Welcoming a New Cat? 12 Must-Dos for the First 30 Days

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

tips for adopting a cat

Story at-a-glance -

  • Your new cat’s first few weeks with you are pivotal in helping him adjust and acclimate to his new life as a member of your family
  • Items on your first 30-day to-do list include setting up your new cat’s temporary private quarters, and if applicable, arranging to keep her separated from other cats in the household for a few days to a few weeks
  • You’ll also likely need to slowly transition your new cat to an optimally healthy diet, and allow him to select the type of litter he prefers

So, you’ve decided to adopt a cat! First, congratulations on the new furry addition to your family! As a new cat parent — especially if this is the first kitty you’ve ever cared for, it’s important to understand just how crucial his first few weeks at home with you will be in helping him become a healthy, happy, well-balanced member of your household.

I was recently in an Uber going to Superzoo (a large pet tradeshow), and my driver asked what he needed to do before adopting his first cat. Here’s a summary of the tips I offered him.

12 To-Do’s for Your New Cat’s First 30 Days With You

1. Create a kitty retreat — Provide your cat with a safe haven of her own for at least the first week in her new home. This will help her acclimate to her new life on her own terms, which is the way cats prefer things. Put her litterbox, bedding, food and toys in her private quarters, and keep noise, confusion and foot traffic to a minimum. Quiet bedrooms are perfect, and dark closets (with the door cracked) make amazing retreats for adapting kitties.

Make sure to ditch all plug-ins, room freshener sprays and synthetic candles prior to bringing home your new addition. Rely on natural lighting, (vs. harsh LED light bulbs) that will help minimize environmental stress. In other words, open those curtains and blinds! This also creates instant kitty-entertainment opportunities when you’re away from home, if you pull a chair up to the window for a “cat perch.”

2. Provide warm, safe sleeping quarters — Felines like their environment quite a bit warmer than humans do, which is why they tend to appreciate round pet beds they can curl up in to preserve body heat. A non-toxic pet bed can help reduce your cat’s exposure to PBDEs and other sources of indoor pollution, which have been linked to feline metabolic diseases.

3. Give some serious thought to crate training — Most cats fight against being put into a carrier because they’ve learned it only happens when someone’s about to take them out of their familiar surroundings. That’s why it’s a really good idea to set up a carrier for your cat during his adjustment period and help him learn to enjoy spending time in there.

Consider feeding him his meals inside his carrier, with the door tied open. It will make life a lot easier for both of you when you need to travel with your kitty or take him for veterinary appointments.

4. Keep the new cat separate from other cats in the household — Cats reach social maturity between 2 and 3 years of age, and after that time, they become less open to interacting with new cats. That’s why it’s important to take steps to ensure a new kitty doesn’t present a perceived threat to the existing cat’s territory. Have the new kitty’s retreat (see No. 1 above) ready to go.

Feline behavior experts recommend that cats who are cohabitating for the first time not be allowed to see each other for a few days or even a few weeks, to help cat No. 1 get used to the new cat’s scent in what he considers his territory before they actually meet.

Forcing an introduction is an absolute no-no, as is offering food or treats as an enticement to get the cats physically closer to each other. Remember, kitties prefer to dine alone. To your cats, eating with another cat in close proximity is stressful. Feeds cats in different rooms of the house.

Consider using natural products like those from Solutions to help your cats manage stressful feelings and events in their lives. Also talk to your integrative veterinarian about homeopathic remedies that fit each cat’s personality and symptom pattern to help reduce emotional responses.

Also consider using Feliway, a pheromone product, to reduce stress levels and ease tensions between your cats. Many people report great success using the Feliway diffuser in their multi-cat homes. Keep in mind your goal in introducing the cats is to simply help them learn to live peacefully together. If they wind up friends, that’s wonderful, but if it happens it will be on their terms, not yours!

5. Introduce family members gradually — Introduce other members of the household to the new kitty one at a time. Ideally, introductions should happen in a neutral location, like the living or family room, once the new cat has ventured out on her own for a meet-and-greet. Introductions should be done in a calm, quiet, low-stress environment so as not to scare or further stress your new cat.

