Introducing a rescue cat to your home

Get Ready!

Get ready by choosing one room in the house to confine your new cat in for a few days. We might think that this would be restrictive. However, it will be far easier and less threatening for the cat to explore a smaller environment initially. This needs to be a warm, dry, and secure space and, over time, your cat may come to see this as their 'safe space.' Initially, make sure that you go in and out of that space as infrequently as possible. When you do so, avoid any loud noises or raised voices, so that you can begin to bond with the cat in a calm and non-threatening manner.

As this will be your cat's new home for the next few days, make sure you place in there all the things she will need. Choose a large litter tray and keep the spare litter, a scoop and bags for used litter, in the room. Kittens will need a smaller litter tray. Cats are fastidious creatures and may sometimes go overboard in covering their toileting with litter - not always within the litter tray! If you keep a soft brush and dustpan handy, you won't need to vacuum up any spilled litter - a noise guaranteed to frighten most cats!

Cat at home

Place wide rimmed, shallow bowls for food and water well away from the litter tray. Ensure that you keep the water topped up throughout the day - especially if you plan to feed dry food. Keeping the dry food packaging in a rigid, sealed container may be helpful if your cat is naturally a food-raider. Cats are naturally playful, so placing some toys and maybe a catnip mouse or two in the room will be good for her while she's alone. This will give you another way of bonding with your cat when you are in there together.


At this stage neither you nor your cat yet knows how your relationship will develop but allowing things to progress at your cat's own speed is hugely important.

When you bring her home, simply place the cat carrier on the floor in 'her' room, open the carrier door and quietly withdraw, shutting the door quietly behind you.

Your cat needs to feel in control of her new environment if she is to overcome her anxiety. Providing a place for your cat to hide may be much appreciated. A simple cardboard box, partially covered with a bath towel, is often sufficient to provide a stable but secure hiding place. If you can arrange to have that, and/or the comfortable bed your cat will need, raised off the floor, that will provide additional security.

When you arrange to collect your rescue cat, it is often a good idea to ask for any bedding or toys with which she might already be familiar, to accompany her. This will help her to take comfort from something that already has her own, familiar smell.

Allowing your cat to hide wherever and for long as she likes, in her safe room, will certainly help your cat to acclimatise at her own rate. Because each cat is an individual, the time it will take your new cat to become comfortable in her new home may vary, but the secret is to be patient.

A helping hand

As your cat becomes more acclimatised to her new environment, these new sounds and smells will gradually become less challenging. You may find that you can help the process by placing a pheramone diffuser in the room or using a similar product sprayed on bedding.

Cats release a number of different pheramones that enable them to communicate through scent. Some pheramones have a calming, anti-anxiety effect and are synthesised to enable you to help calm your cat in new or threatening situations. By introducing the presence of pheromones, owners can send calming scent messages to cats, which help to reduce behaviours such as hiding, scratching, or spraying. Your vet or pet shop can advise you on this.

Cat exploring the house

Getting used to all the strange sounds, smells and experiences that new homes contain is time consuming. To start with, sounds like the telephone, children's voices and dogs barking can be quite scary for cats who may not have experienced these before. The same applies to the smells of our carpets, furniture, cooking and household chemicals. By gradually introducing new experiences over time, you can help manage this process. Most cats will be ready to explore the rest of the house after a few days. Some cats need longer; that's fine too.

Bonding with your cat

Just as every cat will be different, so will every household. Some will be a haven of calm. While others can be a far noisier affair with children, visitors and maybe other cats and dogs too.

A few hours after you bring her home, quietly enter the room and sit on the floor nearby. Allow the cat to come to you, rather than seeking to take control of the situation. Talk to her in a calm, quiet voice. If she chooses to come to you, make only gentle, controlled movements to make physical contact. However tempting, resist the temptation to pick her up and just allow her to get used to you. Gradually, let other people in the house and repeat the same process. Remember make sure you supervise children, one at a time.

Cats need to get used to individual smells that we carry with us on our skin and in our clothes. A quiet and controlled period of introduction allows your cat to become used to the things we take for granted.

Then, gradually, introduce some playtime. Toys that move, such as danglers and strings, are great as they don't make any noise. Few cats can resist pouncing on something that moves along the floor!

As things progress, you can gradually open things up, allowing the cat to explore other areas of the house. Keep all windows and doors securely closed, letting other people know not to come though those closed doors.

Meeting another cat or dog that is already part of the family needs careful managemnt. There is plenty of good advice on the internet.

The bigger picture

Deciding whether your cat will be free to go outside or will be an indoor house-cat is important. Discussing these options with your veterinary surgeon can help you prepare for either option. Only visit the vet when your cat is relaxed and comfortable in her new home. This will allow her to see coming home as returning to her safe and secure place. The only exception would be if she is not eating, drinking or toileting after two days. In which case, you should seek veterinary advice without delay.

Overcoming your cat's fear of her new surroundings can be enormously rewarding. It may take days or even weeks for her to let you stroke her, let alone pick her up.

Cat eating it's food

However, allowing the cat to develop at her own pace will pay enormous dividends. A cat that is comfortable and secure in your company is a bonus later on.

Going too fast at this stage will set everything back. Patience is definitely the right approach - just ask your cat, she'll know when the right time is!

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