for longer periods until both pets are comfortable and responding favorably. You will know when it is time to remove the leash and begin short supervised sessions. Never leave a kitten under 4 months of age alone with a dog. There have been instances of dogs killing kittens when they were merely trying to play.

A dog that is continually showing overt aggression, such as lunging, snarling, growling, baring teeth, etc. will probably never accept a cat. The cat is better off being returned to the shelter.

Step Three: Introducing A Cat to the Great Outdoors

The “great outdoors” may sound like fun for a cat, but there are lots of dangers associated with being outside the home. Cats are quite happy being strictly indoors and don’t need to go out to have a fulfilling life. Some of the dangers your cat can face outside the home include: cat fights. breeding/pregnancy, cars, diseases, dogs, getting lost, parasites, wildlife, and unfriendly neighbors. Cats will live happier, healthier lives when kept indoors. If you still want to provide your cat with some fresh air and outdoor exercise, consider walking it on a harness and leash, using a trolley system, or building a “run” or “kennel” outside a window or cat door.

Do not allow your cat to free-roam. Always keep a ‘breakaway’ collar with identification tags on your cat. Cats can be strangled by getting caught up in a regular collar.

PAWS Kittens are adopted with an indoor-only agreement that is stipulated in your adoption contract. DO NOT let a kitten outside.

Never allow a cat outside until it is thoroughly familiar and comfortable in your own home. This may take two to three months. Some adult cats will try to return to their old territory, usually unsuccessfully. You should supervise your cat’s first visits outdoors.

Be patient with your new kitty as it adjusts. It will soon become a loving member of your family and a wonderful companion.