Getting to know you and your pets
Your new pet will eventually adjust to its new home, but be prepared for the transition to be somewhat stressful. An animal that displays a happy, playful attitude at the shelter may act wary and fearful in a new environment such as your home. Because cats are more “creatures of habit” than dogs, a cat may choose to hide under a bed or in a closet for the first few days. Don’t force interactions. Set up a small, quiet area for your new cat to help establish a safe and secure environment.
Watch for cues about how your pet is feeling, and take that into account when you interact. If your pet seems timid, try to move slowly, or just sit in the same room reading a book and let your pet come to you. If your pet is full of energy and ready to play, get out the toys right away. But be cautious. Pets can be both scared and full of energy. Modify your actions to make your new pet feel welcome. The care you take with your own behavior in early days will pay off in the future as your pet learns that you are someone to trust.
Establish a set feeding schedule at the outset. Don’t be surprised if your new pet does not eat much for the first few days. A predictable feeding schedule will create consistency and help establish a set elimination schedule. Give your pet a chance to get used to things in her new home before expecting her true personality to emerge. Above all, be patient! Some animals need a few days or weeks to feel at home.
The run of the house – don’t rush it!
Many animals coming from the shelter have been in a cage or kennel for days or weeks before arriving at your home. To have the run of an entire house can be overwhelming, especially if it happens too fast. Resist the temptation to let your pet run loose in the house during this first week, especially if you have other pets. Give your new cat a week or more to settle in and feel comfortable with her new environment. It’s best to confine to a single, quiet room with the cat’s own litterbox, food dish, and a box or bed. Use this time to make sure your new pet is healthy by keeping your appointment for the free physical exam. More information on introducing pets is included in the next section of this booklet.
If your new cat or kitten seems comfortable and relaxed, meaning not hiding and is willing to come to you for affection and food, you can provide access to other areas of your home. If you have other pets, follow these guidelines regarding introductions. If your new cat is your only pet, you can provide the chance to explore. Before you begin, be sure any off-limits areas (basement, attic, garage) are not accessible, so the first big tour doesn’t end up in a frantic search.
When you’re ready, open the door from your pet’s room and sit just outside. Encourage your cat to come to you, then reward with attention or a treat. Staying seated, let your cat wander freely. If the cat seems comfortable after 15 minutes, get up and go about your business in the house, but stay near enough to make sure there is no trouble. Restrict free time to less than an hour at first, but gradually lengthen it until your cat or kitten is out in the house whenever you’re home. Once your cat has found places to play and relax, move food, water, and litterbox to their permanent location. If you’re moving the litterbox a long distance (from an upstairs bedroom to the basement, for example), set up a second box in the new location, but leave the first one in your cat’s special room until the second one is used on a regular basis.
If there are places your cat is not allowed to go – tabletops, counters, plant shelf – establish those rules during the first tour of the house. Placing double-sided tape on counters and tables can help teach your cat to avoid these surfaces. Rattle a can full of pebbles as your cat approaches off-limits areas to help associate the behavior with an unpleasant noise. Don’t allow your cat the run of the house when you’re not around until you’re confident the “house rules" are understood.
Some animals respond very well to an expanded living area. Others get frightened and retreat. If your cat seems more nervous now that you have given more access to the house, slow down the introduction process to match comfort level. Some cats feel safest in a relatively small area, only willing to explore other parts of the home if you accompany them. Every animal is different. Get to know what your pet prefers and try to support those preferences.
Introducing your new cat to resident pets
If you already had pets at home when you selected your pet from the shelter, you are no doubt looking forward to a happy, harmonious relationship between all animals. Follow the guidelines listed here to give everyone the best chance for lasting friendship. Please pay special attention to this process. Rushing or skipping steps could result in injury.
Success in adding a cat to your household depends largely upon the personality of your present cat. When selecting a new cat, don’t worry about gender – age and temperament are the more important factors. The typical adult cat will accept a new kitten more easily than he will accept a new adult cat. Even with a new kitten, however, plan for a gradual introduction that will give both animals the best chance for a happy, long-term relationship. Learn more.
Despite the stereotype of “fighting like cats and dogs,” many adopted cats learn to live peacefully with resident dogs, whether kittens or adults. The most important thing for adopters to know is that this adjustment is a process, not a one-time introduction. Care must be taken to introduce cats and dogs slowly, making the process as stress-free and pleasant as possible. Adopters must then be prepared to manage their pets’ interactions for the next several weeks, if not longer. Learn more.
It’s a jungle out there
Many dangers face a cat allowed to roam outside. Disease, fast-moving cars, injuries by other animals and lawn chemicals are just a few. Keep your cat indoors! If you want your cat to experience the great outdoors, use a harness and leash and accompany him as he explores your yard. Always keep a collar and ID tag on your cat in the event he should accidentally get off leash or escape the house.