A Quick Guide For New Cat Owners

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Bringing a new cat, or kitten into your home is exciting. We know you chose your kitty with love and care—but remember that you are a stranger to your new cat and your cat is in a strange new place. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks for your cat to acclimate; rest assured, however, that your new cat wants to love you and your home. He/she just needs a few things to help him/her be comfortable.

Supplies

Here is a list of a few things to have ready for your new feline friend-

Water and Food Bowls

Every pet should have his/her own food bowl, but often they like to share water bowls. We think stainless steel or ceramic bowls are the healthiest bowls you can use, better than plastic. They keep bacteria away!

Litter Box

When your cats go potty, they like a little privacy and their own space. Ideally, you should have the same number of litter boxes as you do cats, plus one more. Keep the litter boxes out of high traffic areas and away from your dogs. (Dogs love a little bit of “kitty roca” now and then. It’s best to keep them away from that type of snack food!) Ask what type of box your new kitty is used to using. Some prefer covered litter boxes, which give your cat privacy and reduce litter scatter. (But some cats hate covered boxes—so sometimes you just have to go along with your pet’s preferences.)

Cats are very fastidious creatures. Think of them as little neat-freaks. It is best to scoop your cat’s litter box once or twice a day and wash the box itself every 5-7 days with hot water and a non-toxic cleanser like SimpleGreen to help reduce odor & bacteria. (Apartment dwellers may find it easiest to do this in the bathtub.) There are many types of litter; ask what kind your new cat has been using and stick with that kind at least initially. You can transition to a different brand once your kitty has settled into your home.

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Scratching Post or Scratching Incline Box

These are a must! Scratching posts and incline boxes provide your cat a safe place to exercise their need to keep their claws and paws in good shape (this is instinctive behavior for cats) and prevent them from doing it to your favorite La-Z-Boy recliner. Put a little catnip on a scratching post and watch the scratching begin! (Kittens are generally immune to catnip—but they’re never immune to toys, so you can attract a kitten’s attention to a scratching post by dragging a ribbon or string toy over it.)

Food

Ask what brand, amount, and feeding schedule your new kitty has been on, and keep that the same for the first 2 weeks. We like brands like Nutro and Natural Balance or other premium brands. When switching to a new food, be sure to transition gradually by adding the new food to the old food to avoid upset stomachs.

Toys

Catnip mice and anything you can wave around that is attached to a long stick (like a feather or small stuffed toy) are great. Cats love little balls they can bat around and chase too. Some cats to even play fetch with these little balls–but on their own terms, of course!

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Brush or Furminator comb

Daily brushing (even of short-haired cats) helps reduce hairballs, which can be very uncomfortable for your cat and messy for you.

Collar and Identity tag

We recommend that your cat have a collar with an identity tag as well as a microchip. You never know when someone will inadvertently let a cat outside, and a collar and tag will help whoever finds your kitty get him home to you. Since cats can crawl into small spaces and jump up into high places, we recommend a “snap on/snap off” collar for safety. This way, if your cat ever gets stuck somewhere (like under the bed, up in a closet, etc.), he/she won’t be in danger of choking if the collar gets stuck.

Starter Room

To help ease your cat’s transition into a new environment, please set up a “Starter Room” prior to bringing your new cat/kitten home.

Set up a Starter Room:
Remember, your new cat won’t act the way he/she did when you first met him (with the foster mom/dad). He/she will be excited, nervous, etc. He/she doesn’t know the smells, the sounds, and, most importantly, THE ROUTINES of your house. Start establishing your routine immediately.

Have a room ready, with those supplies you just bought—a litter pan, food and water, a comfy kitty bed and toys—where your new kitty can get to know you and the sounds and smells of his/her new home. Spend time with them in their room for the first few days, even if they are hiding, until they relax and are ready to explore the rest of your home.

Avoid situations that place undue stress on your new cat. What is undue stress? Cornering your new cat in a closed space or allowing your children to play with his/her food while he/she is eating can be very stressful for a cat. Give your new cat time to adjust to one new situation each day. Give plenty of affection but also plenty of room and time to settle into a new routine. Cats are good at signaling when they don’t like something: hiding: a swishing tail, flattened ears, a growl. Please pay attention to such warnings. Some cats do not like to be picked up or have their belly touched, so let them tell you!

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Introducing Cats to One Another

Here are a few tips on how to properly introduce your new cat to your resident cat.

