Change can be a bit scary for cats so acclimating them slowly to their new home is important to be sure they are comfortable enough to eat and use their litter box. Each cat is different in how quickly they become comfortable with moving to a new home so let’s start by understanding cat body language. Cat owners, especially new cat owners, may not understand that their new feline is trying to communicate with them and they can easily overlook signals that the cat is giving them. There are many physical cues of a cat’s mood such as their eyes, ears, body, and tail. Here a few of the basics you should be aware of:
-If your cat’s head and tail are high they are likely happy to see you.
-If your cat’s head and tail are down or tucked they are likely not seeking interaction.
-If your cat’s tail is down and bristled and/or you hear them growl, hiss, or vocalize this is a clear warning to back off and that your cat wants to be left alone.
-If your cat’s ears are flat and tail is raised and bristled, and you hear hissing or vocalization then they are likely scared.
-Cats may pant when they are excessively stressed, anxious or overheated which is a sign to give them
space and allow them time to calm down.
While your new cat is so fluffy, soft, and cute it’s important to interact with them on their terms, not yours. Start by offering your hand for them to smell. If they rub their cheeks and face on your hand they clearly want interaction. If they don’t and walk away then let them. Like the saying goes “if you love her, let her go” and your cat will appreciate you for it. Perhaps leave a yummy cat treat behind so they will start to pair you with something positive which will end the interaction on a good note. By not honoring your cats cues you are teaching them that they have to be direct and sometimes even defensive because you aren’t listening to them. Think of it like this, if there was a human 10 times your size that didn’t listen to your cues of wanting to be left alone and they insisted on picking you up, petting your tummy, and hugging you, would you enjoy that? Probably not. No matter how much intended love was behind these acts, it doesn’t matter. You must give respect in order to receive it and that starts by paying attention to body language and cues.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s get your new cat comfortable in their new home! Limiting your new cat to a smaller, quiet room in the home is the best way to ensure they don’t get overwhelmed in their new space. This room is ideally set up with their litter box, food/water bowl, toys, etc. before your cat comes home. Be sure to provide your new cat with hiding areas as well as vertical spaces and areas to scratch. Make sure the door to the room is shut before opening the door to your cat’s carrier. Once it’s open just give them some space. Maybe sit quietly and read a book in the corner or leave the room entirely so they can start to explore. While the cat you met at the shelter may have been sweet and confident, you may be experiencing a different cat now that they are unsure where they are. So give them some time to adjust and don’t force interaction. Allowing them to first get comfortable in this room will allow you to monitor their food/water consumption and that they are using their litter box. If your cat doesn’t use the litter box or eat on the first day that is normal as they are still getting comfortable. If your new cat hasn’t eaten and/or consumed water within two full days you should contact your veterinarian for an appointment. Cats can develop health issues within three days of not eating so monitoring this is critical.
Once your cat is confidently exploring this room, regularly using the litter box, and seems comfortable is when you can open the house up to them a bit more. If you have other animals in the home then reference our behavior articles on introducing your new cat to your resident cat(s) or resident dog(s). Your cat may prefer to remain in the room they have established as comfortable and safe and that is okay! Again, allowing them to explore at their pace is key.
If, after reading these tips, you are experiencing undesirable behavior from your new cat, click here to submit questions to our behavior team!