How to Help Your Adopted Shelter Cat Adjust to a New Home

You thought you adopted the cutest and sweetest cat at the shelter. When you first saw her, she was pressed up next to her cage gazing at you with huge green eyes that made your heart melt. She pawed the air and responded to your soft voice and ear scratches with a loud, contented purr and you fell in love with her. And then you get her home and she suddenly turns into a frightened, feline full of rage and those green eyes that melted your heart are now clouded in anger. As you sit and contemplate your next move, the cat stares back at you. Her hostile tail is flicking back and forth and her ears are laid flat against her head as you ponder how to help your shelter cat adjust to her new home.

  • Cats hate change, and even a small change in their routine can cause them to become stressed. At the shelter, you met your adopted cat in an area she was familiar with. She recognized the shelter workers who cared for her, knew when meals were delivered and when/if there was any playtime or attention given. She had grown accustomed to the smells, sights, and sounds of shelter life. The car ride home was her first clue life was about to change once again for her and by the time you get her home, she’s fearful, defiant, and ready to rumble. Her attitude is perfectly normal, for a confused and stressed out kitty. The best way to help her adjust is for you to remain calm, patient, understanding, and quiet.
  • Designate one room in your home as your cat’s room. Make sure it’s a quiet and safe room with a door you can shut, if necessary. This room should have her litter box, food/water bowls, toys, and her own bed. Set her carrier down, open the door, and let her decide when she wants to come out. Encourage her, but don’t force her out. She needs time to become accustomed to new smells and sounds before she can begin to settle into her new life. Don’t worry if she races out of the carrier and hides somewhere in the room. She’ll venture out as her stress level decreases.
  • Establish a routine for her immediately. Sit with her and quietly talk to her as she eats. Let her sniff your hand without trying to pick her up. Give her time to get used to you and her environment and let her approach you. She’ll let you know when she’s ready for more intimate contact. While she’s confined to one room, this is a perfect opportunity for you to monitor her litter box habits to make sure she’s using it all the time. Also, make sure she’s eating normally and doesn’t have any health issues that may have been missed while she was at the shelter. Spend time every day with your cat in “her” room. Sit away from her and talk to her in a soft voice and encourage her to play by wiggling a string or rolling a ball. All you really need to do is just be there so she can learn you are a friend. Watch TV, listen to quiet music on the radio or stereo, or read out loud to her.

Creating a space in one room for your cat gives her a safe area she can return to while she’s adjusting to your home, other family members, and other pets in the family. As she begins to explore the rest of the house watch her body language. If she appears to still be nervous or apprehensive and looks like she wants to find a hiding place, that means she’s not ready to have a full run of your home. You want her to be comfortable in all areas of the home and you want to make sure she doesn’t get spooked and run out and opened outside the door.

A confident catwalk around with her tail held high. Her eyes and body are relaxed looking. One good way to tell if she’s feeling comfortable in her environment is when she’s asleep. A relaxed cat that feels safe will sleep on their side and spreads out. If she’s sitting hunched up while sleeping she’s still a little nervous.

I’ve had adopted cats adjust almost immediately to their new environment and others that took a month or so to settle in. It depends on the cat’s personality and how you help them handle their stress. Most cats will adjust to a new home in a couple of weeks or less and your fiery, ill-tempered feline will return to the sweet and loving cat you adopted at the shelter.

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