You’ve just adopted the perfect cat after all of your planning, researching, and purchasing supplies. You can’t wait to get home and give him lots of pets, snuggles, toys, and new friends like your dog and best friend. But luckily you pump the brakes on your party planning and consider the situation from your cat’s perspective. He was just in a shelter for several months surrounded by strange sounds, smells, and strangers. Then someone picked him up, placed him in a box, and took him on a bumpy car ride. All of a sudden, he will be dropped in a brand-new home that is totally unfamiliar to him. Wouldn’t that be awfully scary? Maybe the snuggle-fest you had imagined would be too much for him.
While it is hard to resist showering your new feline friend with attention right away, the best thing we can do for any new cat is give them time and space to decompress.
Setting Up a Safe Space
A big new house or apartment can be too overwhelming on Day 1. Cats do best if they stay alone in one room, like a bathroom or spare bedroom, at first. Before you bring your cat home, set up their “base camp” room with everything they will need: a big, open litter box with clumping, unscented litter; food and water bowls; toys; scratching post; comfy cat bed; and a place to hide.
It is important to provide a hiding space where the cat can retreat to feel safe in their new environment. It could be a cardboard box, a covered cat bed, or their carrier. In case of emergency, these are safer places to access the cat than if they hide somewhere you can’t reach. You’ll want to block off inappropriate hiding places in the room, like under a bed or inside a closet.
You can also think about adding vertical space to the room since cats typically feel safer off the ground. You might add a cat tree or shelves to their new territory.
The Two-Week Shutdown
Once the room is set up, you’re ready to bring the new cat home! When you arrive, place the carrier in a corner of their safe room and open the carrier door. Do not force him to come out. Instead, wait until he chooses to walk out on his own terms.
You might sit with him quietly while he explores, only giving him attention if he approaches you. But the most important thing in the first 24 hours is to give him as much space as he needs to feel comfortable.
Plan on keeping your cat in his base camp room for about two weeks. This period is sometimes known as the “Two-Week Shutdown” to refer to the time your new pet needs to adjust to his new environment before pushing any new things on him. That means you should not let him interact with other pets, introduce lots of friends or neighbors, or vacuum inside the room at this time.
So what can you do? This two week period is important for the cat to feel safe in his room and also with you. Remember that a new home can be scary for a cat, so you’ll want to help him feel comfortable around you. Never grab or force the cat to interact with you – let him approach you. Spend time in the room quietly reading or watching a show to help him get used to you. You can also move a wand toy around the room. Even a fearful cat might come out of hiding to play. If you have kids, teach them how to interact with the cat before introducing them.
Leaving Base Camp
Two weeks is just a guideline for how long your cat should stay in his base camp room. Some cats will be ready to explore after a few days, while others might need several weeks or months to adjust to their new space. To know when your cat is ready to explore more of the house, make sure he is eating, using the litter box, comfortable moving around the room, and getting lots of good quality sleep. He should be comfortable with the family members, shown through affiliative behaviors like: approaching you with tail raised straight up, face and body rubbing on family members, asking for attention and petting, and able to play, eat, and drink comfortably in front of you.
You can start the next stage of the process once your cat is showing these signs of feeling comfortable. If you don’t have any other pets in the home, you can open the door and let him start to explore the rest of the home on his own. Just like when you brought him home in the carrier, never force the cat to leave the room. The rest of the house should have his resources like litter boxes, scratching posts, and toys, but you will want to leave his base camp room set up so he always has his safe place to return to.
If you have other pets, don’t open that door just yet. You’ll want to start a gradual introduction process, one scent at a time.
The whole process of letting your new family member adjust might seem like a long one, but it is worth following to minimize stress for your cat and make sure that the first impressions of their new home are positive. If you need more guidance in helping your new cat adjust to your home, contact us at Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training.