Cats can feel unsettled when they first enter a new home. We've put together the following tips to help make the whole transition easy and stress free for everyone involved.
Before bringing your new cat home
Access to the whole house can be a bit overwhelming for your new cat when you first bring them home. If you just let them loose in the house, you’ll likely find that they immediately hide and may not find the litter tray when they need to! It’s best to set them up their own safe room so they can gradually acclimatise to their new surroundings and it’s also essential for managing introductions to your resident pets.
Items for the safe room
Food & water
Somewhere to get up high
Some cat owners have found the pheromone product ‘Feliway’ useful for helping their cats feel more settled. Try plugging in a Feliway diffuser in the cat safe room at least 24 hours before they arrive.
Bringing your new cat home
When you first get home, take the carrier straight into the prepared safe room before opening the door. Allow your new cat to hide if it wants to at this point, stay low to the ground yourself and sit quietly for a few minutes. Stick to one person at this point, only introducing the rest of the family one at a time, once your new cat has had a chance to relax. If there are no resident pets, you can then gradually allow them to explore the rest of the house one room at a time, making sure they are comfortable and happy before moving on each time.
It is absolutely vital that your new cat doesn’t manage to get out too soon, so make sure that all windows are kept closed and no outside doors are opened while the cat is nearby.
Introducing your new cat to resident cats
This process can take anything from a few days to many weeks and don’t try to go any faster than the cats are comfortable with. Don’t attempt to proceed to the next step until there are no signs of aggression from any of the cats, as a fight at this stage can be very hard to recover from.
Step 1 SET UP THE ENVIRONMENT FOR THE NEW CAT AND CREATE POSITIVE ASSOCIATIONS WITH THIS SPACE FOR ALL CATS
Keep the new cat in a separate room (the cat-safe room you have already prepared) with all its important resources: litter tray, water and food, resting/sleeping place, toys and a scratching post. There should be no direct contact with your resident cat(s). Hang a toy on both sides of the door of this cat-safe room or put a food bowl in front of it (on both sides) with frequent offers of delicious food. Continue to feed your cats as normal in their usual food bowl but in addition place some special food (e.g., treats, wet food of a new flavour) in these extra bowls.
Step 2 EXCHANGE SCENTS
Swap bedding with the scent of your new cat with other bedding with the scent of your resident cat(s).
Swap rooms - in addition to the swapping of bedding, the resident cat(s) could be briefly confined (such as confining resident cats to your bedroom during the night) to allow the new cat to inspect the home.
Step 3 ALLOW VISUAL CONTACT
Visual contact should only commence when there are no signs of any aggression around the door that separates the new arrival. Once commenced, visual contact should be as frequent as possible. The resident cat(s) and the new cat should be allowed to see each other, but still be physically separated. This can be achieved in several ways including: a transparent or netted door, a small crack in the door, narrower than the width of a cat’s body, having one cat inside a crate.
Step 4 GIVE PHYSICAL ACCESS, BUT SUPERVISED CONTACT
Physical supervised access can occur if there are no signs of fighting or aggressive behaviour displayed by any cat during ‘visual contact’. Once commenced, physical supervised access should be as frequent as possible. After a period of positive visual contact, allow the new cat and one resident cat to have the opportunity to physically interact for a short time and in a restricted space (such as one room) and under the owner’s supervision. Special treats and toys are highly recommended during these sessions and the owner should be encouraged to use them interactively to distract cats from staring at one another or directing too much attention to other cats, and to disperse any tension. Punishment should never be used.
Step 5 ALLOW FREE ACCESS WITHOUT SUPERVISION FOR SHORT PERIODS
Free unsupervised access for a short period of time (a few minutes) can occur if there is no aggressive-type behaviour between any of the cats during step 4. Once commenced, free unsupervised access should be as frequent as possible. At other times the new cat should still be kept separate. If friendly behaviours are seen between the new cat and any of the residents, for example playing, grooming, rubbing against each other, these two cats (or more) can be kept together for longer periods. At this stage, enrichment is particularly important in terms of providing multiple resources including litter trays, hiding places, food and water bowls. With time, if things are going well, the separate room can be kept open and the new cat and residents given freedom to come and go as they please.