Getting a new pet is a big event and all concerned are bound to feel a little anxious and excited. Plan ahead and stay calm—most cats settle in very quickly and soon act as if they own the place.
Ready and waiting
Before welcoming home your new cat, have everything for his safety and comfort organized in advance. Check for obvious hazards in the house and garden (see pp.16–17), and choose an inviting corner for his bed and food bowls. Stock up enough cat food to last for several days—buy several different varieties so that you can find out which appeals to him the most. Decide on a place for a litter pan that will provide privacy for the cat and cause no inconvenience or hygiene problems for you. If you are getting a kitten, having a stack of newspapers ready for accidents is always useful.
When your kitten or cat arrives, he will probably be nervous and stressed after being confined for the journey. Place the carrier in a quiet room where he can see familiar-looking objects, such as a bowl of food. Some cats will step forward boldly the moment the carrier is opened, while others hang back. Do not force a shy cat out of his carrier.
Call him gently, using the name you have chosen, and let him absorb the new sights and smells. Do not hover too closely; just watch for that tentative paw to appear.
Let your new cat explore places he is allowed to go. On the first day, it may help build his confidence if you keep him to just one room with everything he needs readily accessible.
For the next few weeks, or at least until the cat has learned to respond to his name, it is safest to make the garden out of bounds. A young kitten should not be allowed outside until he has been fully vaccinated—usually by the time he is 13–14 weeks old.
Meeting the family
When a cat or kitten is introduced to a family and other pets, it takes a while for everyone to feel comfortable. Explain to children before you bring the cat home that an animal is not an exciting toy for them to play with. Scratches, tears, and a terrified cat make the worst possible start, so supervise children if necessary while they are getting to know their pet.
Discourage loud voices and boisterous games, and step in at once to prevent inappropriate handling. An older cat already in the household will almost certainly take a dim view of a stranger encroaching on his personal territory.
Never place litter trays or food bowls side by side and expect the resident and the newcomer to sort it out for themselves. Keep the cats apart to begin with, but allow them to become accustomed to each other’s scent, either by swapping food bowls (so that they also associate the scent with the pleasure of food), or by moving them into each other’s rooms.
After a week or so, introduce them but do not leave them alone together. Make sure that neither cat feels trapped but has somewhere to run to if tempers become frayed. After a few such meetings, the chances are that the cats will tolerate one another, even if they never become best friends.
Resident cats seem to be less likely to show aggression toward a young kitten than to another adult cat. Introductions between cats and dogs are not necessarily the problem you might expect. Although much depends on the breed, not all dogs are inveterate cat chasers.
For the first few meetings, keep the dog on a leash and give the cat space to back off. Talk to both animals softly, give them equal attention, and praise your dog if he behaves well. Never leave the two alone together until you are confident that the relationship is going to be peaceful. Small pets, such as hamsters or rabbits, are probably best left out of introductions to the newcomer and should definitely not run loose in the same room as an adult cat. Feline hunting instincts are very close to the surface.
Establishing a routine
Setting up a regular routine right from the start will help your cat feel secure. Establish feeding times and use these as an opportunity to teach your cat to come when called. Kittens may not know how to use a litter tray (see pp.86–87) and, in the strangeness of a new home, even an adult cat can have accidents.
Place your kitten or cat on his tray at regular intervals, such as after a meal, until using the litter tray is second nature. To avoid problems later on, stick to the rules about no-go areas for your cat—for example, do not allow him to sleep on the bed “just this once.”