Bringing home your new cat!
Whether you're a seasoned cat owner, or a feline novice, it's always nice to get prepared for bringing home a new cat friend. This guide is a quick reference for making the transition as stress-free as possible for everyone.
First things first:
It will be very tempting to bring your new kitty home and want to start playing and cuddling right away. We get it!
But this transition will be very hard and scary, sometimes for even the most confident cats. Remember, you're uprooting their lives, putting them in a box, putting that box in a car, and then coming to a completely new home. To set your new cat up for success, follow this guide. While some of the things we say may seem strange or counterintuitive, just know
these are tried and true methods recommended by shelters and rescues across the country.
Read through this guide, and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out to us for support.
Ok. Let's get started!
We'll walk you through step by step how to prep a space for your cat depending on their needs, and how to transition them into living confidently in your home. But before you've even met your future cat resident, it's best to get set up in anticipation of their arrival. Use the slideshow to see the required starter supplies.
It's a lot. But these are the supplies that you'll need at a minimum to hit the ground running. Need brand recommendations? Ask us! We're happy to help you pick the best supplies. We have tons of favorites. We also supply a bit of whatever food they had been eating to transition into their new home.
Want to buy a starter kit? Let your adoption counselor know, and we can prep one for your cat's specific needs!
Okay, you've got all your supplies. Now what?
Setting up your home:
People often believe they don't need to make any lifestyle changes when getting a cat as you would, say, a dog. And that's mostly true; but, what people often fail to realize is that there a few key items that you need to look out for when bringing home a new cat, especially if you've never had one before.
STEP ONE: CAT PROOFING
Go around the house and try to look at things through a playful kitten's eyes. Remove anything that can be a hazard.
While it may sound like we're being paranoid, we have unfortunately heard many horror stories that have led to emergency visit rooms.
Key things to note:
Windows: do your windows have screens? If not, keep them closed. Cats only need a space as large as their heads to slip out. Have screens? Push on them to ensure they can't be knocked out
Plants: MANY types of plants are DEADLY to cats. Do your research, and when in doubt, REMOVE the plant from the home entirely. See this list here for a list of common toxic plants
Cords: Cats love to play with dangly string. Chewing cables can result in electrocution, foreign bodies and other injury. Get cable protectors/organizers.
String/yarn: some cats will compulsively eat string, resulting in foreign bodies or blockages. Watch for shoelaces, bra straps, etc.
Toilet seats: It sounds like a joke, but many a curious kitten has crawled into a toilet bowl and accidentally have the lid shut on them. Keep the lid shut.
Strangulation hazards: Look for things like blind cords, hanging cables, strings, etc that could wrap around a cat's neck or end up down their throat.
Cleaning products: Make sure any cleaning supplies are stored somewhere they can't accidentally be ingested or spilled on skin.
Closet products: Moth balls, deodorizers, and dehumdifying chemical packs are toxic. Keep out of reach!
Essential oils: Cats CANNOT be around essential oils, they are TOXIC. Diffusers, waxes, potpourri, and candles can pose serious health risks.
Ensure fireplaces are fully screened off- yes, we've gotten cats out of chimneys before.
Beware of leaving food out- check out the list of foods that are toxic to cats, including citrus, garlic, onion, coffee, and more
Ensure medications and vitamins are stored away from curious paws. Some are quickly deadly to cats.
Covered trash bins are best to keep them out of dangerous items
Keep your washer and dryer closed! Cats love to nap in the warm dryer, and often get shut in and seriously injured when starting a cycle.
And remember: All Underdogs must live an INDOOR only lifestyle, so no balconies, backyards, patios, etc! Doing so is a violation of your adoption agreement.
Cute rooms, but they need a few changes:
1. These plants are toxic to cats
2. Salt lamps are toxic to cats
3. Check windows for screen/safety before bringing in a cat
4. Lots of trinkets to be knocked off of shelves- cat owners often favor minimalism.
5. Unhung pictures or mirrors could be knocked over/shattered. Use caution.
6. Dangling string is a lot of temptation for a cat. Could be chewed/ingested. Watch for cords/cables
7. Be sure candles are monitored, and avoid essential oils.
STEP TWO: HOME BASE
Now that your home is 100% cat safe, you're ready to bring them home, right?
