Going to a new home is one of the most stressful and frightening experiences in a catís or kittenís life. Itís compared to the stress we would experience if our home burned down, we were forced from our jobs, and our friends and family disappeared Ė all in the same day. Some cats adapt readily to their new homes and are contentedly purring away in their new ownersí laps in a few hours, while others takes days or weeks. Regardless of whether your new pet comes from a 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:
1. Your new kitty should spend at least its first day and night in its own room (and at least a week if you have other cats/dogs. See #4 below). This can be any quiet room in your home Ė a bedroom or bathroom with a closed window is ideal. It should also be a room that you can spend a lot of time in to help the kitty transition. 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. Place a litter box, bed, scratching post, food and water in this room. And make sure there is a place for the kitty to hide, i.e. under a bed, behind a chair, etc. And make sure the room is clean and void of anything the kitty could hurt itself on/with. Have all of this set up before bringing in your new kitty. Bring in the carrier containing your kitty, close the door to the room, and open the carrier. Allow the kitty to come out of the carrier on its own. DO NOT force the kitty out. If the kitty doesnít want to come out when youíre in the room, leave the room for a while, then come back in to see if the kitty has left the carrier. If not, leave the kitty in the carrier with the carrier door open.
This room is where the new kitty will stay until itís ready to meet the rest of your home. You play with it in this room, introduce other family members to it in this room, and never take it out of this room for any reason. And never let other pets into this room while the new kitty is acclimating to it room.
2. When left alone the kitty may cry anxiously. You can comfort it by talking to it quietly, petting it gently, and if it doesnít seem too frightened, picking it up and holding it in you lap.
3. If you have small children, itís especially important that they leave the kitty alone during this time. Because small children make sudden loud noises and movements, theyíre particularly terrifying to cats. Introduce children gradually. Ideally these visits should occur when the child is in a quiet, attentive mood. Tell the child, ďWeíre going to visit the new kitty now. We have to be very quiet and gentle, and move very slowly, so that the kitty will learn to trust us.Ē
4. How soon you let the kitty out to see the rest of your home depends on the kitty and whether or not you have other pets. If you have no other pets, your new kitty is ready to come out of its room when you walk into the room and itís no longer fearful of you, i.e. comes up to you to be pet, held, etc. If you have another cat, your new kitty should remain in its room for at least five-to-seven days, so they can get acquainted with each other by smelling each other under the door. The room will smell like the new kitty, and your other cat will treat the room as the newcomerís territory. Your new kitty will thus have refuge when you finally open the door and let the cats meet face-to-face for the first time. If you have a dog, never leave the new kitty alone with the dog unsupervised. We have more information about introducing a new kitty to your dog.
5. Once your kitty is ready to come out of its room, simply open the door and let it explore outside on itís own pace. Never pick it up and carry it out. Never force it out. Let you new kitty explore on its own. And, once the kitty is out of the room exploring, NEVER close the door to the room behind it. If the kitty gets scared or startled, itíll run back into the room to hide. If it canít get back into its room itíll scare the kitty even more.
6. Once you observe that your new kitty only goes back into its room to eat, drink and use the litter box, you can then move its food and box to a permanent location. Make sure that your kitty knows where you moved its food and box. This can simply be done by picking your new kitty up and placing it next to the food/water and box. Never place your kitty in the litter box. This will scare it.
7. Other tips:
a. If you plan on feeding your new kitty a different type of food than it was previously eating, make the transition after the new kitty has acclimated to itís room. It doesnít need anymore stress in the first few days.
b. If you plan to let your new kitty outside (not recommended unless you have a lot of property), donít let it out for at least a month after bringing it home and/or itís six months old. You want to make sure that your new kitty understands that your home is its new home. If it doesnít understand this, once let outside, itíll try to find the place from which you adopted it. And at six months old, your new kitty will be big enough to handle itself outside with other animals/cats.
The confinement technique described here will avoid many problems such as failure of your kitty to find the litter box, running out the front door before the kitty recognizes you and your home as its new home, and hiding in places where you might not want it to (like under the washer). Your patience will be rewarded, and your new kitty who cowered under your bed for a week will become a loving family member who greets you at the door, brings you gifts (a catnip mouse, perhaps), and generally repays you tenfold with love and companionship.