Stocking Up on Supplies
Prepare for your new cat by picking up some basic supplies that you need to keep your cat well-equipped and happy. Before you bring your new cat home, stock up on the right food, a good litter box, cat furniture, plenty of toys, and,of course, for those who so desire and can afford it, a few luxury items to make your new cat comfortable and happy to be home at long last.
Gathering the basics
Every cat needs a few basic supplies. You can get fancy with the basics or go for the bare-bones minimum. Cat supplies don’t have to be expensive, but they can be if you choose the very best quality or fanciest brand names. Your cat probably won’t care either way, but higher-quality products probably last longer — you be the judge. Shopping around and checking out all your options will pay off. Here’s what you need.
Convenient cat carrier
You may not use a cat carrier every day. In fact, you probably won’t. But a cat carrier is an essential item that enables you to take your cat anywhere in the car (or even on an airplane) safely. A cat that’s loose inside the car can be a serious distraction to a driver, and the cat can sustain serious injuries in a car accident without the protection of a cat carrier. A cat carrier is the best and safest way to take your cat anywhere away from home.
Look for a carrier that has a handle, is easy to carry, and is easy to open and close — but not for the cat! Most pet stores stock a variety of plastic crates in different sizes. Put a soft cushion, fleece or faux fur pad, or flat pillow in the bottom of your carrier so it’s ready to deliver your cat from the shelter to his new home.
For cats that resist entering a cat carrier, putting them in backwards sometimes helps. You can also put the cat into a pillowcase — without a zipper — and then put him in the carrier, which can calm down the cat because he can’t see the carrier. Keeping the carrier out or at least occasionally allowing your cat to explore or play inside it also can help make the carrier more familiar and less difficult to get the cat into when necessary. Hide treats inside to make it even more rewarding.
The best cat food and food accessories
Your cat’s health can be directly influenced by diet, so choose a high-quality premium cat food for your new friend. Cats can have sensitive digestive systems, though, so be sure to find out what your cat is eating before bringing him home. If you don’t think the shelter food is good enough for your precious puss, or you can’t buy it easily and you want to switch foods, introduce the new food slowly over the course of a few days to a week, gradually increasing the ratio of new food to old. Cat foods come in a vast variety, so consider your choice carefully. For more information about choosing the right food for your cat, see Chapter Kitty Care
Cats also need good food and water bowls. Every cat in the house needs to have its own bowl. Basic metal or ceramic bowls are easy to clean and don’t accumulate bacteria as easily as other materials. Cats love running water, so you may want to consider a cat fountain to provide a continuous supply of burbling, trickling water for your cat’s drinking pleasure. If you choose to free-feed
your cat — making food available at all times — you may want to consider an automatic feeder. Using an automatic feeder, however, isn’t the best plan when your cat is overweight. For more about the appropriate way to feed your cat, see Chapter Kitty Care
Litter boxes and filler
Because cats today are safest when living indoors, litter boxes have become a necessity. Fortunately, technological advances in litter boxes and litter-box fillers make this once-malodorous task less offensive.
Different cats like different kinds of litter boxes. If your cat used a litter box at the shelter or its rescue home, start by using that same kind of litter box and filler. You can try switching to a different type of litter box later, after your cat has adjusted to her new home. If you have a kitten, choose a litter box that is easy to climb into and out of (see Figure 9-1a). Some cats prefer a covered litter box for privacy (see Figure 9-1b), but they need to be cleaned at least once a day to minimize the odor that can become trapped inside the enclosure. Self-cleaning litter boxes (see Figure 9-1c) can be fun and interesting, and some cats enjoy them. They make some cats nervous, however. Check out the marvelous array of litter box choices at your pet store before choosing one.
If your house has two floors, you need two litter boxes, one on each floor. If you have more than one cat, you need at least one litter box per cat, and preferably an extra one. The more litter boxes you have, the less stinky each one is going to be, and the more privacy your cats will have if they need to use a litter box at the same time. Cats are territorial and like to use the bathroom alone. You know how they feel, right? It isn’t exactly the time for a party.
