Making a cat friendly home
Can you make a cat friendly home ?
As well as the love, can you offer a cat the time, space and resources it will need for a stress free life. Settling a new cat into a home requires a serious amount of time, patience and commitment. Think cat - looking from the cats perspective will help you to provide what a cat needs, when and how it needs it and importantly at a pace which is comfortable to the new cat. Things can't be rushed, each step taken is an extremely important building block to successful integration into your home and building a strong bond with your new companion.
Before deciding to make a cat a home, please give consideration to the following:-
Time - Is this the right time in your life to own a cat? Settling a new cat in doesn't take a couple of days, a week or even two, it can take several weeks, months and occasionally years. In the first few weeks and months your cat will need much more of your time to help it make sense of its new surroundings and life. Full commitment to building trust and a bond with your new companion in these early days and months are essential for a long and happy life together. You will need to keep a new cat indoors for a minimum of four weeks before it goes outside. A cat is a long term commitment with many living into their twenties.
Space - Do you have room in your life to own a cat? Can you provide a safe/secure sanctuary room (ideally a spare bedroom) for a new cat to initially settle into at its own pace with all their resources e.g food, water, litter tray, scratch post, toys, places to sleep, get up high and to hide. This provides a new cat the opportunity to build up its own scent around the room which will make it feel more familiar and less threatening. It provides essential time over the first week or more for an owner to bond with a new companion and an opportunity to monitor what they are eating, drinking, using the litter tray, health and behaviour before a gradual introduction to other parts of the house and finally to other pets. (Once they have full run of the house this is the room they are most likely to retreat to whenever they feel threatened or insecure)
Resources - Can you provide the resources a cat needs to enable it to be itself and exhibit natural behaviours, free from stress? Food, water, a variety of different type toys, litter trays, a a choice of places to sleep, hide and get up high. Once a cat is starting to fully integrate into the home conflicts can occur over these valued resources where there are other pets in the home. Providing more than one choice of each resource around the home per cat and an appropriate amount of one to one time with you, will remove the need to compete thus creating harmony.
What cats need - How to be more cat savvy. Cats Protection has a wide range of leaflets and information sheets to help minimise stress for both new cat and owner during the settling in period and beyond. Whether you have owned several cats before or this would be your first the information available provides essential reading for everyone.
For more information and understanding of the origins of the much loved domestic cat and what a cat needs go to tinyurl.com/catsufo
If you have owned cats before, challenge what you think you know about cats, you will be surprised by what you only thought you knew. Cats Protection have been caring for cats since 1927 And we're still learning!
Creating a cat friendly home starts with looking at everything from a cats perspective. This will help to reassure a new cat and make the settling in process far less stressful. Considering the needs of the cat within a suitable and stimulating environment will increase wellbeing.
Whether a cat appears super confident or extremely nervous, all cats going into a new home will have heightened senses as they try to process what can feel like a terrifying overload of information.
Creating a cat friendly home... Dedicated safe secure room.
In the initial weeks of settling in, a new cat will need a room of their own in which they can begin to make sense of what is happening to them at a pace they are comfortable with. Cats are adverse to change and need to feel they have control over their environment to reduce stress and help them adapt.
DEDICATED ROOM (safe, secure) - A spare bedroom is the ideal place to settle a cat into, nice and quiet, away from busy parts of the house. Giving a new cat a room of its own with everything in it they need, will make them feel less anxious and give them plenty of time to settle in slowly, enabling them to feel secure and become themselves again. Time in this room will help a cat to begin establishing some routine and predictability in their new environment which is extremely important to them. This space enables cat and owner an opportunity to bond before adding other animals etc into the mix and a vital opportunity to monitor behaviour and health.
X kitchens, bathrooms and hallways are too busy to settle a cat into, they also pose a high risk of the cat escaping
COMPANY - A new cat is likely to hide, it is best to leave them alone for a while when first taken home giving them time to calm down. Cats respond best when you get down on their level, sit on the floor and speak in low tones. A few words of encouragement and a Dreamie or two can help. If a cat is timid try just sitting in the room reading a book quietly and let the cat come to you, never make it do anything it isn't ready for, let them come to you.
