How to Introduce an Adopted Cat to a New Household
John C. Wright, Ph.D. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Professor of Psychology. Mercer University, Macon, GA 31207
Introducing a new kitten or a cat into a household needn't be a trying experience for either the kitten or adoptive parent. Felines are most likely to adapt to new living arrangements and homes with or without resident pets if a few precautions are taken. No single plan will work equally well for all cats due to their different nature (each kitten may differ in breed, personality, early experience, etc). Added to this, the same kitten may react differently to two different living situations (some homes are smaller, noisier, and more crowded than other homes). However, kittens are most likely to successfully adapt to a new home, with less stress, if the following arrangements can be made prior to introducing the cat.
- Find a room the kitten can use as its "home-base" for the next several days. The room should have a door, or some other way to "privatize" the room and kitten from the more active hustle and bustle of daily living (including infants and other pets).
- In a corner opposite the door, place the kitten's litter box, preferably with sandy, clumping-type litter. If the kitten has already established a preference for a different type litter, use it.
- In a separate corner, or as far away from the litter box as possible, place fresh water and food. You may wish to place a plastic carpet runner beneath both the feeding area and the litter box for purposes of cleaning.
- Select another corner (or area away from the litterbox) for kitty to sleep; you will probably have to change this location to Kitty's self-proclaimed sleeping area later (how many kittens actually sleep where you want them to?), but that's okay.
- Place the kitten in the room with you, with the door closed. ALLOW THE KITTEN TO DISCOVER WHERE EVERYTHING IS. DO NOT take the kitten to the various locations. DO NOT place the kitten in the litter box. You may wish to place a little soiled litter (from the kitty's previous home) in the box so it can tell where its supposed to go.
- Be passive. Allow the kitten to discover the room's strong points, like window ledges to look out of, a comfortable couch or bed, tables to jump up on, and anything else in the room that might be used as an "escape route," should one be needed (from the kitten's point of view)
- You may wish to leave the kitten by itself when it appears its ready to take a nap, or when kitty appears relaxed and confident in its new surroundings. If kitty chooses to nap in your lap, consider yourself lucky. Of course, you can always try to place kitty in the sleeping area you've selected, and then leave the room.
- Your new companion animal will let you know when its ready to take on the rest of the house. Its important that you allow the kitten to do this at its own speed. A cracked door just large enough for kitty to enter or exit from its room is a good starting place.
- Keep other pets and family members from kitty's room. Introductions to these individuals should be well controlled. Again, allow the kitten to approach and withdraw (back to its room if necessary) from people or other pets that remain passive. You'll need to control "The Dog" -- Kitty will eventually establish the house rules with "The Dog, but young felines will need help at first.
- Once Kitty has become familiar with its new home and household members, you'll become aware of its preference for playing, eating, sleeping and other activities. At this point (anywhere from a few hours to a few days), you may begin to gradually change the location of the litter box and food bowl to areas preferred by both you and Kitty (hopefully the same areas!)
IN GENERAL: The litter box should always be placed away from other motivationally important areas, such as sleeping, feeding, and playing areas. The box should placed in an area that affords the kitten both PRIVACY and ESCAPE POTENTIAL. NEVER punish the Kitty for missing the box by rubbing its nose in it, shaking it, or placing it in the box while upset (you or the kitty). In stead, think about what might have made the box an unattractive place to use, and what made the "wrong" place a more attractive location, from Kitty's point of view. Make the necessary changes. Call your local certified animal behaviorist if you think your kitten needs professional help!