Helping your new cat adjust can be difficult. This is why we have prepared a thorough guide, which will help you both adapt. Before we dive in, here is a quick overview of what we’ll cover – feel free to use the links below to jump to a particular section:
What to do before the new cat arrives
To help your cat acclimate, at first dedicate one room and let your kitty explore only that. Your new pet may stay there for a couple of weeks before he or she is ready to venture out. Prepare this room before your cat arrives so that you don’t create additional noises and stress when you both get home.
The dedicated room should be easily closed off and have a litter box, food, water, and toys. Ideally, it would also offer some good hiding spots from which your cat can observe safely. For example, a cardboard box or two, a few cut-out paper bags, a blanket draped over a chair, or even a soft-sided tunnel that you can get at the pet store. These types of hideaways will make your cat feel secure and offer a chance to move from spot to spot without feeling exposed, which is especially important for timid or under-socialized cats.
It’s not a bad idea at this point to offer a cat scratcher as well. Scratching helps cats mark their territory and release built-up energy. Thus, it can help make a cat’s adjustment easier and alleviate any behavioral problems that might come with the new environment.
If possible, bring familiar items – such as a blanket or toys – from the cat’s previous home. The familiar smells will make the transition smoother.
How to make your new cat comfortable
Once your cat is home, immediately introduce it to its safe place, away from other people and pets. Open the pet carrier and let it out. Don’t force the cat if it doesn’t want to move.
Keep in mind that if your cat is frightened, it will look for a hideaway where it can observe without being ambushed. As a result, it might bolt under the bed or jump somewhere up high, so it can explore safely. If that happens, don’t scold or force it back. Let it get acquainted with its new territory and if it doesn’t approach you, leave it alone and come back later.
Frequently asked questions about a new cat
How long does it take for the new kitty to settle in?
How do I get my new cat to like me?
Why is my new cat hissing?
How do I get the new cat out of hiding?
Why is my new cat not eating?
How to make my new kitty comfortable?
Why won't my new cat stop meowing?
Should I bathe my cat?
New cat owners often have the same questions, so we'll try to answer them. Here's our advice.
Give your cat plenty of time to adjust to the new sounds and smells. Shy cats need to ease-in even more slowly to build confidence. If your cat is hiding, don’t reach for it or corner the cat. This will make it defensive and cause it to hiss, bite or scratch. It will also make the cat seek a safer place to hide. Remember that cat hisses because it’s scared – be mindful and give it more time.
When you are around the cat, move slowly and predictably. Any sudden movements or loud noises can send your shy cat back into hiding. Use a steady, calm voice and don’t sneak up on your cat or startle it.
Let your pet observe. Cats learn a lot through observation. This means that even if you just sit and talk to your new kitty, this will help it acclimate.
Don’t force a friendship but encourage interactions. Engage in play. Wand toys and laser pointers are a great way to bond while maintaining a distance. If the cat comes to you, let it sniff you before petting – put your hand out (palm down) and let it smell. A trusting cat may rub its face on your hand, and you may try to pet it slowly and gently.
Use positive reinforcement to build trust. This means giving a reward to increase the likelihood of good behavior happening again. Rewards include delicious treats, catnip and play. They should vary based on each cat’s personality and must be given within 3 seconds. Positive reinforcement is a great way to show your cats they have done something good and to encourage that behavior in the future. On the opposite, punishment can damage your relationship and lead to fear, aggression and stress-related health issues.
Offer treats. Leave the treats near you and just watch (don’t touch the cat). This will help your pet associate the treats with safety.
Show your cat the litter box. This should be enough of a sign as using litter boxes is second nature to most cats. If you have a kitten, let it sniff its toilet for a bit and then place it inside. In general, a cat doesn’t need to be trained in what to do with a litter box. The only thing you need to do is provide a clean, easily accessible toilet.
Monitor the food. Your newly adopted cat may not eat much at first, so it’s best to offer the same type of food that it's been eating previously. This will give a sense of familiarity and will help your pet get accustomed. If your cat has not eaten for 48 hours, try some extra tasty treats such as canned tuna or salmon and leave out some dry food to see if the cat eats while you are away. If your cat refuses to eat for a few days, contact a vet.
