Adding a new feline friend to your household is a process that can be both exciting and scary, especially for first-time cat owners and even the cats themselves. With so many things to consider, it can feel as though a million things could go wrong. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to make the transition as smooth as possible!
Part 1 — Before
In every case, the best way to ensure a new pet adoption goes smoothly is to prepare beforehand. If you are considering getting a cat, there are a few things you should ask yourself first:
1. Am I ready to be responsible? While a new animal is always very exciting, remember that there is more to pet ownership than having a cuddly companion. It costs money to care for a pet its whole life; food, toys, litter, and veterinarian visits can add up. Caring for a pet, especially when you first bring them home, also takes time to ensure the transition runs smoothly. Do you have room in your budget and schedule for pet care? If you adopt a cat with special needs, will you be able to provide specific care for them?
2. Will this addition go over well? Make sure all members of your household—including other pets—can handle the change!
3. What do I know about caring for a cat? If you are going to be a first-time cat owner, take some time to read online about the sort of care your new friend will need. Take time to research what different needs cats may have— adopting a kitten can be different than adopting an adult or senior cat. Cats with special needs may also require different sorts of care.
Once you’ve determined that cat ownership is right for you, you can begin to prepare your home and search for your new friend! Here are a few things you can do before you bring your cat home to make the process more comfortable:
Figure out your space. Determine where you can put things like litter boxes, food, and beds. If you have other pets, make sure you can set aside a room away from them for your new cat to spend time in for the first few days. Make sure the area has enough space for their litter box, food (which should be placed away from the litter box), and areas for your new friend to hide in so that they feel safe and secure.
Determine your game plan. Who will be there when you bring your new cat home? If you have small children, it is always a good idea to remind them that your cat may need their own space for a few days before they want to come out and play. If you are a first-time pet owner, or if you’ve moved to a new area, make sure to do some research beforehand to choose what veterinarian in your area you plan to go to with your cat, and be prepared to make an appointment for soon after you have adopted your cat.
“Kitty-Proof” your home. On the day you know you will be bringing your furry friend home, make sure the area you plan to let them adjust in has no open windows, dangling or exposed electrical cords, dangerous chemicals, or delicate objects.
Part 2 — During
Remember when choosing your new family member that all cats have different personalities and needs. Are you prepared to care for a kitten, or would an adult or senior cat be a better fit for your family? Are you able to properly care for a cat with special needs? Are you looking for a cat who doesn’t mind sharing their home with other pets or children, or are you looking for just one pet?
Make sure when you’re adopting your cat that you communicate these things to the people or group you are adopting from. Often, these groups have a great understanding of their cats and can help to match you with an ideal companion. It is also important that you know the medical history of your new cat— are they spayed or neutered? Do they need to take medication? What is their vaccination history? The place you are adopting from may also be able to tell you what sort of food and treats your cat likes, which can take the guesswork out of buying their diet.
Part 3 — After
This part can often be the most stressful for both people and pet; a new space, filled with new sounds and smells, can be confusing and scary for a cat. Experts often recommend doing the following:
Set up a vet visit. It is always a good idea to take your new pet to the vet about a week after their adoption. Make an appointment with the vet of your choice and be sure to take you cat’s medical records with you.
Set a schedule. Try to feed your cat at the same time every day. A routine is a good way to make your cat feel at ease in a new space. It is normal for a cat to not eat much at first, but if you notice that they have not eaten or drank for more than a few days, contact your veterinarian.
Give them their space. Remember that area you decided to set aside for your new friend? Allowing your cat to have one area of the house to get used to and feel comfortable in can lower stress for everyone involved. If you have other pets, make sure you do not introduce them to your new cat for at least the first few days. Introducing pets can take a long time; be sure not to rush the process. Additionally, allow your cat to approach you and other people within the room when they feel comfortable doing so. It is not uncommon for your furry friend to hide for a few days in a new environment until they feel more comfortable.
Establish trust. Recognizing a friendly face can make your cat feel more at ease. Sitting on the floor and allowing your cat to get used to you and your smell can build a relationship that makes them feel comfortable. Remember to always let your cat come to you; do not chase or corner them. Speak in a soothing voice and be sure to tell your new kitty how happy you are to have them in your family!
Allow them to move at their own pace. Once your kitty has begun feeling comfortable in the space you gave them, determine how to safely allow them to explore the rest of your home. Again, make sure that the spaces your cat is in are safe for them; close your windows, make sure chemicals are out of reach, and make sure your cat cannot chew on cords or access human food that could be harmful for them.
Provide Enrichment. Many cats love to play and being active is an important part of keeping your cat happy and healthy. Provide them with plenty of toys that they can bat around, chew, pounce on, and scratch. Over time, you may start to notice which toys your cat likes best. Play time is also a good time to build a relationship with your cat— just remember not to overwhelm them. Crafting home-made toys for your cat can also be a great family activity, but remember to always use materials that are safe for a cat to play with. Many websites offer free tutorials on how to make great cat toys!
Remember that patience and respecting boundaries are two key things to ensure your new family member adjusts well to your household. Giving your cat the opportunity to take things at their own pace removes a lot of the stress that the both of you may feel. Planning ahead to make sure your cat receives quality care means that they can enjoy their new forever home to the fullest!
Emma McGeary is a Gallery Experience Presenter as well as an Outreach Educator and Animal Handler in CMNH’s Life Long Learning Department. Museum staff, volunteers, and interns are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.