Bringing Home a Cat (or Two)



You’ve adopted a cat from AnimalKind, this is most likely your cat’s third “home” in a fairly short time period. Even though your house is probably much more comfortable than our shelter, change is stressful. Watch for signs of stress, and if you see them, make certain that they lessen over time. If her stress is not slowly decreasing every day, you should seek the help of a behaviorist, your veterinarian or contact us.

The first week

The first thing you should know about your new pet is that most cats hate to travel. For the trip home, confine your pet in a sturdy cat carrier. Don't leave them loose in your car, where they might panic and cause an accident, or get out when you open the car door. They may yowl and cry and try mightily to get out of the carrier, but don't give in.

After the ride home, they will, most likely, not be in the mood for fun. To make their transition to your household as comfortable as possible, select a quiet, closed-in area, such as your bedroom or a small room away from the main foot traffic, and provide them with a cozy bed, litter boxfood and watertoys, and a scratching post.

Let your new pet become acquainted with that limited area for the first few days. Be sure to spend plenty of time with them in that room, but if they're hiding under the bed, don't force them to come out.  If necessary, sit on the floor to talk to them and offer treats. Let them sniff all your belongings and investigate all the hiding places.

Your new cat may be full of self-confidence and itching to get out and make him or herself at home. Or they may be more of a shrinking violet that needs more time to adjust.

Avoid conflict when bringing a new cat into the family by carefully introducing them to any other pets. 

Over a few days, slowly help your cat become familiar with the rest of the family, including other pets and household members. Make sure they always have access to "their"room so they can retreat to it if they feel nervous. It will take a little while, but they'll eventually start to feel comfortable at home.

Cats vary in terms of how demanding they are as pets; so let yours guide you to the level of attention they want, whether it's your hand for petting, or your lap for sitting. Provide them with the necessary creature comforts and give them the companionship they seek, and they'll be content.

Preparation: Supplies for a new cat

First, prepare to welcome your cat home by making sure you have these items on hand:

·      Food and water bowls

·      Food (To ease the transition, stick with the food your cat is used to eating at first. Then, if necessary, gradually switch to a higher-quality food.)

·      Treats

·      Collar with ID tag

·      Cat bed

·      Cat toys

·      Cat brush

·      Cat litter box and litter (Again, stick with the type the cat is used to.)

·      Scratching post or strips

Recognizing signs of stress in a cat

Your new cat will likely be stressed initially. Signs of stress can include decreased appetite, decreased grooming, hiding, lack of interest in attention or affection, and sleeping in unusual locations. A stressed cat may be more quiet than usual, which can be difficult to notice. Very stressed cats are more likely to behave aggressively or fearfully.

Your cat’s environment

Many cats are fearful when introduced to their new home; being moved from a small enclosure to an apartment or house is a big change. Your home also has different smells and noises than the shelter and the home where your cat lived before. Initially, confine your new cat to one room. Your bedroom or the living room often works well for this. Make sure that you provide your new cat with food, water, and a litter box (see below), and that you regularly spend time in this room with her, so that she is not alone.

Provide her with multiple hiding places. A cardboard box with holes cut in both sides (so she can go in and out each side) and a blanket placed in the bottom can be a great hiding place. Be certain to provide her with hiding places on the ground, as well as up high. When she is in her hiding place, do not disturb her. Her hiding places should be her special places, where she can have privacy if desired.

Place a scratching post or cat tree in her room. Place her scent on the cat tree by gently stroking her cheeks with a towel, and then rubbing the scratching post with the towel. This will transfer her scent onto the scratching post, thereby increasing the likelihood that she will use it.

Let your cat adjust to the room, and to you. Do not force her to stay near you if you wish to pet her. Instead, coax her to you by playing with an interactive toy or staying near her food bowl while she is eating. Once she realizes that this stranger (you) provides all the same good things that her previous owner did (and maybe even more!), she will warm quickly to you and accept your attention.

After three days, or once your cat is comfortably walking around and living in this room, expand her access to the entire house. For some cats, it may take several weeks before they are comfortable in their room and can be allowed access to the whole house.

Feline diet

Cats eat less when they are stressed, and sometimes stop eating altogether. It is extremely important to make sure that your cat is eating regularly (and adequate amounts) once you have brought him home. If possible, buy the same type of food that the shelter used. If he is not eating, try mixing a little bit of a tastier food, such as canned cat food or baby food, into his meal.

After two days, or once he is eating regularly, slowly change him over to the diet that you would like to feed him (if different from what he got at the shelter). Make sure you feed your cat high-quality food. On the first and second days, feed him 25 percent of your diet and 75 percent of the shelter’s diet, mixed together. On the third and fourth days, give him 50 percent of each. On the fifth and sixth days, switch to 75 percent of your diet and 25 percent of the shelter’s diet. On the seventh day, feed him 100 percent of your preferred diet. Changing your cat’s diet too rapidly can cause upset to his system (decreased appetite, vomiting, and/or diarrhea). If this happens, call your veterinarian.

Decide whether you wish to feed your cat once daily, twice daily or free choice (which means leaving dry food out at all times). Many cats who are fed free choice do not properly control their food intake and tend to be overweight, which predisposes them to health problems. For most cats, twice-daily feeding is ideal. You can also put some of your cat’s daily ration into a food-dispensing toy. Food-dispensing toys are a fun way for your cat to “hunt” for his food, and are a great way to enrich his life. Do not start using a food-dispensing toy until your cat has completely settled into your home, after about two to three weeks.

Litter box

Provide your cat with an uncovered, clean litter box. Covered litter boxes can trap odors inside the box, which is nice for you, but not for your cat. Cats are often quite fastidious; they are sensitive to the smell of urine and feces, as well as deodorizers. Reducing the smell inside and around the litter box can be very important for them. Scoop out the litter box once daily, and empty it completely to clean it every two weeks. When you clean the litter box, use a mild soap, not strong-smelling detergents or ammonia.

The most common reason that cats are brought to shelters is litter box problems. Following the above recommendations can make the difference between a cat who is house-trained and a cat who isn’t. Remember that if you do not like the smell of the litter box, your cat probably doesn’t either; keep it clean and you’ll have a happy cat.

Cat toys

There are many different toys that your cat might like to play with. Cats like novelty, so buy several different types of toys for her and try them out. Play with the toys with your cat; do not set them out and expect her to play with them on her own. If she is not interested in them for the first few days, give her time, and try different toys. Do not play with your cat with your hands. Using your hands as a toy teaches your cat that it is okay to bite or scratch you.

Indoors vs. outdoors

One of the big decisions cat owners must make is whether to allow their cat outside. There are many risks outdoors that can shorten your cat’s life span. He could be hit by a car, poisoned, attacked by a dog, or infected with an incurable virus. However, many cats really enjoy being outdoors and miss the stimulation of the natural world if they are kept inside all the time.

There are several different ways that you can allow your cat to enjoy the outdoors without the risk. You can install perches on windowsills around the house so that your cat can sit at the window, watch the outdoors, and enjoy the sunlight. With patience, you can teach your cat to walk with a harness or leash, and then you can take him outdoors for walks.

Another option is to build or buy an outdoor enclosure (often called a cattery or catio) for your cat. You can search the Internet for “cat enclosures” or “catios” to find out what other people have done. At C & D Pet Products, you can buy a prefab cattery. If building a cattery is too ambitious a project for you, check out the many alternatives offered by Kittywalk Systems. Another popular way to give your cat the freedom of the outdoors is with Cat Fence-In, a product that makes it impossible for cats to climb over regular backyard fencing.

The key to successful integration of your new cat into your home is being aware of the signs of stress, and making sure that they remain minimal. Change her environment slowly. Remember that although these recommendations work for most cats, they will not work for every cat. If your cat is showing signs of stress and is not improving, please contact your veterinarian or a behaviorist.

How to Introduce Cats to Cats

Phase 1 – Cat Smells Cat

  • Successful introductions take time. DO NOT and we repeat DO NOT try to introduce the new addition to your resident cat(s) immediately upon arrival. You may damage the new relationship irreparably and initiate fear, anger, aggression, spraying and litter box problems in the new cat and/or resident cat(s). Successful introductions take time.
  • Let the cats sniff out the situation. Let “smell” be the first introduction as the cats sniff each other from under the “safe room” door. Within two to four days, begin exchanging the bedding between the new and resident cat(s) daily. This helps familiarize the cats with each other’s scents.

Phase 2 – Cat Continues to Smell Cat

  • Let the sniffing continue. If there are no marked signs of aggression from the cats, such as hissing and growling, the next step is to confine your resident cat to a room and let the new cat explore your house for a couple of hours each day for several days.