Observe body language. A flicking tail is a sign of annoyance. Ears that lay flat sideways indicate the cat is nervous or anxious. Ears back and flat against the head are signs not to touch the cat because it is scared, defensive or even aggressive. Take time to learn how cats use their body to communicate and respect the message they send you.
Don’t bathe your cat! Most cats really dislike bathing and it’s a traumatic experience for them. Cats are extremely clean animals and you should not assume they need a bath just because dogs do. In fact, cats spend most of their time grooming themselves and their own scent is important to them. If you have to wash your cat, do some research ahead as this might make your new friend distrust and dislike you.
Keep in mind that at the beginning, your cat may meow because it is stressed out. For example, a newly adopted kitten might feel scared; simultaneously, an older cat may feel lonely without its cat friends at the shelter. Give your pet some time to calm down and be patient as it adjusts. Also, make time to bond with your cat: Cats who feel secure are less likely to meow at night. Pets need your companionship, especially if you’ve been away at work or school all day, so show your cat some love and don’t punish it for meowing. Shouting, hitting or spraying cats with water doesn’t work and will damage your relationship.
Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that different cats have different personalities and while some cats may adjust in two days, others may take two weeks. Don’t rush the process and contact your vet if you are experiencing issues or have concerns. It’s best to rule out any medical reasons that could be behind a cat meowing at night.
When is the time to introduce a new cat to the whole house?
Once your new cat is eating, drinking and using its litter box normally, it may be time to take it out of the safe zone and introduce it to the rest of your home. You will know your feline pal is ready when he or she looks happy to see you and curious about what’s on the other side of the door. You can make the next step in this process easier by providing a baby gate, which would be very useful if you have other pets or children in the house. Such a gate gives your kitty the option to dash under it to the safety of its room. Position the gate a few inches off the floor, so your cat can come and go as it sees fit.
Cat-proof your house before your cat has access to it. Clean up any areas where your pet could get stuck and remove any poison-control traps. Hide cords, close windows, secure door screens, keep your dryer door closed and double-check your dryer before turning it on. Also, note that some plants are toxic to cats and you should examine your flowers before you let your cat out.
If your cat is still skittish and hiding, don’t introduce it to a new area of your home. It will only cause more stress and make it overwhelmed. Remember, if your cat cannot adjust and has a behavioral problem that you cannot resolve, it’s time to talk to your vet and consider hiring a cat behavior consultant. An expert (certified behavior consultant, a certified applied animal behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist) can assess your pet’s temperament, history and environment to find a solution.
While your vet is always the first person you should contact when your pet exhibits behavioral issues, you might also find these resources helpful:
- American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
- Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists
- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
How to make your home cat-friendly in the long run
Create vertical territory
Cats are climbers and love to be up high. It brings them a sense of authority and security. Furthermore, felines need to observe, jump and exercise. That’s why one of the most important aspects of creating a cat-friendly home is providing vertical space.
This could be done in many different ways: clearing up cabinets, window sills or bookshelves, installing wall stairways or getting a cat tree. Either one of these should keep your cat entertained and healthy.
Vertical territory can help avoid conflicts among several cats. It’s also good for a timid kitty that needs a place to escape.
Understand the need to scratch
Cats scratch for many reasons: to get rid of their claws’ outer layers, stretch back muscles, mark their territory, keep joints healthy and release emotions. Scratching is a natural behavior that should not be discouraged but directed to specific objects instead. That’s why providing your cat with scratching spots is good for your pet’s health and will protect your furniture, drapery and carpeting.
You can make your own scratching posts or buy some at the pet store. Sometimes a simple log or a solid piece of cardboard would do. Offer a few cat scratching posts and place them at locations where you have noticed your cat scratching and where your cat usually naps. Note that the locations are important, so pay attention to your cat’s preferences as he or she may not use the scratching posts otherwise. You can attract your cat to the posts by using catnip or playing near them and encouraging your pet to interact with the new cat furniture.
