June is Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month and we are ready to celebrate! Even though adopting a cat is rewarding, it is a big step. To make it more doable, we’ve broken that big step down into a bunch of manageable steps.
The week before:
- Gather supplies! Most cats prefer a dust-free, unscented clumping litter. They also usually prefer a litter box without a lid. Your cat will need water and food bowls, toys and something to scratch. You already know where to go for the perfect cat food!
- Create a cozy space. As a species that can be both predator and prey, cats like somewhere they can feel secure and safe. There are added bonus points if this space has some height, which is one of the reasons cats love tall cat trees so much.
- Prepare a room. During the first few days, plan to have your cat contained to a smaller space like a laundry room or bathroom while she adjusts to her new surroundings. Once she’s feeling braver, she'll be ready to explore on her own.
- Prepare family members. If your family isn’t used to having a cat around, make sure they understand the basic rules about gentle play, and giving the cat space when they make it clear they would rather be alone. Older kids can be assigned chores such as feeding, brushing and litter box cleanup (they love that one.) Younger kids, especially toddlers, will need direct supervision as they often do not understand gentle play.
The first day:
- Congratulations, your cat is home! Now leave her alone. OK, maybe not entirely alone, but give her some time to explore her new surroundings without being stared at by multiple sets of strange eyes. If you have a dog, make sure he’s not sniffing loudly under the door or pawing at it thus scaring the heck out of the cat.
- Make sure you have food. Cats can be very finicky, and many refuse to adjust to a sudden change in food. Plan on several days minimum, and maybe even several weeks or more, to adjust to a new food. It will be worth the effort.
- Make a vet appointment. Always start a new life together with a clean bill of health! Vaccines may need updating, de-wormers may need to be given, and you’ll want to know if there are any health issues to be aware of.
The first few weeks:
- Be patient! Social kitties may come out and cuddle right away, but others need a little more time. Don’t push a cat who’s not ready to be held or petted. Over time their personality will shine through!
- Make that first vet visit. Ask the veterinarian if they are cat-friendly or use Fear Free practice guidelines, a new way of low-stress handling that minimizes the pet’s discomfort during visits. This is a great way to ensure a lifetime of good health!
- Course correct as needed. Remember, you and kitty are going through a transitional period. She needs to learn about you just like you’re learning about her. If she scratches in the wrong place, doesn’t want to sleep in the new bed you bought, or kicks litter all over the floor, take a deep breath and remember that it’s all going to be all right. Don’t be afraid to enlist the advice of a vet or cat behaviorist if you are concerned.
Just keep in mind, any new pet relationship may encounter some bumps, especially at the beginning. But, with love and patience, you too can make that deep connection and begin to forge a bond that will last a lifetime. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it to bring in a new family member!
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM