In addition to hitting the nearest pet store in search of scratching posts and kitty litter, there are several other ways to help get your home—and your family—ready for the arrival of a new feline friend. When you’ve decided to open your home (and your heart) to a shelter cat, here are some things you should do to prepare.
Understand the Commitment
Before you visit that local shelter in search of your new cat, keep in mind that it’s a serious commitment—and that cats often require more care than many people believe. “As more and more cats are being kept indoors for their safety, they aren’t getting as much exercise or mental stimulation—so it’s important to realize that your new cat will need just as much love and attention and care as a dog would,” says Christie Keith, social media manager for Shelter Pet Project.
You may want to connect with fellow cat owners, either friends and family or via social media, and be sure to ask plenty of questions at the shelter. “When deciding to adopt a cat, it’s always a good idea to talk to cat owners to make sure you understand the responsibilities of cat ownership...and if you’re nervous about making the commitment, talk to your shelter about fostering to adopt,” says Zach Baker, director of Rescue Rebuild and program director for GreaterGood.org.
Think Like a Cat
According to Amy Nichols, vice president of companion animals for the Humane Society of the United States, many new cat owners aren’t aware of a cat’s unique ability to gets themselves into an array of different (and often surprising) locations, from your countertops to the corner of your closet to an abandoned box in the garage. “That’s why it’s crucial that before you bring your new cat home, you go through the house to look at it from a cat’s perspective and remove any dangers, from wine glasses to electrical cords,” she advises.
New cat owners should also be aware that cats can be very sneaky. “If you have a nook that leads into a wall space, a window screen that’s loose, or a gap under your dishwasher, trust me, your new kitty find it,” adds Jackie Noble, nursery manager at the San Diego Humane Society. “Make sure you put yourself in the mind of a cat and check around your home for any areas that could become an unsafe hiding space or escape route, and secure these areas before bringing your new family member home.”
Get the Essentials
According to Noble, among the essential cat supplies to have on hand before your new kitty comes home include: a hard-sided cat carrier, litter box and litter, food (preferably the same food they were given at the shelter), bowls, bed and blanket, toys, and a scratching surface, like a tall post or cat tree.
Another cat ownership essential is a veterinarian. Make sure that before your new cat comes home that you’ve already established where they’ll be receiving their veterinary care. “Also, remember that there are a lot of great solution-oriented products available to address any immediate needs your new pet might have, like an orthopedic bed for a senior cat or transparent adhesive training aids that can deter cats from clawing human furniture,” adds Lisa Lane, director of marketing and development for the Petco Foundation.
Give Them Their Own Space
When you first bring your shelter cat home, plan on starting him or her off in their own room, where they can feel safe to hide away from the hustle and bustle of a new environment—as well as separate themselves from other pets. “Many cats will feel overwhelmed at first, and giving them their own space will help them get used to the house gradually,” explains Abbie Moore, chief operating officer of Adopt-a-Pet.com and co-author of The Total Dog Manual and The Total Cat Manual.
Before you bring your kitty home, you’ll want to make their personal space as safe and secure as possible—that means closing up escape routes, like vents and windows, securing or putting away electrical cords, and removing anything small that could hurt your cat if ingested, she notes. Set your cat’s food and water dishes and his litter box inside the safe room, as well as toys and scratching posts. “Don’t forget...kitties love to be up high, so providing a cat tree or an accessible safe shelf is a great idea,” she adds.
As they start venturing outside of their safe space, try to continue to provide your new kitty with safe spaces to hide for their comfort. “You’ll still want a quiet place for your kitty to go where no other pets or noisy children can bother them—it could a paper bag or a box turned on its side, access to an area underneath a bed, or a store-bought den or cubby hole for cats,” Keith says.
Make the Bathroom Accessible
It seems obvious, but a shelter cat is going to need some help when it comes to locating their toilets for the first time in their new home environment. You’ll want to make their litter boxes visible and easily accessible.
Keith also suggests having at least one litter box for every cat in the home, plus an additional box, and providing your new cat access to at least one litter box that isn’t shared at first. “It’s asking a lot of cats to share a toilet right from the get-go,” she explains. Also be sure to stick with unscented litter, and ideally opt for the brand that was used in the shelter where you cat was adopted.
Let Them Come to You
Unlike dogs—who are often more than happy to jump in your lap and lick your face—a cat may need some more time to warm up. “Patience is key—remember your cat is likely confused and wary of his new environment and the people in it,” Lane explains. “Give him time, don’t take anything personally, and before you know it, you’ll have a new sidekick to brighten your life.”
It’s always a good idea to sit down with all members of your family—especially children—and make sure everyone knows that chasing their new kitty (or dragging them out from under the bed) is off-limits, and that everyone should remain as calm and relaxed as possible to minimize stress for their four-legged family member.
“Keep the house as quiet and peaceful as you can, and speak soothingly to your new cat,” Moore advises. “It’s important in these first days to constantly communicate a message that they’re safe and you’re trustworthy. Get your relationship off on the right foot and it will be smooth sailing after that.”
Friends and family are always excited to come over and play with a new family pet, but now is not the time to host meet-and-greets of your cat with all of your neighbors. “Because your new cat is going to be stressed out, the worst thing you can do is to invite friends and family over to the house to meet him or her right away,” Moore says. “Give your kitty plenty of time to adjust to the home, and to you, before subjecting them to outsiders.”
Consider Their Safety
Last but not least, be sure that when you welcome your new cat home, that you keep them indoors—as least at first. “In the first few weeks, be extra careful not to let your cat out of the house,” Moore warns. “Stress will compel them to want to run away, and their homing instincts may not be fully sharpened.”
Nobody likes to think about it when bringing a new pet home, but cat owners should also be sure to take preventative steps in case their pet goes missing. “Ensure you have an up-to-date photo of your new cat, register your pet on a website like Finding Rover, and consider a microchip with up-to-date contact information,” Lane says.