Congratulations! You are the proud new parent of an adopted cat or kitten (or are just about to become one) and are looking for advice on how to ease your feline friend into their new home. Good news: You can do lots to help your new housemate adjust with the help of our guidelines below.
How to Prepare For a New Cat or Kitten
This new cat checklist is a comprehensive guide to everything you need to do when welcoming a new cat (or kitten) into your home.
1. Cat-Proof Your Place
One of the first things you should do when bringing home a new cat is cat-proof your house and be aware of common household hazards, including keeping breakable objects out of reach, covering electric cords, cables, and phone chargers, tossing or giving away toxic plants (which you can learn more about here), putting away household cleaners, and hiding sharp objects.
2. Contact a Veterinarian
You can also prepare for a new cat or kitten by scheduling a trip to the veterinarian. Kittens and cats alike should see a vet within the first week of coming to their new home as they will likely need some vital vaccines, such as those that protect against feline herpes virus, feline leukemia, rabies, and other diseases. Kittens are also particularly vulnerable to parasites, so may need regular fecal exams and deworming. They should also be spayed or neutered if old enough.
3. Plan For a Safe Ride Home
One of the most important things to remember is that it’s completely normal for a cat to be scared when they enter your home, especially after a car trip. Unlike dogs, most cats do not enjoy traveling in a car, so do not leave them loose or try to hold them in your lap or on the seat next to you when bringing them home. They might panic and cause an accident or try to hide and get stuck under a seat. In a car, it is safest for them to secure them in a cat carrier lined with an easily washable towel or a few sheets of newspaper. They may complain by meowing (some more loudly than others), but some cats relax with soothing music or if you sing along.
4. Create a Quiet Spot
Once home, it can take days or weeks for them to adjust to their new environment; Let them adjust at their own pace. You can make your new cat’s transition to your household as comfortable as possible by selecting a quiet, closed-in area, such as your bedroom or a small room away from the main foot traffic, and set it up with everything they’ll need, including a litter box, bed, scratching post, toys, food, and water. Be sure that this “starter room” has very secure window screens — even if they’re quite happy in their new homes, new kitties can pull off a window screen (often seemingly miraculously) and take off. The escapee is then disoriented and can very likely become lost and injured.
5. Prep the Litter Box
If possible, make the starter room the permanent location of the litter box. If you plan on moving the litter box after bringing home your new cat, you’ll need two litter boxes; keep the first litter box in the starter room and put a new litter box in the new location. Once the cat is using the new litter box, you can slowly move the first litter box closer and closer to the new one. When they are next to each other, remove one box.
Once your kitty has adjusted and seems relaxed and happy in their starter room, you can open the door and let them explore the rest of your home for the first time. If you have other pets, though, see the section below about introducing your pets.
Introducing Your Cat to Their New Home
Even the friendliest cats often need a few days to feel safe in a new environment, so if you have other pets, don’t introduce them to your new pet immediately. You can find more detailed instructions for introducing your new cat or kitten to resident cats here, but there are a few essential things to know.
- Keep pets separated in their own room
- Shelter/rescue cats should wait 14 days to prevent disease
- Connect with your cat one on one first
- Give them plenty of time to adjust to new sights and smells
- Initial introductions between pets should be done through a barrier
- Supervise all interactions between pets
- It’s best to keep your new cat indoors
First, as mentioned above, keep your new pet totally separated in their own room. For multi-cat households, when your new cat or kitten is from a shelter, rescue, or kennel, this separation period should be 14 days to prevent spreading contagious diseases during their incubation period. Before making any pet introductions, let the new cat get to know and trust you, and let your other pets discover they are still loved — although they smell a new furry one in the house, they are not going to lose their home and family.
Allow your pets lots of time to sniff under the door to the new pet’s starter room. You can try switching rooms for a while and let the new cat explore the house while your current pet sniffs around the room.
As they progress, you can introduce them at a distance. For example, you can place a baby gate across the doorway of the safe room and open the door for an initial greeting. Once your pets can do this calmly, you’ll be able to let them interact in the same space, but you’ll want to micromanage these interactions and keep food and litter box areas separate.
