Congratulations on adopting a new cat or kitten — or perhaps you are just starting to think about bringing home a new furry family member and want to make sure you’re prepared when the big day comes. See below for some suggestions and tips on how to best acclimate your new cat or kitten to your home.
THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT STEPS BEFORE YOU INTRODUCE YOUR NEW CAT(S)!
- Keep your new cat or kitten in a smaller, separate room at first!
- Never introduce your new cat or kitten and existing animals right away!
- START KITTY OFF IN A SMALL ROOM, AWAY FROM OTHER ANIMALS – A bedroom or even a bathroom will work well for this purpose. A small room will give your new cat a chance to get used to the smells and sounds of your home without being overwhelmed. It will give you a chance to make sure kitty is eating, drinking, and using the litter box properly. This is especially important for shy cats, who may simply hide if allowed to be loose immediately and if you have other animals in the house. Never, ever introduce new animals to existing ones right away — it’s a recipe for disaster!
- GIVE YOUR NEW KITTY A CHANCE TO RELAX – It can be hard to resist wanting to pet or play with your new cat right away, but remember that even though you are the best new home your cat could hope for, change is always stressful for cats, so your best bet is to give kitty a chance to settle in for a few hours or even overnight before spending a lot of time interacting. Consider something like rescue Remedy (by Bach Flower Essences) in the cat’s water, or a plug-in feline pheromone diffuser like Feliway to help keep everyone calm!
- MAKE SURE YOUR FIRST INTERACTIONS WITH YOUR NEW KITTY ARE POSITIVE – Have everything set up for the cat before you let him or her loose in the room so that the noise and movement of setting up won’t add to kitty’s stress. Have your first interactions be about really yummy food, a great new toy, treats, and lots of kind words and gentle attention. Let your kitty know he or she is safe and that lots of good things await!
- KITTEN-PROOF THE ROOM – If you’ve brought home a new kitten, check the room carefully for small objects that can be ingested, heavy things that can be knocked or pulled down, cords that can be chewed on, spaces that kittens can get into but may not be able to get out of easily, etc. Kittens can get into lots of trouble, so look around and make sure everything is safe for them!
INTRODUCING YOUR NEW KITTY TO EXISTING ANIMALS
- INTRODUCING DOGS & CATS – If you have a dog, keep the dog leashed the first time meeting the new cat. Never cage the cat or place him or her in a carrier to allow the dog to sniff — the cat will be terrified! The cat should always be able to run or jump to a safe location if he or she becomes nervous around the dog. Give both dog & cat a treat within sight of each other, and end the interaction immediately if either animal becomes agitated or aggressive. Keep trying for a short amount of time until both animals are calm in each other’s presence.
- INTRODUCING EXISTING CATS – Your existing cats will know there is a new cat in the house very quickly and may become angry or cranky. Make sure to give existing animals lots of love and attention, and DON’T RUSH TO INTRODUCE THE CATS! 1. The longer you can let everyone get used to each other while the new cat is separate the better. We recommend a bare minimum of a week, but longer if you can. This is important for health reasons (especially if new kitty came from outdoors or was in a shelter), and for behavioral reasons as well.
- Swap bedding from the cats so they can get used to each others’ smells.
- If you can, after a week or so, put up a baby gate so the cats can see and smell each other but are not able to touch each other directly. Feed them within sight or each other, or offer extra delicious treats. Your goal is to help the cats form positive associations with each other.
- Eventually, allow them to meet for short periods of time. Hissing and growling are NORMAL — don’t be alarmed! If aggressive behavior escalates, separate the cats immediately (be careful!) and try again later. Don’t leave the cats alone together until you are sure they can co-exist fairly peacefully.
- Above all else, BE PATIENT – two cats getting along (or even just tolerating each other) can take weeks, if not months.
- Don’t forget that multiple cats need multiple litter boxes, and often multiple feeding stations and perches or cat trees as well — but even if you skimp on everything else, never skimp on litter boxes! The basic rule of thumb is one box per cat plus one! Trust us on this one!
The Humane Society of the United States’s Cat Care and Behavior Tips page has great articles on introducing pets, cat-proofing your house, basic cat care advice, etc.
Pam Johnson-Bennett’s article on Multicat Households: Keeping the Peace incorporates many tips from her wonderful cat care and behavior books