Choosing a Pet

Your new cat

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Certified Feline Behavior Consultant

Some cats come into new situations as cool, confident kitties. Others are scaredy cats. No matter what type your new cat is, it’s going to take a little time for her to get to know her new family and her new home.

You can help her settle in by introducing everything gradually. So the day kitty comes home, don’t just plop her on the floor in the middle of your great big house (Remember, every house is big to a cat). Plan to keep her in just one room for a few days — your bedroom is a good choice — and put her litter box, water dish, scratching post, and toys in that room before she arrives.

When you bring her in, open her carrier in her special room and let her come out on her own. You can talk to her softly as she explores, but don’t be disappointed if she hides at first. Keep talking in a soft voice and try putting a special treat down on the floor near where she’s hiding. When she comes out, greet her quietly and offer one finger for her to approach and sniff. She’ll learn right away that she can trust you, and you may discover that your scaredy cat is really a confident cat that is being careful.

If your new cat comes bouncing out of her carrier and zooms around the room, give her time to explore, play with her gently, and try introducing her to some of her toys.

Whether your cat is confident or coy, make sure she knows where her litter box is by gently leading her over to it and scratching around in the litter a few times yourself. Scratch a few times at the scratching post as well. Felines are copy cats and will learn from you.

If there’s more than one person in your family, take turns hanging out with kitty in her special room. This is not the time for the whole gang to play; Your friends will have to wait. Right now, puss is just meeting her new family.

When she’s settled down a bit, offer her a meal. Make sure the food and water dishes are far away from her litter box, because cats don’t eliminate where they eat.

Keep kitty in her special room for two or three days (more if she hides all the time), slipping in to talk to her, play with her, or just be with her as often as you can. Always say her name as you enter the room — this serves the double duty of letting her know you’re coming and teaching her what her name is. Talk to her in your special “cat voice” (Don’t even try to deny you have one!), using her name as often as possible.

When she seem to be comfortable, open the door and let her explore the house. If you have a lot of rooms, close off the doors to some of them; you want to make the introductions gradual. Follow her, but let her do her own thing. You should see lots of sniffing and rubbing. Cats know their world mostly by smell, and that rubbing puts a tiny bit of her scent in each spot. It’s kitty’s way of saying, “I claim this territory as mine.”

Leave the litter box and scratching post right where they are, but set up another litter box in the place you want it to be permanently. When kitty is using both boxes reliably, you can move or remove the one in the special room (Experts generally concur that two boxes are best for every cat). Don’t be in a hurry to do this though, because mistakes outside the box are a lot more unpleasant than the box itself.

After a day or so, open up more rooms, until kitty has explored your whole house. When she feels at home, start feeding her in the spot you have picked for feline mealtimes. You can move the scratching post to its permanent place as well — someplace where your cat likes to spend lot of time. The whole process should take about a week, but let your cat proceed at her own pace. If it takes her a little longer, so what?

Whether you’ve got a scaredy cat or a cool cat, give her a place to hide in every room. It could be a cardboard box or a little tunnel or tent, or a stereo speaker to hide behind. If you have kids, make sure they know that when kitty is in her hiding place (or in her litter box or eating), she is not to be disturbed.

Now is the time to invite your friends and neighbors (in small groups, please) to come and admire your perfect pussycat. Socializing her to people, places, and things will help her be a cool cat all her life.

Beth Adelman is a certified feline behavior consultant and is on the board of directors of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She the author of the award-winning book Every Cat’s Survival Guide to Living With a Neurotic Owner and is co-editor of the journal Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice.