(Owners Manual) For your new cat or kitten
Download or print the Cat Prep Kit below
Adopting and bringing a shelter cat home is a very special moment in your life. You are saving a cat and making a new friend in one transaction. Since you are bringing a shelter cat home, first let's cover the different types of shelters and the different services provided. Below is a short list of some the basic shelter/rescue configurations and the services they offer.
1) Traditional Shelter
2) No Kill Shelter
A) rescue / no spay & neuter / no medical exam
B) rescue / no spay & neuter / does medical exam
C) rescue / does spay & neuter / does medical exam
Driving to the shelter and bringing a shelter cat home is thrilling. You are excited to introduce your new cat to their new home and new family. The process by which you introduce your new fur-ball to your home can make a big difference in how well they integrate into their new environment.
The integration of your new cat into your home will be a little easier if you can get some background info on their previous life. At the shelter, was it noisy or quiet? Were they in a cage, a room or a foster home? How many times a day were they fed? What brand of food have they been eating?
Below you will find the steps we have laid out to help you prepare for bringing a shelter cat home.
Click on sections 1-6 for quick access to the content or just scroll down
1) Items you need before you bring your new cat home & best cat feeding schedule
(Download or Print Section 1)
(Print and take this list to your local pet shop) or (click on any of the item names (A-O) to order online)
A) Food and water bowls – ceramic or metal is preferred. Some cats are sensitive to plastic.
B) Cat Food - Find out the food they have been eating and slowly wean them to a higher quality brand over a week or two.
C) Cat bed
D) Litter box - no lid (lids trap smells and create stress and we don't want that in the litter box)
E) Cat litter
G) Cat toys
H) Cat brush
L) Cat Carrier – You need a sturdy cat carrier to bring home your new cat and whenever they go to the vet. You will also use it if you are traveling with kitty for extended times. Cats get stressed out when they travel and will feel more secure in an enclosed container. A loose cat in your car can be a serious driving hazard, especially if they climb down around the pedals. Your cat may throw-up or have a bowel movement when traveling due to stress and the carrier will contain the fluids. (Additional info for kittens in section 5 below)
M) Cat Toothbrush & Cat Toothpaste – the earlier you start the easier it is to brush their teeth. It is just as important for cats as it is humans. This video will show you how to brush your cats' teeth.
N) Cat leash and harness (optional)
O) Cat grass (optional)
Best Cat Feeding Schedule for your cat or kitten
Feeding your Cat or Kitten
Kittens (under 6 months) 3 to 4 times a day (more feeding info in Section 5 "kittens" below)
Over 6 months twice daily
Training your cat to eat twice a day
When your cat hits the 6-month mark, offer them food twice a day only. Leave the food out for 1/2 hour only. Your cat will learn to eat all of their food during the 1/2 hour time-period.
Don't give your cat an overabundance of treats, this can lead to obesity as they age.
Clean litter box and feed
Clean food & water bowls (bacteria can grow fast in dirty bowls)
Play with your kitten or cat
Clean the litter box with a mild soap & replace litter
Brush teeth once
Twice a Week Schedule
Gently brush hair
Check nails (trim if necessary)
2) Take your new cat to vet before coming home if the shelter does not provide a medical exam (Download or Print Sections 2, 3 & 4)
If the shelter does not provide a medical exam, your new kitty may have some medical issues.
Many shelters have crowded conditions and it is possible that your new cat will have some feline issues. You need to have them checked out by a vet before bringing a shelter cat home; especially if you have a multi-cat home.
Here is our recommendation; set an appointment with your vet for the day you will be bringing a shelter cat home. The vet may ask you to bring a fecal sample and will want to see any medical records the shelter can provide.
The shelter can recommend a veterinarian if you do not have one. Set this up before you pick up kitty and also have your cat or kitten micro-chipped (even for an indoor cat). Ex: A friend's indoor cat slipped out and was taken to a shelter by a good Samaritan. The shelter called the friend due to the microchip and they were reunited.
If you have adopted a cat from a shelter, it is reasonable to assume this is their third home. That is why it is important to have a plan to acclimate them to their new final destination.
Cats will have to understand their new homes surroundings over time before they fell entirely safe. A house or apartment can create a lot of stress due to the difference between the cage they have been living in and all of this new space.
Your new fur-ball is going to be feeling stressed, so be prepared and ease their stress by setting up a closed-door safe room. Some cats will hide under furniture or anywhere they can find for days. Therefore, you want to introduce your cat to your home or apartment in steps…especially if there are several people or additional cats in your home.
Before bringing a shelter cat home; set-up a safe room with a door
Stock this room with food, water, toys, a litter box, and a scratching post or pad. If you have purchased a cat tree that is easy to move, then place it in this room also. You want to start the scratch training immediately, so make sure you have a scratching post in this room.
