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Bringing Home a New Cat

Your new cat’s first few weeks in your home is a critical time. You’ll be laying the groundwork for your new relationship. And remember, “cats are like people.” First impressions are important.

If this is your first cat, get ready for one of life’s great pleasures. Cats are great! But they also can be a problem if you go against their grain. We want to help get you off on the right foot.

Housebreaking and Confinement

Housebreaking a cat is different from housebreaking a dog. Dogs need to be taught where to relieve themselves (which is outside). From the age of one month, cats naturally use the litter box. “Housebreaking a cat” throughout this website) means to teach him how to use the scratching post and to develop a bond with people.

Confinement is a necessary part of housebreaking. Use a bathroom if you can. It should be large enough to have the litter box at least four feet or so from a “clean” area for his bed, food, water, and scratching post.

If you can’t use a bathroom, cover any furniture so the only thing he can scratch is the scratching post. If there’s a window, make sure that it isn’t drafty and that the cat can’t get out of it.

The First Day

Bring the cat home in a carrier. Your new cat may be scared and intimidated by the new situation. Then again, maybe he’ll be out happily exploring the house on the first day.

Whatever the case, you don’t want to give any cat more than he can handle. To be safe, take him directly to his confinement room or nursery and close the door. It’s a good idea to have a wet meal ready before you let him out of his carrier. (Remember, first impressions are important.) The wet meal can be either canned or homemade; see the Cat Diet section for more information.

Have only one person in the room when the cat is first allowed outside the carrier. Another person may overwhelm him, at least during the first hour. When opening the carrier door, speak very gently and encouragingly. Be friendly and sensitive. If he walks toward you, say encouraging words and his name, with pride and joy. To help him get acquainted with the surroundings, show him the wet meal and the litter box. If he runs and hides, don’t use his name or say much until he’s more relaxed.

Keep his first day as positive, gentle, and quiet as possible by limiting the number of visitors. If possible, sit with him through wet meals and for a half hour to an hour before leaving him alone in his room. By then he’ll probably want to nap. Keep a radio on low volume (soft music) and provide a night-light when it’s dark to keep him company.

Helpful Hints

  • Until your new cat sees a vet, wash your hands after you pet her.
  • Avoid cat names that sound like a reprimand. Some cats might not hear the difference between “No” and “Moe.”
  • If you have other cats, give them extra attention during the first month or so of the new arrival to prevent jealousy.
  • Place the empty cat carrier in a room where your other cats can check it out. This will acquaint them with the smell of the new cat.

Special Considerations for Kittens

Healthy kittens are always hungry. If yours skips just one meal, call the vet. To help him mature, feed him as many as five wet meals a day.

Start handling your kitten as soon as you get him. Gently pick him up and carry him around. Cuddle him, talk to him. All this contact will domesticate him.

Kittens need to learn right away that they shouldn’t bite or scratch bare skin. Even though it might be cute now, it won’t be later. Always use a lure toy or other item for playing—not your hands—even on the first day.

You can let your kitten out of the nursery under your supervision as soon as he is litter box trained. Usually this takes no more than a month. Be careful that other pets do not harm him. Don’t let him climb curtains or furniture. Keep using the nursery until he has learned not to scratch the wrong things. This could take until he’s six months old.

If he’s an only kitten, keep him in your bedroom at night after he’s litter box trained. As long as you aren’t and your partner isn’t pregnant, let your kitten sleep in bed with you. To prevent smothering the kitten while you’re asleep, consider putting his bed directly on top of your bed.

The First Week

Take the cat to a veterinarian for a complete physical and immunization. Shelters generally don’t do a comprehensive examination.

Establish good habits right away. Trim his nails as soon as you can. Once the cat is used to his surroundings, have all of your family visit him as much as possible. Wait a few days before introducing other cats or dogs.

To reduce the stress of relocation, include a multivitamin once a day on a wet meal. (See for a variety of supplements available for cats). Make sure the cat is eating! If not, call the shelter or a veterinarian right away.

Call him by his name before serving wet foods during confinement. Say “Here, Louie,” for example, even if he’s only a foot away. This helps train him to come when called.

Don’t let him scratch or bite you even while playing. (See Dealing with Aggressive Cats for help on how to avoid cat scratches and cat bites.)

Start gently handling his feet as soon as possible. If you’ve adopted your cat from a shelter, most likely you will be able to handle his feet the first day or second day. Your other cats are likely to check out the newcomer through the door. They may talk, reach under the door, and even hiss some of the time. This is good. They are getting used to each other.

After he’s used the litter box for a few days, let him out for an hour or so to sniff the house and leave traces of scent around. If your newcomer is shy and likely to hide, temporarily outfit him with bell on a safety release (breakaway) collar so that you can locate him should he decide to run and hide. Lock up your other cats while he’s out the first few times.

Once he’s using the scratching post, you can let him out for good. You might want to leave his nursery facilities available for him until he’s comfortable in the rest of the house.

Start growing “kitty oats” or “kitty grass”. (Follow the directions on the package of seeds.) Your new cat probably hasn’t had lawn grass to munch on lately. In just a few days he’ll enjoy nibbling on fresh green sprouts that provide natural fiber and hairball therapy. He is likely to vomit soon after eating the grass so keep nearby the rags or paper towels and carpet cleaner you purchased in Adopting a Cat.

Introducing the Newcomer to an Older Cat

When the older cat’s activities through the door seem more curious and playful than hostile, it’s time for him to meet the newcomers. Sometimes this may happen in only one day; sometimes it takes a week. Let the cats meet on a day when you have some time to be around to supervise them. Open the door and let the new cat walk out of his room on his own so that he feels in control of what’s happening.

Keep your voice upbeat throughout the cats’ initial meeting. Use each cat’s name with pride, as long as they’re being good. Don’t touch either cat when they first meet. If a fight breaks out, stay away until things calm down, and then put the new cat back in his room. (See Dealing with Aggressive Cats.)

Have a lure toy ready and start playing with all the cats together. This helps relax the atmosphere and make them think “all is normal . . . this is life . . . this is cool.” Tell them how great they are for being good.

Shopping List

  • cat carrier
  • vitamins
  • cat food and catnip
  • food and water bowls
  • litter box and litter
  • cat bed
  • cat toys
  • scratching post
  • nail trimmers
  • kitty oats
  • radio
  • night-light (sensor night-light works great)

For more info, see Cat Resources.

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