The time has come! You finally get to bring your newly adopted cat home! Adopting a cat, whether it’s a kitten, adult, or senior, is a special experience that not only saves a life but changes your family dynamic. Your mind is probably full of potential new names and all the future cuddles you’ll get to enjoy, but remember that bringing home a new cat can have its challenges. Rescue experts say it takes about 3 days for a newly adopted pet to decompress in their new home, 3 weeks to start to feel comfortable, and up to three months until they’re truly feeling good in their new environment.
You can help this process by doing a few things to help your new cat feel at home right from the start.
Set Up a Safe Space
As excited as you’ll be to introduce your newly adopted cat to their new digs, the cat is probably that level of nervous and afraid. Everything from the way your house smells to other family members, pets, and strange-looking furniture will be potentially scary to them.
You’ll help your cat decompress by providing them with a safe space that is away from most of the scary new things. Set them up in a spare bedroom, walk-in closet, or any area of the house that is somewhat secluded. Limit their exposure to other pets and people until they get a chance to adjust. Even after they relax a little, let them have access to the safe space for when they feel overwhelmed.
Show Them Their Food and Litter Box
Besides showing your new family member to their safe space, you also need to point out their food, water, and litter box. Ideally, these important items will be located either in or nearby their safe space. If they’re centrally located in the middle of family life, your newly adopted cat could decide it’s safer to go to the bathroom on the floor, and they could refuse to eat or drink—which is obviously bad for their health.
If you have other cats, don’t expect your new friend to share bowls or their litter box. The smell from the other cats will likely make the new guy feel nervous. Not to mention, your original cats might not appreciate suddenly sharing their things with a stranger.
Go at Their Pace
Every cat is different. Some newly adopted cats cling to their new humans like they’re already madly in love, and others need more time and space. No matter the cat’s personality, it’s important to take your new relationship at their pace.
If your cat seems nervous, anxious, or stressed, don’t force them to accept your hugs, cuddles, and attention. It will be hard, but it might be best to leave your cat completely alone for the first few days. But if your new friend is feeling affectionate, by all means, don’t deny them.
Give Them Things to Sniff
If you have a big family, or if your cat is scared, you can use their sense of smell to slowly make introductions. Rummage through your hamper and pull out yesterday’s t-shirt. Put the shirt in your cat’s safe space for them to sniff at their leisure. If they get used to your scent, that’s one less new thing for them to worry about.
You can also use this technique when introducing new furry family members. Use your pet’s favorite blanket or pillow and put it somewhere the new feline friend can smell. When they eventually meet face to face, they can connect that somewhat familiar smell with their new acquaintance.
Use Positive Reinforcement to Bond
Once your cat is ready for interaction, make them feel comfortable and happy by using positive reinforcement. Of course, you’ve already been shopping for new treats and toys, so offer something nice every time you interact.
A tasty treat or a rousing game of catch the feather will help your cat start to associate your presence with things they like. You want all your interactions to be positive. Avoid making loud, sudden sounds or moving around too fast. You don’t want to spook kitty!
Overall, the best thing you can do for your newly adopted cat is give them a safe place where they are loved and well-cared for. Don’t expect to have the perfect bond right away. Some cats can take months to heal from past trauma and adjust to a new life. Just don’t give up!