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  • Writer's pictureZia Mowbray

Bringing Home a Shelter Cat

Bringing home a new pet can be so exciting for you and your family, but it’s important to keep in mind the anxiety your new pet might be feeling with so many big changes at once.

So, we have outlined a few procedures for you to follow to make the transition as easy as possible, and stop problems before they start.

  • First, understand your new cat's old life. 

Before you bring your new cat home, you need to think about where your cat came from. Changes to an environment can cause major stress to a cat, especially after they’ve made a shelter their safe space they know and feel comfortable in. By maintaining a similar environment and routine you can reduce the stress for the cat in the beginning, making them feel safe. (You will be able to gradually change their routine over time, but we’ll discuss that later on.)

To make sure you get as close to their original environment as possible, ask yourself these questions:

 Was the cat staying in a cage, a room or in a foster home?

 Were there other cats living there or was your cat alone?

 Was the environment noisy or quiet?

 How often did the cat get fed and where did the cat sleep?

If you don’t know the answer to any of the questions, you can easily ask the shelter you are adopting your cat from. These answers are very important and will shape the conditions you’ll need to try and replicate when you bring your cat home. For example, if you have another pet, but the cat was alone when in the shelter’s care, you should keep your new cat isolated for a few days, then give them a blanket or toy with your other pet’s scent to get used to, then you can slowly start introducing them. This allows your new cat to adjust slowly, making it a better experience for them. Your other pets may need similar adjustments, as a new pet is a big change for them too!

Two dogs happy with their newly adopted cat

  • Prepare for your cat's arrival.

​There are a few things you’ll need to have bought before you bring your new cat home. These are: 

Food and water bowls (At first feed your cat the same food it was eating at the shelter - you can gradually change later).


Cat bed, toys, brushes and scratching post.

Cat litter tray and litter (Use the same litter that the cat has been using).

Put these items in the place that most resembles their old space, for example, if they were in a room, keep everything (and your cat) in the laundry to get used to before you show them the rest of your house. If they were in foster care at a house, you can probably spread these items around a bit more.

  • Adjust your cat to their new environment slowly.

Many cats are fearful when introduced to their new home.  They have been moved from a small enclosure to a large space. The smells, noises and everyday interactions are different so must gradually transition your cat into the new environment.

To make this easier, confine your new cat to one room and spend regular time with them for the first few days.

To make sure the cat is stimulated, place a scratching post in the room. Placing your new cat's scent on the pole will make your cat more comfortable and use it more. It means there are more familiar smells in their room as well. To place the cat's scent, gently rub its face with a towel and wipe the towel on the post.

Give your cat time to adjust to the room, and to you. Never force a new cat to stay close to you or to interact when it does not want to, this will just make them scared. Give them space and provide multiple hiding places so it can feel secure and safe if needed. A cardboard box with holes cut in both sides and a blanket in the bottom is a favourite for cats. Provide hiding places on the ground as well as up high, and always leave the cat alone when it is in a private hiding space.

Spend time playing with the cat with toys and stay near the food bowl while the cat is feeding. It will soon get used to you and the new environment.

After three days, or once your cat is comfortably living in that room let it access the rest of the house. Some cats may take several weeks to adapt so be patient and do not force the cat to investigate further until it is ready.

Ginger cat happy with new family after being adopted

  • ​​Watch for signs of stress and help your cat to adjust.

Signs of stress can include decreased appetite, lack of grooming, hiding and lack of interest in attention or affection. Sometimes a stressed cat will behave quieter than normal or be fearful or aggressive despite the fact that it is not the cat’s normal character. Just make sure you are staying close, talk softly to the cat and give them attention. This will help make them understand you are there to help them.

As the cat becomes more comfortable in its new environment the signs of stress will decrease, however if they continue for more than a month you should speak with your veterinarian.

  • ​Feed your cat.

Cats eat less when they are stressed, and sometimes stop eating altogether. It is very important to make sure that your cat is eating adequate amounts regularly. If possible, buy the same type of food that the shelter used. If they are not eating try mixing in a little bit of a tastier food such as canned tuna or salmon.

After at least two days, or once the cat is eating regularly you can gradually change him over to another type of food. It is important to change slowly or you may find the cat will not eat the new food or the change of diet causes digestive problems. Follow these procedures to make a change to a new diet by using the shelter food and the new food mixed together.

Day one and two -25% of new diet to 75% of shelter

Day three and four - 50% of each

Day five and six - 75% of new diet to 25% of shelter diet

Day seven - 100% of new diet

Cats do best with two meals a day but if you decide to give your cat free choice by leaving dry food out at all times keep an eye on the cat’s weight (they tend to overeat when food is constantly available).

  • ​Make sure your cat is happy with the litter tray.

One of the most common reasons that cats are surrendered is litter tray problems so you need to make sure your cat is happy with the new tray. Following the recommendations below can make a difference between a cat that is house trained and one that isn’t.

Provide your cat with an uncovered, clean litter tray.  Do not use a covered litter tray as the cat will not like the odours trapped inside.

Cats are often quite picky. They are sensitive to the smell of urine and faeces, as well as deodorisers. Reducing the smell inside and around the litter tray is very important.

Scoop out the litter tray once daily and empty it completely to clean once a week. Use a mild soap, not strong-smelling detergents or bleach to clean the litter tray.

  • ​Keep your cat amused with toys.

Cats like novelty so buy several different types of toys and try them out. Do not put out the toys and expect your cat (particularly an adult) to play with them alone. Play with the toys with your cat. Don’t worry if the cat does not want to play at first. Give it time and try different toys. You will probably find one of the most liked toys by your cat will be the feathers on a stick.

Bringing home a new cat and making sure they’re comfortable can be a slow process, but after a few weeks you will have a companion like no other, filling your days with love and joy. If you want to read further, we recommend this or this, or if you are looking to adopt a cat, click here.


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