If you have been thinking of bringing a new furry friend into your life, now may be the perfect time to head out to your local shelter and find your match! Whether you’re a seasoned cat owner, are already sharing your space with cats, dogs, or other animals, or this would be your single pet addition to the family – there are some general guidelines to help the transition from shelter to home go as smoothly as possible.
- If you have other cats, be strategic about the one you choose to bring home. Each cat is very much its own individual, and some might get along better than others. Generally, if a cat has lived with other cats before, it is more likely to adjust to living with another cat. However, this does not mean opening the doors of your previously single cat household to a new kitty is a lost cause. Keep your current cat’s personality and lifestyle in mind. It is important to also consider age. Is your cat on the older side? In this case, a young and playful kitten might not be the best idea and could bring out the grumpiest side of your cat. But if you’ve got a mischievous, energetic kitty already – a kitten or adolescent cat could be a perfect playmate! Remember that adolescent or even young cats of several years of age can still be playful and have kitten-like energy!
Author’s example: I have a cat who is now 9 years old, and even she has her kitten-like playful moments on a daily basis! Generally, kittens are adopted out more easily and quickly, too – so if you’re wanting a playful kitty, remember that it does not necessarily have to be a kitten and you can open your home to an adult or adolescent cat! I have a lot of experience bringing new cats into the home with permanent cat residents already around – whether it was through fostering or adoption. Because our cat brood growing up included a wide range of ages, they were used to different energy-levels and personalities being in the house, and we were able to introduce fully-grown cats or kittens alike without much incident. A helpful thing to do is think about how your cat spends its time. If she plays a lot, a playful kitty might be a good match. If he is more mellow and sleeps most of the day in a favorite chair, you may want to seek out another calmer kitty.
- Make sure your new cat has a carrier to ride in on the way home. Most cats do not love car rides, and your new kitty will probably be afraid and not understand what is happening. When cats are afraid, they react with their claws or teeth sometimes. If someone holds the cat rather than utilizing a carrier, it could get spooked and hurt that person or itself, and generally put anyone in the vehicle at risk. Carriers ensure a safe journey for your new family member and for everyone involved.
Author’s example: My cats still cry and scream at me for the entire duration of a car ride to this day from inside their carriers. If I am able, I try to stick a finger or two inside the carrier (they often have little holes so the cat has fresh air and light coming in) and try to offer the cat comfort. It might seem in vain, but I know it does not hurt to try, unless the cat is showing signs of aggression. Cats do not know what to make of cars and the experience is scary for them. Be empathetic and soothing and the car ride will go as smoothly as possible.
- When introducing kitties to each other, you can minimize the likelihood and severity of any problems. Before you bring a new cat home, set up a separate space for them to occupy at first, with a door that can be closed. This prevents the new kitty from getting too overwhelmed all at once when you bring it home, and lets it adjust a little to the new environment first before roaming the whole house. If you do not have other pets, this is still a good idea. If you do, your pets can sniff the new cat under the door and explore the new addition with a safe barrier in place in case someone gets scared. If all of the cats appear comfortable in their respective spaces, you can either slowly let them make contact, or switch the new cat to another room and let the other cats into the room you originally had the new cat in. This is so that they can smell the space and get a feel for its presence. When you do choose to integrate them, gradually introduce the animals to the same space with supervision until the newer cat is more adjusted and accepted into the house and the daily routine. You want to be relatively confident that the cats will safely interact.
Author’s example: Make sure the separate room for your new cat has everything the kitty will need: litter box, water bowl, food bowl, and ideally a few comfy things to lie down and sleep on. Cardboard boxes are great too, so that the cat can hide if it wants to. Cats take comfort in small, secure spots like inside of boxes. I remember when we adopted a mother cat and one of her daughters through a local cat rescue – my brother and I constructed a gigantic castle for them out of old boxes that had several interconnected “rooms.” They loved it! However, a simple box will do. Also, make sure you spend time with the new cat (and of course still spend time with the other ones, if applicable). It may seem self-explanatory but the cat needs assurances that this new place is safe and welcoming. Play with them or just spend time petting them and watch for signs of stress such as not eating or aggression. If these persist, contact your veterinarian for advice.