Keep Cats Indoors For Safety
It’s also best to keep your new cat indoors. Despite stories about cats finding their way home from far distances, in reality, your new cat is very likely to become lost. Young kittens should be kept indoors until they are fully grown (12 months), but if your new adult cat will be free roaming, wait at least four weeks before allowing your adult cat to go outside to give them a chance to bond to your family. Do consider the advantages of keeping your new cat indoors always — outdoor cats are exposed to disease, cat fights, dogs and other wild animals, and are more likely to be hit by cars.
If your adult cat must go outside, consider a cat-escape-proof enclosure to keep your cat contained and predators out — like a catio. An enclosure with a top will protect your cat from flying predators and those that can climb and jump like coyotes. Adding a cat-proof fence (like one with an angled-in topper or smooth vinyl over seven feet high) offers some protection too. Bringing your cat inside at night may also reduce the risk of them being killed by predators. To train your cat to come in at night, set their daily feeding time to be at the hour when you want them to come inside for the night. You can reinforce coming in with treats as well.
What Should You Expect? The Adjusting Period
Patience is the name of the game when helping your new cat adjust to your home.
Is your new cat not eating?
Even when you give your new cat space in their starter room, they commonly refuse to eat in new environments due to stress. Change is hard, not only in an environment but also in a diet — you may be feeding your new cat food different than what they got in a shelter or, if they were a stray, they may not be used to cat food at all. To help your new cat transition, offer food only at set meal times. You can also add cat food toppers or try different feeding set-ups (like a plate on the counter) to entice your cat to eat. If your cat has gone two to three days without eating, you should see a veterinarian. For kittens, the timeline is shorter — they should see a vet if they haven’t eaten in 24 hours.
Is your new cat hiding?
Your new cat may also hide at first; hiding is a normal reaction for a cat to have to an unfamiliar environment. You can help your cat by providing a cat carrier, tunnel, covered cat bed, or other safe places for your new friend to hide. Keep their resources, including a litter box, food, and water, close to that spot until they’re more comfortable coming out.
Are they taking too long to adjust?
It will take time for a new cat and any resident pets to adjust to their new situation. It could take several weeks to several months — every cat is different. Tempting though it may be, rushing this process can be a mistake. The slow approach is worth the extra time and will allow you to ensure your pets are all happy and comfortable in your home.
If you bring home a kitten and have an older cat at home, you may want to take some extra care in making these introductions. For example, a kitten will have far more energy than your older cat, so you’ll want to play with the kitten more so they don’t bother your older cat.
Soon, you should see signs that your new cat is adjusting to your home, including an increased appetite, playfulness, and a calmer demeanor (which can sometimes mean less meowing). You can also keep an eye out for body language that indicates they’re happy and relaxed, like a flat back, their head held high, soft lips, and their ears up. They may knead their paws and have their whiskers forward. Purring is also a very good indicator that your new cat is happy and settling into your home.
Commonly Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Should You Do When First Bringing Home a New Cat?
Check out our New Cat Checklist for a comprehensive guide to everything you need to do when welcoming a new cat into your home.
What Should I Feed My New Cat Or Kitten?
Kittens should eat wet kitten food at first, then transition to solid food. You can learn more about cat nutrition here.
When Should I Schedule My New Cat Or Kitten’s First Veterinary Visit?
How Do I Introduce My New Cat Or Kitten to Existing Pets?
You can introduce your new cat or kitten to resident pets at a distance. For example, place a baby gate across the doorway of the safe room and open the door.
What Are Some Common Household Hazards I Should Be Aware of When Bringing a Cat Home?
Common household hazards include breakable objects, electric cords, cables and phone chargers, toxic plants, household cleaners, and sharp objects.
Can I Let My New Cat Outside?
Don’t let your new cat go outside when you first bring them home. Young kittens should be kept indoors at least until they are full-grown (around 12 months).