Bringing Home A New Cat: A Comprehensive Guide

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Whether a brand new cat parent or a seasoned cat lover, bringing home a new cat can be a stressful time for all involved. While some cat stress is unavoidable, there are some simple steps you can take to not only keep your new feline friend happy but keep your stress level low.

This guide is meant to go over helping a new cat (or cats as getting a pair of cats is best) adjust to your home. I have a separate guide on introducing cats so I won’t touch on that here. I suggest you mosey over to that post if you’re looking for some additional tips on bringing a new cat home when you already have cats. If you want some personalized help, I’m also available for a consultation.

Prepare Ahead Of Time

Cats are creatures of habit and thrive on routines. Any changes to their routine or environment can be stressful, even if that stress ultimately results in something great like joining your home. While you will likely realize you need some additional cat products or need to make changes to your environment once your cat arrives, it’s best to minimize other changes in the first few weeks. The easiest way to keep things to consistent is to set things up ahead of time.

You’ll need supplies for your cat like nail clippers and brushes for basic cat maintenance, you likely won’t need these immediately. The biggest thing you want to focus on is getting the environment set up for your cat along with having things to help build your bond with them right away. In particular, focus on making sure you have:

These resources should be spread out throughout any of the spaces that your cat will have access to. Cats feel more secure in their environment when they have multiple resources in multiple locations so concentrating things in one place isn’t going to help them feel welcome in your space. If you are getting more than one cat, you will need multiple of each resource. A good rule of thumb is one of each resource for each cat you have plus one extra.

Create A Sanctuary Room

While it’s best to spread resources out, when your cat first arrives you’ll want to give them limited access to your home. Obviously, I’ll be going into more detail on that process in a bit, but before your cat even comes home you’ll want to set up a sanctuary room. It can be any room in the home, but should be one that is quiet and safe. A bedroom is often a great choice.

In the sanctuary room, you’ll want to set up all the cat stuff your new kitty will need even if it is not where the stuff will remain once they have more access to your space. Make sure you keep food and water separate from the litter box as best you can as no cat or human wants to eat where they poop!

If you want to create a calming environment, consider putting a Feliway diffuser in the room. The diffusers have pheromones that help cats feel safe and secure in their environment. The diffuser should be left running all the time and refilled every 30 days. It can take some time for the diffuser to work so if possible, try to plug it in a week in advance. If you can’t plug it in a week ahead of time, plugging it in with as much time before you bring home the new cat is best.

Cat Proofing

Besides adding things to the environment for your cat, you’ll want to make sure they aren’t going to get hurt by anything in your home. While the most important place to cat proof is the sanctuary room since that is where your cat will be at first, you might as well do your whole home at once so you don’t forget.

A calico cat sitting by some Christmas lights with a tree in the background.
Hide your collection of tempting electric cords ahead of time! Photo by Jasmin Schuler.

While there are a lot of potential dangers in your home that need to be addressed, some of the most important ones that you should make absolutely certain are taken care of before bringing home a new cat include:

  • Removing any toxic or poisonous plants
  • Securing furniture so it doesn’t get knocked over if your cat jumps on it
  • Hiding electrical cords or adding a thick cover so they don’t get chewed on
  • Removing anything your cat could swallow like small objects or yarn
  • Securing cabinets (baby proofing kits are a great tool to use)
  • Making sure all windows, window screens, and exits are secure

If you have any doubt about if something is safe or not, it’s best to remove it. The last thing you’d want is to welcome your cat home with a trip to the emergency vet!

Get Your Basic Cat Supplies

Besides environmental modification, you’ll need some basic cat supplies right away. While some of these may seem obvious, you don’t want to have a new cat at home and realize you don’t have anything to feed them. Make sure you have:

  • Food
  • An unscented litter
  • Treats (Yes, these are necessary! You’ll use them to help build your bond with your cat)
  • Toys, especially wand toys so you can play with your cat

Bringing Home Your New Cat

Once you have everything set up and ready to go, it’s time to bring home your cat. It’s as simple as picking them up and letting them run free, right?

I hope your answer was a firm, “No!” Clearly there’s more to this blog post so I suggest you don’t take that approach. Letting your cat loose in a big new home can be very overwhelming so contain your excitement for now. There is plenty of time to get to know your cat.

Introduce Them To The Home Slowly

Keep the new cat in a single room to start. If you have a studio apartment, this is basically the only step you need to do. For those of you with multiple rooms or a larger home, you have a bit more work.

The cat should stay in the single room until they are are showing signs of being adjusted to the new environment. That means they’re eating, using their litter box regularly, playing, and engaging in normal cat behaviors. Depending on the cat’s personality, they may or may not be seeking attention from you as you’re new to them, too. At a minimum they should be out of hiding when you’re in the room.

Once they seem comfortable, you can let them explore the rest of the home room by room. Depending on the layout of your home, this may be challenging or you may not have much work to do. Do your best, but take things slow. Make sure your cat always has access to their original sanctuary room at all times. Make sure when they are out in the new space that the environment is as calm as possible so they have a chance to peacefully explore their new home.

Set up the new spaces the cat has access to ahead of time. If you’ll be moving any of your resources to a new location, do so gradually so your cat isn’t confused or stressed by the sudden change. You may want to set up a duplicate of each resource in the new expanded space for a few days so your cat gets used to that resource being there.

No Need To Show Your Cat Where The Resources Are

During this process of bringing home a new cat, many people feel the need to show their cat where resources are. I hear this a lot with litter boxes in particular where people will show their cat the litter box by placing them in the box.

Great news: you can skip this step. In fact, you should skip this step. At best, it’s not needed as cats find places to go based on instinct. At worst, you could create an aversion to the litter box if your cat doesn’t like being picked up or finds being placed there distressing. The same thing applies to other resources, too, like their cat trees. Let your cat discover them on their own. Cats are smarter than we give them credit for!

If you are really concerned about your cat not finding their box, make sure it’s in a prominent, easy to find location. You can also consider adding Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract to their litter (or getting the pre-mixed variety) to help them find their way to the box. This isn’t always necessary, but it’s a great way to provide you with some extra peace of mind in a way that’s way better than bringing your cat to the box.

Building Your Relationship

After you bringing home a new cat, you’ll probably be filled with excitement. You may want to dive right in to snuggling and petting them. While I absolutely understand that urge, it’s not a great idea. In fact, it can actually damage your relationship with your cat.

When I brought home Class Act Cats’ Chief Whisker Officer, Prozac, he was labeled as being a very shy, fearful boy. I was very early in grieving my cat so I wanted him to come and snuggle so badly, but I knew that wasn’t going to help him adjust. Instead, I took things slowly and let him lead.

Class Act Cats' Chief Whisker Officer, Prozac, a flame point Siamese cat, naps in a box in a wooden tan and black cat tower shortly after Joey brought home his new cat. There is a cat bed nearby and a cat behavior book visible.
Like many cats, he just wanted to nap somewhere cozy.

While relationship building with a cat takes time, if you mess things up initially it will take even longer. There are a few steps you can take to get things off to a great start and being the process of becoming best buddies for many years to come.

Let Your Cat Approach You

With most cats, they don’t like being touched out of the blue without knowing who or what is touching them. That’s probably a feeling you can relate to! Because of this, you’ll want to let your cat lead all interactions. Offer them a finger at a distance and let them sniff it. If they initiate contact, you can likely pet them on the cheeks or chin as these are preferred petting locations for cat.

If they don’t initiate contact, what do you do? Hopefully this is obvious, but respect their wishes. You’ll get to pet them eventually, but you risk damaging your budding relationship or being bitten if you aren’t cautious with a fearful cat.

Let Your Cat Hide

Your cat has no idea why they are suddenly in a new place with strange people, objects, and smells. As cats are a prey species, they’ll likely want to find somewhere they feel safe to figure out what’s happening. That’s totally okay, though it is a good idea to block the area under your bed or anywhere your cat may have a hard time being reached in an emergency.

When I brought my sweet Zoloft home, he spent the first night hissing at me and hid out of sight most of the night. I left a closet door open for him and had already purchased a few cat tents for him so it was no big deal as I could have easily found him. For Prozac, my bed was already blocked off and he had inherited quite a few cat towers with caves for him to snuggle up in.

Both cats ended up coming out pretty quickly and spent way less time hiding the next day. That’s not to say they didn’t hide from time to time, but they didn’t just stay there. By allowing your cat to have a safe place to hide and come out when ready, you’ll help them have a little sense of control over the world. Forcing them out benefits no one.

Introduce Yourself Slowly

You’ll want to get your cat used to you at a gradual pace. Generally, doing one sense at a time is a good idea. Consider leaving something like a t-shirt or blanket with your smell on it in their sanctuary room. You can even sprinkle a bit of catnip or silver vine powder on it to help mix your scent with something the cat will really like.

You can also spend time doing something quietly in the same room as the cat. That may mean reading across the room from them, but really anything can work as long as it doesn’t scare the cat. Start out on one side of the room and gradually let them approach you. If they come out, avoid staring as cats find being stared at threatening.

A brown cat with green eyes looks at the camera with a partially obscured face by a blanket. Their ears are slightly to the side. A Christmas tree is in the background, though it is fuzzy.
Brief glances only, human. Picture by Alru4 from Pixabay

You can also use the strategy of tossing treats to the cat so they can begin associating you with something they love. Don’t set the treats near you until later on or try to force the cat to eat near you, however. This can actually be incredibly stressful for them and they may come out briefly to get the treat, but still not build a positive association with you. Plus, forcing them to do something they find uncomfortable in order to get a basic need like eating fulfilled is kind of rude. Your cat should be able to eat without having to feel scared.

As your cat gets more comfortable, you can begin adding things like play in to help your cat build their bond with you. Your cat will likely need some time to adjust so don’t go too rapidly with them. You’ll have many years ahead to enjoy their company and become friends!

Keys To Bringing Home A New Cat Successfully

Bringing home a new cat can be daunting, but in the end the correct approach boils down to a few common themes: listen to the cat, go slowly, and avoid causing excess stress. It may seem like a lot of work to do all of these things, but doing even most of it correctly will help your new feline friend feel safe and confident. Plus, it will prevent needing cat behavior help when your cat has unwanted behaviors!

If you’re concerned about bringing home a new cat and how to do it best in your situation, my Welcome Home package is a great way be successful with welcoming your new friend to their new kingdom. It’s great for preventing behavior concerns and allows us to work together over time.

Ultimately, getting a new cat is an exciting time. May you and your new cat be fast friends and their integration into your life be smooth!

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!