We all know that being the “new guy” is difficult. Feeling comfortable in a strange place takes time, no matter the species. Cats are especially sensitive to their environment, and need special care when introduced to a new home. Before you rush to introduce your new cat to everyone, review this Mill Creek Animal Hospital guide. A little extra patience and effort during your new cat’s initial homecoming will pay off with years of comfort, happiness, and good behavior.

Before you bring your cat home

Create a private area where your new cat can acclimate to their surroundings without fear or social pressure, preferably a small room where they will be safely confined and isolated from other household pets. To prepare a suitable space, consider things from your cat’s perspective:

  • Cat-proofing — Remove dangerous items, such as:
    • Electrical cords
    • Dangling blind cords
    • Decor with fringe, tassels, or other hanging items that resemble cat toys
    • Fragile items that may be broken
    • Houseplants
    • Long curtains
  • Providing the essentials — You must provide a few specific needs to reduce your cat’s stress and misbehavior, including:
    • Food and water Position these resources in different areas of the room, and away from the litter box. Cats prefer separate food and water sources.
    • Litter box — Position the box in a quiet, low-traffic area, and fill with one to two inches of fine clumping litter. Avoid scented or perfumed litters, which can trigger respiratory problems. Scoop the litter box daily.
    • Scratching post — Scratching is a natural cat behavior. Providing an appropriate resource will protect your furniture.
    • Toys — Provide a few toys at a time, and rotate regularly to prevent boredom. Use interactive toys, such as feather wands, when you play with your cat, which will promote bonding.
    • Hiding place — Cats instinctively hide in new environments. Leave their carrier out as a safe retreat, and fill with familiar smells. Provide additional safe, secluded areas, such an elevated perch or cat tree.

Welcoming your cat home

When your and your new cat arrive home, take your cat directly to their designated room. Open the carrier, and allow your cat to exit, run and hide, or stay inside. Remember that your cat’s environment has changed significantly, and they may need days or weeks to fully acclimate.

That said, plan to spend time in your cat’s space several times a day, always bringing positive rewards such as food, treats, and toys. This will help you and your cat form positive associations.

Introducing your new cat to other pets

Cats are naturally territorial, and commonly view new pets as a potential threat. Expecting pets to figure out their new social dynamics on their own can result in dangerous fighting, bullying, and stress-related health issues. Introductions should be gradual and controlled, always allowing pets to retreat if they feel unsafe. Be patient and understanding if your pets take time to accept each other, because this is normal, species-appropriate behavior. 

To help maintain a literal and figuratively structured approach to introducing your pets, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Check meow-t — Before introducing pets, schedule an examination at Mill Creek Animal Hospital, to ensure your new cat is healthy and free from infectious viruses or parasites.
  • Privacy, please — Face-to-face introductions are confrontational. Prevent all visual contact initially by placing a towel or blanket in the crack below the door. 
  • Pleased to smell you — After a few days, place a scented item from each pet in the opposite pet’s environment. A blanket or towel with the other pet’s scent will help each party become familiar, without contact. 
  • Tear down the walls, gradually — Slowly break down the barriers between the pets, beginning with the space under the door. If you have multiple pets, do this with one pet at a time, to prevent overwhelming your new cat. Allow only brief interactions, separate any pets who become anxious, over-aroused, or aggressive, and go back to the earlier steps.
    • Let pets interact under the door.
    • Crack the door open slightly so pets can see but not access each other.
    • Use stacked baby gates to create a tall see-through barrier.
    • Drape a sheet over the gate, and allow only brief visual encounters that you gradually increase as your pets’ comfort increases. 
    • Once pets show calm behavior or passive interest in one another, you can begin supervised contact without the gate. This step may take time, so be patientalways prioritize safety, and do not rush the process.

Help all pets feel confident and secure by always providing treats and praise during positive interactions. If your pets demonstrate fear, stress, or aggression after you have attempted gradual introductions, contact Mill Creek Animal Hospital for advice.

Helping your new cat settle in

Give your new cat supervised opportunities to explore additional home areas, but be ready to return them to their room if things do not go as planned. Continually monitor all pets for changes in behavior, appetite, and litter box habits, which may indicate stress. Ensure that all cats have access to critical resources, such as food, water, and litter boxes, with multiple stations for each cat throughout your home.

With patience and care, all your household members will live in harmony, and be happy for many years to come. For further resources on feline behavior, or to schedule an examination for your new cat, contact Mill Creek Animal Hospital.