Bringing your new cat home
Taking your new cat or kitten home is exciting, but there are a few things to consider for the best start.
The journey home
Getting a new cat is exciting but please do not open the cat carrier on the journey home or try to play with your cat/kitten in the car. Your cat may be scared and unpredictable in the car, he or she may also try to escape. It is safer to wait until you are inside the house and in your cat’s new room before opening the cat carrier.
Essential information on arriving home
- Set up one room for your new cat/kitten
- Keep your cat/kitten in one room for 2-3 days. This helps the cat/kitten feel safe and secure, and lets him/her establish his/her own territory. It is also easier for toilet training and cleaning.
- Ensure the room is quiet, secure, a comfortable temperature and well-ventilated.
- Make the room ‘cat comfy’
- Set up the room with water, food, toys, litter tray, scratching post and somewhere for the cat/kitten to hide.
- Many cats prefer to drink water when it is away from their food dish. Avoid the use of combined food and water bowls.
- Provide a bed or comfy blanket to help your cat/kitten settle.
- Litter tray position
- Put the litter tray in a private area at least 1.5m away from food, water and bedding.
- Cat proofing
- Remove any dangerous wires, curtain cords, or items your cat/kitten could chew or get tangled in.
- Remove any sharp or potentially dangerous items.
- Remove anything breakable, or items that your cat is likely to scratch that you do not want scratched!
- If the room has a toilet in it, keep the toilet lid closed.
- Try to make sure that your new cat is not scared
- Ask anyone in the house to try to keep quiet to avoid scaring your new cat/kitten.
- Avoid introducing your new cat/kitten on hectic days such as Christmas or a birthday.
- Do not worry if your cat hides for a few days; this is quite normal behaviour
- Let your cat explore the house slowly
- After 2-3 days in one room, slowly introduce your cat/kitten to the rest of the house.
- Do this room by room to avoid overwhelming him or her.
- Keep your new cat inside
- Keep your cat/kitten inside so he or she does not get lost or run away:
- Adult cats: keep inside for a minimum of 3-4 weeks.
- Kittens: keep inside for a minimum of 6-8 weeks. Kittens should be supervised outside until they are old/big enough to protect themselves. Cat/kittens that are not desexed should not be allowed outside until after they have been desexed (all cats and kittens from the SPCA will be desexed when you adopt them but cats/kittens from elsewhere may not be).
- Keep all doors and windows closed.
- Keep your cat/kitten inside so he or she does not get lost or run away:
- Introducing your cat to the family
- Do not force too much attention on your cat/kitten, especially at the beginning as this will be overwhelming and scary.
- Avoid introducing the whole family at once.
- Let your cat explore his or her new room and meet other family members gradually.
- It is okay to offer a gentle stroke but try not to overwhelm your cat/kitten with everyone offering attention and cuddles all at once. Let the cat decide when he or she is ready and wants to interact.
- Supervise children with the cat
- Always supervise young children with the cat/kitten.
- Teach children to be gentle and respectful towards the cat/kitten.
- Show them how to handle and pet the cat/kitten properly so that neither the child or the cat/kitten gets hurt or scared.
- Introducing other pets
- Keep all other pets away from your new cat/kitten initially.
- Read the essential advice below about introducing other pets.
It is important to keep your new cat inside for some time after you bring him/her home, wait 3-4 weeks for cats, or 6-8 weeks for kittens (or once your cat has settled; this may be longer for some more timid animals) before letting the cat/kitten start to go outside. If your cat goes outside too soon he/she may get lost or run away if scared. Older cats sometimes try to return to their old home. Keep the cat inside until he/she has learnt that this is his/her new home and it is somewhere they feel comfortable and secure.
Meeting resident cats
Be patient, it may take a few weeks or months for your new cat to settle in and it may take some time for resident and new cats to accept each other and get on. Here are some guidelines to help:
- Confine your new cat to one room with their litter box, food, water and a bed.
- Feed existing cats and the newcomer on opposite sides of the door to this room, so they associate something enjoyable (eating) with each other’s smells. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until your cats eat calmly while standing directly on either side of the door.
- Swap the sleeping blankets or beds so they become used to the other cats’ scents.
- Let your new cat explore the house on his/her own while you confine your other cats to the new cat’s room. They can experience each other’s scents without a face-to-face meeting. The new cat can become familiar with the house without being frightened.
- Introduce the cats slowly, always monitor first meetings and separate immediately if it does not go well. Never raise your voice if confrontation occurs. Do not intervene if small spats occur (a bit of hissing, growling or posturing). You can expect a mild protest, but do not allow these behaviours to intensify. If either animal becomes fearful or aggressive, separate them and start the process again another day. Be careful when separating the cats though, if they are very worked up sometimes they may redirect their fearful behaviour towards you and may bite of scratch if you catch them by surprise (for example, by picking them up suddenly when they are upset about the other cat and so in a reactive state). Give the cats a chance to calm down before reintroducing them; often it is best to wait for another day. Speaking gently and staying calm eases tension and diverts attention.