Not quite yet. Again, we know it's tempting! But hang in there, we're almost ready.
For the first few days, your cat will need to start out in a small, comfortable space. This space should be:
Not too big, so as to not overwhelm them
Not have places to hide under- hiding under beds, dressers, shelves/drawers actually makes them more stressed.
Not have loud noises, like appliances or too much foot traffic
Be big enough to house all their essentials- litter box, water, food, and some space to play
Check to make sure there are no spaces they could get stuck in, such as gaps behind furniture, holes in walls, vents, etc.
IDEAL HOME BASES:
Bathrooms without appliances like washer/dryers
Walk in closets
Home offices (be sure to cat proof for cords and such)
Very small bedrooms with no spaces to get stuck under
Rooms with lots of traffic/noise
Rooms with doors that access the outdoors
The ultimate goal of creating a home base is to give the cat a place to get used to the sounds, smells, and routine in this home without being overwhelmed. Too much stimulus will overwhelm and cause panic. Instead, it's far kinder to keep them confined to a small space until they start to demonstrate to you that they're ready to explore more.
This is a great home base!
This is a small, quiet room with no spaces or furniture to hide under.
All food dishes and essential supplies are in one small area, easy to find.
Comfy bedding that doesn't dominate the space.
Scratcher and small furniture to provide enrichment
Litter box in a good place that will make her feel safe enough to use it (off camera).
There's enough space for 1 person to spend time, or perform regular routine, without her being forced around the person 24/7
Central location that allows her to acclimate to sounds/smells/routines of the household.
Underdog prefers using bathrooms because it makes for easy litter clean up, easy access to water, and outlets for using Feliway calming diffusers.
STEP THREE: WELCOME HOME, KITTY
STAGE 1: HOME BASE
Set the bathroom up as described above, ensuring easy access to a litter box, food, water, toys, a scratching surface, and some (not a ton) of bedding. Remove any hazards such as shampoo or soap around the tub, close the toilet lid, and be mindful of the toilet paper, either putting away for now, or tucking the end into the roll to prevent playful kitties from unrolling. If you're using another space, remove any other hazards (see above list)
Once the space is completely ready, bring the carrier into the home base. I know everyone will be eager to see the new cat, but kitty isn't ready yet! Remove everyone and shut the door. It should just be you and the cat. Get comfortable and steady- you're going to need to sit still for a second, and avoid fast movements.
Open the cat carrier door, and give them the opportunity to walk out on their own. If they do not leave the cat carrier, do not force them! You must move at their pace.
For confident cats:
Hang out for a minute and observe them as they get to know their new space. You should see them locate their litter box, food, water, and start to explore the room. Watch to see if they get into any trouble you didn't expect, and correct the space appropriately. If they are affiliative and looking for pets, great! You can hang out for a little bit, but don't overstay your welcome; give them time to decompress. Even if they don't seem to need it, they are very overstimulated from all the new sensory information of a new home. Give them the time and space to move at their own speed.
Alum Pumpkin was already curious in the carrier, looking out and eager to walk around and get to know his new space, while still being a little shy with people.
For shy/fearful cats:
This can be a very hard transition. A small box, a noisy car, new people, new sounds, maybe new pets or children...it's understandable that even social cats get freaked by this transition.
If they don't want to come out of the carrier, that's okay. Leave the door open and let them come out at their leisure. If they won't leave the carrier after a long period of time, it may be because you're making them nervous. Leave the room and give them time to themselves completely. Leave them alone to discover all their supplies and check in on them much later (at least a few hours).
Alum Harrison was so sweet and cuddly as soon as we met him, but he HATED car rides and new places. Here he is demonstrating why even confident, happy kitties need an adjustment period. After a few days of being allowed to decompress, he was right back to his usual snuggly self.
For all cats:
Keep cats in the home base 24/7 to start. You'll know they're ready to explore a bit more when:
They confidently greet you when you open the door to their home base
They try to run out and leave the room
They stick paws and feet under the door
They start meowing for human interaction
They feel comfortable laying out in the space as you move around
They don't go running when you walk past them or try to pick something up near them
Once you see a number of these signs, you can move on to the next step. For some cats, this takes less than a day. For some cats, this can take over a week. Again, move at their speed and don't throw them into anything that can be overwhelming and scary.
