So the big moment is finally here! You’ve just adopted a new cat or kitten from your local shelter or rescue, rampaged through the pet store to stock up on supplies, toys and goodies, and visited the vet for a health-check, shots, and neutering. Now its time to introduce kitty to her new home and the rest of the family. With just a little planning and patience, you can ensure that your cat’s adjustment period will be as rapid and stress-free as possible.
Home Is Where the Catnip Is: Cats are, by nature, highly territorial, which means that having a place to call their own is extremely important to their emotional well-being. Your new cat is already in a state of stress from having been in a shelter or being given up for adoption, and being brought to a strange new home only increases that stress. Your goal is to help make your new cat feel comfortable as quickly as possible. When you bring your new cat home, confine it to a single room for at least the first few days (with food and litter, of course!). Although this may seem cruel by human standards, it is actually a great kindness to allow your cat to claim ownership of a small new territory at its own pace and without competition.
Some shy cats may hide under the bed for as long as a week; others will be ready to come out into the house and go exploring after just a day. The important thing is to let the cat emerge whenever it feels ready. You should spend as much time as possible in the room with the cat, but you should never try to force it out of hiding. The cat will let you know when its ready to begin exploring more of the house. Be sure to leave fresh food and water out at all times, and check that it is being consumed. Even stressed cats like to eat, so no food for 24 hours or more is possibly a sign of illness and warrants a trip to the vet.
Meeting the Family: Naturally, everyone in the family, especially the kids, will be excited about the new arrival. Children should be invited to visit the new kitty in her room, one at a time. Try to keep your children quiet and seated on these visits, so they do not frighten the cat if he’s not used to kids. If the cat is friendly and approaches, have them offer an outstretched hand to sniff.
If the cat accepts this, they can gently pet the cat. As the cat becomes familiar with the child, they may play with a cat toy on a string or stick. NEVER let your children encourage a kitten to pounce on their fingers (or yours, for that matter). It may seem cute at first, but a full grown cat jumping on and biting a hand in play can be very painful or cause bleeding. Teach your children how to properly hold a cat: with one hand under the rump and one hand on the back, held up against their bodies. And don’t leave small children unsupervised with your cat.
Reassuring Jealous Cats: Cats are like children in many ways, so it’s not surprising that your older pet may be jealous of a new arrival. He may be fearful of losing territory or worried that he is about to be replaced. Extra love, attention and patience during this transition will help to reassure your pet that it is still the center of your universe! Be prepared for it to take from a week to a month before the new cat is accepted by the resident cat. Before bringing home your new cat, make sure that both old and new cats are healthy and current on their vaccinations, including Feline Leukemia. Let your cat continue to have run of the house while the new cat is confined so that he understands he is not being pushed out of his territory. Allow him to sniff or paw under the door with your new cat, and exchange items to familiarize each animal with the others smell.
When the time comes for the two cats to meet face to face, try to give them short periods of contact, slowly increasing the time as they adapt to one another. Be sure to supervise their visits until you’re sure they are okay alone, and be prepared for some hissing and growling, which is quite normal for cats that are getting to know one another. Do not yell at or discipline either cat for hissing or growling, and in the unlikely event of a fight breaking out, break it up with a spray from a water bottle or a thrown towel, not your hands. Prevent the new cat from sleeping in any of your old cat’s favorite places (for example your bed) and provide each with separate food and water bowls and litter pans. They’ll probably use each other, but will appreciate having their own. Try to keep your older cats routine intact, and take every opportunity you can to pet and praise your older cat. Above all, be patient, and one day you will find your new cats grooming each other when they think you’re not looking!
Friendly Like Cats and Dogs: Most of the same advice applies to introducing cats and dogs. Again, let the dog have run of the house, and sniff at the cat under the door and exchange scented items during the first few days. You may wish to put up a baby gate in the doorway of the cat’s room or bring the cat into the house in a carrier so the animals can see each other before they actually meet.
Make sure the first visits in the house are supervised, with the dog on a leash if you are unsure about how friendly he will be. Encourage your dog with gentle praise if he is friendly. If the cat runs from your dog, do not allow the dog to chase it, and don’t force a cat that seems uncomfortable to be in the same room with the dog. Keep the first visits brief, then extend them as the animals become familiar with each other. Be patient, give them time, and they’ll soon learn to get along.