Introducing a new cat to your household may not be as easy as you might have thought. Being brought into a new environment - even if it is your home - can feel more threatening than comforting for a cat, be it stray or adopted. This is true for cats come from different backgrounds and changes in their environment would almost always induce stress in them.
A feral cat usually maintains a much larger territory than your home and would have very little interaction with humans and other cats. Hence, feral cats are typically not used to being handled and domesticating them would prove to be a challenge. An adopted cat may also have its own share of experiences. It may have come from an abusive household or may have been adopted by various households before it is being thrown back to the rescue center or shelter. Having undergone different treatments, the adopted cat may have a certain wariness as it enters a new environment.
In any case, properly introducing your cat to your home is necessary in paving the way for a rewarding and a strong relationship between you and your cat. What follows is a guideline on how to make your cat feel comfortable and safe with minimal stress when it is being brought to your home.
Journey back home
The journey back home will most certainly be more exciting for you than for your cat. You will have to ensure that your cat is safe in a cat carrier. A soft cushion or towel in the carrier would be a bonus in making your cat feel comfortable. Never open up the carrier to let your cat out during the journey back home. This may lead to undesirable accident for either your cat or yourself. Avoid reaching your hand into the carrier to poke to touch your cat. Let it settle without loud or blaring music at the background. Instead, let it get used to your voice.
A safe room
Your new cat will need some time for transition into a new home. Thus, before you let it roam freely around your entire house, it is advisable to isolate it in a safe room for a week or two. You will have to prepare a safe room before you bring your cat back home. This room should be equipped with a clean litter box, cat bedding, food bowl and cat water fountain/dish. These items should be out in the open so that your cat will not feel trapped when accessing the resources. You would also want to make sure that the room has no hiding spots where it will be difficult to reach your cat if it chooses to hide. This will also allow your cat to get used to frequent visits in the coming days.
After you have settled your cat in the safe room with all doors closed, open up the cat carrier and allow your cat to come out of it on its own. Your cat will feel less threatened that way than to being dragged out of the bag. Once it is out, give it some time to explore the room, then show it its litter box. Do not provide it with food yet. You may leave the room after that so that your cat can have time to become familiar with the new surroundings without you being eager to try to engage it. Return about an hour later with some food and cat toys.
Observation and familiarization period
The isolation period in the safe room does not just allow your cat to transit comfortably to the new home, it is also a period where you are able to observe your cat’s health and behaviors. You should check whether your cat is eating, drinking and eliminating well in the litter box. Observe also any patterned behaviors - when you play, feed and interact with the cat - that may serve as indicators for health problems. During this period, your cat would also be able to become familiar with the scents of other pets, should you have any, in the house. Other members of the family can also go into the safe room one at the time to meet the cat.
One way to get your pets to become familiar with one another before they meet and interact face to face is through scent exchange. You can bring the beddings or carriers of your resident pets into the safe room; do the same for your other pets by bringing out your cat’s bedding for them to smell. Another way is to leave the door ajar during their feeding time, so that the pets are able to view one another and associate each other’s presence and scent with something as enjoyable as eating.
Remember to play with your cat every day so that it can expend its energy meaningfully. Once it is eating properly, and is opening up to grooming, playing and the presence of other family pets, you can be more certain that your new cat is settling in well. This is also when it may be ready to explore the entire house and interact with the other pets in the household.
Home sweet home
Once your cat is ready to come out of the safe room, ensure the other family pets are isolated or under the control of a leash. It will be good to let the other pets go into the safe room first as your cat explores the house. At the same time, your resident pets will get to know the cat’s scent better. This will ensure that your cat will not be chased or cornered by the other pets, even if they were just being playful. It is best to bring your cat around the house one room at a time under your supervision.
When your cat has had its rounds of the house and is comfortable, the journey to full integration is half complete. You will still have to make sure that your cat can interact well with the other house pets. This is especially so if the other pets involve cat and/or dog. Continue to schedule their feeding time together. Throughout the week, you should also attempt to gradually open up the door and bring their food bowl nearer to each other, but at a comfortable distance.
Begin to let your pets interact with one another through play. Playing is also a good way to bring their focus onto something else if at any time they start staring at one another. Once you have observed that your pets are playing and getting along well with one another, you can then bring your new cat out of its safe room and have an open-door concept for all your pets.
By this time, your house should have already been ‘catified’. That is to say, there should be cat trees and scratching poles at designated spots around the house so that your new cat gets to own parts of the house as well. This way, they would not try to own your furniture by scratching on them. Cats love to climb, it would be ideal if you can install the cat shelving system so that your new cat as a walkway high above ground. This would build up your cat’s confidence and sense of ownership around the house. There should also be boxes or baskets to which it can retreat whenever it needs. The number of litter boxes should be one more than the number of cats you have; and there should be placed at different spots around the house.
This process of introducing a new cat to your household would require time and patience from the family. The thought of ‘catifying’ your home might not be very welcoming, but it is something you will have to do if you want to keep a cat and to care for it. Check out some ‘catified’ house on the internet and you will realize how some of them can be as sophisticated, elegant and stylish as a cat can be. The ultimate result of finally integrating your cat into the household will be endlessly rewarding.