Figure 9-1: Three popular types of litter boxes include a basic open pan (a), covered (b), and selfcleaning (c).
Some cats love to scratch and dig in clay litter. Others are happy to accept other litter media like recycled paper, corncob, or silica gel crystals. Again, it depends on the cat. Ask the shelter what kind of litter your new cat was using and start with that. Then, if you want to switch litter-box fillers, do so gradually, mixing new litter with old a little at a time. Cats don’t like change.
You have a few good choices in litter-box fillers. Clumping litter makes waste easier to scoop. Crystal litter shines when it comes to odor control. Or, try one of the many paper-pelleted or other natural or recycled cat box fillers. Ask a pet store employee to show you the options and explain the benefits of each. For a new kitten that is just learning litter-box training, start with the kind of litter you think you want to use for the rest of the cat’s life. After your kitten gets used to it, you shouldn’t have any problems. In a few cases, cats reject a certain kind of litter. If your cat won’t use the litter box, try switching types of litter to see whether that solves the problem.
As for showing your new cat how to use the litter box, see the “Getting acclimated” section later in this chapter for more information. For more about how to troubleshoot when your cat isn’t crazy about the whole litter-box concept, turn to Chapter You Really Can Train a Cat
Sweet dreams, kitty
Some cats insist on sleeping with you in your bed, and many cat owners happily oblige their furry little bed warmers. Others, however, don’t want their cats in their beds, don’t have the space, or can’t have cat hair in the bedroom. Some cats, by the way, would simply rather sleep alone. For all these reasons, preparing a comfortable, cozy cat bed that’s ready and awaiting the arrival of your adopted cat is a good idea. You can buy a simple cat bed, or just place a pillow or a folded blanket or sheet either in your bedroom or wherever your cat likes to take catnaps — on a corner of the couch or in an armchair, or maybe on a special sunny spot on the carpet. Some cats like their beds near the action; others prefer secluded spots. You’ll get a good idea of where your cat feels comfortable after she arrives in your home. Just make your best guess when placing the new cat bed beforehand. You can always move it later.
Collar and I.D. tags
A collar or harness with identification is a must for all pet cats. Your cat always needs to wear identification just in case he gets outside and someone finds him. Many shelters insert microchips in their cats, but this measure alone isn’t enough, because many people who find cats don’t have access to or know about microchip readers, and not every microchip reader reads every type of microchip. Today, many vets and shelters have universal microchip readers that are better able to get information off different brands of microchips, but even so, ID tags are an extra precaution. As for collars, a basic collar with a metal or plastic buckle works well for most cats, although cats that will walk on a leash may prefer the secure feeling of a harness.
Introducing a collar can be terrifying for some kittens or adult cats that have never worn one before. Some panic and thrash about until they get the collar under the chin and caught across the mouth. Some even get a front leg into the collar, if loose enough, and get stuck. In this panic state, getting the collar off can be difficult. So the first few times you put a collar on your new cat, make sure you supervise the cat for a while to monitor her reaction, and be sure the collar is fitted well, for your cat’s safety.
Cat trees and scratching posts
Cats need to scratch, climb, prowl, and explore. This impulse is part of what cat lovers love about cats! But if you don’t want that scratching and prowling to happen all over your good furniture, your cat needs some furniture of her own. Scratching posts and cat trees are perfect substitutes. Their carpeted surfaces beg to be scratched and usually are more appealing than that boring old leather sofa. Cat trees that enable your pet to climbing and have spaces in which your cat can hide are great for naps and the occasional mock hunting expeditions. Your local pet store likely has plenty of options, and you may consider placing scratching posts or cat trees in several different locations around your house, so your cat always has easily accessible cats-only territories to roam. Some people become creative building their own cat trees and scratching posts. Photos and even descriptions and directions for building many of these inspirational cat structures can be found on the Internet. Just search on “do it yourself cat trees” or “build your own cat tree,” or other similar phrases.
