If you're welcoming a new cat into your life, congrats to both of you! Whether you have cat handling experience or are a first-time feline guardian, there are some things to keep in mind upon bringing your new friend home. Essentially, preparedness, education, and patience are the main things to practice, which will set up both you and your cat to have the most positive, productive experience possible.
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1. Know your cat’s health
One easy and important way to get to know your cat is to have an understanding of their medical health. If you can, find out their approximate age and whether or not they've been spayed or neutered. Take note of when they received their last round of shots. It can be helpful to know if they're on flea preventative, and what kind of food they've been eating. If you've adopted your cat, all of this information should be easy to obtain from the agency they came from. They will either tell you or you can ask before you even bring them home so you can get an understanding of your cat's needs.
2. Be patient with your new cat
Coming home to a new house filled with new people and learning a new routine can be stressful for anyone, including cats, even if the change is a huge upgrade. New cats can display a range of behaviors — some will be playful and curious right off the bat, while others may be shy, withdrawn, and even a bit nervous upon coming home. In those early days, keep things simple by placing their food and water where it can be easily reached, as well as a litter box, and offer hiding spaces to help them become acclimated.
3. Make slow introductions
If you have another cat in your home already, or any other pets who might be very interested to meet this new potential feline friend, it's important that you introduce everyone slowly and carefully. In fact, introducing two cats is often done over a period of several days or even weeks, through closed doors, screens, or gate partitions. You can offer treats to encourage forming positive associations around each other, and be sure to supervise their time together until it's been established that you can leave them safely.
4. Find a veterinarian you like
Part of having a pet is providing medical care over the course of their life, and that isn't possible without the help of a veterinarian you trust. To find a great vet, you can try asking your cat-having friends who they see, and what they like about them. If you're looking for low-cost veterinary options in your area, you can look into community clinics, mobile spay and neuter clinics or funding programs, and even your local animal shelter, which may provide medical care for pets at a price that's affordable for most people.
5. Understand cat body language
Cats obviously cannot speak the same language as us, but that doesn't mean they aren't communicating constantly. Body language is the main way animals communicate with each other, and because we are so close to them, they display the same behaviors around us. We just have to know what to look for. Common cat body language cues to recognize include rubbing, which "marks" us with pheromones, tail switching, which can signal agitation or fear, and hissing, which tells anyone close by to stay away, at least for the time being.
6. Know that cats have primal needs
You may have noticed or heard of cats doing things like killing birds or mice and bringing them to their human's doorstep, or stalking the neighbor's dog from behind tall grass. These behaviors are due to traits inherited from their wild ancestors, which were used to keep wild cats safe and fed. While most cats today, especially indoor cats, don't need to stalk and hunt down their food, these behaviors still exist within them, and that's something a new cat parent must accept and try to understand. It's important that you not punish or scold your cat for exhibiting their natural instincts while still maintaining healthy boundaries with them so that everyone in the home is safe.
7. Make enrichment a priority
In order to meet your cat's primal needs, like stalking, hiding, and even zooming around the house just before dawn, offering enrichment activities for them to engage in at their leisure is incredibly important. Every cat will have their own specific set of needs and activities they enjoy, but common examples of enrichment include offering them something to pounce on, like toy mice, having things to climb and scratch, like a cat tower, and offering things to chase, like a loose piece of string or a cat dancer toy.
8. Check your houseplants
Houseplants are a great way to add an element of design to a space while also improving the air quality of a room, but many houseplants are actually toxic to cats. Before you bring your cat home, be sure to do a quick check to see if your houseplants are cat-safe, and donate or gift any that aren't to avoid a potentially toxic experience.
9. Be OK with things changing
When you bring a cat, or any pet, into your home, it's important to remember that the life you have before your pet will not look exactly the same as it does now. That's not to say that everyone's life becomes turned upside down completely to care for their cat, but making space for your cat's things is part of pet care. Additionally, cats will sometimes do destructive things around the house, like knock over cups, chew on plant leaves, and even have accidents that need to be cleaned up. Living with a cat involves compromising time and space, but is well worth the effort.
10. Make uncomfortable things fun
This isn't something that a new cat parent needs to do or even should do in the early days, but once your cat is settled in, it can help make ongoing care more comfortable down the road. Taking a cat to a vet's appointment or to a groomer can be quite an ordeal if they don't like going into a carrier or riding in the car. Offering treats and showing them that these experiences are not all bad, and definitely not permanent, can help your cat form good associations with these things. This makes it easier on everyone when the time comes.