Introducing Cats to a New Home
This article appears courtesy of Dr Kim Kendall
East Chatswood Cat Clinic
329 Penshurst St. Willoughby NSW 2068
Ph 02 9417 6613 (24 hours)
Making feline friendships as painless as possible
Cats really prefer things to stay the same, and they are usually very unsubtle about indicating their displeasure. Introducing a new anything - from another pet, to another human to even new furniture - is a source of anxiety for the cat and the owner; so these are some strategies to help reduce the disruptions.
Changing Houses or Owners
This is a cat's nightmare. In general, cats don't like change - like most people really. However, their biggest concern is that there are no familiar smells to home in on. A cat's sense of smell is many times better than ours, and a lot more of their brain is devoted to processing information from their nostrils. They also produce oils which they rub on us and around their favourite spots to make the places smell like themselves. These oils contain fatty acids and pheromones (communication molecules) and stick to objects.
However, when a cat is put into a new environment, or indeed when they smell a strong scent (such as perfume, ammonia or glue solvents), they can go into sensory overload and panic. Imagine it as though you walked into a room with blinding light and loud noise - it is going to take a while to sort out the good from the bad. So a cat will usually hide - sometimes for a day or two. If really panicked, they will try to go outside - AND THEN THEY WILL BE LOST.
Cats are smart, but when they panic, they run for cover – and often get hit by cars, chased by dogs, can fall out of trees or get stuck in small spaces.
How can you help the transition?
Consider BOARDING your cat for a few days around the time of the move. There is nothing scarier than things disappearing into boxes (including the cat!) and all the strangers and stress that go with a move. Better to know that your cat is safely at the cattery.
SET UP ONE SINGLE ROOM with as much familiar stuff as you can. This will give the room a familiar SMELL. The furniture should be items the cat has slept on, so they have friendly and familiar pheromones on them. Put a towel or other item on the cat's regular sleeping places a few days before moving - and put that (unwashed) in the room.
Use the cat's usual food and water bowls, scratching pole and litter tray (not too close to the food though) in the room as well. Then you go visit the room. Do not let the cat out till it is calm and sniffing attentively at the door; and make sure THERE ARE TWO DOORS CLOSED BETWEEN THE CAT AND THE OUTSIDE and ALL THE WINDOWS ARE COMPLETELY CLOSED so there are no mistakes and the cat does not get outside.
You can speed up the calming process with the Feliway Diffuser - it is the 'friendly pheromone' diffuser and makes the cat think it has already rubbed its own face oils all over the room. It really works in the way that cats' brains do. We also recommend Rescue Remedy given in the water and even into the mouth if the cat is not too anxious about being caught. Some cats take two hours to figure out where they are and settle in. Some take two weeks.
Do not let the cat outside till you are sure it won't panic. If it is a newly adopted cat, give it time to know you as well. New owners will not have the advantage of things that 'smell familiar' - but the diffuser still works well. Take them out on a harness first if need be. And certainly the first trip out should be just before dinner time, so the cat won't go far before its stomach brings it back. Moving and re-homing are hugely stressful for everyone, and you cannot counsel your cat about the benefits of their new abode. Keep things quiet and calm and let the cat explore safely: Lost cats are hard to find, and are frequently damaged physically and emotionally by an accidental escape. Plan ahead and be patient.