Introducing a new cat into your life should be cause for celebration: You have a new companion, a furry friend, that will be with you for years to come, so this should be a happy event, right?
Unfortunately, "My new cat won't come out from under the bed," is a complaint we see from time to time in the cat behavior forum. You may have to hold off on that party and be prepared for an adjustment period, which could take days, weeks or even months.
The good news is that there's a lot you can do to help Kitty adjust. By understanding the dynamics at play, you can create a supportive environment that will help your cat get out from under the bed and join you as a member of your household.
Tips and Insights to Help Your Cat Adjust
1. Realize how stressful the situation is for your catYour new cat's world has been turned upside down. He or she was cut off from a familiar environment (be it a shelter cage, another home, or even the street) and put into an entirely strange and foreign place where they need to establish their territory as well as get to know you and other members of your household. It is an immensely stressful situation for any cat. The older the cat, and the more used to its former territory, the higher the stress levels.
Read more: Is Your Cat Stressed Out
2. Address any health issuesDepending on where they came from, new cats can have all sorts of health issues. A veterinary examination to diagnose and treat problems is a good idea. Keep in mind that the added stress of the move into your home can in itself trigger health problems. At the same time, existing health problems can add to the cat's stress levels, so it's a two-way street here. Be aware of possible health problems and address them in time.
Read more: Identifying Common Ailments In Cats Adopted From Animal Shelters And Rescue Groups
3. Consider the cat's innate temperamentNo two cats are absolutely alike, and your cat has its own character. He or she may turn out to be a shy cat by nature, or an outgoing in-your-face cat that's constantly demanding attention. Either way, some of the behaviors you're seeing during the first few days and weeks may change down the road. Others may not. Accept that Kitty has a personality and that the only way to establish a solid long-term relationship is by respecting your cat's idiosyncrasies.
When you adopt from a good shelter or fostering setup, the volunteers involved should be able to tell you more about your new cat's character. However, some things may only be revealed once the cat has settled into a real home and feels comfortable enough to reveal its true colors.
Read more: 10 Must Know Tips For Happy Living With A Shy Cat
4. Set up a safe roomFor many cats, limiting their initial space to one room can help reduce stress. With fewer places to explore and fewer disturbances or perceived threats, the cat is more likely to de-stress and regain her or his composure.
A safe room is especially needed if your new cat is a young kitten. A kitten's curiosity can spell trouble, and you might be surprised to know just how many people manage to lose their kitten within their own home during those first days. Limiting a kitten to one room allows you to fully kitty-proof that room to the point where you can leave him or her there unattended.
Read more: How to Make Your Home And Garden Safe For Your Cat
5. Keep it quietSome cats are more sensitive to noise than others. With a new cat, it's always a safe strategy to keep your voice down and avoid startling noises. Sensitivity to loud noises may be a temporary trait which will go away as your cat settles down, or it may be a permanent part of your cat's character. Only time will tell.
6. Give the cat time to adjust to the environmentYour cat's brain has to literally create a lot of new connections. Neurons are forming new connections that will help your cat know where things are and how to manage living in this new environment. Give the cat time to gradually explore his or her surroundings. It's going to take days and possibly longer for everything to become familiar enough, to the point of Kitty feeling "at home".
7. Give the cat time to adjust to youYes, adjustment to the environment comes first, but next it's time to get used to the new human! Monitor your cat's reactions to your presence and move ahead accordingly. If your cat seems more interested in exploring the house, that's perfectly ok. Give him or her the time to do so and offer your companionship and attention without forcing them on the cat.
If you're dealing with a shy cat, the kind that hides away from you, be extra-patient. Sitting on the floor and spending time in the cat's presence with no direct interaction is a good way to help Kitty adjust. More tips available in our guide: 10 Must Know Tips For Happy Living With A Shy Cat.
8. Manage introductions with your other cats the right wayBringing a cat into a new territory is stressful enough. When that territory is already occupied by another cat, or more, your new cat can quickly become overwhelmed. Never just drop a new cat into a home with other cats. Cat-to-cat introductions need to be done properly, slowly and with tons of patience. During the first few days your new cat will have to be separated from the other cats entirely, until he or she settles down. Only then can you start the introductions.
Read more: Introducing Cats To Cats
9. Pay special attention to interactions with dogs and kidsDuring the sensitive period of adjustment, you should limit encounters with anything which can be unexpected and scary. This means interactions with dogs and children, especially toddlers, should be carefully monitored. Take the time to introduce canines and younger humans properly to your cat, and then keep an eye on them to make sure the interactions stay low-key and appropriate for the cat's level of comfort.
Read more: How To Safely Introduce A Cat And A Dog
Cats And Kids Making Introductions
10. Provide good nutrition without overwhelming the catThat you should provide a cat good nutrition is pretty self-explanatory. That isn't to say there's one way of doing that, but rather that most owners understand the importance of Choosing The Right Food For Your Cat. The key to not overwhelming your cat lies with understanding that changes, including nutritional changes, are stressful to both body and mind. That's why it's always better to start with the same kind of food Kitty is already used to (if you know what that is). If you want to improve on that, wait for a few weeks until you see the cat has acclimatized to some extent. Otherwise, you're introducing one more stress factor into an already stressful period, and that's a recipe for trouble.
Read more: Choosing The Right Food For Your Cat
11. Offer a good litterbox setupAs long as your cat spends time segregated in one safe room, a single litterbox is probably enough. Stick to the type of litter Kitty already knows (if you know what it is). Once Kitty has reign over the rest of your house, make sure you provide enough litterboxes and offer a good litterbox setup from the beginning. Litterbox-related stress is something you really want to avoid with a new cat, so take the time to learn all you can about how to set up the litterbox.
Read more: The Litterbox: What Every Cat Owner Needs To Know
12. Set the rules - gentlyDifferent households have different rules. For example, kitchen counters may be ok to jump on, or they may be off-limits. The same goes for sleeping with you in your bed, waking you up at night, begging for food, and so on. It's ok to have house rules, and cats can adjust to sensible ones (if you're not sure what's sensible, ask us at the cat behavior forums). The key here is to avoid disciplining your cat. Use only positive reinforcement and avoid anything which may stress your cat. It's a good guideline for later down the road and a crucial one for those sensitive early days.
Read more: The Dos And Donts Of Cat Behavior Modification
How To Set Healthy Boundaries For Your Cat
13. Be patientAdjustment to a new home takes time. The older the cat, the longer it can take. Some cats take months and even years to fully feel at home in a new place. Keep things as stress-free and relaxed as you can, and you stand a better chance of a faster, happier adjustment process.
Good luck! And don't forget to let us know how you're doing by posting your question in the cat forums!