6. Feed your cat like the carnivore he is — To provide your new addition with the very best start in life, slowly transition him from kibble to canned food, and then to real food; either a homemade or commercially available optimally balanced, fresh food diet (preferably raw) designed for cats at all life stages.

If you go the homemade route, you must absolutely ensure the diet is nutritionally balanced. It doesn't matter whose recipe you follow, but it does matter that it's balanced. Ideally, rotating foods every few weeks to months is an ideal way to prevent food allergies and offer a wide array of nutrients over time.

Weighing your cat on a home digital scale every month will help make sure you’re preventing him from getting to an unhealthy weight, which is something that often happens slowly over time, making it hard to recognize. Limit treats to small bits of freeze-dried raw food or whole meats, stuffed into stalk-able feeder "mice" you can hide around your home (especially fun at night). Shallow, wide Pyrex glass bowls are a safe choice for food and filtered water; avoid plastic bowls at all costs.

7. Help your cat learn to love her litterbox — Learn your cat’s litter preference by buying the smallest amount available of several kinds of litter, and several inexpensive plastic litter pans. Place the pans with different litters (about 4 inches deep per pan) side by side and see which gets used most often. Once she's made her decision, you can donate the unchosen litter and (cleaned) litter pans to a local shelter or cat rescue.

Most cats are less picky about the actual box than the litter it holds, but some do object to covered boxes. The good news is that if you purchase a box with a cover, you can simply keep the lid off, if it seems to be a problem for her.

Your best choice in a litterbox is one that is easy for you to keep scrupulously clean, since box cleanliness is a critical component in ensuring your kitty uses it (and only it). She should be able to comfortably get in and out of the box, and it should be large enough for her to turn around inside.

Select a location for the litterbox that is somewhat out of the way, in a non-high traffic area of your home, and away from noisy household machinery and appliances. Choose a warm location in the house rather than the basement or garage. And make sure the box isn't too close to food or water bowls.

8. Provide appropriate climbing and scratching surfaces — Climbing and scratching are natural feline behaviors. Cats scratch to mark their territory with scent in their footpads as well as visually. They also scratch as a way to relieve stress, to stretch and to shed the older layers of their nails. Scratching feels good to your kitty, too, which is why it's important to give him access to a variety of scratching surfaces.

Try burlap, cardboard and carpeted scratching surfaces, placed vertically and horizontally, to see which he prefers. Keep the scratchers in areas he hangs out in. Many cats prefer higher perches and safe zones for lounging and sleeping, so offering a cat tower or cat shelf can make your kitty feel extra secure in his new environment.

9. Train your cat to use her scratching post — Initially, you can apply catnip or silver vine or attach a feather toy to make the scratching area especially attractive to your cat, and praise her when she responds to it. At the same time, discourage her from scratching on inappropriate surfaces by attaching foil, double-sided tape, plastic sheeting, carpet runners (with the bumpy side up) or inflated balloons tied to furniture or other surfaces you don't want scratched.

Desensitize your cat to having her feet touched early on, so weekly nail trims aren’t a stressor. Trimming a nail every few days (the “one-and-done” approach) is also a good way to achieve low-stress nail maintenance.

10. Offer toys that bring out the hunter in your cat — Think like a cat and buy or create toys that draw out his hunting instincts. A piece of string wrapped around the end of a stick that you drag on the ground will bring out the stalker in almost any cat. Also consider investing in a few interactive toys. Again, think in terms of appealing to his natural instincts to stalk prey. Multiple daily play sessions are important for mental stimulation and exercise.

11. Indulge her love of hiding boxes — When cats in the wild feel threatened, they head for trees, dens or caves to seek safety. Captive kitties don’t have that option, so their obsession with hiding in boxes may be an adaptation. Studies show access to hiding boxes reduces feline stress, especially in shelter cats.

Providing your new cat with hiding boxes may help her acclimate faster to her new home and family. In addition, they provide insulation and help her preserve body heat.

12. Provide safe access to the outdoors — Just because your cat will be indoors only doesn't mean he doesn't need or deserve to spend time outside exploring the world beyond his front door. One way to broaden his horizons is to train him to walk on a harness and leash; another is to build or buy a safe, secure cat patio he can hang out in when the weather is good.

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