Adopting a new pet can be very exciting for everyone in the family, but it can also be very stressful – especially for a cat! Although you may want your new kitty to be part of the family right away, it can take weeks or even months for a new pet to completely settle in.
It is very important to allow your new cat/kitten to have its own territory, and allow it to have safe areas to hide if it becomes overwhelmed. This can be as simple as letting a spare bedroom or bathroom become the “cat’s room!” Do not force a cat to socialize if it isn’t ready! Remember, your cat is definitely going to want a quiet, private area to use the litter box. Try to avoid placing the litter box in areas of the house with a lot of traffic, or areas where loud noises may startle the cat. This can lead to litter box aversion and other behavioral problems.
If you are bringing a cat into a home that already has cats or dogs, be very patient. Cats are not ‘pack animals’ like dogs and generally prefer to have their own space. Make sure to keep the new cat isolated from the other furry members of the household (this is where a spare bedroom or bathroom comes in handy again!) It is ideal if the pets cannot see each other at first, but can only hear/smell each other. As time goes on, the cats can start to see each other (but no physical contact). Once they are not reacting aggressively to seeing each other, they can have supervised contact. There is no predetermined amount of time that it will take for your cats to get along – it will depend on their ages, personalities, and many other factors. A certain amount of hissing is to be expected, but the goal is to go slow, and try to keep your previous pets’ routines as similar as possible!
NEVER leave your new cat and other pets together unsupervised until you know you can trust them 100%. It is never recommended to put animals together and just “let them work it out!” This will lead to larger amounts of stress on all the animals and a higher chance of injury as well. PetFinder (www.petfinder.com) has some excellent articles going into more details (Look for “Tips for Introducing Two Cats”).
Remember, especially if you plan on adopting a kitten, they will get into everything! Make sure to kitten-proof your home before bringing one home. Look on the ground, counters, and shelves for any dangerous objects. Breakable things that can be knocked off shelves, electrical cords, yarn/string that can be eaten, nooks and crannies that could get stuck in… these all need to be taken care of in advance. You will be surprised what your new pet manages to get into! Human OTC and prescription medications, certain foods (grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, chocolate, sorbitol-sweetened snacks or gum) can all be toxic to cats and dogs.
Cats will climb, and cats will scratch. This is normal behavior for a cat! Make sure there are scratching posts and safe, acceptable areas for your cat to play throughout the house. Some cats will prefer to scratch on carpeted objects, some on cardboard or wood. Make sure you have a variety of options for your new cat until you find out what he/she likes. Declawing is not always necessary.
Finally, all new pets should see a veterinarian as soon as possible after adoption. It is very common for pets coming out of shelters and breeding facilities to have upper respiratory infections that can spread to other pets in the household. All cats and kittens should be spayed or neutered, dewormed, and vaccinated as well.
June is Adopt-A-Cat Month. Enjoy your new additions!