By Drs Foster & Smith
Bringing home a new cat or kitten is always exciting. You cannot wait to introduce the new addition to your family and friends; and you are already looking forward to years of happy companionship. The way you introduce your new cat to your household can make a big difference in how well he makes the adjustment.
Remember that cats are very much creatures of habit. They like things to be predictable and pretty much the same from day to day. You will be taking your cat out of a familiar environment, putting him into a noisy, moving vehicle, then expecting him to adjust to new surroundings, new people and perhaps, new animals. This is a lot to ask, and no matter how wonderful you and your home are, even the most easy-going cat is likely to be stressed and nervous. To make the transition as smooth as possible, take things slowly and give your cat plenty of time to get used to his new home.
Before you bring your new cat or kitten home
Making some plans ahead of time will make the transition to a new home much easier for you and your cat.
First, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have your new pet examined. If possible, schedule the appointment so you can take your cat to the veterinarian immediately after picking him up.
Make sure you have a sturdy travel crate for the cat to ride in. Most of the time the trip home will involve a car ride. When cats are nervous, they may feel more secure in an enclosed space. An unrestrained cat can be a real driving hazard, especially if she climbs down by the pedals, or jumps onto your shoulder. Having your cat in a carrier can also be helpful in case the cat vomits, urinates or defecates, which some cats will do if they are nervous.
The sense of smell is very important to cats, and it will make them more comfortable to have something that smells like their former home. For kittens, it is especially helpful to take a towel or blanket the kitten has been sleeping on with you to his new home. Make arrangements ahead of time with the breeder or shelter, possibly bringing them a towel for the cat to sleep on for several days before you pick her up. Place the towel in the carrier for the ride home, and leave it in the carrier for your new pet to sleep on the first few days.
To limit the number of changes your new pet will need to experience the first day, before you get the cat, find out what food and litter the cat has had, and try to get the same brand. If you want to change brands later, slowly (over the course of a week) mix the new brand in with the old brand.
Before you bring your new cat home, put his food, water, toys, scratching post, and litter pan in a quiet room you can close off, perhaps a spare bedroom. If the new cat is shy, fearful, or you have other cats, the use of the product Feliway may be helpful. Feliway is a product that was designed to help reduce anxiety in cats. It contains pheromones from the cat's face. Pheromones are chemicals which are used to communicate with other members of the same species. You may notice that a cat often rubs her face and chin on vertical surfaces. She is leaving a scent there which contains these pheromones. The pheromones from the face have a calming effect on other cats. You may wish to spray Feliway in the cat's new room, in the cat carrier before and after you pick up the cat, and around the house, if you have other cats. Alternatively, you can purchase a plug-in form of the product to use in the house.
The initial introduction to your home
Cats need to become thoroughly familiar with new surroundings before they feel comfortable. An entire apartment or house can be overwhelming all at once. Many cats will hide under beds or furniture, sometimes for days. It will be much less stressful for your cat to learn about you, your family and your home a little at a time. This is even more important if there are multiple people and/or pets in your household.
When you bring your cat home, place him in the room you have fixed up for him, keep this room closed off, and let him explore that area first. Let the cat come out of his crate on his own; do not try to coax him or tip the crate to force him out. Cats are curious and most will soon come out to explore their surroundings. If the cat seems very timid, you can leave the room for a while and check back later. If you really want to stay in the room, get a book and read. When the cat is ready to come out, stay where you are and let him come to you. Talk in a soft, reassuring tone, pet him if he seems interested, but do not try to pick him up. Leave the open carrier in the room, so that he has a safe retreat if he wants one. Give him time to learn that he can trust you.