Bringing a new cat or kitten home can be a really exciting time for you and your family. But for your new pet, it can be daunting to venture into a new territory, with new people and smells to get used to.
So, it’s important to be well prepared to make the experience as happy and comfortable as possible.
First, be sure you are making the right decision
Bringing a cat into your family can provide lots of fun, love and companionship. However, although cats are famously independent creatures, it is still a big decision to make and you need to give it some serious thought. A key point to consider when taking on a new family member is that the average lifespan for a domestic cat is about 12-14 years. However, some pet cats can live to be around 20 years old. Most importantly though, you need to be sure that you’ll be able to provide them with a safe and loving home.
Karen Thompson, deputy manager of Cats Protection’s National Cat Adoption Centre in Sussex, says: “There is an obligation on you, as an owner, to ensure all your cat's welfare needs are met - from a suitable environment and diet, to the freedom to exhibit normal behaviour patterns.”
If you’re considering getting a cat, first see our checklist of questions to help you make the right decision.
What you’ll need for your new cat
You’ll need to consider a few additional items for your home, to keep your cat happy and secure in its new residence. Essentials include:
- One food and one water bowl
- A bed: an igloo bed can be a good option as these can offer a feeling of safety and security
- A litter tray and cat litter
- A sturdy scratching post: scratching helps keep your cats’ claws in good condition
- A brush: the RSPCA suggests grooming long haired cats daily, and short-haired cats once a week
- Some cat toys to play with, such as a fishing rod toy for them to grab at
- A cat carrier: if your cat is particularly nervous, you might want to spray a pheromone spray before putting your cat inside
- A cat flap
Find a vet and plan for vaccinations
Ask local cat owners to recommend a good vet, and get your cat registered. Even if your cat doesn't get poorly, there are several reasons you’ll need to see a vet.
One is for vaccinations: whether they’re an indoor or outdoor cat, vaccinations can protect them from several of the most serious feline infectious diseases. According to the RSPCA kittens should have their first set of vaccinations at nine weeks old and then a second set at three months old.
You’ll also need to get your cat neutered, to prevent the unexpected arrival of kittens! Cats Protection recommends that kittens are neutered at four months old or younger, although they can be neutered at any age.
Also ask your vet - or a trained and insured member of an animal welfare organisation - to microchip your cat. The procedure is simple, doesn’t harm them, and can help reunite you with your pet if they ever go missing.
On the practical side of things you should also consider pet insurance to cover costs such as unexpected vet bills.
Set up a space for your new cat
Bringing a new cat home doesn’t just involve buying all the gear. You’ll also need to set up a feline-friendly space, it’s a little bit like child proofing.
That means ensuring that you kitten proof your house as best you can – so all of the areas your cat can get to are safe. So, make sure you remove potential hazards like cleaning products or anything that could be knocked over.
Do you live near a busy road? If so, you may need to invest in properly cat-proofing your garden to reduce the risks of them getting near the road. Other dangers to bear in mind include ponds and plants that are poisonous to cats, like lilies.
Your cat will also need its own private space - away from dogs, kids and guests. It might want to hide away when there are lots of new faces at home. Try putting a cardboard box on top of a tall piece of furniture, as cats are drawn to high areas, especially if they’re anxious.
Help your cat to explore their new home
Your cat may be a little scared at first in their new home. To help them settle in, you need to keep everything as calm and gentle as possible.
The first time you bring your cat home, give them some space to explore for an hour or so - or more if they need it.
If they choose to hide, don’t force them to come out. Instead, sit nearby and talk to them quietly and gently.
You can then start introducing yourself and your family, one at a time. If you have children, ask them to be calm and let your cat come to them, rather than the other way around. If you do have children at home, it might be wise to set a few ground rules with them on do’s and don’ts.
If it’s a kitten you’re bringing home, Cats Protection says instead of leaving them on their own, provide them with a safe and secure bed (or cardboard box) at ground level. Once they seem settled, you can show them to their food and bowls, scratching post and bed.
It can be a slow process introducing a new cat to your home and family and it shouldn’t be rushed. Karen from Cats Protection says: “A change of environment is stressful for a cat and it can take a while for them to feel settled. Take one step at a time, be patient and always work at the cat's pace when letting them adjust to their new setting.”
Let your cat explore outside
It’s best to make sure your cat is settled indoors and comfortable around you before you let them outside for the first time.
How long you leave it before letting them explore the great outdoors depends on your cat's personality and how settled they seem. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home suggests allowing at least 2-3 weeks for adult cats to settle in their new environment before allowing them out. For kittens, it recommends letting them out with supervised access to the outside once they’re about 4 months old, and have been neutered, had all their vaccinations, and are fully settled into your home.
For tips on how to keep your pet safe and happy, go to Solved.