Reward your cat whenever he or she uses the scratching posts to encourage this behavior.
Provide a safe haven
Cats love to get away and snuggle up somewhere. To make your cat comfortable, dedicate a space that it can call it's own. Ideally, this spot would be off-limits to other family members.
The save haven could be a cozy box, a window perch, a padded shelf or a basket lined with soft bedding. You could, of course, get a cat bed or a small house. Plenty of options exist on the market, so pick one depending on your cat’s personality and age. For example, a hooded bed is ideal for cats that seek solitude, while a heated one may be better for an older cat with stiff joints. Either way, your home should have a spot where your cat feels secure.
Remember that a cat’s sleeping spot should be respected as its own. Don't allow children to disturb your cat when resting.
Offer a view
Cats love to observe and those who live indoors find great entertainment in studying the trees, birds or squirrels outside. You can create a view point for your pet with a cat window perch, a cat tower or an appropriately situated shelf. This will help your cat feel like it’s part of life outdoors and will make it less lonely if you are away for an extended period each day.
If you haven't already, install window screens to let your cat enjoy a bit more of the outdoors. Open the blinds or curtains.
Pay attention to the cat’s diet
Food is vital to raising a happy, healthy cat. One of the most frequently asked questions on this topic is:
Can I feed my cat dog food?
The short answer is “No.” Why? Cats and dogs have different dietary needs. Cats are carnivores (they eat meat) while dogs are omnivores (they eat meat, grains and vegetables). Cats thrive on high-protein; they don’t need veggies and can tolerate carbs in small amounts. They also need some specific nutrients such as vitamin A, taurine and arachidonic acid. For this reason, cats would be malnourished if they consume dog food.
Keep in mind that it could seem like your cat prefers canine food as it might be attracted to the smell or texture; however, feeding your cat dog food, in the long run, is not a good idea and could be detrimental to your pet’s health. Of course, nothing is going to happen if your dog and cat occasionally snag a bite of each other’s bowl.
That said, you’ll need to experiment a bit to find the right foods that your cat actually enjoys. When selecting, consider your cat’s taste and age.
Here are some additional guidelines to help as you choose food for your feline pal:
- Try dry and canned food, and consider a different diet for each life stage. Many cat foods are formulated for a specific age group. For instance, senior cats need softer bites due to tooth loss, while kittens need more protein and calories because they are growing.
- All cat food should list a source of animal protein and fat. The animal source may be in the form of beef, poultry, fish, or other meat.
- The food should also contain taurine, an amino acid that cats need, as well as arachidonic acid. Cats also require vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.
- Get familiar with the Association of American Feed Control Officials' pet-food requirements, which has established some important guidelines. Look for brands that comply with the AAFCO.
- When looking at cat-food ingredients, use the same judgment as you would for your groceries. Too many hard-to-pronounce words probably don’t add nutritional value. Avoid added sugars, excessive carbohydrate fillers (corn, oats, soybean), words such as “by-products” and so on. Use common sense.
- If you are considering a raw-food diet, know that it carries risks. Raw meat could contain bacteria that may cause serious infections. Additionally, bones may cause oral injuries, airway obstructions or abdominal complications. If bones are part of your cat's diet, consider grinding them. Please also note that raw diets should not be fed to cats living in homes with immune-compromised individuals, young children and older people.
- Beware of foods that humans love but could be toxic to your cat. These include caffeine, grapes, onions, chocolate, yeast dough and more.
- Consider a wide, low-sided dish for your cat’s food because feline whiskers are extremely sensitive and the high sides of a bowl bother them. Don’t place the food next to the water bowl, and provide clean water daily. Cats require a high-moisture diet, so consider setting up multiple water stations around the house.
Remember that cat food is one of the most important expenses you’ll make. It will help you raise a strong, healthy pet, so take the time to do some research and talk to your vet for advice.
