If in Doubt, Get the Tuna Out!
A Guide to Settling A New Cat into Your Home
If you have been following our Facebook page you may have already assumed that we are HUGE foster cat addicts! Fostering cats has so many different benefits and can really take the pressure off your local animal charity especially if they are dealing with cats that don’t cope well in a caged or kennel environment.
However, inviting a new cat into your home, either temporarily as a foster or as a forever home, can pose its own unique challenges. Namely - how can I make the settling in period as stress free as possible for my new cat? I have done this many times and each cat presents its own individual quirks. Some may require a long settling in period and may not gain confidence for weeks or months. Others will be strutting around like the king/ queen of the castle within a few hours. For those trickier cases I have compiled a list that has helped me over the years, and hopefully it will help you too!
Before you bring your new cat home it is important to set up a quiet room for them to stay while you build up a relationship together. Cats can be sensitive to loud sounds so during this settling in period try to keep visitors and noise to a minimum. The space should have plenty of hiding spaces (both high and low as many cats have a preference) as well as all the things they will need during their stay e.g. litter tray, food and water bowls, comfy beds, toys and a scratching post. Make sure that your cat can navigate the room easily without being “seen” - this will help them feel more confident about moving around the space.
Once your cat feels confident in their new space you can start SLOWLY opening up the rest of your house. As scent is very important to cats, take one of their blankets and rub it on the furniture in the new room. This will make the room appear familiar and less overwhelming. It is important not to rush this step as too much space too quickly will overwhelm your new cat and they may end up darting to some unreachable space - like up your chimney! Having said this take a look at each new space from your cat’s perspective and block up any holes that may be a tempting hiding spot. If not you may end up spending a very expensive few hours with your local fire brigade!
Building a relationship…
Want to be your new cat’s favourite person?! Well think: Time; Treats; Play.
1. Time: you wouldn’t like it if a stranger hugged you in the street, right? So the same goes for cats! When you bring your new cat home give them time to get to know you before you lavish them with all the fuss and attention in the world! If they are particularly shy the best way to start building a relationship is to sit near them a read aloud. It sounds weird but this allows them to become familiar with your scent and sound in a non-intrusive way - the choice to interact is theirs and can happen on their own time schedule. Trust me when I say that allowing your cat to choose when and how they interact is the fastest way to earn their trust and confidence.
2. Treats: while you are reading to your new cat or quietly spending time with them in their room toss a few tasty treats their way or offer a small bowl of tuna or salmon. This will help to build a positive association between you and your new cat. It is also important to note that keeping your cat on the same diet as their previous situation will help to minimize the stress caused by new food on the digestive system.
3. Play: Play is a great way to coax a shy cat out of their shell. Appropriate play allows your cat to exhibit their natural hunting behaviours while getting rid of all of that excess energy. In terms of building a bond with your new cat, play (like reading to your cat) shifts the focus away from you and on to an object i.e. the feather wand toy or mouse. It allows you to be near your cat without imposing any sort of interaction and like using treats will help to create a positive association between you and your cat. Play is important at all stages in your cats life so much so that I will be writing a separate blog on this topic so stay tuned!
Fuss and Attention…
Once your cat has become more confident allow them to approach you for fuss and attention. Gently stroke them around the face and under the chin and avoid more sensitive areas such as the belly (yes, we know it’s very tempting!). Keep these sessions brief to begin with. Remember that a twitching tail, flattened ear, dilated pupils and rippling skin on the back are tell-tale signs that your cat has had enough!
The Time Frame:
Every cat is unique and will move at their own particular speed. Don’t begin to panic if a month has passed and your cat is still hiding. Be patient and don’t rush things!
Extras to note:
Using a pheromone diffusers is a great way to create a calming environment for a new adult cat. These can be bought in most pet stores and help to mimic the pheromones released by calm, stress free cats.
A scratching post is a great way for your new cat to exhibit natural scratching behaviour. Make sure your post is size appropriate as small, kitten sized posts will be easily knocked over by an adult cat who will target your sofa instead!
Depending on your area you may allow your cat to explore outside. Please allow your cat to be fully comfortable with your house before allowing them outside.
Disclaimer: the information given in this blog reflects the personal opinions of the author only and should not be used as a substitute for the information given by a veterinarian or behaviourist.