X Don't be tempted to flood a new cat with attention or try picking them up, carrying them around or grooming, they don't know you! They need time to settle in and get used to you. Introducing a cat to friends and family is best done after the settling in period.
SCENT - Cats communicate by scent marking their territory therefore it is so important for cats to have their own scent around them as soon as they can which will really help them to feel secure and less worried. Rubbing their head, body and paws against furniture, doorways, scratch posts, flooring and people helps a cat to scent mark (pheromones) territory and reduce stress levels. Going into a new room doesn't have any recognisable scent markers, bringing a blanket home from a cats pen will give them something familiar smelling in their room when they go home with their own scent. Leaving something in a cats pen which smells of a new home before taking them home e.g. An old jumper, blanket really helps settling into a new room and home. Plug in a Feliway diffuser in the safe room, Feliway mimics the scent marking cats do, which will really help reduce stress levels as they establish their own scent around the room.
SCRATCH POST - The safe room will be full of unfamiliar smells, a scratch post will enable a cat to express natural behaviour, through scratching and rubbing against the post a cat will mark it with its scent making the room smell more familiar and less threatening, helping them to feel safe. It will also help to keep claws trim whilst staying indoors. Position a scratch post by a cats sleeping place, they like to scratch and stretch on waking up, it will help to avoid them scratching carpets and furniture. The ideal scratch post will be sturdy enough for a cat to lean or rub against and tall enough to scratch and stretch on tip toes.
FOOD and WATER - Keeping a cats diet the same as it is used to, with no sudden changes will help to avoid your cat getting a stomach upset or the runs! 😾 Changes of diet should be done very gradually and best done once your cat has fully settled. Cats prefer to eat little and often, at least 2 or more smaller meals a day. Always provide fresh water, changed daily even if your cat does not appear to drink it. Place food and water bowls away from each other to avoid contamination. And away from walls so your cat can eat and drink facing into the room, they will be able to keep an eye on what's going on around them and will not have to worry about any potential threat from behind. This will make your cat less anxious or worried 🙀
✖ Do not give your cat cows milk.
LITTER - Cats like privacy going to the toilet, position 2 trays in a quiet, private corner of the room. Keep a cat on the same type of wood based litter they are used to. Use just a covering of litter on the bottom of the tray (anymore and it gets uncomfortable under paws, ouch!) 🙀 Any change to the type of litter used is best introduced after the settling in period and should be done very gradually mixing a small amount of the new type litter in with the old. Change trays regularly.
✖ Do not position trays near doorways, patio windows or by food and water.
✖ Avoid the use of highly scented tray liners or cleaning products, cats are very sensitive to change and strong odours
PLACES TO HIDE/OBSERVE AND TO SLEEP - From within the safe room a cat will sense movement and hear lots of sounds it doesn't recognise which can cause them to feel anxious. Having a variety of places low down and up high to hide in, observe from or to sleep, will give some control over the new environment providing choice and the ability to avoid perceived threats. Cats prefer a choice of places to sleep and should not be disturbed whilst sleeping or resting. (Cats prefer to actively avoid conflict, choosing to remove themselves from a situation by running away, hiding or getting up high. If a cat is unable to express this natural behaviour they will feel forced into confrontation and may show aggression or other natural behaviour, raising their anxiety)
PLAY AND REST - Providing a variety of different toys for a cat to play with will help them to settle in. Play releases endorphins (happy hormones) which helps cats to feel more relaxed, expel excess energy and avoid frustration. A selection of interactive toys such as fishing rods and feather sticks are ideal for an owner to use to engage a cat in play, this will help to build confidence and a bond. Although it is important to let a cat win most of the games so they don't lose interest, become frustrated or even show aggression. Cats are drawn to movement and toys help mimic natural behaviours such as stalking/hunting/the kill. Different cats have different preferences so try toys in the air or ones that dash across the floor. Cats also love toy mice and ping pong balls to play at times when they are left alone.
REST - Cats need plenty of rest, so prefer to have short bursts of energy say 10 minutes of play and then some quiet time to unwind and relax. It is a natural behaviour for cats to be more active at dawn and dusk.
