Cats have a much harder time adapting to a new home than a dog does. They are extremely territorial so a new home can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for them if they are rushed into it.
There are many things that a cat owner can do to help their cat get used to its new surroundings in a much less stressful manner.
You will probably have an easier time getting a kitten used to a new home rather than an adult cat but don’t lose heart; an older cat can get used to its surroundings in time as well.
By following the strategies and tips listed below, that transition time will be much faster and filled with a lot less worry and stress on the part of your cat. Patience is the main thing. Getting frustrated with your cat and just throwing them into an unfamiliar, scary-to-them situation can leave a lot of lingering problems behind. Communicate with your cat in their own language and you will have a very happy cat.
Before You Get Your Cat
We have a list of things that you should do before you bring your new cat home. These things will help them transition easier to their new home. None of these things are difficult, but they can make a big difference in how fast your cat adjusts to the house and the people and other pets in it.
- Create a small space for your cat that can be just his or her spot. A small room like a bathroom or laundry room is a good choice for this space. You want to make sure that you put a lot of cat supplies and items. These will include water, food, a litter box and a place for the cat to sleep such as a small cat tower or cat bed. When you are first spending time with your cat, spend that time in this space.
- Make sure that the litter box is filled with 2-3 inches of litter and put it in his/her private space where it can be used in privacy. Litter box aversion can occur when the new cat is expected to use a litter box they are unfamiliar with in a home they are unfamiliar with. Providing his or her own litter box will help alleviate this problem. Decide if you want a self cleaning litter box or a traditional one. The models with covers are better than the open ones. You will also want to choose between standard litter and clumping litter. Clumping litter lumps together when the cat wets and makes it easier to get the dirty litter only out.
- Set up a place where your new cat can eat in their private room. You want to make sure that the food and water dishes are not next to the litter box. Fill the water bowl with fresh water and fill the food dish with dry food to start. You should always have dry food available and add canned food once every evening.
- Create a little place where your cat can hide from everything if it chooses to. They love cardboard boxes and you can cut a door in the end of one to make it more accessible to them. Make sure that wherever you put the cat hiding place they can see the entrance into the room so they will not be startled by anyone coming in.
- Cats enjoy scratching things and will scratch on whatever they come across that will get the job done, even if that happens to be your doorframes or expensive furniture. There are many things that you can get your cat to scratch on. Corrugated cardboard posts, carpet covered areas, commercial cat scratching posts and more. You want to provide them with several scratching options where they can stretch up to scratch or crouch down as well. Put a scratching post in every room that the cast spends time in, especially room that has soft furniture in it.
- Cats love to be up high so consider getting a cat condo for your cat to spend time on. These cat condos can be very simple or they can be intricate pieces of furniture with lots of levels, posts and places for the cat to play. You should cat proof your home, especially high shelves and cabinets that the cat will more than likely want to climb on and make sure that there is nothing up there for them to knock off.
- Look for holes or vents that the cat or kitten can get stuck in. Those holes should be barricaded so the cat can’t get into them and get stuck which is highly likely in a vent. Cats can get themselves into all kinds of fixes so it is up to you as the pet owner to watch out for potential problems and keeping them safe.
- Don’t forget to get your cat plenty of food, treats, toys and a collar Even if the cat is going to be an indoor cat, having a collar is a good safeguard if the cat ever does get outside the house. Having plenty of cat toys helps entertain the cat and keeps them from getting into trouble.
- Don’t forget to get a good cat flea collar and flea treatment. Fleas can make a cat very sick so taking care of preventative maintenance can help keep your cat comfortable and healthy.
Your Cat’s First Day At Home
Get a cat carrier to bring your cat home in. It will be a lot more secure for him or her to ride home in a cat carrier than just being put in a strange vehicle. Once you are home, take the cat carrier directly to the special room that you have designated for him or her. If you have chosen a bathroom, make sure the toilet lid is down. Even though everyone will want to see the new pet, restrict exposure to other family members until the cat gets their bearings and calms down a little bit.