- The key to keeping peace in a multicat household is to provide enough resources and space for everyone. You can greatly increase your cats’ territory just by increasing the vertical space in your home. Cat trees, cat shelves or window perches are easy and effective ways to help cats feel as if they have more physical territory.
- Provide at least one litter tray per cat plus one extra tray in separate locations. Each cat will also need their own food bowl and safe hiding place too (and other resources like water, beds, scratching posts and perches).
- Give your existing cats plenty of attention. Your existing cat’s life has been disrupted by the newcomer’s arrival, and he/she may find this upsetting and difficult to accept. Give your existing cats all the attention they have received in the past and make sure they still feel loved!
Meeting resident dogs
Cats and dogs can be great friends, but this takes time and extreme care. A dog can seriously injure or even kill a cat, even if they are only playing. Some dogs have such a high prey drive that they should never be left alone with a cat. Dogs often want to chase and play with cats, and cats often become afraid and defensive; if they run away this can make the situation even more dangerous for the cat.
Before bringing your cat/kitten home
- Teach your dog basic commands to help you keep him/her under control; ensure your dog knows and responds to the commands ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘come’ and ‘stay’.
- Observe your dog around other cat/kittens; for example, watch your dog’s reactions to cats while out for a walk. If your dog shows very predatory or aggressive behaviour towards cats, you need to be extremely careful when bringing home your new cat. If the dog is extremely predatory or aggressive towards cats, you may even need to reconsider if bringing a cat into your home is a good idea and safe for the cat.
- Ensure there are places in your house where the cat can get away from your dog and feel safe such as cat wall furniture and cat trees.
Introducing your cat/kitten and dog
- Let your animals see each other through a glass door or a partially opened door before a face-to-face meeting. This way they can get used to each other while feeling safe.
- Hold a controlled face-to-face meeting. Once your cat/kitten and dog have become comfortable eating on opposite sides of the door and have been exposed to each other’s scents, you can attempt a face-to-face introduction.
- Put your dog’s leash on and have the dog either sit or lie down and stay.
- Have a second person offer your cat/kitten some special pieces of food/treats.
- At first, the cat and the dog should be on opposite sides of the room.
- Allow your cat/kitten some freedom to explore your dog if he/she wants to, always keeping the dog on leash and under control. Keep giving your dog treats and praise for calm behaviour. If your cat runs away or becomes aggressive, you are moving too fast. Go back to the previous steps.
- Never do introductions with your cat/kitten in a cage.
- Lots of short visits are better than a few long visits. Repeat this process several times until both pets are tolerating each other’s presence without fear or aggression.
- Muzzle your dog if you have concerns about initial aggression towards your cat.
- Teach your dog that chasing the cat or rough play is unacceptable. Also teach and reward your dog for good behaviour, such as sitting, coming when called, or lying down. If your dog is always punished and never has good things happen in the cat’s presence, he/she may associate bad things with the cat, become upset and become aggressive towards the cat. Never allow the dog to chase the cat, as once this starts it changes the situation from play to hunting for the dog and becomes very dangerous.
- Always keep your dog at your side and on a leash during the introduction process.
- Ensure your cat/kitten always has an escape route and a place to hide. Cats like to be able to climb higher than dogs, this makes them feel safer and gives them an escape route if needed. Until you are certain your cat will be safe, be sure to keep the dog and cat separated when you are not home. Even once you feel comfortable leaving them together, you should always make sure the cat can get away from the dog (e.g. has high places to escape, places to hide that the dog cannot reach, and exits to areas where the dog cannot go).
- Kittens are in more danger of being injured or killed by a dog than adult cats. Therefore, they will need to be kept separate from dogs until they are fully grown, except for periods of carefully supervised interaction to enable the animals to get to know each other.
- When introductions do not go well, seek professional advice immediately. Consult a veterinarian or animal behaviour specialist. Animals can be severely injured in fights. The longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve. Punishment will NOT work and could make things worse. Most conflicts can be resolved with professional guidance and the earlier you seek advice, the better.
Cats/kittens adopted from the SPCA will already be trained to use a litter tray. However, moving to a new house can sometimes cause some issues with litter tray use. Be prepared for one or two ‘accidents’. Never punish a cat that has soiled outside his or her litter tray; this will only make things worse as most often toileting in inappropriate areas is caused by the cat being stressed, punishing the cat will only make him/her most stressed and upset and lead to worse problems. To help, start your cat in one small room, use unscented litter (as many cats, with their sensitive sense of smell, find perfumed litter unpleasant), keep the litter tray always clean, and make sure that the litter tray is large enough for the cat (the bigger the better, but it needs to be at least 1.5x the length of your cat so that he/she can comfortably fit into it).