When Bringing Your New Cat Home:
It is ALWAYS best to separate your cats initially. Put the new cat in a separate room so that the cats can hear and smell each other but not see or touch. Have that room set up with a comfy cat bed, litter box, food and water bowls and plenty of toys. •

Once the new cat is in his/her room, leave the carrier out and let your cat investigate it thoroughly. • You may want to try feeding the cats near the door that separates them so that they associate good things (eating) with the experience of being near each other (though separated by the door).

After two days, switch the bedding of the cats, so that they become comfortable with each other’s scents. You may want to switch toys as well. Switch the bedding again after two more days, so that their scents begin to intermix.

Also consider switching their living spaces for an hour or two each morning and/or evening. This gives the new cat an opportunity to explore the rest of his/her new home while providing the other cat time to investigate the new cat’s territory. During this time, play with the cats near the door, encouraging them to play “paws” under the door. Give them treats to reinforce this fun time.

After a week, if you have not seen much negative behavior such as hissing or growling, open the door and replace it with a temporary baby gate or screen so they can see each other and touch a bit. Continue to feed and play near the screen/gate, starting farther away and gradually getting closer.

After a few days you can try letting them have supervised time together. After feeding them, consider removing the gate. Let them take over from there. You should step back a bit, but keep a watchful eye on them at all times. Some hissing and swatting is perfectly normal here. Give it time before interfering. If they begin to fight aggressively, have a water bottle handy and give one or both a good squirt or two. If these interactions go well you can leave them together for longer periods of time. Use your discretion in this.

Make sure to give the cats equal love and attention. Also provide adequate toys, more than one litter box, a scratching post and individual food bowls.

If one cat is always hiding or overly aggressive, you may need to seek the help of your vet or an animal behaviorist. There are many good vets in the LA area. We also recommend Rescue Remedy, a product that can help calm your pets when they are in stressful situations. Feliway is also good to help calm cats. Feliway also helps insure that they use the litter box. We also like Soft Claws. They can help if you are afraid of your pets scratching one another (or scratching you or your furniture).

Above all, be patient! It often takes time for cats to get used to each other, and they like to go at their own pace. Don’t force anything. Depending on the cats, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months for them to get along or simply tolerate each other. Patience is the key!

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Troubleshooting

Of course we want everything to go smoothly and for you and your new cat to live lovingly together forever. Here are a few cautions for making sure everybody gets off on the right foot-

Escape Artists

Be sure when you go in and out of your house, to watch out as your new cat may try and run out – and then they may keep running. Make sure to also tell guests coming in and out of your home that you have a new rescue cat and to please shut the door as soon as you enter. Some cats may have spent time as indoor/outdoor cats, so they may try to get outside. Keep a spray bottle full of water handy, and spray the water over their head or at their feet to stop them from running out a door.

“I have to go potty”…

Cats use their litter box. Most of the cats we place know how to do this. If they are not using their litter box, there may be a health problem (i.e., urinary tract infection) or a behavior issue. They also may not like the type of box or litter that you are using, so be willing to try different options (but we rarely have this problem).

“But my Jake/Emily/Alex would never do that. They are great with animals”…

You may have the most perfect children on the planet. But do not EVER leave children unattended with a new cat. Give your kids a refresher course on how to act around animals (no tail pulling, for example). Teach them simple things: approach the animal gently; don’t run and yell around the animal to scare it or get it excited. There is nothing more endearing than kids and their pets. Give your new pet a chance to bond with your kids and, please, don’t set your new cat up to fail with them.

“My dogs love cats”…

You may have the most perfect dogs on the planet too. But we still advise keeping your new cat separated from your dogs for a couple of weeks (unless you are there to supervise). Allow the pets to meet each other under supervision. You can increase the length of time for each “meet, greet, play” session until you feel secure with their relationship. When bringing a new cat into the home, it is imperative to allow the cat access to a safe haven where he/she can get away from the other animals.

Kittens are so cute…

They are cute, it’s true! But they are also high energy and playful, and may need extra attention and training. Kittens have what we affectionately call “the kitten zoomies”; this means they may want to use your bed (and head) as a racetrack at 4:00 a.m. or they may try to squeeze into places they shouldn’t. They may cry–a lot–when they can’t find you. Be patient! We can help you “kitten proof” your place and give you tips on training and playing with high-energy kittens (a squirt bottle never hurts)!