ALSO: This path is not linear! If they seem fine one day, but scared later, let them go back to staying just in the small home base! It's much better to go slow than to make a mistake that leaves lasting anxiety or trepidation. It will result in a faster transition, rather than having to undo some broken trust.
Now that the home base is ready to go, and you have all of your supplies, you're (finally) ready to bring your cat home! Follow this guide for step-by-step introductions.
We recommend following this guide and watching your cat for reactions. There is no set time as to how long it will take them to be ready to move on in this guide; instead, watch for their body language, their reactions, and their confidence.
STAGE 2: A LITTLE MORE CURIOUS
Once your cat indicates that they're ready to explore more, gradually allow them to see more of the house, bit by bit. This is another reason bathrooms are a great home base; once they've gotten brave enough, there's usually a connecting bedroom that can be the next space to explore.
What you'll typically see in their body language:
Low, slinky steps, slow and cautious
Hyper alert ears, moving to track sound
Rapid tail movements, a key indicator of overstimulation
Quick head turns towards sound/movement
Lots of sniffing and exploration
Recommendations for this stage:
Always allow a clear line back to their home base- when they get scared, they will make a bee-line back to their room (which just proves how important this home base is)
Supervise for this next stage; it helps to sit and calmly watch without making sound or movement to prevent startling them. Then, if your cat discovers something you didn't realize they'd get into, you can correct it before it becomes a problem.
Watch for signs of nervousness- they will be very overstimulated, and often any sudden sounds or movements will be enough to cause them to panic and go scurrying back to their home base.
Avoid trying to pick up or pet during this phase- they're not interested in you right now (usually). Let them have a good explore!
Put the cat back in the home base at night. This prevents them from getting into things without your knowledge while asleep, and returns them to a space they feel safe and comfortable in.
Underdog alum Caper perfectly demonstrating the "in between" phase:
Notice the way that Caper is interested in the goings-on outside of her home base, but still prefers to stay where she feels safe and comfortable.
Note the mixed body language-
Comfortable body language:
Laying out and exposing belly
Exploring spending time outside of the bathroom
Uncomfortable body language:
Ears swiveling to pick up all noise/motion
Choosing to stay inside home base
Even though she's not 100% comfortable yet, this is a great step! It's important to respect where the kitty is in their acclimation process and give them time to come out on their terms. She wants to explore, but isn't quite confident yet. She'll get there!
STAGE 3: ROOM TO ROAM
Now that your new kitty is starting to gain some confidence in their new home, slowly increase the amount of time and space that they're allowed to explore. Until you feel confident with their movements and safety, continue to monitor and supervise their activity. Allow them to return back to their home base until they seem to want to spend more time out of it than in it.
If you don't have any other pets, this is a good time to start introducing them into their regular routine. If you don't want to continue feeding in their home base, start feeding them where you want them to regularly eat. We recommend keeping their litter box in the same place and adding any others. Give them a chance to find and use the new box before moving the other if you no longer want it in that original location. Move their toys and scratchers to encourage them to explore new areas.
If you do have other pets, don't move their supplies yet. Instead, follow our next guide for introductions- Cat Introductions!
Underdog alum Pearl Jam is a super confident and social kitty, so her transition period didn't take too long. This is her exploring all the windows of the house. Notice her body language as well:
Happy, forward ears
Interested posture looking out the window
A bit nervous:
Up on her toes, ready to run if she has to
Overall, Pearl Jam is happy and comfy, just still getting used to things! This is what you want to see in this phase.
STEP FOUR: DAY BY DAY
Congratulations, your new cat is starting to integrate into your home! We know it may seem like a complicated process, but we promise it's shorter in the long run to do it the right way!
Now, just take it day by day and enjoy the little pleasures that come from watching your new rescue make your home their home.
Remember, cats are just like people- they'll have some good days where they feel confident, and some bad days where they're a little more insecure. Just be patient and give them space. Before long, you'll forget it was even like to live without them!
Next up- learning to introduce cats to existing cats in the home!