Once in the room, open the cat carrier door and sit on the floor. Don’t force the cat to come to you and let it come out of the carrier on its own. If it doesn’t want to come to you right away, leave the room (shut the door behind you) and go back in a little while to try again. If the cat is particularly frightened of being in a new place it may not come out of the hiding place at all when you are in the room.
The best way to handle this is to just speak soothingly and calmly while you are in there cleaning the litter box and pouring food and then leave quietly. It may take a week or two for the cat to get acclimated and venture out to see you but don’t worry. If you are patient and don’t force them, it will happen.
At first, the cat may not want to eat. Try to find out the brand of cat food it was eating before and purchase that food even if you intend on changing it later. (Changing the type of food used will need to be done very gradually to avoid gastrointestinal upset).
Cats need both dry and canned cat food. The canned food should not be left out in the dish all day but the dry cat food can be. Change the water daily and if you notice the cat hasn’t eaten anything in a few days, call the veterinarian for advice.
Your Cat’s Routine The Next Few Weeks
You should plan on taking your new cat to the vet within a week of bringing it home. This visit is a wellness visit and will set the baseline for other visits if the cat ever does become sick. If there are any medical records for your cat from where they came from, bring these to the vet’s office when you go for your appointment. At this visit you can expect a general physical and shots to be given. They may also recommend testing for feline leukemia and other cat illnesses.
Get the rest of the family members used to the cat one at a time. Inviting the whole family to come look at him or her can send them right back to their hiding place so take it slow and remind the family members that they need to be calm, use a quieter voice and be patient.
Introducing Your Cat to Other Cats In The Home
If you already have a cat in your home you will need to mindful of how you bring the new cat into the existing cat’s domain.
Do not force the cats to be together as this could cause stress and fights that wouldn’t normally be happening if they had been given the chance to get to know each other in their own way and in their own time.
Wait about 7-10 days before you introduce the new cat to your existing cat. This gives the new cat time to settle in, get used to you and its surroundings and to also be checked out by the vet before something new is added.
When it’s time to introduce the two cats, let them meet through a crack in the door. Open the door an inch or two and allow them to sniff each other through the crack in the door. If there is any hissing, growling or swatting at each other, go ahead and close the door between them and try again later. Keep using this method until the visits through the door crack are much calmer.
It’s not abnormal for cats to hiss or swat at each other, even when they have grown up together so some of this is okay. You want to watch for the true aggression and prevent fights from happening. You can encourage interaction by using interactive toys, feeding both cats treats at the same time and even switching their bedding so they can get used to smelling the other cat in their quarters.
Once the sniffing is going well, open the door and give full access to each other. At this point it’s okay to let the new cat out of its room so it can explore. Don’t force it to come out, just open the door and stand back. The cats may enter each others’ domains for a little while to check each other out. This is just fine and will be good for them.
After they have been in each others’ territory for about 30 minutes or so, separate them back into their own areas and do it again later. You want to do this 3-4 times a day while they are getting used to each other. At the end of each getting to know each other activity, feed both cats a few treats.
Don’t punish either cat if they show aggressive behavior towards each other. All this will do is make the aggression period last longer. Try speaking calmly to the cats and separate them until they calm down. They WILL get used to each other at some point and it’ll be just like they were together all along.
The most important thing to remember is to stay patient while they are getting to know each other.
Sometimes if the cats are left alone they will work out their differences much faster than if the pet owner tries to interfere.
It is almost a guarantee that if the pet owner tries to force the matter, things will only stay stressful and rough for a lot longer than it would have.
You will have much better results if you step back and let them work it out after you have followed the processes we have listed above.
When To Step In
If either cat fights so aggressively that they draw blood on the other cat, it is time to step in. This is also the case if one cat is constantly chasing and/or dominating the other cat. One of the best deterrents is to get a bottle of water and spray them with it.
Try to only squirt the instigator but this should only be done if the aggressive cat is drawing blood or continually dominating. Hissing and batting at each other is fine and you should not spray them for this.
If you don’t have a spray bottle bang something together that will make a sudden loud noise as you say no. Getting in the middle can cause the cat to direct their aggression towards you. You can expect it to take anywhere from two weeks to two months but this is not written in stone and it can take longer.