Congratulations, you’ve decided to adopt a cat! This is an exciting time for you and your family. You’re about to bring home a new furry family member. Regardless of where the cat is coming from (shelter or rescue home), here are some basic tips to help make the transition a bit easier for everyone.
Topics You Can Find on this Page
First, prepare to welcome your cat home by making sure you have these items on hand:
Food and water bowls
Food (To ease the transition, stick with the food your cat is used to eating at the shelter at first. Then, if necessary, gradually switch to the food you prefer.)
Collar with ID tag
Cat litter box and litter
Even if your new cat is already up-to-date on vaccinations, it is important to visit the veterinarian for a medical check-up. All Maryland 2,000 adoptions include a free wellness exam from our list of partnering veterinary clinics. Make sure that you bring all of your adoption paperwork with you to your first appointment, including medical records provided by the shelter. This is also the time to talk to the veterinarian about any questions you may have about your new furry family member. If the shelter you adopted from doesn’t microchip, this first appointment is a perfect time to do so!
Even though you plan on providing this wonderfully loving home for your new cat, they might not ready to see all of it yet. A cat is a territorial creature of habit and it’ll be overwhelming for your new cat to simply be placed in the middle of the living room the first day you bring them home. If you do that, the first thing they very likely do is run for cover somewhere. Instead, set up a sanctuary room (usually an extra bedroom or any room that can be closed off) so they can take time to get her bearings.
Depending upon where your cat came from and their anxiety level, it’s normal for your cat to not want to eat, use the litter box or drink water right away. Provide a small amount of food and give them privacy. Your cat may feel more comfortable to eat when no one is around initially. If your cat doesn’t show any interest in eating the first day, just keep providing small meals and fresh water. Don’t put out too much food so you can monitor whether any is actually getting eaten or not. By the second day, they should be hungry enough to start nibbling. If not, talk to your veterinarian. You don’t want the cat to go more than a day without eating but your veterinarian will provide specific instructions on how you should handle the situation based on your cat’s specific history and circumstances.
Everyone in the family will be anxious to get to know your new cat but they may not be ready to have several unfamiliar people crowded in their space right away. Do individual introductions slowly. If your cat is hiding and seems not yet ready, back off and let them continue to gain confidence in her new surroundings. There will be plenty of time later to make formal introductions.
If there are other resident pets in the home then the introduction of the new kitty must be done with patience. Cat-to-cat introductions can be tricky so take the time to give the cats a reason to like each other through a gradual intro and positive associations. Keep in mind that the resident cat may feel as if their territory has been invaded, and the new kitty may feel as if she has been dropped across enemy lines. If the resident pet is a dog, use care to ensure safety for all concerned. Don’t leave the cat and dog alone until you’ve completed the introduction process are absolutely sure both the cat and the dog will be safe around each other.
It’s never too early to start training. Your new cat is always learning and what they learn depends on the messages you send. Be consistent and patient in your training process. Provide what your cat needs, use positive, force-free training that sends a consistent message, and always let your cat know when they've done it right. The decision to bring a cat into your life may have been sudden, but providing for your new cat's health and happiness should never be. Take the time to educate yourself on what cats need for physical, emotional and mental health.
Scratching is a natural instinct that allows cats to mark their territory, play, release frustration, and keep their claws healthy. Keep your favorite sofa safe and give your cat something else to scratch! There is a wide variety of scratching post options available: horizontal, vertical, sisal rope, cardboard, and more. Try a few different options and find the type and texture that your cat prefers. If you choose a vertical post, make sure it’s sturdy enough for your cat to stretch and hold their weight. Place the post in a prominent location of your home and consider your cat’s favorite scratching spots. If your cat favors couch corners, or always scratches by the door, place a scratcher nearby. If your cat isn’t interested in their new scratching post, try enticing them with catnip or by gently pressing their paws against it. This will release pheromones in their paws and encourage investigation.
If you catch your cat scratching the wrong spot, don’t discipline them--this could make things worse. Simply redirect the cat to their scratching post and praise your cat when you see appropriate scratching. Declawing your cat is not the answer to inappropriate scratching. Declawing is a painful procedure which amputates part of the cat’s toes. Declawing can cause litter box problems, changes in personality, and even arthritis and back pain. With patience, you can overcome scratching frustrations without declawing.
Litter box placement and tidiness are key! As a general rule, have one litter box for each cat in your home, plus one (1 cat: 2 litter boxes, 2 cats: 3 litter boxes, and so on). Make sure the litter boxes big enough for the cat to enter and exit easily. Keep one box on each floor of your home and in different areas of the house. Place the litter boxes in a quiet, private area, away from their food and water. Keep the litter box clean by scooping once or twice a day. Dump the litter boxes weekly and clean with mild dishwashing soap or enzymatic cleaner. Just as you wouldn’t want to use the bathroom in a dirty place, neither do your cats! Be consistent with the type of litter, texture and scent that your cat prefers and avoid changing their routine. Cats have a much stronger sense of smell than we do, so an unscented clumping litter is always a safe bet.
If your cat starts going to the bathroom in other locations, and you have been following the guidelines above, your cat may have a medical problem. Sporadic urination outside of the litter boxes is one of the most common signs of urinary tract infection or other medical concern. These issues will only worsen without treatment, so take your cat to the vet as soon as possible!
Choosing to save a life through adoption doesn’t stop at your shelter’s door. Many of the organizations that participate in the Maryland 2,000 have free or low-cost resources and training advice for adopters. If you have questions or concerns about integrating your new cat into your home, reach out to your local shelter or consult with your family veterinarian. Maryland’s cat community is one filled with love and support--we are all in this lifesaving mission together!
If you have a question about your cat’s behavior or health, contact your local shelter or veterinarian. This website is not intended as a medical diagnosis nor is it a replacement for your cat’s regular veterinary care. This article is for general information purposes only.