When a new cat arrives in your home, you will want him to feel comfortable as soon as possible. Naturally, everyone involved is going to be excited, especially any children in the house, but with a little advance planning you can keep the occasion calm and stress-free. Most cats soon adapt to new surroundings and settle down in a remarkably short time.
In the days before you bring your cat home, check the house and yard for obvious hazards. Think about both his immediate and future needs. For example, rather than stocking up on one kind of cat food, buy several varieties so that you can ﬁnd out what he likes best.
Plan his arrival on a day when your house is likely to be calm and quiet, so that you can give him all your attention. If you have children and this is their ﬁrst pet, make it clear that a cat is not a toy that can be played with whenever they want.
Transporting Your Cat
To travel safely, your cat needs a secure box or cat carrier. Reduce his anxiety by giving him a familiar piece of bedding with a smell he recognizes, and cover the carrier so that he can see only out of one end. Strap the carrier in the car with a seatbelt, or place it in a footwell to stop it from ﬂying around.
Begin by bringing your cat into the room where he will be spending his ﬁrst few days. It is best to restrict him to one or two rooms until he has settled in and appears relaxed.
Check that any doors and windows are closed. If you already have other pets, make sure they are out of the way in another room. Put the carrier on the ﬂoor and open the door. Allow your cat to venture out in his own time; be patient, and do not try to remove him yourself.
Curiosity will eventually get the better of him, and he will leave the carrier and start to explore. Part of your cat’s acclimatization involves introducing him to the essential elements of his new life: his basket, the litter box, feeding station, and scratching post.
Make sure that these are in easily accessible places but are away from busy areas of the house. It is best to start with the litter box—with any luck your cat will use it right away. If the litter box is in a separate room, make sure that he can always get to it. Feeding bowls should be put in a place where it is easy to clean up any spills.
Meeting the Residents
It will be hard to keep small children away from something as exciting as a new cat or kitten. However, shouting and rushing around may frighten your cat, so make sure they understand this. Show them how to hold the cat correctly and let them stroke or cuddle him; if he looks unhappy, then be swift to intervene—a scratch could put a child off a new pet for a long while.
An older cat already in the household will almost certainly take a dim view of a stranger encroaching on his personal territory, although adult cats are less likely to be aggressive toward a kitten than to another adult cat. Never place litter boxes or food bowls side by side, and expect the resident and the newcomer to sort it out for themselves.
Keep them apart to begin with but allow them to become accustomed to the other’s scent by swapping food bowls or moving them into one another’s rooms. After a week or so, introduce them, but do not leave them alone together until they at least tolerate one another.
Introductions between dogs and cats are not necessarily a problem. For the ﬁrst few meetings, keep the dog on a leash and give the cat space to back off. Again, never leave the two alone until you are conﬁdent that the relationship is going to be peaceful.
Small pets such as hamsters or rabbits are probably best not introduced at all but kept permanently out of the cat’s sight and smell.
Setting a Routine
Start as you mean to go on by establishing some ground rules right from the beginning, especially about eating and sleeping. If you give your cat titbits, for example, he will always expect them, and if you let him sleep on your bed “just this once” it will be hard to stop him from doing it again.
Cats are creatures of habit, so setting a routine in the early days will help your cat or kitten to settle in and feel secure. Eventually, he will develop his own patterns of behavior around your daily schedule. Base your routine around regular activities such as feeding, grooming, and playtime.
You need to be consistent with this for some months, so make sure that it ﬁts in with your own commitments and lifestyle. Constant change stresses cats and may cause behavioral problems such as chewing and biting, or clawing furniture.
A regular routine also helps you to keep an eye on any changes in your cat’s health and general well-being. Fix regular mealtimes for your cat and always put his bowls in the same place. By doing this, you can monitor his feeding— and if you know when he is likely to want food, you can use his hunger as an aid to teaching such things as coming to call.
If your cat needs daily grooming, aim to do this at a regular time. Grooming may not be your cat’s favorite activity, but if you always do it just before feeding or playtime it will give your cat an incentive to be near at hand and to cooperate with the process.
Having a regular playtime is also a good idea. It gives your cat something to look forward to and reduces the likelihood of “crazy time,” when your cat rushes around the house or pesters everyone for attention. Make sure that playtime is a worthwhile experience with plenty of variety and a decent amount of time devoted solely to your cat.