Cats typically hide in a new environment, to assess whether the new place is safe or not. Kittens usually adapt in just a few hours, but there are those that may take days, weeks and sometimes longer. Don’t be dismayed or give up; they’ll soon trust you.
The foster from whom you adopted your kitty can tell you how she’s likely to react, and anything you should be aware of that would make her respond to you. So for the sake of the following information, we’ll use an example – you’re new kitty’s name is Fluffy, a female.
A cat carrier is essential for trips to the vet or any car ride. A cat loose in the car is dangerous for both of you. A sudden noise (horn, dog barking, squeal of brakes) can scare her right out of your arms and under the brake pedal or out the window.
STEP ONE: Create a Safe Room
Fluffy’s first introduction to your home should be in a “safe room” – including food, water, bedding, toys, and litter box (not too close to the food). A spare bathroom is ideal because limited hiding places make it easy to pet and bond with your kitty.
- Close and lock all windows.
- The small room will make her feel secure, while she gets used to the smells, sounds and people of this strange new world.
- It’s easier to interact with Fluffy in a small area, where she can see and hear you.
- “Kitty proof” the room by removing breakables and potential hazards.
Caution: A bedroom is not a good safe room – where a shy kitty could hide under the bed, out of reach of your bonding efforts. Laundry rooms are hazardous for kittens as they can easily hide behind or inside the workings of washers or dryers.
STEP TWO: Place Kitty in Safe Room
- Place the hard carrier inside the safe room. Prop the door open so she can come out when she’s comfortable or retreat if she is spooked.
- Speak quietly in a happy tone of voice, encouraging her to come out.
- Fluffy may not hesitate to explore right away, or may not come out for hours. If she continues to hide, leave the room and come again in 30 minutes. Oftentimes, letting her adjust overnight will help her to get use to the sounds and smells in the new home.
- Sit in the room quietly several times a day, reading or talking quietly to her.
- If she’s out of the box, but behind something, you can slowly reach in and pet her, but don’t drag her out or force affection. You’re trying to build trust and make friends, so be patient!
- Instruct your children to be patient also – using quiet voices and slow movements.
- At first, she may only come out when alone to eat and use the box.
- Do not let Fluffy out of the safe room until she comes to you voluntarily. If she is in the rest of the house before she trusts you, she may hide where you can’t reach her or even find her.
STEP THREE: Letting the Kitty Explore
- Fluffy will show her trust by coming to you voluntarily. It’s now time to let her explore.
- For Shy Kitties or Baby Kittens: Allow her to explore a little at a time. You want her to be able to find her safe room (and litter box) quickly if necessary.
- Before you let Fluffy explore more rooms, scan them for hazards such as breakables, electrical cords, string or yarn, open windows, screens or doors, plants, etc. See the Danger List on our website for more information.
- Open the safe room door, and let her move walk around where she wants. Don’t carry her into other rooms; she won’t know how to find her way back.
- She may be easily startled and run back to the safe room time and again. That’s a common reaction. Let her explore as slowly as she wants.
- It’s best to put Fluffy back in her safe room at night until she’s confident in the whole house and you’re confident she can’t harm herself.
- When Fluffy knows her way around, you can place the litter box and food in the places you’ve planned for them. Be sure to take her to them and show them to her.
- If you have other pets, refer to the specific information for “Introducing to a Other Pets”. Slow and careful introduction to other pets is crucial. A bad “first impression” will take time to overcome.
- It’s important to feed Fluffy what she’s been getting at her foster home. If you want to change her food, do so gradually – increasing the percentage of the new food every few days. Too abrupt change can cause digestive problems or diarrhea.
- Cats and kittens tend to eat small meals throughout the day, so leave her dry food out to free feed at will.
- For additional information please see Food and Nutrition on page 8.
- Always provide fresh water.
- TIP: When you give Fluffy her canned food, always call “Kitty, kitty” in a high voice – even if she’s right at your feet. She’ll soon associate that call with feeding, so if she should ever get out, you can call her that way and she’ll respond.
- Your Adoption Agreement indicates what shots Fluffy has received and when additional vaccines or annual boosters with your veterinarian are due.
- Cats require a series of 2-3 FVRCP vaccinations depending on their age. Your adoption fee includes any shots remaining in that series; bring Fluffy back to the adoption site to have those done.
- Note: Rabies shots are only necessary if Fluffy will be going outside. This shot is only given after 3 months of age and is available from your veterinarian. Fluffy has tested negative for FeLV. A vaccine against this disease is available from your veterinarian.
Scratching: Posts or Cat Condos
- Cats and kittens need to scratch with their claws on something solid – to sharpen them, and to stretch their muscles. Toes also have a scent gland that marks their territory.
- To keep Fluffy from scratching the furniture or carpet, give her something appropriate to scratch on: a cardboard horizontal scratching box; a sisal or carpeting posts; or a multi-level cat condo. A wide variety is available at pet stores.
- A condo or tree is an especially good choice, since it combines a place to scratch, climb, sleep and hide. Make sure the post is sturdy and stable, or she won’t use it. If she won’t use the one you’ve bought, return it and exchange for something else. It’s essential that she knows where it’s OK to scratch.
- Training her to scratch appropriately is a combination of positive reinforcement and negative consequences.
- Positive: This is the most important approach. When she starts to scratch the wrong thing, say NO, gently remove her and place her on the right thing, moving her front paws in the scratching motion.
- Give her a treat, praise her profusely, pet her when she does the right thing.
- If she scratches the wrong thing, never scream, swat her or throw things; it will only frighten and confuse her. Positive reinforcement is the key.
- Catnip is often provided with scratchers, but it doesn’t affect kittens younger than about 5 months (and some cats not at all).
- Negative: Make something unpleasant happen when she scratches the wrong thing.
- Have a squirt bottle of water handy, and squirt her body when she scratches.
- Drop a heavy book or magazine near her, or shake a can of pebbles or coins at her when she scratches; cats dislike loud noises.
- There are sticky tapes and other deterrents available at pet stores.
- Kittens see everything as a toy! You can amuse Fluffy with the simplest things: a ball of crumpled paper (not foil), a string, a wine cork or a grape.
- Store-bought toys can be fun too: feathers, wand toys, various balls (like ping pong balls), and furry mice. Soon Fluffy will be playing soccer with these all over the house (you’ll find many under the sofa before long).
- Caution: Never leave her alone with string or yarn or wand toy with a long attachment. String and yarn can be ingested (and are expensive to remove). Long wand attachments can wind around Fluffy’s body or head, and frighten her so that she runs and becomes more entangled or even strangled.
- Caution: Human hands and fingers will also appeal to Fluffy as toys. Discourage her wrestling with or biting your hand or fingers. It’s cute at as a kitten, but will become a bad (and painful) habit as an adult. If she wants to wrestle with your hand, let it go limp and distract her with a small stuffed animal or other shape that she can wrap her paws around and “bunny kick.”
- Cats groom themselves perfectly well. Do not bathe Fluffy! It is stressful for both of you (and can result in bloodshed) — although some cats are perfectly content to be bathed.
- Brushing is usually pleasant for Fluffy (especially if she is long hair) and can prevent matting. Some cats don’t like it; so don’t force it. Starting Fluffy when she’s young will help her get used to the process.
- Flea treatment is important. Fluffy was treated with Advantage or Frontline topical flea treatment – a monthly product applied to the back of the head.
- Caution: Do not buy the less expensive brands– they are not effective and can contain harmful chemicals.