Dedicated safe room and beyond
Providing the dedicated safe room is an essential step towards making a 'cat friendly home': always looking from the cats perspective, allowing your cat to set the pace in each new step it takes, giving the time, space and resources it needs in a way that is right for them.
As humans when we have a new room or space we want to make it look and feel just the way we like it. A space in which we feel calm, happy, safe and relaxed. In this respect your cat needs to be able to do the same.
During your new companions time in their dedicated room they will familiarise themselves with the layout, build up their own scent, work out places to run/hide low down or jump up high should they feel threatened and establish favourite sleeping places. They will establish routine in their day, knowing what time they get fed and the meaning of other movements in the house. Having a window view will make the room less enclosed, providing an opportunity to observe an owner and other pets outside from a safe distance. They are likely to have heard other pets and you will bring their scent into the room.
Scent is extremely important to cats it is how they avoid conflict and keep themselves safe, once your companion has started to settle in if you have other animals you can slowly start to swap scent between them, stroke your new companion and then stroke an existing pet and vice versus. This will start building a common scent that all animals in time will recognise and become accepting of.
Time in the dedicated room will provide your cat with calm, safety, security, routine, predictability, their own scent markers, a sense of having some control and an opportunity to exhibit natural behaviour in a non-threatening environment which is so important for a cats wellbeing. Giving essential space and time will help your new companion to build the confidence and reassurance it needs enabling them to feel ready to take the next step towards integrating into their new home.
Letting your cat out of it's safe room for the first time.
Your new cat should ideally spend at least a week in the secure room even if it appears confident and keen to explore, this time is so important to your cat and will be a major building block to successful integration and a happy cat.
If your cat is very nervous and still hiding much of the time, it is too soon to let it out of the dedicated room. Remember your cat must set the pace, don't be tempted to rush to the next step. Give it another week and continue to build confidence, if your cat is still continuing to hide it will need further time in the secure room.
Long before introductions to other pets, it is essential for your new companion to have time getting used to other parts of the house, one room at a time, this should be done slowly over several days with no other distractions. This time allows your cat to safely explore a new area without feeling threatened, it provides the opportunity in the same way they did within their dedicated safe room to familiarise themselves again with the layout of the new room, any escape routes, places to run, hide down low or to jump up high should they need and to place their own scent markers around. They will also pick up the scent other pets within the room which will help to establish a common scent for all.
When letting them out of their room-
Make sure all windows are closed, cat flaps blocked off and locked
Make sure all other pets don't have access to the area (choose a time when they are outside)
Choose a quiet time with no distractions or demands on your time
Introduce your cat to one part of the house, the first time out of its room
Open the dedicated room and let your cat walk out in its own time (don't pick them up or carry them) * Always allow your cat free access to return to their dedicated room should they choose
After an hour or two gently guide your cat back to its dedicated room (don't pick them up)
Build up the amount of time spent outside their room, over time until they have explored the whole house and are then ready to start meeting other pets in the home.
Integrating with other pets
Successful integration with other pets takes commitment, time and patience. Alwyas looking from the cat's perspective and at a pace which is right for them.
Although cats generally prefer to live alone, with slow, carefully managed integration, new and existing cats can adjust to sharing the space available, provided they have plenty of resources and do not feel the need to compete.
Contrary to popular belief there is no Alpha cat, top cat, pecking order or dominant cat, this type of hierarchy does not exist in the cat world. However the accurate term for cats often described in this way are confident cats, for these cats they are highly motivated by a strong solitary natural instinct to maintain territory within their environment and to stake a claim on resources they value highly.
For this reason when carrying out introductions never fall into thinking if you just put them all in together they will figure it out for themselves, this high risk strategy very rarely works and when it goes wrong it is extremely difficult if at all, to turn the situation around.
Using a throw them all in together strategy causes unnecessary high levels of stress to both new and existing cats or other pets, which can lead to health and behavioural issues such as Cystitis, over grooming, spraying, aggression or becoming subdued. When cats are stressed they can exhibit natural behaviours such as spraying, inappropriate toileting and aggression these are the signals they use to tell an owner something is not right in their world. Sadly owners too often misinterpret this as a cat misbehaving.
