Are you considering taking in a new cat? Remember you’re introducing them to a whole new environment and they might need some time to adjust. With a little forethought and advanced prep work, you can help make the transition a smooth one for your whiskered friend.
Look into Adoption
There are so many adorable cats and kittens in shelters across the country just waiting to find loving homes. If you’re thinking about bringing home a new cat, please consider adopting from this deserving bunch. You can search the ASPCA’s national database to see cats and kittens up for adoption at shelters near you. If you live close to the New York City area, you can visit their shelter in Manhattan. Visit the ASPCA’s website for details.
You can also find out more about adopting a cat or kitten—from the adoption process to basic kitten care–by checking out Bringing Home a New Kitten.
Spay or Neuter, Please!
Speaking of adoption and shelters, please make sure your new cat or kitten is spayed or neutered to avoid contributing to the cat overpopulation problem with an unexpected litter.
Spaying or neutering also has important health and behavioral benefits, such as preventing certain types of cancer and eliminating behaviors associated with mating, like yowling or trying to escape from the safety of your house when in heat.
Taking in a Stray Cat
Sometimes a cat finds you rather than the other way around. If you have a stray cat coming to your door, you should think about it carefully before you decide to keep them as your own. First off, you need to be sure this cat doesn’t already have a home by checking for a collar and ID tag. A veterinarian can scan the cat for a microchip, which would have identifying information. You also might want to post a picture of the cat on social media or a neighborhood message board to see if anyone knows them.
You should also assess the cat’s behavior. Some stray cats enjoy their independence and are looking for a quick meal rather than a new place to live. If the cat seems to be scared of you or shows signs of aggression, you should contact animal control or a local animal shelter for professional help in dealing with the situation.
If you’re unsure if you should take the cat in, you can discuss it with your vet who can offer medical insights and experience to help determine the best course of action. If you decide to welcome the cat into your home, be sure to get a full medical check up right away. Stray cats can have fleas, parasites, or diseases that need to be treated. You should also find out if the cat is spayed or neutered, and speak to your vet about vaccinations.
New Cat Checklist
Wherever you get your new feline from, you will want to stock up on essential cat supplies. Use this checklist to help make sure you have everything you need.
- Brand Name Cat Food – Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation if you’re confused by all the choices.
- Food Dish and Water Bowl – Keep these bowls clean and make sure fresh water is always available.
- Cat Safe Interactive Toys – They’re a great way to keep your cat active and engaged. Buy some at a store or create your own from common household items, like ping pong balls or empty paper bags.
- Scratching Post – This is a must-have to help keep your cat from scratching up the furniture.
- Comb or Brush – Cats generally groom themselves, but they still need to be brushed to keep their coat in top shape, reduce shedding, and cut down on those nasty hairballs.
- Collar and ID Tag – Even indoor-only cats can get out unexpectedly, so be sure to put an ID Tag with up-to-date contact information on their collar. You may also want to consider microchipping your feline friend.
- Litter Box and Clumping Litter – Place the litter box in a somewhat private space that your cat can access easily. Scoop it out at least once a day and clean it out completely every week.
- Pet Bed – A cozy pet bed can help keep your cat out of places you’d rather they not sleep and leave all that fur behind.
Choosing a Vet for Your Cat
You’ll need to find a vet – preferably before you bring your cat home. This way you’ll know who to contact if your furry friend gets sick or hurt unexpectedly. Remember: even indoor-only cats can get injured. Plus, your cat will need regular check-ups, annual dental cleanings, vaccines, and other routine preventive care.
These treatments can help cats live longer, healthier, and happier lives, but unfortunately too many cats go without wellness care. If you’re worried about the costs, you should think about signing up for pet insurance with coverage for preventive treatments (go ahead and get a quote now). Pet insurance can also cover spaying or neutering as well as any accidents or illnesses that might come up for your cat.
Need help finding a vet? Use our Vet Finder to search for one in your area.
Getting Your Home Ready for a Cat
To keep your cat safe and sound, check your home for any potential hazards. For instance, make sure you don’t have any plants or flowers around the house that can be toxic to cats. Lilies can be particularly dangerous to cats and cause kidney failure if ingested. You can use this list of toxic plants at the ASPCA’s website for reference.
