March 15, 2010

Bringing Kitty Home

The Carrier

Whether you’re bringing home a tiny little kitten weighing in at less than one pound or a full-ground Maine Coon at a whopping eighteen pounds, you need a carrier.

scary-at-vetWhy do you have to bring her in a carrier? Because this is a big, I mean really big step in the cat’s life. She’s leaving what she knows for something totally unfamiliar. Even if her previous life was bad, she has no idea what’s ahead of her. The carrier will keep her safe during the trip to your house and provide her with a little hiding place.

Place a towel in the bottom of the carrier for warmth and also to absorb any messes. I always also bring an extra towel so I can replace the first one should it get soiled.

Because this is such a big step for a little cat (and for little you), if you can arrange it, the best time to bring her home is at the start of a weekend or when you can take a day or two off.

Have a Kitty Suite Ready

The whole family is excited, even the dog is eagerly wagging his tail in anticipation of the new cat’s arrival. In your sweetest voice, explain to them that for the time being, the cat will need a small space of her own and time to adjust to her new surroundings. As you watch your family’s smiles fade and the dog’s tail droop, remember – you’re doing the right thing.

So why am I being such a meanie and not allowing you to let the cat run free about the house, especially since you’ve already taken the time to kitten-proof it? Because I don’t want to overwhelm her. She’s a small cat and it’s a big house. Imagine if I whisked you off and dropped you in the middle of a large, unfamiliar city. I then tell you that you have to find your way around the entire city right away. You’d probably get lost, overwhelmed, frustrated, scared, and your initial impression of this strange place might be negative. Basically, that’s what you’d be doing to your cat if you give her the run of the place – you’d be dropping her in a strange city (a foreign one, no less).

Much of a cat’s sense of security centers around her territory, so allow your cat to begin acquainting herself with her new home a little at a time. This is crucial for a kitten because she won’t know where any of her necessities are. If you’re bringing an adult cat into the house, this is a big change in her life and you must make her feel safe. Safety for her comes in the form of a little sanctuary place.

When you set up the kitty suite, place the litter box on one side of the room and the food/water bowls on the other. It’s important to keep a good distance between them because cats don’t eat in the same area they use for elimination.

Place her in the room but leave her in the carrier. Open the door to the carrier and let her come out in her own time. A kitten will likely charge right out, but an adult may not be sure of herself right away. Even after she has stepped out of the carrier, leave it in the corner of the room as an extra hiding place.

She may hide under the bed for two days but that’s okay. The fact that she can hide will make her feel better. After you’ve closed the door and left her alone she can begin to investigate the room around her. Inch by inch is how she may expand her comfort zone, in quiet, in private, and without a bunch of eyes watching her every move.

No matter what kind of room you’ve chosen as you’re kitty’s sanctuary room, make sure that she has plenty of hiding places there. Don’t put her in an empty room where she’ll feel totally exposed and threatened. If it’s not a room with furniture, place boxes lined with towels around. One trick I do is to cut a doorway into the side of a box with a lid or a box placed upside down to make a little cardboard cave.

Create a comfortable and cozy bed for your new kitty. You can either buy a pet bed at the store or line a box with some old clothes. I prefer to line a box with a couple of sweatshirts that I’ve worn so the cat gets used to my scent. If you’re bringing in a kitten at a cold time of year, her room should be warm enough and draft-free.

If you’re bringing your new cat into a household of existing cats, oh boy. A sanctuary room set up for her is absolutely necessary or the fur will fly! How much interaction should you initially have with your new cat? Each case is a bit different. If you have brought home a kitten, you’ll need to give her plenty of time and attention because she’ll be anxious to bond with you. If the new arrival is an adult cat, you’ll have to use your judgement and base it on her emotional state. If she acts threatened, back off and give her some time by herself. Introduce yourself slowly.

How will you know when it’s time to spring your new cat from her kitty “jail”? If she’s a kitten, you can do it as soon as you’re sure she has the routine down: eating, drinking , using the litter box. An adult cat may take longer. What you should look for is for her to resume normal activities: eating, drinking, using the litter box, and seeming more secure. If she’s still hiding in the back of the closet, buried beneath a pile of shoes, she’s not ready. If you already have cats in the house, the new cat will need to stay in the room for a while so you can do a gradual introduction.

Your main concern for a kitten is to make sure she stays safe and has enough time and privacy to eat, sleep, and use the litter box. Everyone is going to want to hold her and play with her, but she’s still a fragile baby and needs your watchful eye. When you do decide to open the door, let her investigate the house a little at a time.

How do you introduce your new adult cat to your family? S-l-o-w-l-y. She could easily feel overwhelmed. Do your cat a big favor and let her have all the personal space she needs. Don’t rush anything. After all, you’re going to have many years together, so start things off right.

Your children may have a difficult time understanding the importance of the kitty’s need for a sanctuary. They may be eager to have the kitty sleep in bed with them. Use your judgement, based on the kitty’s age, level of comfort, and any other specifics of your situation. A kitten doesn’t have litterbox training perfected yet and could have an accident on your child’s bed because she may not remember where the box is. Make sure the cat knows where her litter box is and routinely uses it before trusting her in other rooms in your house.

Posted in: General Information