Introducing Your New Cat to Your Home
Moving to a new home is an unsettling experience for a cat, even for friendly ones. Cats are territorial and need time to adapt to a new home.
It’s critical that you set up a “safe room” where your new cat is confined for a couple of days to a couple of weeks (depending on your cat’s personality and your home environment). Initially, your cat’s food and water bowls, litter box, bed, toys, etc., should be placed in this room.
Choose a small room (e.g., a den, very large extra bathroom, or other room without a bed to hide under) where your new cat will have lots of human contact and can hide – preferably only where you can reach them for petting and for other interactions. If you don’t have a small room without a bed, you will need to use the bedroom, knowing it may take your cat a little longer to acclimate.
- Reason: Cats feel safer in smaller spaces. Introducing them too quickly to a new home can be overwhelming, lengthening the amount of time it will take your cat to acclimate.
Once your new cat feels comfortable with you in this “safe room,” open the door and let your cat venture out on their own. It’s important that your new cat trusts and bonds with you before introducing them to other parts of your home, new people and/or other pets.
If there are a lot of rooms in your home, close doors to other rooms so your cat has a smaller space to initially explore. Keep the door to the “safe room” open so your cat can retreat back to the safety of a familiar room as needed. This is especially important when there are multiple people and/or other pets in your home. This also helps ensure your cat knows where their litter box is.
- Reason: This process allows your cat to explore their new home slowly and in stages.
Ensuring Good Litter Box Habits
Number of Boxes
You need at least one litter box per cat. You may need more depending on how many cats you have, and the size and layout of your home (e.g., large or multi-floor homes may need more than one litter box per cat in different areas of the home).
- Reasons: Cats are territorial and usually want their “own” box or to have a choice regarding which box to use. Cats also want easy access to their litter boxes.
Size and Style
Litter boxes need to be large with plenty of room for the cat to jump in and easily turn around. We have a strong preference for boxes that are open, high-sided and with no hood, which is what most cat experts recommend. If you choose a less preferred box with a hood, make sure the opening in the front is very large with no door/flap. Many cats prefer open litter boxes while others are ok with hooded ones.
- Reasons: Open litter boxes, even high-sided ones, enable cats to exit from different directions which may be important for cats that don’t like feeling “trapped.” Open litter boxes also allow fresh air into the box to keep it fresher smelling and more appealing for the cat, and minimize dust from staying inside the box which isn’t healthy for the cat to breathe. Finally, an open box allows you to watch your cat for signs of straining when urinating or defecating which can be a sign of serious health issues.
- On the other hand, hooded litter boxes offer cats privacy that some cats may want. Hoods can help prevent litter from being kicked outside the box and urine from spilling over the sides for cats that urinate on the sides. There are some hooded litter boxes that have clear plastic hoods, enabling you to see your cat inside the box to monitor for signs of straining. Remember, if the litter box has a hood, there needs to be a very large opening in the front to enable the cat to easily jump out of the box and let fresh air inside the box.
Choosing the right type of litter is very important. Not only so your cat will use the litter box but also so the litter doesn’t cause health problems. Clumping litter helps keep boxes free of urine and feces after scooping, but most important is that litter needs to be unscented and low in dust. It’s also good to consider litter that uses natural ingredients, such as corn, soy, wheat or wood. These plant-based litters come in pellets and granules. If your cat tolerates the feel of pellets on their paws, pellet litters are usually less dusty.
- Reasons: Cats have very sensitive noses. Scented litters use unhealthy perfumes and can deter your cat from using the box. Dusty litter is also unhealthy for cats because when they dig to bury their waste, the dust can get into their nose and lungs. Litter with natural plant-based ingredients may be healthier depending on how they are processed. Pellets track less around the house and are low in dust. Examples of unscented litters to consider: Rufus & Coco Wee Kitty Eco Plant (soy and wheat clumping pellets), Okocat Plant-Based (clumping wood or non-clumping paper pellets), World’s Best (clumping corn granules), or Fresh News (paper pellets).
Scoop at least once a day, preferably twice a day or more, depending on the number of cats and litter boxes you have. Add fresh litter, if needed, before disposing of the remaining litter monthly, cleaning it with hot water and soap, and adding fresh litter.
- Reason: Cats are usually very finicky and like their litter boxes clean!
Place litter boxes in quiet places (e.g., extra bedroom, extra bathroom, closet with an open door). Litter boxes should be accessible and provide privacy for the cat, but they should not be close to food and water bowls. Do not place litter boxes in laundry rooms or unfinished basements near washers, dryers, and furnaces. Finished basements are ok if appliances are behind a closed door..
- Reasons: Cats want peace and quiet and privacy when using their litter box. Imagine a washer, dryer, or furnace kicking on and startling a cat while the cat is using the litter box. This is a sure way to scare your cat away from using their litter box. And, cats don’t want to eat and drink close to where they urinate and defecate.
Choosing Quality Food and Feeding Appropriate Amounts
Consult with the SPCA foster parent and adoption official about the food your new cat is already eating. Initially, the cat should remain on the same food. SPCA will recommend whether this food should be continued or changed. Any changes should be done gradually by mixing new food into the current food for several days to a week.
- Reason: Changing a cat’s diet can cause diarrhea and vomiting, especially if changes are made quickly.
Types of Food
We typically recommend a combination of canned and dry food for most cats, as long as their daily portion includes plenty of canned food. However, a canned food only diet is also a healthy choice for most cats. Keep in mind, a cat’s diet needs to be tailored to their individual needs. Do your own research online and consult with your vet.