Pretty kitty: Grooming supplies
Regardless of whether your cat’s fur is long or short, it needs to be groomed. A daily brushing keeps your cat’s coat in good condition and tangle-free, and it minimizes cat hair in the house. A flea comb not only helps you spot any invading pests before they get a foothold but also helps to remove tangles all the way down to the skin. You also need a nail clipper to trim the tips of your cat’s nails. For more about grooming your cat, see Chapter Kitty Care
Cats just wanna have fun: Cat toys
Toys aren’t just a luxury for cats. Cats need them to stimulate and challenge their playful spirits, quick intellects, and agile bodies. Toys frankly help cats stay healthy.
Some cat toys, however, can be hazardous. Look for toys that don’t have small pieces that can break off or get loose, becoming a choking hazard for your animal. String and yarn, if swallowed, can cause severe intestinal damage or get caught around paws or even necks. Instead, look for solid, rolling, wobbling, jingling, dangling, bouncing, squeaking, fuzzy, or catnip-scented toys. From balls cats can fetch to cat teasers, the options are endless. Even a tantalizingly dangling bathrobe tie or shoelace attached to a shoe can be fun.
One toy not to try: your hand. A common habit is to make your hand a toy for a playful kitten, moving your fingers around, and scooting your hand around. Using your hand as a toy may be fun at first, but when your cat is an adult with large sharp claws, it can become annoying. Don’t let your cat get into the habit of thinking fingers are toys for batting and biting. If your adopted cat already is in this habit, try putting on a hand puppet and training her to play with that instead.
A favorite toy of some cats is a simple flashlight. Just train the beam on the wall and floor and move it around. Your cat may really enjoy “hunting” that elusive spot of light. Hours of fun!
Spoiling Fluffy with fancy supplies
Okay, you don’t really need that purple velvet, jewel-encrusted, gold-tasseled sleigh bed for your cat. But if it exactly matches your purple velvet, jewelencrusted, gold-tasseled sleigh bed, well . . . how can you possibly resist?
Although the majority of fru-fru fancy pet products still are designed for dogs, cats are claiming an increasing market share of the luxury pet-supply market. Plus, many of the pet supplies designed for tiny toy dogs work just great for cats. Some of the highest of the high-end products include:
- Cat beds: Available in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and price points, basic beds are pretty inexpensive, but you can spend hundreds of dollars on elegant to whimsical chaises, canopy beds, cat hammocks, and other furniture-quality cat beds.
- Outdoor options: Roaming cats are not safe cats, but that doesn’t mean your cat never again gets a taste of the great outdoors. For cats that are accustomed to wandering, which often is the case with cats in animal shelters, the transition to indoor living can be difficult, but pet-product manufacturers have come up with some pretty ingenious ways to let cats enjoy the fresh air safely: mesh tunnels and towers that connect and provide a play space in the yard, mesh-covered kitty strollers for walks around the neighborhood, and leashes and walking harnesses for more willing cats.
- Bling-bling: Swarovski crystal collars, pretty pendants made of metal and rhinestones in the shapes of hearts, fish, birds, stars, and hundreds of other shapes, rhinestone letters that slip along a collar to spell the cat’s name or a pithy comment (“Cats Rule,” “Princess,” “So Catty”).
- Kitty couture: You can deck your kitty out in clothing from hats and sweaters to Halloween costumes, fancy holiday party-wear like feathery stoles shaped like collars, and whimsical jester collars with bells. Yes, some cats actually like wearing this stuff.
- Technology: You can indulge in high-tech variations of many of the products mentioned in previous sections in this chapter: fancy cat drinking fountains, automatic feeders, the fanciest self-cleaning litter boxes, to name just a few.
- Cat trees extraordinaire: Some people have elaborate room-sized cat trees and climbing apparatuses. Some people even devote entire rooms in their homes to their cats.
