Your eyes meet across the room. It feels like love at first sight, but before you get to know the person, you’re whisked away to a strange place, with unfamiliar sounds and smells. Is this true love or a kidnapping? All you want to do is escape, not jump for joy.
Odds are, this is how the kitty you just adopted is feeling.
As the President of the non-profit cat rescue, Kitten Associates, I often guide adopters on how to prepare for the arrival of their new cat or kitten. Like humans, cats experience stress, which can cause behavior changes and illness.
The good news is there are plenty of ways you can prepare your home so your cat can more easily transition from the high-stress environment of being caged in a shelter to their new, forever home.
Before Bringing Kitty Home: General Rules For Cats of All Ages
Cats feel safe in small, dark spaces. That doesn’t mean to bring them home and keep them inside a box, but it does mean you want to confine the new kitty to a smaller space instead of allowing them to freely explore your entire home. Starting off in too large an area can cause your cat to panic or possibly injure themselves.
Offer your feline (who, for the sake of this post, is a female) a guest room, bathroom or any comfortable space that has a door. Look around the room you chose. Where can the cat hide? Block off areas -- under the bed, behind a heavy dresser -- where you’d have trouble reaching her.
Plan on leaving the cat carrier in her room or use a cardboard box turned on its side. Place a clean soft towel inside. This way, kitty can make a dash for the box in order to be alone, or doesn’t even have to exit the cat carrier once you open its door.
She should also have access to food, water and a fresh, clean litter pan. Yes, that means you may have a litter pan in your bedroom if that’s where you’re starting off -- but remember, it’s only for now and can be moved later.
It’s also important to have your kitty in a quiet area. This will help her decompress and regain confidence. Plan on spending a lot of time with your new arrival, but keep calm and speak in soft tones when you’re together. Pet your kitty slowly and never use your hand as a toy.
Sessions of playtime are an important part of the transition process so have a number of different types of cat toys available. Don’t force her to play, but with gentle encouragement, most cats will welcome the diversion.
Restrict access to your kitty to only one or two family members at a time. Sit on the floor with her so she’ll be less intimidated. Be patient, and you’ll have a lifetime of happiness. But if you rush the process, your cat may begin to express herself in ways you aren’t going to be happy about.
If you already have other pets in your home, plan for the process to take longer. There are more steps to take to do proper introductions -- but the steps outlined above are a good starting point.
Special Considerations for Kittens
Kittens are like toddlers. Their new room has to be “kitten proofed.” Look for wires, cords, anything bite-sized that a kitten could choke on. Move those items out of the room and get cord protectors. If there poisonous plants or cherished breakable objects, remove those too and give the plants away.
If you work 9 to 5, I suggest adopting a pair of kittens if they’re under 6 months of age. Very young kittens need companionship and are still learning their manners. They do that best from each other.
Getting Settled In Her Forever Home
Cats don’t function on a timetable. You’ll know when she feels ready to leave her room when she starts meeting you at the door, and is curious about what lies beyond her space. If her tail’s perked up, she’s relaxed. Let her out with supervision at first, then for longer periods of time. This process can take a few days to a few weeks. Usually, the older the cat is, the slower the process should go.
No matter what, don’t forget to congratulation yourself! You’ve saved a life by adopting a rescue cat.
Enjoy this special time now that you know what to expect when you’re expecting a new kitty.
The Purina Cat Chow Shelter Volunteer of the Year contest will recognize and thank the volunteers who work at 50 cat-focused shelters -- one in every state -- and tirelessly care for cats as they await their forever homes. Purina Cat Chow will donate nearly $100,000 among the 50 participating shelters in cash donations, cat care supplies and new Purina Cat Chow Gentle Formula. Visit www.catchow.com to read their inspiring stories and vote for your favorite volunteer until March 15, 2015.