Making your new cat feel at home copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-Grielen.
All rights reserved.
What is the best way to make your new cat feel at home? A rescue group in the
New York City area reached out recently for advice in integrating a new cat into a
household. The group had placed a cat with a new owner and after several weeks
the owner was concerned that the cat was not acclimating to the surroundings.
According to the new owner:
"It has been a few weeks since I have had (name withheld) and although he comes
out at night to eat and drink he simply will not come out and say hello. I have tried
his favorite treats but he is very stubborn in his ways. I'm not sure if he will bond
with me as he still acts like the first day I got him. He allows me to pet him and
seems to love it very much but even that won't get him out from hiding. He has
stayed in my bedroom since and will only come out while I am asleep (sometimes
waking me up when using the litter box). He is eating, drinking, and using the litter
box on a regular basis. I have been very patient but afraid he will not snap out of
his shell. I hate to give him back but feel there is nothing I can do at this point.
Please let me know if you have any advice."
When it comes to a new environment cats, like humans, need time to feel
at home. Coming into a new place they have never been before, they enter a whole
new, strange and foreign world with different smells, sights and sounds; one with
different human and non human animals. They are also leaving behind familiar
territory and relationships and this loss of what they knew and who they had
bonded with before also has to be processed. Depending on the individual history
and the personality of the cat the acclimation process may vary from hours, days,
weeks or even months.
Know that the cat would like nothing more than to feel comfortable and
at home immediately. If the cat were a human instead of a cat he might be able
to do just that. He might be able to use human reasoning to know that he is in a
good home with a friendly, respectful human who will not harm him, who will fill
the food bowl and the water bowl and keep the litter box clean.
But the cat is not a human so he cannot know this until he experiences it.
This cat can only trust his environment, what he sees, what he hears, what he
smells and feels. And he can only trust the stability and safety of the environment
with the passage of time. And what is sufficient time is determined in enough "cat
time' (not human time) to feel safe and then comfortable and then truly at home.
If the cat has been around dangerous humans (ones who harmed or
neglected him) the cat needs to take the time to make sure the absence of
those dangerous humans is permanent and not temporary. If the cat could take
your assurance that those humans do not live here surely the cat would. Why waste
the energy on vigilance? But, in the wild and in the world of humans, watching and
waiting is the only way the cat can know that this new world is a safe one.
But you as a human know these things that the cat does not know and with
your help the process can be an expedited one. Here are some ways humans can
make this time pass more quickly for themselves and their new cats:
- Set up your new cat in a separate room if possible initially, such as your
bedroom or an office. Avoid the bathroom, these rooms are the least
welcoming in our homes for a cat. If you do not have a separate room,
concentrate on a corner of a room where you can set up cat furniture,
litter box (placed in the farthest spot from food and cat furniture), etc.
Your cat's natural instinct will be to hide first and get the lay of the land
from a "safe" perspective. Which is why a cat in a new home or seeking
refuge, prefers under the bed or behind a sofa. Offer an alternative,
a cat basket or a cardboard box turned on the side with some fleece
makes a safe haven. Keep the separate room set up for the first week.
After a week, leave the door to this room ajar, so kitty can return from
exploring to his now known space.
- A new place will probably mean a loss of appetite. Most cats will not openly
eat or drink or even use a litter box for the first day or two, preferring to do
this under cover of night. This is natural, your cat is stressed and is simply
operating on "safe mode" at the moment. Make the most enticing food
available and make sure to throw away any leftovers and offer a fresh
portion at breakfast and dinner.
- Cats and dogs are crepuscular animals, which simply means they are naturally
most active during twilight or dawn and dusk compared to humans who are
diurnal meaning most active during daylight hours. Domesticated animals
being familiar with us and dependent upon us for food and social interaction
become accustomed to our diurnal routines. Because your cat has not yet
gotten fully familiar with you it may only be active during what he perceives
as the "safety" of night time hours when all is quiet. Give your cat the time to
feel safe and he will pretty much adjust his schedule to yours (remember he is
a cat and not a dog so some night time exploration might still occur).
- Make your presence a soft and welcome one. Speak in a gentle tone to your
new cat even when you do not immediately see them. For instance, when you
enter a room where the cat generally spends most of his time greet the cat by
saying his name and a friendly sentence or two to help accustom him to your
movements and voice. Your cat is very aware of your presence and
announcing yourself and speaking to your cat (even when he is not in
eyesight) is the first step towards having a conversation.
Avoid punishment (including spraying water, scolding or lectures) at all costs
- this only serves to create fear and distrust. Work instead on what you would
like your new cat to do and make sure they have the set up/places to do them
- don't want cats on the countertop? Being prey and predator, cats need
elevated resting areas to feel safe - make sure they have a cat tower or cat
shelf in the right spots to access instead. Don't want kitty scratching
furniture? Cats need to scratch to flex muscles and keep claws in order -
make sure to provide stable cat scratchers in every room, etc.
- Spend time around the cat at cat level so that the cat can get used to you,
your smell and your voice. Do this by reading out loud or talking softly on
the phone while sitting on the floor next to the spot your cat has decided is
safest (aka his hiding place), do this for at least a half hour every day.
- Leave the radio tuned to a classical music station and do leave it on when you
are not at home. Classical music is soothing and melodic and the announcers’
voices on these stations tend to be soothing and melodic as well. This is a
positive association for your cat to form.
- When it comes to petting take your cues from the cat. Do what is welcome
and go slowly. You are getting to know each other after all. It is always best to
initially confine caressing to the cats’ head area. Cats greet each other by
sniffing nose to nose and then rubbing along each others muzzle areas. And
stroking between a cat’s ears and the back of the head is usually welcomed.
- Avoid direct eye contact; this is usually perceived as aggressive by most
animals. Cats will signal friendly social overtures by blinking slowly at each
other. Try it out on your cat and don’t be surprised if you get a blink back
and see more of a relaxed body posture in your cat as well.
- Offer playtime. For instance, dangling a feather at the end of a piece of string
for your cat to pounce on (or to think about pouncing on once he gets to know
you) allows you to interact with your cat and the quality time creates bonding
for the both of you.
- Make your home cat friendly. Now that you live with a new cat provide the
necessary furnishings: Cat beds with at least three raised sides in good spots
are mandatory, a box or cat igloo to hide in, as are several cardboard scratch
boards, fur mice and balls to chase, a cat tower or a window seat see more tips
on a cat friendly home here, including introducing puzzle feeders once your
cat feels at home. Cat shelves are a great answer for a cat's natural desire to
be in a higher spot as well as space challenged apartment dwellers.
- If the cat is installed in one room, gradually move the food, water and litter
into the other rooms. For instance, place the litter box and the food outside
the door for several days and then along the hallway (in the direction of their
permanent placement) for several days and then in their permanent positions.
Please, for you and your new friend,do take the time to allow your cat to settle in
and be rewarded by the deeper human animal bond that will form.
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Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyrigbht Frania Shelley-Grielen
"When it comes to a new
environment cats, like humans,
need time to feel at home.
Coming into a new place they
have never been before, they
enter a whole new, strange
and foreign world with
different smells, sights and
sounds; one with different
human and non human
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyrgiht Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
cat feel at
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