Of course, if money is an issue, you’re better off spending it on a high-quality cat food, a good litter box with an effective cat-box filler, and proper veterinary care. But spoiling an adopted pet can be a lot of fun, especially when such pets never have had the opportunity to have attention lavished on them before. Why, a cat can get used to this kind of star treatment.
What to Expect When You Get Home
Any cat is going to be a little nervous when you first adopt him and bring him home. He doesn’t know what to expect, and you probably don’t, either! Every cat is different, and you, the cat, and everyone concerned have to figure out together how the newby fits into your household. When introducing a new cat into your home, don’t be in a rush; take things slowly, gradually introducing your new cat to family members, pets, and surroundings.
Before you bring kitty home, set up a safe haven for your new friend — preferably a relatively secluded room such as a spare bedroom where you plan to keep the litter box.
Cats have a couple of requirements when it comes to their personal bathroom spot. They don’t like it:
- Anywhere near their food
- Anywhere near their bed
You can keep the litter box and the cat’s bed in the same room, especially at first, but put them on opposite sides of the room, or put the litter box behind something so it is at least partially hidden. The litter box needs to be placed where the cat can easily get to it without feeling anxious about a lot of nearby activity or loud noises from appliances, water heaters, or furnaces.
As soon as you get home, take your new cat to her special room and let her explore the space — including the litter box — and play with you. Showing your new cat this space is especially important when you have another cat or a dog. When that’s the case, your new cat needs to stay in her small room for about a week. Although an entire week may seem like a long time to confine your new cat to one room, this adjustment period is important. Your new cat becomes familiar with her new home more quickly, thus minimizing an otherwise difficult adjustment. For more about safely introducing your new cat to other pets, see the section on “Meeting resident pets” later in this chapter.
If at first your cat doesn’t seem inclined to use the litter box or know what it’s for, don’t worry. The concept may be new, even to an adult cat, and certainly to a young kitten (although many kittens take to the litter box immediately). Just be patient. Put the cat next to the litter box. If she steps in to explore, great! If not, try putting her in the litter box, repeating the process every hour or two. Scratch the litter a little. “See, isn’t this fun, kitty?” If she steps right back out and wanders elsewhere, don’t worry about it. You don’t want her to associate the litter box with your anxiety! Eventually she will see the litter box as the best gig in town when it comes to her gastrointestinal needs. See Chapter You Really Can Train a Cat
for help dealing with litter-box problems.
Meeting the family
Your new cat needs to meet every person who lives in your home and preferably relatives, friends, and other frequent visitors. Don’t worry so much about doing this all at once; acquainting your new kitten with one or two people at a time is better.
On the first day home, each family member needs to approach the kitten or cat individually and spend some quality time interacting and playing together in the cat’s special safe room. Small children must be instructed never to pick up a kitten, because if the kitten leaps out of their arms or they drop the kitten, he can be seriously injured. Instead, have family members sit on the floor and let the kitten explore them. Dangle tempting toys, offer tiny treats, and ply your new cat with praise and stroking. Most cats are quickly won over this way.
Some particularly shy adopted cats, however, may take a little longer to warm up to you. That’s just fine. If your cat is shy, nervous, or traumatized, give him time alone in his small room (with litter box, cat bed, food and water dishes, and a few toys). If he hides for several hours, that’s fine, too. Eventually he will grow braver and venture out. If your cat is shy or fearful, don’t rush to touch him or pick him up. Let him come to you. Be slow, soft, gentle, and encouraging. Don’t make sudden movements, yell, laugh loudly, or run around. Show your kitten that your home is a safe haven for him and that you’re ready to be his friend when he’s ready.
Children need to be particularly careful about how they act when they first meet a new cat. Although some outgoing cats are friendly and open to immediate, enthusiastic interaction with humans, children can startle a shy cat with loud voices and sudden, quick, and sporadic movements. Even if your cat takes a few weeks to really warm up to you, that’s okay — all in good time. Patience brings you the best results, even when you’re itching to interact with your new cat.
