How to Help a Newly Adopted Cat Adjust to a New Home

Cats are notoriously shy when they’re placed in a new environment. This can make it very difficult for the pet owner who has just adopted a new cat. The friendly, sweet cat you meet at the rescue is now a frightened, puffed-up ball of fur who’s hissing, swatting and she won’t come out from under the bed!

Whether it’s a kitten, young adult or an elderly cat, the methods for helping a new feline adjust to her new home are basically the same.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that behaviors such as hiding, hissing, swatting, growling, shyness and skiddishness are all very normal behaviors for a cat who is adopted into a new home. Of course, some cats do better than others. Kittens tend to do the best in a new, unfamiliar environment; this is because kittens are more naturally curious (really, the entire world is new to the kitten, so he’s used to new, unfamiliar situations!)

The best thing you can do when you adopt a new cat is to allow her to emerge and explore at her own pace. Don’t force the cat into a new situation. And don’t force yourself onto the cat. Some cats will find a human’s presence comforting, whereas other cats will want absolutely nothing to do with humans. Don’t take it personally if your new cat swats, hisses or even tries to nip! Once your cat gets her bearings, her true personality will emerge and you can begin the bonding process.

When you get kitty home, the first step is to place her in a “safe room.” This will be the cat’s home base of sorts. The “safe room” should be a low-traffic, fairly small location such as a bathroom, spare bedroom or even a walk-in closet (with the door left ajar, of course!) You can also use a large dog crate with a sheet placed over the top, sides and back. The safe room must be inaccessible to dogs and it should be a location that’s not frequented by other household cats.

The safe room must include a litter box, bed, and food and water bowl. Also, include a cozy hiding spot or “den” type area where the cat can feel secure. If you’re using a large dog crate, the actual crate will serve as the den. But if you’re using an actual room, provide the cat with a “den”, such as:

  • A small pet carrier
  • A box
  • A chair placed against the wall, with a blanket over the sides (leave one side open)

Place the cat’s food and water dish at the entrance of the “den” and place the litter box beside it, so she won’t have to venture very far to go potty.

When you arrive home with kitty, place her in the safe room and open the carrier. Don’t force the cat to exit the carrier; let her emerge at her own pace. If you’re using a dog crate, place the open carrier inside the kennel, on top of the bed area, and close the crate door.

Then, leave your cat alone for a period of time. Cats typically prefer to explore on their own, especially when they’re in a new, unfamiliar and frightening location. Generally, I prefer to allow the cat to be alone in her “safe room” for a period of 8 to 12 hours. For that first night, it’s generally best to leave the safe room door closed, so the cat feels secure and undisturbed.

After the first 12 hours, you can start leaving the safe room door ajar. If you have dogs, it’s best to place a baby gate in the doorway to prevent them from invading the safe room. This way, the cat can retreat to her “safe room” if she gets overwhelmed.

It’s important to ensure that the cat’s safe room is accessible at all times. Start visiting kitty in her safe room for short periods of time. If she does well, you can spend even more time with her. Whatever you do, do not physically remove the cat from the safe room — this is unnecessarily frightening and traumatic for kitty. It’s vital that the cat is allowed to emerge and explore at her own pace.

For an especially shy cat, it can take a couple weeks (or longer!) before she feels comfortable leaving her safe room. Other cats are ready to leave the safe room within a few hours, never to return! It all depends on the cat’s personality and temperament.

In tomorrow’s article, we’ll explore how to introduce a new cat to other cats, dogs and children! In the interim, check out PetLvr’s other cat care articles, such as “Why Isn’t My Cat Using the Litter Box?”

Photo Source:Randall Hop on

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

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