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Bringing an Adopted Cat Home

Congratulations on adopting a cat! This is an exciting day for you, but quite an adjustment for your new companion. If you keep in mind your cat’s point of view, the transition will go smoother, and your new cat will more quickly understand that he has a wonderful new home. Below are the three milestones a cat needs to achieve to truly feel he is at home-sweet-home.

1. Territory for Me

Three weeks

When you arrive home, and plop your cat down, she has no way of knowing whether or not she is going to have to fight for territory. Cats become socially mature between 1 and 3 years old, and gradually become more territorial. It may take three weeks before they lose the desire to follow their homing instinct, and try to return to their previous territory. It is imperative that you keep your cat inside during this period. Of course, keeping your cat indoors is always a safer option.

In order to make your cat feel secure, and to ensure that she knows where the litter box, scratch post, and scratch pad are, you should set up a room for her, which contains all of these necessities. If you can keep any other pets out of this room for a few days before bringing your new cat home, the room will not smell like someone else’s territory. At a minimum, she will have to stay in this room until she has used the litter box and scratch post or pad. If your new cat is hiding or hissing, she will have to stay in her room until she settles down. Since this may take anywhere from a week to ten days, you will need to put food and water bowls, and a bed in her room. As the room acquires her scent, and days pass without incident, she will become more secure, and more sociable. An unattended kitten will have to stay in a secure area such as this until she is at least 5 months old.

2. Person On My Side

The first week is key

Your new cat has no way of knowing if you have his best interests in mind. He may be especially suspicious if you smell of other pets, or if there are lively children in the house. If you go into the room you have set up for him and he hides, let him have a few hours to himself. Then go into his room, and talk to him. Do not try to pull him out from his hiding place. Do not stare at him. Spending time in his room daily reading or watching TV is a good way to break the ice. Let him make the first move. When he stops hiding or hissing, and lets you pet him, it’s time to open the door if there are no other pets in the house. If there are other pets, it’s best to give him a full week to bond with you. If there are young children, you may try short, supervised visits before the end of the first week, if he seems relaxed. If your new cat is a kitten, he will need to be in a kitten-safe room at night, and when you are not at home.

3. Pet Hierarchy Established

The first month is key

Adult cats will set up a flexible hierarchy, with either a linear or complex order. When a newcomer enters the territory, you want to make sure the fur doesn’t fly while she finds her spot in the social order. This is often also true when mixing cats and dogs. Either way, do not introduce a new cat to any resident pets until the new cat has had a full week to establish her one room as her territory, and trusts at least one of the people in the house. During this time, spend most of your time with the resident pets – you don’t want them hating the new arrival before they even meet her! After petting her, it’s a good idea to wash her scent off your hands.

If there are no glaring stares or hissing (or barking) on either side of the closed door or at you after you have visited the new cat, and a week has passed, it is time to see the rest of the house. Put the resident pets out of her sight in a room or crate, and let the new cat explore the house. She needs to know the lay of the land, and her way back to her safe room, before the big stress of meeting the animals who claim this territory. You also want the resident pets to smell her scent in the house, and for her to smell their scent. Return her to her room when she is done exploring; if no one was stressed, then you are well on your way to the next step.

When it is time to meet the resident cat, set up a toddler gate or a screen. Have a bath towel handy should you need to block their view of each other, or separate them. If the cats do not chose to meet, simply close the new cat in her room when you no longer have the time to watch them. Try it again later. If the cats sit, stare, and growl, calmly close the door. Try it again later. Keep their first meeting brief—a minute or two. When they are relaxed in each other’s presence allow them to spend an increasing number of minutes in sight of each other. When introducing a cat to a resident dog, use these safety measures as well as a leash on the dog, to ensure the cat’s safety and comfort. When they are relaxed in each other’s presence it’s time to remove the barrier, but do keep a bath towel handy in case you need to separate them. Do not try to lure them close to each other. Keep the meeting brief—just a few minutes—and then redirect the new cat back to her room. If everyone is calm give them treats.

Gradually increase the time they are allowed to interact—if there is any stress then decrease the time they are together the next time. Slowly work up to 10 or 20 minutes, and then slowly working up to several hours a day. Watch them the whole time. This stage is very crucial to their future relationship. You must ensure that they are separated immediately, if not before, there is any stress or aggression. You do not want fighting or aggression to become a habit; it may only take a couple of weeks for them to establish a relationship. However, if you have two domineering cats, this might take many months. Keep in mind that some cats will never be friends or share litter boxes, even after years together. They may, however, have a peaceful coexistence if introductions and resources are handled correctly.

Do not let your new pet alone with the resident pets until you are sure it is safe. This probably will not be until at least the third week she is living with you. Signs to look for are sleeping together, using each other’s litter boxes, playing with ears forward, or walking past each other without hissing or swatting. Be very slow to move the new cat’s resources out of her safe room. Only move them after she is relaxed outside her room, and move the resources gradually, a few inches a day. If you have any problems, consider setting up an appointment with me.

Courtesy of Patience Fisher, DipFBST, CVA, BSBIO, patienceforcats.com