Here are some other steps you can take to cat-proof your home:
Lock up your cabinets
Cats are clever and can sometimes open cabinet doors by swiping their paws underneath. Consider using childproof locks to help keep your cat from getting into cleaning supplies and other harmful chemicals.
Store human medications out of paws reach
Avoid leaving prescription or over-the-counter medications where your cat can get at them, like a low counter or nightstand. Cats are very sensitive to common medications, such as Tylenol and aspirin.
Stow away breakable items
Do you have fragile treasures out on your mantle, table, or bookshelves? It’s best to put them away where your cat can’t knock them over and break them.
Secure window screens
Cats love to sit in a sunny windowsill, but if the screen isn’t secure, they can push it open and fall out.
Tie up cords
Cats can get tangled up and even strangled in the cords hanging down from blinds. Carefully tie them up and out of the way.
Close the lid
Keep toilet lids down so curious cats won’t climb up and fall in. Small cats or kittens may not be able to get back out.
It can also help to get down to your cat’s eye level and look around for anything that might cause a problem, like cords or wires that could be tripped on or get chewed up.
When you bring your cat home, you may need to make a few introductions to other cats, dogs, or children who live in the house. How these introductions go will depend partly on the personality and temperament of your new cat.
Some cats will be completely comfortable right off the bat acting as if they own the place the minute they step in the door. Others will be nervous and may go into hiding for a while. That’s OK. Just give them plenty of time to get acclimated and start exploring at their own pace.
Cat Plus Cat
If you have another cat in the house, it’s best to take a slow, staged approach to introductions. When you first bring the new cat home, put the resident cat in a separate room to give the newcomer time to check out the house without interference. You should continue to keep the cats in different rooms for some time, so they can get used to the sounds and smells of each other before meeting face to face.
After awhile, you can start letting the two cats spend time together in the same room, but only under careful supervision. If you notice any signs of aggression, such as backing away, arching the back, or hissing, separate the cats and try again another time. If they seem to get along, you can let them interact for increasingly longer periods of time.
Cat Plus Dog
With this combination, it’s best to do everything you can to make the introduction as calm and stress-free as possible for everyone involved, especially the cat. If your dog is rambunctious, you may want to tire them out with a long walk beforehand. You should also use a leash during the first encounter to keep control of the dog, so the cat can set the pace of the engagement.
If the dog acts aggressively or the cat seems distressed, separate them and take a break, but don’t give up hope. It can take time and patience, but cats and dogs have been known to live happily ever after! If you have any issues or concerns, don't hesitate to talk with your vet or an animal behaviorist who can offer advice on your specific situation.
Cat Plus Kids
Introductions between cats and kids will vary depending on the age of the children. If your kids are old enough to understand what’s going on and follow instructions, you can explain that they need to give the cat time to get used to new people and surroundings. Tell them to approach the cat slowly rather than scooping their new furry friend up in their arms right away.
If your kids are too young to follow instructions, show them by example. For instance, have them stand a safe distance away as you interact with the cat gently and then let them have a turn under your watchful eye. If the cat seems distressed, get them to back away and give the cat more time to get comfortable.
Some cats will acclimate to kids quickly, while others (especially older cats) may take awhile to get used to the high energy and noise of children. Senior cats who can need more quiet time may not be a good match for a houseful of rambunctious kids.
While many cats make a smooth adjustment to a new home, some may have a tougher time getting used to an unfamiliar environment. These cats may start exhibiting behavior problems, like constant meowing, going outside the litter box, or scratching at the furniture even though there’s a perfectly good scratching post waiting for those claws.
Issues like these can be caused by stress, but they can also be the result of an underlying health issue. For example, not using the litter box properly can be a sign of a urinary tract infection. It’s a good idea to take your cat to the vet to see what’s going on. Your vet or an animal behaviorist can also recommend treatment, such as an anti-anxiety medication, if the issue is due to stress.
Behavior issues can cause big headaches for pet parents and can result in the cats being brought back to a shelter. This is why ASPCA Pet Health Insurance offers coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of behavior issues. If your cat is having a behavior issue, please seek professional help.
And of course, most of all, enjoy your new cat! Cats are wonderful companions who can add lots of love and fun to your home.