5 min.

How to prepare for adopting a cat

Cats are the most popular pet in Canadian homes, both in terms of the number of households that have one and the total number of cats. Generally, adopting a cat is not as thoroughly planned as adopting a dog. Although it is common to learn about a dog's breed and behavioural needs before taking the plunge, cat adopters often bring their new pet into the family without following any such steps (article “the right cat for you”). After all, it is common for an outside cat to take up residence in a backyard until the humans allow it in. Other people fall in love with a kitten they see through a shop window. “A cat is simple and independent, so it will all work out. You don't need to take it outside for it to do its business, and no long daily walks!” some will say. But is that really true? 

Adapting the home to meet its needs

Litter: Put a lot of thought into the litterboxes. How many, where to put them, what size, what kind of litter, and how they will be regularly cleaned are important factors that will determine if the cat will use them to do what they are there for.

Food: Ask a veterinarian to make the right food choices, and provide meals in interactive feeders

Socialization and solitude: Provide playtime and interaction every day. When children are present, prepare a place where the cat will not be bothered. That way, if it wants to be alone, it will know where to go.

Physical activity and rest: Allow free access to windows, add shelves to walls for more raised surfaces, include hiding places on the ground, offer safe toys (balls, mice, snakes) by putting them in places where the cat walks by, and regularly rotate them in order to keep its interest

A smooth arrival full of pleasant experiences

If one or more cats are already living in the home, it is critical to introduce them appropriately so they will get off on the right paw. A gradual introduction, combined with fun activities, is essential. 

Even if the new cat is to be the only pet in the household, it is still important to keep it in a separate room for a few days. That way, it will be able to quickly assess this limited environment and feel safe there. In addition to the essentials (water, food, litter), that room should have several hiding places. Cardboard boxes can do the trick. Inside them, a frightened cat can take refuge and gain confidence. 

It is important to let each cat adapt to this new lifestyle at its own pace. A frightened pet should never be forced out, as this could make it even more touchy. That is why any interaction must be a pleasant one. To do so, the cat should be allowed to come toward the family members who offer appealing food and the freedom to explore its environment as they watch from afar. As the days go by, once it feels more comfortable, the door to the isolated room should be opened, enabling access to another part of the house. Gradually, the distance it travels out will be extended until it has access to the entire home.

Prevent unwanted behaviours

Although a cat has a strong ability to adapt, remember that as an animal species it has its own needs, just like a dog does. Not just its biological needs, but also its social and environmental needs must be met if you want to live together in harmony. A pet that roams an enclosed environment that only partially meets its needs might exhibit behaviours that the human feels are inappropriate, due to the stress it is being caused on a regular basis. The tolerance threshold may vary from one cat to another. Some will be fine living with nuisances, while others will be more sensitive to changes.

Some behaviours are easy to prevent. For instance, avoid playing with your hands. Instead, use toys on a stick, fishing-rod-style. This way, the cat will not associate human skin with playtime and biting.

Education and routine care

Besides doing the right things when interacting with the cat, you will also need to eliminate hazards around the home. Cut down on breakable objects that could fall, toxic plants within easy reach, etc. 

You will also need cat care tools. A brush and comb for its fur as well as a claw trimmer are essential. To start using them correctly, gradually introduce them in association with food; this is the best way to make the experience more pleasant for the cat. To trim claws without injuring the cat, consult a professional who can show you how.

When it is harder than expected

It is common to see some cats have a tougher time adapting to a new environment and new people. The resulting symptoms may be both physical and behavioural. If a new pet is unable to meet its basic needs (eating, drinking, urinating, defecating), consult a veterinarian first to make sure it is healthy. After this has been done, a cat behaviourist will be able to put the right conditions in place so that the feline can become a happy member of the household.