When you place your cat in the room in the cat carrier, open the door and let them come out in their own time. Do not coax them out, tip the carrier or pull them out. Keep this room closed off, and let kitty explore when they are ready. After your cat comes out of the carrier, leave the carrier in the corner as another hiding place.
Your new cat will need hiding places to feel safe and the cat carrier will help. Adding a box in the room with an opening on both sides so they can go in and out each side is a good idea too. Also, place a blanket in the box or a soft piece of your clothing (sweatshirt/shirt) that you have worn so they get used to your smell.
As you know, cats are curious creatures and want to explore their new home as soon as they feel safe. If your new cat seems timid, just leave the room and check back later. We also have an article on “How to help a timid cat”.
Introduce other family members slowly
Have them come into the room one at a time to hang out and sit or play with the new furry addition. Make sure younger children sit down and show them how to gently stroke the cat's fur and offer kitty a treat. Make a point to educate the children so they understand that they cannot chase the cat, hurt her or bother her while she eats, sleeps or uses the litter box. This is very important to your cat feeling safe.
If there are no other animals in the house, in about three days (give or take a day), or once your new cat is comfortable in their temporary room, you can expand their access to the rest of the home. For some cats, it may take two or three weeks before they feel safe in their temporary room and can be set free to explore the whole house. Each cat is different in terms of his or her stress levels. Like humans, some are carefree while others have environmental concerns that they want to understand.
Food, Water & Litter / Set-up steps for single or multiple cats
Feeding Station Set-up
If you live in a multi-cat home, you cannot assume your cats like eating together just because they eat when you set the food down.
Introducing a new cat means the new kitty is the low cat on the eating totem pole.
Even if you have just two kitties, do not be surprised that one of your kitties shows signs of stress during feeding time. This is especially true if you have just one feeding station.
There is a pecking order with cats and sometimes it will manifest during feeding time. One cat may bully one or more cats during this time. It may be very subtle where a dominant cat nudges another cat away from the bowl and eating the leftovers in his or her bowl too. Likewise, it can be a more aggressive move too. In this case, we recommend multiple feeding stations.
Personal Experience with one cat bullying the second cat during feeding
Twice a day we would put wet food out for our two cats and go about our business because in our minds the two cats were brothers & friends. One cat was much heavier than his brother so we thought it was just due to a larger appetite by eating more dry food that we would leave out.
Finally, we started watching them eat their wet food and realized that the larger brother would wolf down his food and then move over to his brothers' bowl and just gently push him out of the way. There was never any hissing or fussing so we missed it for at least a year.
Watch your cats eat completely for several feedings and position yourself away from the feeding area as you observe. If you are in the same room watching them eat, some cats will be on the best behavior.
Feeding Station Location
If you just have the one new cat you bring home, make sure the food & water are not in an area that gets a lot of foot traffic.
Also, make sure the feeding station is not next to the litter box. Cats are very sensitive to smell and do not like to eat next to their litter box. It would be similar to setting up your kitchen table in the bathroom.
It is ok to create some separation at feeding time with two separate feeding areas when there are two or more cats.
Litter Box Set-Up
One of the most common reasons people take their cats to shelter is litter box issues. Follow the steps below will help ensure you have cats that follow the litter box rules.
As stated earlier, do not place your litter box(s) near the feeding station. Cats do not like to smell poo when they are eating.
In addition, studies have shown cats prefer a finer grained cat litter vs. larger particles. We recommend a low dust, non-perfumed scoop-able litter.
How many litter boxes do I need
The rule of thumb for the number of litter boxes; you want the same number of litter boxes as the number of felines you have in your home plus one extra. In other words, if you have three cats you will need four litter boxes.
We recommend an uncovered litter box. Litter boxes with special covers trap smell that your cat will not like. With that in mind, we want to make sure our cats are not reluctant to use their box. The smell of urine, feces and fragranced litter will be trapped and strong in a covered box. Eliminating the smell in the box can be very important. Clean your litter box daily, dump the old every two weeks, and clean the box. Use a non-scented mild soap to clean the box. Do not use products with a strong scent or ammonia.
Scratching post, pads and cat trees
We recommend that you purchase a scratching post(s) and cat tree before bringing a shelter cat home.
In other words, start the scratch training as soon as kitty comes home.
Cat scratching should never be seen as a sign of an upset or anxious cat and should never be punished for this activity.
Felines need to scratch for many reasons. When they scratch, they are removing old claws, which expose new sharp claws. It is a common and necessary behavior for our fur-balls and its part of their routine, identity and health and brings them great comfort.
Cats need to sharpen their claws and it is our job to show them the approved areas for this task.
Some cats understand immediately and some will need a little more time to understand the appropriate scratching surfaces in your home.
We recommend a combination of one or more scratching posts and at least one cat tree.
A well put together cat tree and scratching post is more than just a way to keep claws maintained. They also help your cats identify an item and location that they can define as their very own.