Phase 3 – Cat Sees Cat

  • Organize a carrier meeting. Place your new cat in a carrier and put the carrier in a location of your home outside of the safe room (for example, the living room). Allow the cats to look at each other and sniff through the carrier door.
  • Any signs of aggression? Keep the visit short and return the new cat to its safe room.
  • Repeat this phase 2 to 3 times daily (if possible), until cats appear to be more comfortable with each other.

Phase 4 – Cat Meets Cat

  • Let the cats meet at their own pace. If there are no signs of aggression between cats, leave the door to the safe room open a crack. This will allow the new cat to explore and/or your resident cat to visit. Supervision is necessary for the safety of both cats.
  • In case of aggression, have a spray bottle filled with water or a towel handy. Always stop serious threats and/or aggression immediately, as a serious fight may damage the potential for successful integration and relationship.
  • If over a period of weeks your integration plan is not going well, consider the installation of an inexpensive screen door from a building supply store. The screen door allows the cats to continue to get to know each other by sight and smell, while keeping both parties safe. Each cat can take turns in the screened room.
  • A Feliway diffuser may also prove helpful when integration is difficult.

Phase 5 – Integration Complete

  • You may notice some occasional hissing, swatting and grouchy behaviour over the next few months (and years). This is normal. Cats are hierarchical by nature and must establish and affirm the pecking order within your household. Plus, much like humans, all cats have the occasional “off” day.

Please note: The 5 phases detailed above offer only approximate timelines. Some integrations may proceed faster or slower and integration is dependent on the personalities of the cats involved. Remember, you know your cat(s) best. Use common sense and patience when integrating a new cat or cats.

How to Introduce Cats to Dogs

Phase 1 – Cat Smells Dog

Phase 2 – Switch Spots

  • If there are no other cats in your home, confine the dog to one room and let the cat begin to explore the rest of your house for one to two hours each day until the cat is familiar and comfortable with the layout of your home.

Phase 3 – Cat Meets Dog

  • Bring the dog in on a leash. Once the cat is used to your home, let the cat roam loose in one room. Keep the dog on a leash and have dog treats ready in your pocket. If possible, have another person the cat is familiar with on the other side of the room to reassure and distract the cat from the dog.
  • Sit and meet. Keep the dog seated and focused on you as the leader. Try offering the dog a toy. If the dog focuses on or accepts the toy, reward the dog with a treat. If the dog tries to stand and move towards the cat(s), correct the dog slightly with the leash and reward him or her with a treat. If at any point the dog is not responding to your commands or the cat’s stress level appears elevated, remove the dog from the room. Keep repeating this process until the dog is responding to you and either ignoring or accepting the cat(s). This process helps teach the dog that cats are not prey, toys to be chased, or threats.
  • Watch. Never leave the dog and cat(s) unsupervised until you are absolutely sure they have built up a mutual, trusting and respectful relationship.
  • Make sure kitty has some space for alone time. Even once the cat(s) and dog(s) are comfortable with each other, cats still like having the option to retreat to a space away from the dog. Place a baby gate across the doorway of a room in the house where the cat or cats like to hang out, or buy or build a tall cat tower so they can retreat when needed.

Note: The length of time required to successfully integrate cats with dogs varies depending on the previous experiences of the animals involved. For example, your dog may have had previous encounter with a cat or the cat may have had prior experience with a dog. Often, when the cats and dogs are used to being around the other species, integration can be quicker.

Tips for Kids

To help introduce your new cat to children, we’ve included a little message with some tips from the cats:

Hi there! I’m your new cat and I’d like to tell you a few things:

  • Your house is brand new to me, so I am a bit nervous and shy.
  • It will take me a few days to feel comfortable, so please be patient.
  • Please don’t chase me; I will start to play when I feel more comfortable.
  • I will learn about my new house by smelling everything.
  • Because I’m new, I might run away from loud voices, noises and fast movements.
  • Because I’m a bit nervous, I might hiss; that’s how I say, “I am scared.”
  • I need quiet times just like you do, so I might find a hiding spot and take a nap.
  • Please put my litter box in a quiet spot and let me use it alone.
  • Please remember to pick up all my legs when you carry me or my tummy will hurt.
  • I won’t mean to, but since I have claws I might scratch you if we play too much.
  • I’m not sure where to sleep yet, so I might try a lot of places before I get comfortable.
  • Please pet me gently and don’t pull my tail; I am small and can be hurt easily.
  • Make sure you don’t let me outside. I don’t know where I live and I’ll get lost.
  • Oh, and one last thing. Please remember to close the door to outside behind you. I’m naturally very curious!