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Four Essential Tips for First-Time Cat Parents

Have you recently adopted a cat and feel over your head? Or, do you know someone who is thinking about adopting a cat?

This post is for you!

Pictured: Beetle, one of the many adoptable cats residing at the Turquoise Teapot and Cat Cafe.

1. Choose the right cat for you

If you've already adopted your cat, you may need to skip this tip - but if you haven't, then read on, because it's important to select the right fit for you and your lifestyle.

In a stressful shelter environment, it will be difficult to tell a cat's personality. But if you have the opportunity to adopt from a shelter or rescue that uses a foster program, then they can tell you exactly what the cat's personality is like.

You may be tempted to adopt based on how a cat is behaving at an adoption event (which can be stressful for the cat, which will cause them to act differently) - or how they look. But listening to the people who know them most -- their fosters or adoption counselors -- will give you an insight into how they will behave in your home.

Before you go to meet cats, ask yourself:

  • Do I want (and can I - and my current pets - handle) an active kitten who will need hours of playtime a day?

  • Do I want a cat who will cuddle with me occasionally?

  • Do I want a lap cat who will want to be with me every time I sit down?

  • Do I want a relaxed cat who likes to do their own thing?

  • Do I want a cat who will get along with kids and/or other pets in my house?

Answering these questions will help get you started on what type of cat is best for you.

2. Transition time is necessary

When you bring your cat home, you will be tempted to show him or her off to your other pets, children and friends immediately. You will probably want to open their crate and let them roam free - after all, they are finally home!

But cats, like most of us, need time to settle in before joining the party.

Contain them to a small room to start, like a guest bathroom. You can slowly and quietly introduce family members to the cat, but hold off on introducing them to any current pets for the time being.

Expect your new cat to take at least three days to recognize that this is their new space. Before this three-day period, they may still exhibit stress-related behaviors, so be sure to give them a chance to de-stress before returning them to the shelter or rescue.

Then, it will take another three weeks for a cat to settle into your routine, which is new to them. Expect for it to take three months before a new cat will start to feel at home.

Likewise, you will need to transition them to their new food slowly. If the rescue or shelter provided you with the food they formerly ate, transition them by gradually mixing in more of their new food over the course of at least a week.

3. Catify your home

Just like bringing home a baby, bringing home a cat will mean changes to your living environment.

If you are adopting a kitten, you will need to be careful to make your home safe. Kittens like to eat things they shouldn't - such as beads, rubber bands, ribbons, and even electrical cords. Secure all cabinets - including food cabinets - and put away items dangerous to your cat's health, including cleaners and food they shouldn't eat.

Invest in high quality cat scratchers and place them near places your cat will enjoy scratching most. We suggest placing scratchers near couches and curtains.

Provide different levels for your cat to explore your home safely. This is especially true if there is a dog or a small child in the home who may not know how to respect a cat's space. Giving your cat opportunities to escape up high and observe will make for a happier cat.

Pictured: Rainbow Dash, a former resident of the Cat Cafe, climbing the cat shelves.

You don't necessarily need to invest in pricey cat shelves. Clearing off space on a shelf or bookcase you already own is a good step towards catification.

Finally, purchase or make cat toys to keep your cat entertained. Sometimes, even putting out a used cardboard box can keep a cat entertained for hours.

4. Introduce other pets gradually

It's expected that you will discuss getting a cat with your family members or roommates before bringing them home - but it's impossible to prepare a pet for the arrival of a new cat.

Remember, to your current pet, this is a stranger, and an unexpected one at that. Further, the cat you just adopted is in a new space, with new people and now they need to learn whether the animals that live in their new home are friendly - or a threat.

Therefore, be patient, and take the introductions to other pets slowly.

To introduce a dog and a cat, start by sharing their scents between one another. For example, trade the blankets that the cat and dog have slept on between their two spaces. This is a nice, easy way to get the cat and dog familiar with each other.

Then, feed the cat and dog on opposite sides of the same door. Be sure to give lots of praise and treats to make positive associations.

When things are going well, move to the next step, which is to allow the dog and cat to see each other safely, from different vantage points.

Pictured: Luna, the Cat Cafe owner's cat, cleaning the face of Hagrid, the cat cafe owner's dog.

If possible, separate the cat and dog with a gate. Or, use a crate for the cat or dog to maintain a safe barrier. Let them make eye contact and provide plenty of praise and their favorite treats.

Altogether, these steps should take at least a week, often longer. If any of these steps produce an unwanted behavior - such as growling, barking, or attacking, go back to the previous step and give it more time. There will probably be some hissing no matter what, which is just the cat's way of setting up boundaries.

Once you think they are ready, allow them both to be in the same room, with an attentive human present at all times for the first few weeks or even months, depending on how comfortable they are with each other.

These steps are the same for introducing a new cat with a resident cat.

What else?

Have you introduced a new cat into your home? What tips do you have for new cat parents? Share them in the comments!

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