We recommend higher quality brands, such as Wellness, Royal Canin, Science Diet, Blue Buffalo, Weruva, Tiki Cat, and Instinct. There are many other quality brands available.
- Reason: Dry food is convenient, but quality canned food is generally healthier for cats. Cats are carnivores and need lots of protein. Canned food generally has higher levels of protein than dry food, and dry food tends to have higher levels of grain that adds more carbohydrates to a cat’s diet. Also, canned food adds moisture to your cat’s diet, which is essential because most cats don’t drink enough water. Some dry food is ok in a cat’s diet because it is more convenient and can help cats feel fuller.
How Much to Feed
We do not recommend “free feeding” adult cats (i.e., keeping the food bowl full). You need to determine the proper amount of food for your cat based on age, size, weight, health, and other factors. Read the label on the food package and start with the lowest amount recommended for your cat’s ideal weight (labels tend to recommend too much food) and consult your vet for specific recommendations..
- Reason: “Free feeding” encourages cats to overeat. It’s important to get off to a good start with a healthy diet that’s appropriate for your cat. It’s hard to change bad eating habits later.
Access to clean water 24/7 is essential. Also,do not give your cat cow’s milk.
- Reason: Cats need lots of water to maintain their health just like people. And, cats can’t properly digest cow’s milk, so it often causes diarrhea.
Providing Preventative Veterinary Care
If applicable, you must provide follow-up vet care as specified in your adoption contract (e.g., second FVRCP/distemper vaccination and/or deworming). At the time of adoption, all adult cats are already current on rabies, spayed/neutered and have received at least one FVRCP/distemper. We typically provide adopters with follow up deworming, as needed.
When to See a Vet
It’s important that your cat get annual vet exams – even if your cat appears healthy. Only a vet can detect things like dental or kidney disease or heart murmurs. Your cat will also need future vaccinations on a one- to three-year basis for: 1) upper respiratory viruses: rhinotracheitis/herpes and calici, and 2) panleukopenia (distemper) (given as one vaccination commonly referred to as an FVRCP), and rabies vaccinations.
- Reasons: Preventative care that includes annual exams, or twice-yearly exams for older cats and cats with special needs, are important for ensuring long-term health. For example, regular exams, with blood work when needed, can detect early signs of dental and kidney disease. Caught early, these diseases can be managed to lengthen and improve your cat’s life.
A Note about Vaccinations
We recommend a conservative approach to vaccinations. This means only vaccinating your cat for those diseases that are: 1) common and highly infectious viruses (e.g., rhinotracheitis/herpes and calici that cause upper respiratory infections and can be dormant in your cat’s body); and 2) required by law (i.e., rabies).
Consult an SPCA official and your vet to determine an appropriate one- or three-year schedule for FVRCP/distemper and rabies vaccinations. For most healthy adult cats, once they have received their adult FVRCP/distemper and rabies vaccinations, a three-year schedule for future vaccinations is appropriate. However, you should discuss the appropriate schedule with your vet based on your cat’s age, health history, exposure to other cats, and various other risk factors. As your cat gets older, it is especially important to talk with your vet about the appropriateness of vaccines for geriatric cats that may be more susceptible to adverse reactions. Indoor-only cats that are not exposed to other cats with an unknown medical history do not need to be vaccinated for feline leukemia (FELV), feline AIDs (FIV), or feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).
- Reasons: Vaccinations are very important for helping to maintain your cat’s life-long health and protection against various diseases. However, all vaccinations carry some risk.
- Some cats have no adverse reactions to vaccinations. Others may have mild and short-term reactions (e.g., slight lethargy and fever 24 hours following the vaccination). Less common are longer-term reactions which may require treatment (e.g., lethargy and fever lasting more than 24 hours).
- Even less common are severe reactions such as anaphylaxis (an allergic reaction) or overstimulation of the immune system (contributing to autoimmune disorders where the body attacks itself) that require immediate treatment.
- Another risk is “vaccine-induced sarcomas.” This type of cancerous tumor develops at the vaccination site and is caused by an adjuvant in some rabies vaccines used to stimulate the immune system. While this type of sarcoma is rare, it’s very aggressive and can be fatal. For this reason, it’s important to use only non-adjuvanted rabies vaccines..
Keeping Your New Cat Safe and Happy Indoors
SPCA-adopted cats must be kept indoors at all times, unless your cat is on a harness and leash, or inside a cat enclosure or screened-in porch. Because your cat will be indoor-only, it’s important that you provide your cat with a stimulating indoor environment.
Create a “Cat Friendly” Home
Indoor-only cats need lots of toys – interactive toys like a feather on a stick and toys they can bat around on their own. When your cat gets bored with a certain toy, put it away and bring out a new toy. Continue cycling toys in and out of your cat’s play area to stimulate your cat’s interest in playing.
Make sure you have multiple places in your home where your cat can perch in front of a window or glass door to watch the birds, squirrels, and other activity outside. Place soft cat beds up high, such as on top of a cabinet or bookshelf, for your cat to sleep on and survey their territory. If space permits, add a cat tree or two to your home.
Cats also need to explore. Leave boxes or paper bags (with handles removed) out for them to climb inside of. Keep some doors closed then open them up and let your cat explore inside a “new” room.
Of course, nothing replaces a cat’s need for human affection. Set aside time during your day to play, interact with, and/or brush your cat.
- Reasons: Cats are affectionate, curious creatures. They need human interaction and affection. They also need a stimulating indoor environment that nurtures their “hunting” instincts and encourages them to be active.