It is common for adopters to move a little too quickly when introducing a new cat to a new home. However, it is important to keep in mind that a change in environment, even a positive one, can be overwhelming and stressful to a cat. Remember that all the new sights, smells, noises, and encounters are exaggerated by a cat’s heightened senses. Make sure to take things slow so that a positive change doesn’t become a negative experience. A gentle introduction will allow your new cat to establish a place in your home without being overwhelmed.
As soon as you bring your new cat home, set up a small space in a quiet area, like a bathroom or closet. This space will house your cat’s food, water, bed, and litter box while your cat is adjusting to the new environment. When cats rub their cheek on or knead and scratch an object, scent glands on the cheeks and paws help establish their presence. This builds up confidence in owning the space, so having a blanket, bed, and/or scratcher will help your new cat mingle their scent with yours, ultimately feeling more comfortable in the new home. Cats feel more secure around their own scent, so don’t be alarmed if you see your cat sitting or sleeping in the litter box instead of on a bed or blanket. With time, your cat will become more comfortable and confident and should no longer feel the need to hang out in the litter box. Please visit this space regularly while allowing your cat to have down time in-between. All cats can adjust differently, so respect however long it may take for your new cat to adjust and feel at home.
As your new family member relaxes, slowly give your cat more room to explore. If you don’t have any other animals, you can start by leaving the door open and moving your cat’s food bowl outside of the doorway. Making sure the food bowl is still within sight of the safe space, but a bit beyond the established comfort zone. Food gives cats a positive reward for stepping out of their safe space and allows them to explore on their own terms. Gradually bring out the other items as you did the food dish. Don’t be tempted to expand too quickly or force a faster adjustment by eliminating your cat’s comfort zone altogether. This will cause undue stress which could create negative associations with certain areas or inhabitants of the home.
If you have other animals in the home, DO NOT bring other pets into your new cat’s safe space. Your new cat needs to feel confident and secure before other animals invade the space your new cat is trying to establish. Scent swapping and positive associations with food are recommended techniques and should be done before any face-to-face introductions.