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March 30, 2004 > Welcome Home Kitty

Welcome Home Kitty

by Nancy Lyon

Bringing a new cat or an additional cat into your home and family is best done with care and thought. Not all resident cats take kindly to a newcomer and the rule of thumb is to remember that cats do not like change - so any change must be done slowly to prevent bad habits from forming that may well be lasting.

On arriving home, keep your cat in her carrier and bring her to the quiet room you have prepared for her. Allow her some time to adjust to the new smells and sounds while in the carrier. Place fresh water and food near the carrier entrance with a litter box nearby to encourage her to explore when opened.

After confirming that all windows and the door are closed, open the carrier.
Sit quietly across the room and be patient. As much as you may want to touch her, do not force your attentions on her. Some cats crave attention after being confined while others prefer to be left alone to adjust in their own time. Again, the main thing is to go slowly. If a cat is allowed to adapt at her own speed, everything usually work out. Some cats will take days, while other will take weeks or months.

The length of time will depend on the cat's temperament and past experiences. If no other cats are present in the household, the adaptation period usually takes from about a week to ten days, but it can take several months.

If she is to be an only cat, again making sure that windows and doors are secured, while you are home, allow her to begin to explore at her own pace. With some cats there is no hesitation while with others, they may not emerge from their room or carrier for days. To be safe, if you are to be gone for a number of hours, the security of the closed and familiar room is best and will help prevent accidents.
If there is a second cat, it is best to keep them in separate rooms at first and let them get to know each other through and under the door. Your resident cat is less likely to feel her territory challenged if the introduction allows her to feel her space is still hers. Keep the new cat confined for at least several days allowing her to familiarize herself with the room and her carrier as a safe haven before leaving the door open. Be present to observe when the initial contact occurs. Allow them to get to know each other at their own pace. If there are squabbles the newcomer can retreat to the safety of her carrier or room. The familiarity of this room bears the scents of the newcomer and resident cats will be less likely to enter.

Don't be upset if the new cat remains in hiding for several days. This is the cat's normal way of dealing with stress and adapting to new or frightening situations. Problems are not uncommon when introducing new cats to a home with resident cats. However, the problems usually resolve themselves given a little time.

Fighting usually occurs between cats of the same sex and age, especially males. Spaying and neutering all the cats usually eliminates the likelihood of fighting.
The best way to help prevent territorial behavior is to have cats spayed or neutered before introducing a new cat into your home and family.

Squabbles may still occur but they are usually resolved with time. Allow the cats time to work it out for themselves. Intervention such as taking sides, giving preferential protection or affection to some individuals, or breaking up fights before they are resolved, usually makes matters worse. Don't expect a cat whose very nature rejects change, to fit in or accept another feline overnight.

Litter boxes can be extremely private property to a cat and a new cat can be leery about using another's box. Each cat should have its own separate litter box and food bowl. Once they become friends they will probably share them with no problem.

Before bringing a new cat into your home, have them thoroughly checked out by a veterinarian for parasites and contagious diseases such as feline Leukaemia or feline Infectious Peritonitis.

To help ensure your feline friends have a long and healthy life, we strongly advise that you keep your cats as inside-only kitties. You can enrich the environment of your inside cat with cat trees, toys, edible greenery, and access to fresh air in a screened room - and to prevent boredom and loneliness - a companion cat.

Remember the key to success is patience and going slow.

Our appreciation to behaviorist Gwen Bohnenkamp for providing information on cat introduction.

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