A well-designed cat tree will enhance your kitty’s life by providing them a place to scratch, play, climb and hide which supplies them with exercise and entertainment all the way through the day.
Scratching posts will come in many formats. Some felines like to scratch vertical objects, while other cats like horizontal surfaces.
If you have a scratching problem, use the scratching post to initially block the item your cat wants to claw, and encourage them to use the preferred location you have set up.
Introducing a new cat into a multi-cat home & understanding their territorial needs
Bringing shelter cat home to a multi-cat environment can be way more complex for your cats than you know.
We are going to recommend going through the steps laid out by our favorite cat behavior expert; Pam Johnson-Bennett. Read our article that will connect you with Pam's process of reducing tension between cats. We also recommend reading: "Pam’s New Cat Introduction Technique". You will find it under Step 3 in the article. Click here to read this information now.
5) Kittens (Download or Print Section 5 & 6)
We will only discuss the differences when bringing a kitten home vs. a more mature cat…..all the other steps will be the same.
Bringing new kitten home
Kittens leave their mother and siblings after about 8 to 10 weeks of age.
Kittens have special needs similar to human babies. When you are ready to bring your new cuddly fur-ball home, make sure you have one or two days to be with them and help them adjust to their new home.
You definitely want to have a cat carrier when you are ready to pick up your kitten. See if the shelter has a towel from the kittens' cage to put in the carrier. The familiar smells will help to reduce the stress of the trip. If not, bring a towel to put in the carrier. The kitten has just left their mom not too long ago and the carrier will give them a sense of security. In addition, you will use the carrier for a few days in the solo room set-up to ease them into their new home. We covered this step in S3.
With kittens, eliminate electrical cords and cords from blinds. Make sure there are no rubber bands lying around. Also, make sure toys do not have any parts that your kitten can pull off and swallow.
Remove plants that are known to be poisonous to cats, which can include some varieties of succulents. Eliminate any roach/ant traps and always keep the toilet lid down.
Kittens do not have the same experience as more mature cats regarding things that can hurt them.
Cat Carrier (additional info from section 1)
When traveling home from the shelter with a kitten or kittens using the cat carrier, it is helpful to take a towel or blanket the kitten has been sleeping on with you to his new home.
Contact the shelter or breeder before you pick up your new pussycat and see if you can drop off a towel for them to sleep on before you pick them up. The shelter may also just give you a towel they have been sleeping on. Put the towel in the carrier for the ride home, and leave it in the carrier for your new pet to sleep on the first few days.
Understand that the nutritional needs of your kitten are very important compared to a mature cat. They require 2 to 3 times more calories and nutrients as mature felines. Do not give your kitten cow’s milk.
Around 6 to 7 weeks, your kitten usually will be able to eat dry kitten food. You will want to feed them a quality branded kitten food with the (AAFCO) seal on the bag. This seal says that this kitten food contains the proper nutrition for a kitten.
Feed your kitten 3 times a day until they are 6 months old and then start feeding them twice a day.
Make sure the sides of the litter box are not too tall and they can get in and out with ease. Cats instinctively cover up their waste. However, for a kitten, you may need to help them a little.
Place them in the clean litter box and see if they start to dig. If not, take a paw and gently start to dig in the litter. Praise your kitten when they use the litter box and never punish them if they do not. Just put them into the box every hour until they get the hang of it.
Start the scratching/clawing training immediately by placing a cat tree or scratching post in their area. See "Scratching post, pads and cat trees" above for more information.
Handling your kitten
Everybody wants to hold a kitten but we recommend that you limit handling for the first 3 days while kitty adjusts.
Kids under 5 years of age should not interact with a kitten. If you have young kids, adopt a more mature cat. A lot of shelters/cat rescue organizations will not adopt kittens out to families with young children. Young children can be to rough on a kitten that can sometimes lead to a tragic ending.
Teach older children how to hold a cat. The normal method would be one hand behind the front legs and the other supporting the backside. Teach them to never to grab a kitten by the tail or ears or pick them up by the scruff of their neck. Teach them how to softly pet the kittens head and back area.
As with mature shelter cats, kittens need to see a vet immediately. So before bringing a shelter cat home, and if the shelter does not have a vet on staff, make an appointment.
If the shelter does not offer a spaying or neutering, your kitten can have the procedure as early as eight weeks of age. Your vet can better determine the timing of this procedure.
Leaving kitten alone
If you will be gone all day, add a nightlight to their area. Also, give them safe toys and place a radio outside their door tuned to country western or classical music. Some experts have determined cats prefer these two genres of music.
If you really want to have a better experience with your furry friends, read one cat book. You will be surprised at how it will affect your personal experience with your cats or kittens forever.
Books by Cat Behavior Expert Pam Johnson-Bennett are exceptional and recommended. Click on the image below to check out her books - you will be pleasantly surprised.