What Is the 3 - 3 - 3 Approach to Cats?

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Adopted cats go through an adjustment period when they start to live in their new homes. You and your new cat need time to become comfortable and learn a daily routine together. Creating a structure in advance for your first three days, three weeks, and three months together will help your cat settle in. A method called, the 3 - 3 - 3 approach breaks down providing your new cat a sense of security in their forever home — in kibble-sized bites!

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Giving your new cat three days to decompress

What to expect from your cat

This is an incredibly stressful period for your new cat. A new cat seeks shelter and comfort when coming home from a shelter or humane society. They will often hide in closets or under beds and couches. They may even try to escape from their home. A new cat's anxiety can also affect their appetite, interest in toys, and sociability levels.

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What can help your cat adjust

Be prepared with pet supplies:‌ Buy everything your new family member needs before they come home. You will need beds and cat trees, a litter box and litter, toys, food and water bowls, and cat food. Set up everything in a small cat-proofed room.

Create a safe place:
‌ Limit your new cat to their small room for, at minimum, these first three days. A bed, kennel, and cat tree are safe spaces — but they should be accessible to you. Diffusing or spraying calming pheromones can also help this room feel even safer.

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Limit family and pet interactions:‌ When it comes to making friends with cats during an adjustment period — less is more. Visit your new cat's safe space, but let them come to you on their own terms for affection. If you have other pets, it is too early to introduce them at the three-day stage.

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Establish a cat feeding routine:‌ Feed your cat extra enticing food at the same time every day. You are now a dependable source of something delicious!

Offer cat enrichment:‌ Encouraging a cat's natural hunting instincts makes their new surroundings appealing and releases stress. Play is a great way to bond with your cat, but if your cat is too nervous you should still provide an interesting environment.

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Giving your cat three weeks to learn their new home routine

What to expect from your cat

Your new cat will acclimate best when they know what to expect on a daily basis. After a few weeks of calm, and a consistent daily routine, little flashes of your cat's true personality should start to shine through. However, you may see other behavior issues arise as your cat starts to settle.

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What can help your cat continue to adjust

Stay the course:‌ You're building their trust. Don't change your cat's feeding schedule. Visit them at the same times every day.

Open up the house:‌ If your new cat isn't hiding, and is behaving confidently, open the door to their safe room and let them explore parts of your house. Use baby gates and closed doors to secure anywhere you don't want to go.

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Get to know each other:‌ Introduce more toys, enrichment, and affection. Learn their preferences. Their body language will tell you if they are enjoying your company.

Begin pet introductions:‌ Introducing your new cat to your other cats, or dogs, should be done slowly. This is super important if your other pets have never been around cats. Don't put your pets together in the same room during the first week or two. Instead, "swap" items, such as beds or blankets so they smell each other first.

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Watch for behavioral challenges:‌ According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, common feline behavioral challenges include aggression, litter box issues, and marking — which both male cats and female cats can do. Other destructive behaviors include scratching, as well as excessive meowing and yowling. If these issues continue, look into working with a behaviorist.

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Giving your cat three months to start fully setting in

What to expect from your cat

Your cat knows when to expect meals and treats. You've figured out how they like to play and be touched. You won't know everything about who your cat is, but you've also started to pick up on a few of their preferences — and quirks. Depending on their years of age or individual temperament some cats take more than three months to settle into their forever homes.

What can help your cat to move forward

Opening up your world:‌ If your cat hasn't gone to a veterinarian, schedule an appointment. Having a cat stay indoors is always the safest option instead of wandering outside. But if you still want your cat to experience the great outdoors — you can start working on your dream catio!

Up your training and enrichment:‌ Try virtual cat training classes! Create an obstacle course for your cat! Keep bonding with your cat through positive reinforcement training and enrichment.

Professional help:‌ If your first three months together haven't exactly been a honeymoon, seek professional help through a certified behaviorist. Try to find a behaviorist located in your area.

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The bottom line

Helping recently adopted cats adjust to their forever home is all about letting them grow at their own pace. The 3 - 3 - 3 Approach is a great way to appreciate and plan for your new cat's adjustment period. Let them take their time, by taking your time.

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