Introductions to other cats in the home
Introductions need to be built up slow and appropriately. Before the first meeting takes place your new cat should be familiar with the layout of all other rooms in the house, in particular the room the introductions will take place. Should your new cat feel threatened or anxious during the introduction they will know the escape routes and safe places within the room, to avoid conflict and reduce stress.
Resources, resources, resources.
Do not place your cat in a cat carrier to do introductions, this will cause them stress
Choose a quiet time without any distractions or demands on your time
Choose a room for the introductions which your new cat is familiar with
Ensure your new cat has free access to return to its dedicated room if it chooses
Use a Feliway diffuser in the room introductions take place
Choose a quiet time, after they have eaten
Have some treats to use as a reward/distraction
Fishing rod toys to use as a distraction
Allow both cats to enter the room unaided (don't pick them up or carry them in)
Stay calm and avoid eye contact
Keep introductions short (10 minutes at a time) then guide your new cat back to their room.
Use distraction techniques to avoid a chase situation or fight occurring
If you have more than one cat, it is a good idea to introduce your new cat to just one cat at a time. Choose the cat who is likely to be the most accepting of the newcomer and build up the time they spend together very, very gradually over many days. When these cats do not react to each other, you can start introducing another cat to your new cat.
When all cats have met each other and at a stage they do not react, continue to build up the time spent together, placing your new cat back in their dedicated room overnight.
Never leave a new cat unattended with existing cats or dogs until you are completely sure they are ok with each other. Build the time left alone together up slowly, short periods at a time, initially whilst you are still in or around the home and then when going out.
Me, me, me.. cats are all about me because cats do not have a hierarchy and are solitary by nature many confident cats do not feel the need to share space or resources. Providing plenty of resources appropriately placed will give cats a variety of choice, helping to create harmony in the home.
Whether natural instinct or past experience a cat may or may not have a need for cat friends. Some cats do choose to form social groups. Cats in the same social group maintain a bond by keeping a common scent through frequent rubbing against each other, mutual grooming, sleeping together closely curled up, touching each other, greeting with tail up, touching noses and spending a lot of time in close proximity. Cats who live in the same household but don’t express these behaviours are all independent individuals even if they sleep close together but not touching, sleep in same places, don't hiss or spit, or are related they are not in the same social group or if they avoid each other.
Careful introductions and giving each cat the opportunity to access separate and sufficient resources, appropriately placed around the home will allow them to choose whether they want to become part of a social group or be an independent individual choosing not to come into close contact with other cats or other potentially stressful situations.
Food, water, litter, scratch posts, toys, play, places to rest, sleep/hide low or up high, are all valued resources. The more well placed resources you provide, the less need for competition or aggression amongst cats or other animals in the home. A choice of at least one of each type of resource per cat, plus one extra should always be provided as a minimum.
Provide litter trays (including a hooded litter tray) in different locations around the home, in low traffic areas away from food. Toys - rotate a variety of toys to retain novelty value. A selection of both interactive toys you can engage in play and toys they can play with when you aren't around. Food - place food bowls in a low traffic area. Each cat should have their own bowl in a separate area to other cats or pets. This could be in the same room just a different location. Sleep - cats spend 16 hours a day intermittently sleeping. Owners beds, sofas, arm chairs, wardrobes, airing cupboards, sunny spots, near radiators, (radiator hammocks) all make favourable places for your cat to sleep. Several sleeping places should be available giving choice to sleep separately, in different locations high up, low down and enclosed.
All cats need full and free access to all their valued resources and safe places with more than one means of entry or access to them so that entrances can't be blocked or guarded by other pets. All resources should be easily accessible without threat of ambush or attack.
Remember to your existing cat you are also considered a highly valued resource, which they may not wish to share. By keeping their existing routine as close to what it was before the new cat arrived and ensuring they have plenty of one to one time with you will reduce feelings of jealousy, threat from the arrival or the need to compete. A few extra treats can also help them to adjust.
Your new companion will need to be kept indoors for four weeks, this will give them the time they need to start getting used to their new life, bond with you and meet other pets in the home.
Once your new companion has been fully integrated into the home with other cats or dogs and has access to outdoors, the safe room is the one place your cat is likely to retreat back to if it feels threatened or stressed, access to this room should always be available.