So you’ve decided to add a cat to your family? Congrats! Whether you’re just starting to browse available cat profiles online or you’re on your way to pick up your new furry friend from a reputable breeder, your new pet parenting adventure is just beginning. As you prepare for bringing your new cat home, there are a few tips you can follow to start things off on the right foot (or paw).
Read on for need-to-know expert advice on bringing a cat home, direct from the experts who know cats best: veterinarians and behaviorists.
Before Bringing a New Cat Home
Before you walk through your front door with your new kitty, there’s one thing you should do: Book an appointment with a vet if you don’t already have one, says Dr. Katy J. Nelson, DVM, senior veterinary relations manager for Chewy and a vet at Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, Virginia. That’s right—your first visit to your vet’s office should take place before you actually have your pet.
Here’s why: A veterinarian can help you keep the joy and cut the stress of adopting or buying a cat, she says. Though it might seem backwards to choose a vet before a pet, you’ll want to know who to call for medical advice on Day 1 of your cat parenting journey. Your vet can recommend the right type of food and other supplies and act as a reassuring sounding board if your pet hits a few speed bumps on their way to becoming part of the family. Get recommendations from friends and family, and if you can, get a tour of the offices so you can get a feel for the flow there.
You’ll also want to save the address and phone number of your nearest 24-hour emergency vet. Whether you post it on your refrigerator or save it in your phone, your future self will thank you if disaster strikes at 2 a.m.!
New Cat Supplies You’ll Need
Cats don’t require as much stuff as their two-legged parents, but they still need plenty of gear, from food to toys to items that can make your new pet’s life much more comfy.
One must-have is a pet carrier. Dr. Nelson likes the ones with a detachable or zip-out top, such as the Sherpa Original Deluxe Dog and Cat Carrier Bag. “We all know that if you've got your carrier out in the garage and you only bring it inside whenever you're going to capture your cat and stuff him in to go get poked with needles, it's got some pretty bad associations,” she explains. “But if you look into one that has a detachable top, it becomes a piece of regular furniture. The cat sleeps in it or hangs out in it. It can be a lot less stressful when it's time to go to the veterinarian.”
Other Dr. Nelson-recommended essentials include:
- A breakaway cat collar with ID tags
- Bowls for food and water
- Litter box and litter. “Some cats are particular about the type of litter that they use. Some love the crystals, some love the clumping or the newspaper type, so have a few samples on hand so you can figure out which one they like the best,” Dr. Nelson says.
- Scratchers. “I typically have seen success with either the cardboard ones that have all the little layers built into them, or the sisal rope ones,” Dr. Nelson notes. “Again, it's going to kind of depend on the cat's preference, just because they will like some different textures.”
- Grooming supplies, including clippers, a kitty toothbrush and toothpaste, and cotton balls and an ear cleanser.
- A comfy bed—even though you know your kitty is going to be snuggling up on yours!
For a more thorough list of what you’ll need, check out our Cat Adoption Checklist.
Prepping Your Home for Your New Pet
As any cat parent will tell you, felines are experts at getting into mischief. That means cat-proofing your home should be high on your “bringing a new cat home” to-do list.
The best way to start, Dr. Nelson says, is to get on your hands and knees and crawl around each room, seeing every object from your pet’s perspective. “Look under the beds, the couch, the chairs,” she says.
While you’re down there, scan for anything that could be potentially dangerous to your cat. Electrical cords are some of the most common offenders—cats often find them appealing to chew on, which puts them at risk of electrical shock. Secure them to the baseboards or disguise them to remove the temptation.
Look out for any easy-to-reach substances that might be poisonous to your pet, too. “The No. 1 thing that pets are poisoned by every year are human medications,” Dr. Nelson says. Cleaning products can also be dangerous to cats. Lock them all up with a baby-proof lock or another secure fastener—remember, cats will climb! And don’t forget to check your houseplants to be sure they’re not toxic to cats, too.
Before bringing your new cat home, block off any entrances to areas where cats might get trapped, like an attic or basement. “I've seen cats many times get stuck in the attic for two or three days at a time, and then we find him and he’s terribly dehydrated and hungry,” Dr. Nelson says.
But that’s not to say cats won’t need a place to hide! Sharon Mear, a certified animal behaviorist and trainer in New York City and owner of the Manhattan-based practice Training Cats and Dogs, recommends placing platforms, shelves or cat trees in areas where your new kitty might feel cornered. “They give cats a better vantage point,” she says, and can also help them feel more secure in their unfamiliar surroundings.
Prepare for a Long Adjustment Period
For most cats, coming into a new home is like landing on a new planet. “They don't know anybody,” Mear says. “They don't know the sounds of where you live. It can be terrifying.” While kittens may be fearless and adjust pretty quickly, that probably won’t be the case for adult cats, she adds.
“They’re probably going to hide for a couple weeks, unless you've got an exceptional cat that's very extroverted,” says Dr. Nelson. “But most kitties, when they come into a new area, are going to try and find a place that they feel safe, and where they can kind of keep their lookout.” Common kitty hideouts include under the bed, sofa or closet.
While your pet is getting the lay of the house, be patient, Mears says. Let your cat dictate when and how they approach you. To help speed up the process, Dr. Nelson says, “spend time in her space so she gets to know you—what you smell like and the noises you make and all of the things about you that she’s going to need to be accustomed to.”
You can also gently nudge things along with toys. “You have to see what works for your cat,” Mears says. “I try everything from catnip to squishy toys with squeaky sounds. Sometimes I'll just sit on the floor at a distance, and I'll have some treats.”
Even if your cat approaches you, refrain from reaching out your hand to pet them. Your cat probably just wants to smell you at first, Mear says. “I knew when cats were ready to be touched when they would sort of butt my arm or leg with their head. Then I would pet them, once or twice. Basically, you want to leave them wanting more. It gives them the space to feel more comfortable.”
Watch for Warning Signs
Cats who are simply taking their sweet time to adjust will still be eating, drinking and using the litter box, Dr. Nelson says. But if you see these warning signs after bringing your new cat home, reach out to your vet:
- Your cat isn’t eating
- Your cat isn’t drinking
- Your cat is throwing up
- Your cat has diarrhea
These can be signs of underlying medical conditions, Dr. Nelson says, so it’s important to have your vet rule out any illnesses. And even if they’re just signs of stress, your pet’s vet may be able to recommend some calming supplements or a plug-in diffuser like Feliway, which may help soothe your pet, she adds.
Another kind of warning sign might be more dangerous for you than your cat—namely, when your cat hisses or takes a swipe at you when you approach. That’s a sign that you’re too close and your cat feels trapped, Mear explains. “Again, that’s when you want to back away and give them a chance. Toss treats—the highest-value ones that you can,” she advises. (Mear’s fave: bits of sliced turkey or salmon.) “But again, it really comes down to patience.”
When your kitty finally does get acclimated and becomes a full-fledged member of your household, bump up the interaction. “There’s a misconception that you can just leave cats be,” Mear says. “That makes me crazy! Cats need attention. They need playtime. They need your company. They'll let you know when they don't want you around—they'll move away.”
Bringing a new cat home can be an adventure, with surprises around every turn. Every pet is different and you might need to draw on your patience and persistence while your new furry friend adjusts. But remember: When your furball is purring on your lap, safe and secure in their place in your family, it’ll all be worth it.