Be smart about the litter box
The general rule about litter boxes is that you need one litter box in addition to the number of cats (the so-called n+1 rule). So, if you have one cat, you need two litter boxes; if you have three cats – four litter boxes, and so on.
Put the litter box where you would see it and clean it often. Leaving a smelly litter box in the basement will drive your cat away from it and you’ll have a bigger problem on your hands.
Here’s what you need to know when you set up a litter box for your new cat:
- Pick a good location. The spot should suit your cat, not you. This is especially important if you have a kitten because a baby doesn’t have the bladder control to search for the toilet too long.
- Don’t locate boxes in closed-off areas because cats instinctively seek a place with good visibility to prevent the risk of ambush. Provide easy access: Ideally, your cat should have at least two ways to get in and out of the box.
- Put the litter box away from the cat’s food. It’s also a good idea to avoid placing the box near vents, furnaces or laundry machines whose vibrations and noises may deter your cat from using it.
- Avoid high-traffic areas, especially if you have kids. Overall, the litter box should be in a quiet, low-traffic location that your cat can access at all times.
- Take time to pick the litter. It should have a soft, sandy texture because that’s what cats would seek out in the wild. Cats are also sensitive to strong smells, so avoid heavily scented litters. Use a low-dust litter to avoid irritating your cat’s sensitive nose and lungs.
- Keep it clean! People underestimate the importance of keeping the litter box clean, yet a dirty litter may make your cat go somewhere else.
- Scrub the entire pan thoroughly on a regular basis. When washing, use soap and water but do not use bleach or other harsh cleaners because their scent may make your cat avoid the litter box. Once you wash the pan, pad it dry and replace the litter.
- Consider a basic litter box at first. Electronic and self-cleaning litter boxes are noisy and plastic liners might also make your cat uncomfortable. Additionally, enclosed boxes trap the smell inside, and the strong smell may make the cat shun the box. A closed litter box may also prevent you from monitoring what’s happening inside, and the ability to see what does or doesn’t happen in the litter box is important when it comes to your cat’s health.
- Make sure the litter box is big enough for your cat. If you have a large-breed cat like a Maine Coon, try a jumbo-sized box. Your cat is also less likely to have an over-the-side accident with a properly sized box.
- In a multi-cat household, spread the boxes around, so there is one for each pet.
Scoop the litter box at least twice a day and wash it every other week. Keep in mind that adding extra litter is not a way around cleaning your cat’s toilet!
When to let your new cat outdoors
Cats are curious creatures who love exploring. So, if your cat seems to be interested in venturing out, consider the benefits and drawbacks. Before you let your new adult cat outside, keep it in for at least a month. If you have a kitten, wait until it’s fully grown. A kitten may pick up an infection or get lost easily, so keep it indoors until it’s at least 6 months old, and it has gotten all vaccinations.
Remember that many organizations strongly advocate raising cats indoors for their entire lives, so do not force your cat out if it hasn’t shown much interest. The outdoor world holds many dangers: cars, aggressive rival cats, infectious diseases, other animals (foxes or dogs), toxic substances (rat poison), etc.
If you decide to let your cat out, here is some advice that can help you and protect your cat:
- Microchip your pet ahead. This is done by a vet, who inserts a chip, the size of a rice grain, near your cat’s neck. The microchip carries detailed ownership information, which is retrieved by a scanner. So, if your cat gets lost, the person who finds it can take your pet to a vet or shelter and find out how to contact you by scanning the chip.
- A cat collar with identification is also recommended. Cat collars are safe if you choose a break-free or break-away collar. Because a collar can become a strangling hazard if it gets caught (on a fence, for example), pick a break-away design, which will allow your cat to escape.
- If you’re choosing a collar for a kitten, remember to adjust the collar weekly as your pet grows. If you’re not going to check the collar often, don’t put it because an in-grown collar can seriously damage your cat’s neck tissue.
- Once you pick a collar, fasten it so that you can easily slip two fingers between the collar and your cat’s throat. While initially, your cat may dislike it, most cats get used to wearing it. Whether you have an indoor or an outdoor cat, a collar with a tag is important to the safety of your furry pal.
