Your New Cat Comes Home

Congratulations: you’ve decided to adopt a cat! To ease integration into your home, take into consideration where your cat came from. Was she staying in a cage, in a room, or in a foster home? Were there other cats living with her or was she alone? Was the environment noisy or quiet? How often did she eat and where did she sleep? Changing all of these factors in her environment all at once can be very stressful. In order to integrate your new cat into your house and life as smoothly as possible, you must be able to recognize the signs of stress while changing her living situation slowly over time.

Your new cat will likely be stressed initially. Signs of stress can include decreased appetite, decreased grooming, hiding, lack of interest in attention or affection, and sleeping in unusual locations. A stressed cat may be more quiet than usual, which can be difficult to notice. Very stressed cats are more likely to behave aggressively or fearfully. If you’ve adopted a cat from a shelter, this is most likely your cat’s third “home” in a fairly short time period. Even though your house is probably much more comfortable than the shelter where she came from, change is stressful. Watch for signs of stress, and if you see them, make certain that they lessen over time. If her stress is not slowly decreasing every day, you should seek the help of a behaviorist or your veterinarian.

Make sure you feed your cat high-quality food. Your veterinarian can suggest a diet that will work well for your cat’s age and needs. Be sure to ask at your initial visit. To help your cat transition to a new food, you may want to use this suggested schedule. On the first and second days, feed him 25 percent of your diet and 75 percent of the shelter’s diet, mixed together. On the third and fourth days, give him 50 percent of each. On the fifth and sixth days, switch to 75 percent of your diet and 25 percent of the shelter’s diet. On the seventh day, feed him 100 percent of your preferred diet. Changing your cat’s diet too rapidly can cause upset to his system (decreased appetite, vomiting, and/or diarrhea). If this happens, call your veterinarian. Decide whether you wish to feed your cat once daily, twice daily or free choice (which means leaving dry food out at all times). Many cats who are fed free choice do not properly control their food intake and tend to be overweight, which predisposes them to health problems. For most cats, twice-daily feeding is ideal. Be sure to discuss canned verses dry cat food with your veterinarian. Many veterinarians recommend at least some high quality wet cat food in a cat’s diet.

Provide your cat with an uncovered, clean litter box. Covered litter boxes can trap odors inside the box, which is nice for you, but not for your cat. Cats are often quite fastidious; they are sensitive to the smell of urine and feces, as well as deodorizers. Reducing the smell inside and around the litter box can be very important for them. Also, most cats do not like scented litters or ones that smell strongly. Unscented clumping litter seems to work well for most cats and their owners. It is recommended that you scoop out the litter box once daily, and empty it completely to clean it every two weeks. When you clean the litter box, use a mild soap, not strong-smelling detergents or ammonia. The most common reason that cats are brought to shelters is litter box problems. Following the above recommendations can make the difference between a cat who is house-trained and a cat who isn’t. Remember that if you do not like the smell of the litter box, your cat probably doesn’t either; keep it clean and you’ll have a happy cat.

Your brand new cat will need some time and space to check out her surroundings and all of her new play things. Give her time alone in her room to get comfortable before you come in to play with her. If you have other pets, it’s a good idea to leave your new cat in her own room for a few days to allow the other animals in the house to get used to her sounds and scent. A good idea is to put a towel or small rug with your current pet’s scent on it in the room with your new cat and a towel or small rug your new cat has laid on in with your current pets. That way everyone is beginning their introductions in a safe manner.

Go slow at first. A cat may need seven to fourteen days to relax into her new environment. She may want to stay in her carrier or may dart under a bed or other piece of furniture. Remember, she is a small animal in a strange new place and she may feel very vulnerable. If you have kids, let them introduce themselves one at a time. Hold up on the meet-and-greets with friends, neighbors and relatives until your kitty is eating and eliminating on a normal schedule. If you have other pets, don’t let your new addition have free run of the house. This is the territory of the animals who have lived with you already. Allow all of your pets to meet in the new cat’s territory, one at a time after your new cat has had a chance to feel more comfortable — and make sure you’re there to supervise. NEVER force introductions. Just like humans, some animals get along better with strangers than others. Indifference is OK, however aggression is not. Although you will need to give it time, if you see that your new cat is either continually bullied or is bullying others, talk with your veterinarian about the issue.

One of the big decisions cat owners must make is whether to allow their cat outside. There are many risks outdoors that can shorten your cat’s life span. He could be hit by a car, poisoned, attacked by a dog, or infected with an incurable virus. However, many cats really enjoy being outdoors and miss the stimulation of the natural world if they are kept inside all the time. There are several different ways that you can allow your cat to enjoy the “outdoors” without the risk. You can install perches on windowsills around the house so that your cat can sit at the window, watch the outdoors, and enjoy the sunlight. With patience, you can teach your cat to walk with a harness or leash, and then you can take him outdoors for walks. Some cats also enjoy rides in special pet strollers. Another option is to build or buy an outdoor enclosure (often called a cattery or catio) for your cat. You can search the Internet for “cat enclosures” or “catios” to find out what other people have done.

Finally, some cat owners may consider declawing their new cat. Although the procedure is legal in this country and many vets will do it, more and more people are considering other options. It is important to understand that “declawing” is a bit of a misnomer. When a cat is declawed, the vet does not just remove the cat’s claw, but actually removes/amputates the last sections on the cat’s toes. Although many cats recover with few or no noticeable effects, declawing a cat can create negative after effects including decreased sense of balance and increased fear around other cats (you have removed their protection and ability to climb). For their safety, declawed cats should never be let outside. If you have questions about declawing and other options, please discuss them with your veterinarian.

http://www.vetstreet.com/cats/ – excellent site for cat info.

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control – helpful site for info on poisonous plants, foods and medications and what to do if your cat gets into them.