Choosing and Caring for a New Cat: What to Know

When I graduated from college a few centuries ago, I wanted an apartment, a car, and a kitten. (I was lucky enough to have a job lined up.) While cats were a part of the family when I was growing up, this would be my very own cat. I adopted a kitten from a college friend, whose cat had a litter. Alfred – named after a college dean – was with me for many years and was key to my education on cat care.

Cats are often considered to be easier to care for than dogs, and in many respects that’s true. But that doesn’t mean you can just pick up the kitty and deposit her into your household. A new cat’s homecoming should be fun for members of the family and welcoming and stress-free for the kitty.

The Right Pick

The selection of cats and kittens in a shelter can be overwhelming. Try not to visit with a preconceived notion of the kind of kitty you want. Take your time and see who comes to you – it could be a bouncing kitten or a more reserved adult. In a busy household, a cat who is shy and hides may not be a good fit. If you live alone or have a quiet lifestyle, it can be easier to nurture a shy kitty.

Ask what veterinary care has been provided, whether the cat has any health problems, and if the cat has been spayed or neutered.

Your new kitty may or may not come with a name. It’s okay to change it if you want. Whether you stick with the original or give a new name, always use it in a loving way. A sharp “No!” combined with her name will not instill confidence.

First Steps

Preparation is key for a stress-free homecoming. Discuss responsibilities with family members. Who will scoop the litter box? Who will feed her and when? Where will she sleep at night? How will playtime be divided up? These are just a few of the daily responsibilities you’ll encounter.

Is there a chance anyone would be allergic? Hang out in a shelter or at the homes of friends with cats to check your response or that of your kids. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing the message, “I have to rehome the cat. My child is allergic.”

Lay in Supplies

Litter box, of course. But what kind? Simpler is better. A large under-bed storage container holds a good amount of litter and allows lots of room for your cat to dig and move around. A fancy covered box may make the pages of House Beautiful, but it’s made for humans. A covered box is more likely to retain odors; it also makes it easier to overlook scooping – out of sight, out of mind.

If you have a two-story house, a litter box on each level will keep accidents to a minimum.

In terms of litter, you have options galore: clay, clumping, scented, unscented, and corn-, wheat-, and paper-based. Again, keep it simple. See if you can find out what the kitten or cat is used to and stick with that to start.

Invest in a couple of cozy beds and place them in sunny spots. Chances are, however, that she’ll want to sleep on your bed, the sofa, or wherever you’re hanging out.

Vertical space is as important as floor space. Choose a tall, sturdy cat tree and place it by a window with a view, in a prominent location. The best spot is a comfy area where you like to hang out too.

Add a couple of cardboard scratchers; they’re inexpensive and come in different sizes and configurations. Rub them thoroughly with catnip. That will make them more tempting than your sofa.

Pick out some toys: catnip-stuffed mice, fishing pole toys, and crinkle balls are favorites with cats. Purchase a few and see what she prefers. Play for a kitten is an important part of socialization and bonding. It also helps burn off energy.

Mealtime

Food choices are unlimited. It’s okay and even desirable to feed a variety of flavors, brands, and types, both canned and dry. It prevents the cat from becoming finicky and minimizes the risk that your cat will be affected if there’s a recall of a particular brand. It also helps to ensure that your cat will be more amenable to switching foods if she needs to make a dietary change for health reasons.

Food and water bowls don’t have to be fancy, but choose shallow bowls to ensure that the cat’s whiskers don’t rub up against the bowl; it’s an annoyance to cats. Avoid plastic, which may cause chin breakouts. Wash bowls thoroughly each day.

Health Care

Choose a veterinarian. You can find a Fear Free veterinarian through the search function on Fear Free Happy Homes.

Ideally, check out the facility before you have an emergency. Even though your kitty may have been vetted before adoption, consider scheduling a “friendly visit” to introduce her to the process and staff.

The Homecoming

Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy recommends setting up a “base camp” for acclimating a newbie. Place the litter box, food and water, and bedding in a quiet room away from household din. She may hide, so give her some time. Play some quiet music, sit and read, or strike up a conversation. Leave the door ajar and let her explore the household on her own terms as she grows in confidence.

Soon, she’ll be out and about, and you’ll be well on your way to sharing your life with your beloved furry companion.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.