Making your new cat feel at home (c) 2010- 2019 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights
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
"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 romping 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.
- 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
- 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 animals. They
are also leaving behind familiar
territory and relationships."
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyrgiht Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
cat feel at
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