Meeting resident pets
When first bringing a new cat into a household where you already have another animal, you must be particularly careful and exercise caution with all such pet-to-pet introductions. Sometimes, resident pets are happy to accept a playmate, but in many cases, pets can get jealous, territorial, threatened, or just generally very unhappy about this unexpected change in their lives. Read on for some strategies on the best way to introduce pets to each other.
Introducing other cats and dogs
Some adopted cats have had bad experiences with dogs or other cats. In many cases, the resident cat feels slighted by you, territorial about the house, or threatened by the presence of another cat. Some dogs may not know what to make of a new cat, but the cat usually knows what to make of that dumb old dog. Caution and safe distances are in order.
The first thing to do is to keep your new cat with all her things in a room to which the resident cat or dog has no access. Don’t let your resident cat or dog even see your new cat. Bring her into the house with the other animals in their own special place — put away. Leave your new cat in this room for a week, but, of course, be sure to visit and pay attention to your cat, frequently feeding, playing with, and grooming her. For now, though, let this room be her entire universe.
In the meantime, resident cats and dogs eventually figure out that there’s another critter on the other side of that door. Cats may hiss or spit or simply be curious. If your dog barks at the door, take him away. Don’t let him startle the new cat, but guide him calmly to the door for appropriate sniffing and talk to him about the new cat so he gets the feeling from you that whatever he’s smelling and hearing on the other side is neither a threat nor an invader but rather a new family member.
Pets take their cues from you, so the more you act like the situation is entirely normal, not all that exciting, and one that requires good behavior, the faster your other pets understand.
As the week goes on, new and resident pets grow increasingly accustomed to the presence of the animal on the other side of the door. They may even stick their paws underneath the crack of the door to bat at each other (see Figure 9-2). When the cats or cat and dog seem more interested than frightened, try opening up the door just about an inch.
Figure 9-2: Introduce cats for the first time on opposite sides of a door. They can smell, hear, and even touch each other without feeling threatened.
The open door may engender a whole new series of hissing, spitting, scratching, barking, and clawing. If that happens, close the door. Be patient. Stay calm. Try it again in a few hours. Repeat this new exposure multiple times a day for as long as it takes the animals to react in a friendly — or at least neutral — way toward each other. When all parties understand that everybody else is A-okay, you can at long last let your new cat out of his little room.
But wait! Before you do that, you need to play the old switcheroo. Remember, the new cat hasn’t explored the rest of your great big home yet and may be frightened by this experience. So, instead of letting all your pets mingle in a big free-for-all, pick up your new cat, have another family member pick up your resident cat or put your dog on a leash, and switch places. As your new cat gets to explore the rest of the house, resident pets can explore the room where the new cat has been staying. The room is full of interesting aromas and other signs of the new pet, and giving resident pets access to it further increases each pet’s knowledge of and comfort level with the other.
Finally, gradually let the animals meet in the same room for the first time. Have someone to help you, and maintain control at all times so cats don’t fight. Make sure each pet has an easy escape route if one happens to get away from you. Keep the dog on a leash until you’re sure it and the new cat will interact in a friendly manner. Don’t let the new cat pounce on or scratch the dog, and don’t let the dog lunge or run toward the cat. If détente doesn’t prevail so well at first, don’t be discouraged. You can always return the cat to her familiar room. She won’t mind, as long as she gets enough attention, food, water, a comfortable place to sleep, and a clean litter box. Going slow with introductions is better than rushing matters and having to repair a damaged relationship — or a damaged pet!
Introducing a new cat to the household may seem like an ordeal, but after your adopted cat and other pets accept each other’s presence and work out their issues, you should have a happy household. In a few cases, pet combinations simply don’t work, and you may have to enlist the shelter or rescue group’s help in finding a new home for your adopted cat, but in most cases, with proper, slow, patient, calm introductions, that won’t be necessary.