- Choose a quiet time for your cat’s first venture out and do it before feeding time. If you teach your cat to recognize a signal that shows dinner is ready (like shaking the food box, whistling or banging the side of a can with a spoon), you can later use that signal to call your cat in. Accompany your pet outside the first few times and gradually increase the time out.
- Consider creating a garden or balcony enclosure that would allow your cat to spend time outside without letting it roam.
- Walking your cat on a leash is also an option. In that case, you would need a harness, not a collar.
- Don’t forget to talk to your vet about vaccinations and other medications against warms, ticks, and fleas.
How to introduce a new cat to other animals
Animals are like people – they have individual personalities and might get along with one animal, but not another. You cannot force them to like someone. This is why it’s best to pick a cat with a similar personality, age and activity level as your resident pet – for example, a senior dog might not be thrilled with the endless energy of a kitten.
Keep in mind that, in general, cats are solitary and territorial animals. They don’t like to share and despise change. Adding another animal to the mix is a big change for them. Thus, you have to supervise the adjustment process and be patient. The adaptation may take anywhere from a few days to a few months. Go slow to increase your chances of success. Here are a few ideas on how to introduce your new cat.
Introducing a new cat to a resident cat
Don’t introduce your cats abruptly, face to face. This might cause anger, fear or aggression and damage the relationship beyond repair. Let the cats meet through smell and sound first.
In the beginning, exchange bedding and items between the new cat and the resident(s). Then, let the new cat explore the house while your resident cat is closed in a different room. You could also exchange the cats’ locations so that they can investigate each other. Try this for several days before you let the cats meet.
Then introduce the animals with your new cat in a carrier – place the carrier in the living room and allow the cats to sniff and observe each other. If there is no sign of aggression, allow them to meet while you oversee closely. In the next days, try to play with the cats simultaneously.
If the cats do not seem to get along, continue introducing them through smell and consider investing in a screen door so that the cats can see each other often. Try feeding them simultaneously on both sides of the door. Initially, put their bowls at a distance and slowly shorten it until your cats can eat calmly at each side of the door. Consider giving extra special treats near the door so the cats associate each other with a positive experience.
Note if the cats fight repeatedly, you may need to consult a veterinarian or an animal behaviorist. If the cats get in a fight, don’t try to resolve it by picking one up – you are going to get hurt. Clap loudly or use a towel to separate your pets.
During this process, be sure to spend time with both cats, even if you have to do it separately. Please note that each cat should have its own food dish, water bowl, litter box, bed, and scratching post.
Introducing a new cat to a resident dog
As in the previous case, allow your pets to meet through sound and smell first. Then allow your new cat to explore the house while your dog is confined. In a few days, introduce the pets indoors with the dog on a leash. Use “sit” and “stay” commands to keep your dog put while the cat gets used to it. Do not tolerate any aggression from your dog, and don’t allow it to chase the cat, even playfully. Supervise the animals and don’t force interactions.
Keep the dog on a leash for a couple of weeks and make sure the cat always has a way to escape to its safe room. Build up the time the animals spend together and reward good behavior with treats. You can take the leash off the dog when it doesn’t seem interested in bothering the cat, and the cat feels secure and confident around the dog.
Remember that the time required to integrate cats with dogs successfully depends on the animals' previous experiences with other species and their personalities.
Introducing a new cat to other animals
Birds, rodents and fish are the natural prey of felines, so they should be protected from the new cat. On the other hand, Rabbits seem to get along with cats but do supervise the animals closely at the beginning.
Cats make great companions and will bring you lots of joy. Just be patient as your cat adjusts and dedicate time to play and relax together. As with any other relationship, being kind and considerate goes a long way.
In the infographic below, we have summarized the most important things you should take care of when a new kitty comes into your home.
About the author
Viva Bolova holds a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. She spent 14 years doing work for major brands and writing for various publications. Now she writes on travel and pet-related topics and has experience as a PR expert for an international airport.
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