- What do you do if upon introduction, either cat shows of aggression or extreme stress? Separate them again and keep them apart for a little while. When you introduce them again, go through the process more slowly. If the cats can sniff each other through a door without stress, bring each cat into a large room, and place them on opposite sides. If you can have another person who can help you, each person should be assigned to a cat and give it attention and treats on each side of the room. Otherwise, place the more comfortable cat in carrier or more contained region of the room with some form of distraction such as food or catnip, and play with the other cat while in the same room. Doing this over multiple occasions should give you the opportunity to gradually bring the cats closer to each other – showing them that the other cat in the room does not present a serious threat, and that they might receive special rewards for being in each other’s presence.
Author’s example: We knew based on experience and personality which cat in our current home might be more receptive to a new cat than another, and did introductions accordingly. Be prepared to swoop in and intervene if a fight breaks out, but do not panic! My cats that have lived together for years still have a spat now and again. Just because they initially do not get along does not mean they will not adapt and come to generally accept each other. Some cats will even become best friends.
- Be patient. If you are introducing a new cat to a cat you already a share a home, this applies to both of them. Try to see it from their points of view. Your household cat is used to ruling the roost and their world has been interrupted by a new arrival. They may feel threatened, scared, jealous, or territorial initially. As far as the new kitty, you need to be prepared to give it time. Consider what it might have been through prior to becoming yours. Your kitten may have been recently separated from his mother and siblings. Shelter cats have presumably already been through several environmental transitions before reaching your home, and possibly even had to cope with the stress of surgery or other medical treatment. If your kitty was previously owned, and was either given up at the shelter or got lost, imagine how they are in new surroundings after having to leave a familiar home and after breaking a bond with human companions or other animals they lived with for some time. The cat may not even be used to particularly kind treatment from people and may be fearful of you. Allow your cat several weeks to adapt. Do not get frustrated if the kitty is scared for some time. Make sure you confine the cat indoors during this period, and ensure that all windows and doors are kept closed and that all screens are secure. Scared cats might attempt to escape if given an opportunity. Your new cat needs time to come to see you as a provider of love, know that you are their nurturer, and to feel safe in your house. Your cat needs to be exclusively indoors for at least a month, however, experts strongly advocate keeping cats indoors for their entire lives, for health and safety reasons. Kittens are uniquely in danger if let outside due to lack of survival skills in their young age, outdoor predators, and other hazards. Consider keeping your cat indoors at all costs if possible.
Author’s example: If your new cat shows behavior problems during the early days in a new home, do not fret as these usually disappear over time. New cats and kittens might hide under your furniture for hours, even days. Just remember to sit and talk quietly to the cat in a soothing tone. Make sure that they always have access to food, water, and a litter box near their hiding place. If you must remove the cat from its hiding place, be very gentle, and remove them to a quiet area where they will feel secure.
One of my cats was a foster kitten when I was in high school and she was petrified of us. She was still very tiny and she and her brother had been abandoned in a glass pickle jar by the trash can at the shelter where my mom and I worked. We brought them home and she would always hide. One day, she crawled back behind a set of drawers in my closet to hide. Being that she was so tiny, it was very dark, and the drawers were built into the wall rather than freestanding, she got confused and scared about getting out. She started to cry, and I had to pull out drawers and crawl in to find her – a tiny black kitten – in pitch darkness. Once I did, I brought her out and she was clinging to me, terrified. I held her in my room for awhile afterward until she calmed down. I spent time holding and petting her gently each day until she trusted humans more. Now? She flops limp like a ragdoll and accepts attention whenever she is picked up!
Introducing a new cat to your home is not that difficult, and the work and patience you put in to the effort are always worth it. Good luck and happy wishes to you and your new cat. Happy Adopt a Cat Month!–Kelsey Hardin
Kelsey Hardin is a cat lady and graduate of the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. Living back in Columbus where she grew up, she spends her spare time writing, cuddling cats, crafting, spending time with friends, and catching local concerts and theatre shows.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Lilley