Whether you’re bringing home your first, second or tenth cat, it’s always an exciting time! MEOW Foundation has been rescuing cats and placing them in adoptive homes for over 20 years; here are our top tips for welcoming a new feline friend into your home.
Give your new cat a safe space
MEOW always recommends a safe starter room to provide your new cat with quiet and safety while becoming familiar with the scents and sounds of your home. He or she should stay in the safe room for at least the first few days. Equip the room with a piece of clothing with your scent, food, water, an open litter box, a new scratching post and toys. If you’ve adopted an adult cat, also consider Feliway diffuser or spray.
Visit the safe room for short periods to play, offer pets, or quietly read a book or chat on the phone. A nervous cat may growl, hiss, twitch it tail or pull its ears back; the best response is to speak softly, followed by giving the cat some time along.
When you and your new cat have established a trusting relationship, give him or her a chance to explore. Be sure to supervise! Give access to more of your home little by little to minimize fear or stress for your cat. If you’ve adopted a shy cat, avoid giving access to the basement until your cat is very comfortable as most basements have lots of hiding spots inaccessible to humans!
Integration into the rest of the house depends on the personality of your new cat and any existing pets. Integration into your home can take just a few days or a few weeks, and sometimes even longer for very shy cats. Follow your cat’s lead and don’t rush.
Introducing your new cat to your existing cat
Many adopters are tempted to introduce their new addition to the resident cat right away. Do not – we repeat, do not – do this! Successful introductions take time and patience. Rushing the process may irreparably damage the relationship or spark fear, anger, aggression, spraying and litter box problems.
The length of time an integration takes can vary depending on the cats and their personalities. If it’s taking longer than some of the time periods outlined below, or if you find yourself having to take a step back in the process, don’t panic! Every cat and every situation is different, and better to take your time than potentially damage the relationship between your cats.
If you’ve adopted a shy cat or kitten, a quicker integration may be best. Shy cats are often used to and welcome other feline companionship. They will be very lonely on their own, so we recommend that the integration take place very quickly (1-3 days) unless there are significant problems.
Slow and steady is best, starting with letting the cats “sniff out” the situation. Let the cats smell each other from either side of the safe room door. Begin exchanging bedding between the new and resident cat(s) after a few days. If all is going well, you can confine your resident cat to a room while the new cat explores your home for a couple of hours each day.
If both cats seem comfortable, do a carrier meeting by placing your new cat in a carrier in a place outside the safe room and letting the cats see and smell each other through the carrier door. If there are any signs of aggression, keep the visit short and return the new cat to their safe room. Repeat several times a day until the interactions are comfortable and positive.
If both cats continue to be comfortable and there are no signs of aggression, leave the door to the safe room slightly open so the cats can move around and interact freely. Be sure to supervise and have a spray bottle filled with water at the ready to interrupt any serious aggression or fights. You may notice occasional hissing, swatting or generally grouchy behaviour throughout and beyond the integration; this is normal! Cats take time to establish and affirm (and sometimes reaffirm) their relationship.
Integration not going well? A Feliway diffuser may be helpful, and you can also consider installing a screen door to allow the cats to continue to get used to each other while keeping everyone safe.
Introducing your new cat to your existing dog
Introducing your new cat to your resident dog is similar to introducing him or her to a resident cat. Let the cat and dog smell each other through the safe room door first; if it goes well, confine the dog to one room while your new cat explores the rest of the house for a few hours each day.
Once your cat is comfortable in your home, let him or her loose in one room and bring your dog in on a leash. Keep your dog focused on you and reward focused attention with a treat or toy. The idea is to keep the dog focused on you and not the cat; this will show them that the new cat is not a threat, nor is it a toy or prey to be chased. If your dog isn’t responding to your cues or your new cat is showing signs of stress (ears pinned back, tail twitching, hissing, growling), remove the dog from the room and try again later. Keep repeating the process until both dog and cat are comfortable and can peacefully coexist.
Be sure to supervise any interactions between your pets until you’re absolutely sure that they have a trusting and respectful relationship. Even after the integration, your cat will likely want some solitude from time to time; provide him or her with a private space that the dog can’t access.
Introducing your new cat to children
MEOW Foundation generally does not test cats with children. Even cats who we think will become great companions for children need a slow introduction to feel safe. Here’s a message from our cats that you can pass on to your little ones to help build a solid foundation based on trust and respect.
Hi there! I’m your new cat and I’d like to tell you a few things:
- Your house is brand new to me, so I am a bit nervous and shy.
- It will take me a few days to feel comfortable. Please be patient.
- Please don’t chase me; I will start to play when I feel more comfortable.
- I will learn about my new house by smelling everything.
- I might run away from loud voices, noises and fast movements. I also might hiss; that’s how I say “I’m scared.”
- I need quiet times just like you do, so I might find a hiding spot and take a nap.
- Please put my litter box in a quiet spot and let me use it alone.
- Please remember to pick up all my legs when you carry me or my tummy will hurt.
- I won’t mean to, but since I have claws I might scratch you if we play too much.
- I’m not sure where to sleep yet, so I might try a lot of places before I get comfortable.
- Please pet me gently and don’t pull my tail; I am small and can be hurt easily.
- Make sure you don’t let me outside. I don’t know where I live and I’ll get lost. Be sure to close any doors to outside behind you so I stay safe inside!
MEOW Foundation’s Matchmaker 30-Day Trial
One of MEOW Foundation’s unique features is our 30-Day Matchmaker Trial, which allows you to get to know your new cat risk-free. If integration with cats, dogs or anyone else in the home is not going well within the 30 days, we will take the cat back and refund the adoption fee, minus a $50 administration fee. We will also work with you to find a more suitable cat if you like. Learn more about our trial period. MEOW staff are also available beyond adoption day to answer any questions you may have about your cat’s behaviour.
Wishing you and your new cat many happy years together!