Introducing your cat to small animals, birds, and fish
And what about the other critters you may have in your household? If you have small animals like hamsters, rabbits, lizards, or pet birds, you must remember that cats are natural hunters, and these kinds of animals are their usual prey. Protecting these animals is your responsibility. You cannot expect a cat, no matter how well trained, to leave a small animal or bird alone if she has full access. Remember Sylvester and Tweety? Tom and Jerry? Your cat won’t let Tweety’s or Jerry’s quick thinking (or Granny, for that matter) get in the way of a good meal.
Small animals must be kept in cages or tanks that are secure enough to keep a clever, curious cat from lifting off or pray opening the lid with her paws or nose. Keep small animals in a room to which the cat has no access, unless you’re directly supervising to make sure your cat doesn’t get a little too curious. Birds also need to be kept in a separate space unless your cat absolutely cannot reach the cage. Never, however, underestimate the cleverness and agility of your average cat. Adopted cats that have lived on the streets and had to find their own food may be particularly adept at hunting, so be on your guard at all times to protect your small animals.
If you have a fish tank, be sure that it has a strong, secure glass top or other covering that won’t permit your cat any access. Many cats try to bat at or catch fish and are fascinated by their movements in the water. Conversely a small kitten can even fall into a fish tank and not be able to get back out, so exercising caution is a two-way street: Keep your fish tank covered. If you have a resident cat and you’re considering a small animal, perhaps you need to reconsider. Some cats won’t bother small animals, but if you’re not sure, or you’re not sure about your ability to keep the two separate, there’s no reason to put a small animal at risk.
Run of the house
After a week or so, your cat should be feeling happy and confident. She may have even given you the slip and popped out of her safe room to have a look around the house. If so, that’s great. That means she’s feeling self-possessed enough to explore. Some cats are ready for a look around more quickly than others. If your cat hasn’t yet ventured out, you can begin leaving the door to the cat room open. Sit outside the room doing something fun and irresistible, like dangling a cat teaser or brandishing a yummy treat. Don’t put pressure on kitty but instead, act relaxed, calm, happy, and as if you’re having the time of your life out there in the big old world. Most cats — being curious — are happy to come out and have a look around. Always leave the cat room door open, however, so your cat can return to her safe room if she feels the need. You can move the litter box at this point if you want to, but do it gradually, moving it just two or three feet every day until it’s where you want it. Remember that the litter box and water dish always need to be accessible. Most cats can’t open doors.
Recognizing Adjustment Problems
Most cats adjust quickly to their new homes but some — particularly adopted cats that have been shuttled around to multiple homes, spent a long time wandering, or were abused — may have a harder time settling in. While shelters or rescue groups should not offer cats with serious behavior problems for adoption, cats sometimes don’t display these qualities until you get them home. If your cat refuses to use the litter box, hides constantly, or behaves aggressively, you may be able to resolve these problems using the training strategies in Chapter You Really Can Train a Cat
. In most cases, with a little patience, a regular routine, and daily training, you can help your cat to adjust nicely. Chapter You Really Can Train a Cat
also tells you how and where to find a feline behavioral consultant, if you can’t seem to resolve the issue and aren’t sure what to do.
All cats crave a regular routine, whether they are adjusting nicely to their home or having some problems, so establish one right away to make your new cat feel comfortable. Feed your cat at the same time every day and have a play and/or training session or two at the same time every day. Let your cat look forward to the morning grooming session, the after-work cuddle time, and the evening television/lap-cat hour. If your cat knows what to expect from you and her new life, she gains confidence faster.
The first few weeks with a new kitten can be the most challenging, but after everyone gets to know one another and settles into a new routine, life should get back to normal . . . or even better than normal, because now you have a new adopted cat, and cats make life a little nicer. Purrrrr . . . fect.
by Eve Adamson