Adopting Your Next Cat: Welcome Home (Part 3 of 3)

This is the third article in a series of three. The first two are here and here.

Warlock and Adirondack, adopted 2018

So you’ve bought a new litter box, and the cutest bed you could find. You’ve got food and water dishes, picked out the best food you can fit in your budget, and maybe even a cat tree. It’s time to pick up your new cat(s) from the SPCA – how can you help them feel safe in their new home?

The road to a happy cat starts before you even pick them up from the shelter. Start with setting up a space just for the new arrival that they can call their own, with their food, water, and litter box. This might be a bedroom, a guest room, even a bathroom. Cats get their sense of security and safety from familiarity with their environment. That’s why we recommend smaller spaces at first – a whole house to explore can be overwhelming to a cat! A smaller space lets them take a few days or a few weeks to learn every inch of their new territory. Then when your cat is exploring the rest of the house, they know for sure that there’s a safe place to run back to if they are frightened!

How long should you keep your cat in this smaller space? Take your cue from your cat. They will tell you when they feel more confident by coming out in the open with their tail proudly up in the air. They might even meow at the door to be let out of the room! If they are still hiding a lot, they may not be ready to come out yet. Some cats are ready to explore the house within days, and some would rather have a few weeks to settle in.

Some cats who have come from the shelter are very frightened at first, and just want to hide. These cats can take two to four months to really start coming out and joining the family. If you adopt a shy cat from us, you may find that it takes them what seems like a very long time to come out of hiding. Don’t prevent your cat from hiding – instead offer a variety of secure hiding places. Boxes and laundry baskets are classic, but you can also arrange furniture or screens to make a more enclosed area of a room. Make sure your frightened cat has easy access to a litter box and their food and water. Very often a hiding cat is perfectly happy where they are! They just aren’t ready to come out yet.

Don’t forget – we are here to help! If you’re fostering or have adopted a shy cat from us, you can call with questions and we’ll be happy to help. Sometimes we’re able to suggest a change that helps your new cat feel comfortable faster, or offer the reassurance that you’re doing the right things and all that’s needed is a little patience. Remember that cats run their lives on their own schedule, and sometimes we humans need to adjust our expectations.

If you already have cats in your home and are introducing someone new, the two keys to successful integration are time, and providing safe spaces/escape routes for everyone. Your current cats will want to be reassured that their usual routines and favorite things are still there, and the new cat will want to know that they can get away if something scary happens. Some growling and hissing is normal when cats first meet each other. If someone is growling or chasing a lot, they’re telling you they are overwhelmed! It might be time to separate the cats for a little while and let them try again later when everyone feels more relaxed. This process takes time for cats. It’s not unusual for it to take from a few days to three or four weeks for cats to integrate with each other, and occasionally it can take a couple of months.

If it’s taking a really long time for the cat you adopted from us to integrate with your current cats, please give us a call! Our staff has a lot of experience introducing cats – we do have three community rooms at our facility, after all! We may be able to offer insight and suggestions.

Introductions to the family dog can be stressful for a new cat. We find that most cats can learn to live with a dog, if the dog is willing to learn how to be polite to the cat. The good news is, there’s a lot you can do to help both your dog and your new cat navigate this initial period! It starts with giving the cat a way to get away from the dog easily. High shelves, tall cat trees, and baby gates can be used to create a safe space for your cat to go where your dog can’t follow.

Even if your dog is excited about the new cat at first, over time they will likely learn that the cat is just another member of the family. To prevent that initial excited reaction from terrifying your cat, it’s a great idea to keep your dog on a leash for the first few days (at least when New Kitty is out and about). One option is a waist leash, which allows you to keep your dog with you. This is a great opportunity to reinforce behaviors you like to see from your dog, such as looking to you instead of the cat, sitting or laying beside you, or chewing an appropriate item. Treats or your dog’s usual kibble are a great way to reinforce these behaviors, and peanut butter (xylitol-free) can be smeared on chewable items to spark interest in them.

What about the great outdoors? Well, for many cats, the outdoors are not that great. There are many risks to letting your cat out. If you’re adopting from the SPCA of Hancock County, we’ll have a conversation as part of the adoption process about whether it makes sense for you to let your cats outside. If your cat is a healthy adult and you choose to let them outdoors, that’s ok! The key is to make sure your cat knows that “home” is the inside of your house before you let them out. It’s very important to wait at least 4 weeks before you let your new cat outdoors – and longer is better. Some cats are easily startled, and if you think your cat is likely to run in a random direction and hide when frightened rather than running back home, they are not ready to go outside.

If you do let your cat out, it’s a good idea to have them wear a breakaway collar. Although any cat adopted from the SPCA of Hancock County has a microchip, it can be helpful to have visible ID on your cat so that community members know this kitty has a home.

We love to get updates about cats who have been adopted from our shelter, whether you have a question or just want to let us know how much you love them! We also love to share adoption stories with the community, and if you’d like us to feature your adopted cat(s) on the 4-Paw Post, email us at: spcahc.development@gmail.com. You can also reach us through our Facebook page – we do our best to be attentive to private messages.

Most importantly, have fun with your new feline family member!