If you have decided to adopt a cat from a rescue centre then this can be a hugely rewarding experience, however it can be a very stressful time for a cat and a time that can easily become overwhelming.
Here are some useful tips on how to help a rescue cat settle into your household with minimal stress.
1. Take something which smells of your home to the rescue centre
Before you collect your cat there will be a period of time where paperwork will need to be completed, vet checks may need to be done and other administrative tasks. You may not be able to collect your cat straight away so while you are waiting give the rescue centre a blanket or a t-shirt or something from your home to allow them to investigate this new scent. When they come home to your house they will then already be familiar with this scent and it won’t be so overwhelming being a new environment with new smells.
2. Try scent swapping
To help your new cat feel more at home you can also take some of their scent (by rubbing a clean cloth or kitchen towel around their facial scent glands) and then wipe this onto areas around the home. This will make them feel more at home when they arrive as they will already have some of their scent which is familiar to them around the new environment. There are really great videos to demonstrate how to successfully “harvest” scent from your cat.
3. Prepare your home before your cat arrives
It's important to make sure you’ve set everything up before your cat arrives in his/her new home. Get a pheromone plug in such as Feliway and plug this in at least 48 hours before bringing your cat home. Pheromone plug-ins help cats to feel more relaxed, however they take a little bit of time to start working so it’s best to make sure you have plugged it in and given enough time before the cat arrives. Make sure you’ve got a food and water bowl, cat litter trays, scratch post, toys, bed and you’ve got these out and placed in their locations ready.
4. Keep them calm and quiet on the car ride home
When transporting your cat from the rescue centre to your house make sure to keep the car quiet. Don’t play loud music or speak loudly. Cover the cat carrier with a blanket too as this makes cats feel safer. Try and keep the cat carrier still by strapping it in with a seatbelt or holding it still on your lap.
5. Keep them in a quiet room on their own at first
It is usually advised that for the first week or so that you keep your cat in their own room. Place all of their resources in this room and leave them alone, undisturbed as much as possible. Your new cat may be very scared and so leaving them to settle in within a quiet room where they can be undisturbed will help them to cope with the huge changes that they are enduring. When you first arrive home place the cat carrier in the room with the door open and then leave them alone. They will come out of their cat carrier in their own time. Don’t drag them out of their carrier as this will cause stress and may make them fearful of you.
Pop in and say hello every so often, giving them yummy treats and let them come to you. Never drag a cat out from under a bed or a cupboard if they are hiding. You can try to coax them out gently with a treat but always allow them to choose if they want to interact with you or not.
If you have children or other pets it is really important that you do not allow them into this room. Older children can go into the room with you, with supervision, but again make sure the cat isn’t being forced to interact. Allow them to come out when they want to and keep quiet using quiet voices and slow movements.
6. Supplements and calming tablets
You can try giving your cat supplements and calming tablets to help them cope with the big changes happening. There are a few different options but many now come in a powder or a capsule which can be opened and sprinkled onto food. You can sprinkle some of this onto their food as soon as they come home and do it every day for the first few weeks, if necessary. These supplements contain nutraceuticals which can help to make cats feel more relaxed. Look for supplements containing L-Tryptophan (a calming nutraceutical which increases serotonin in the brain) and Alphacaseozepine (an ingredient derived from milk protein which can also have calming effects). Both do not need a prescription and can be bought from pet shops or online or over the counter from a veterinary practice.
7. Give your cat space and don’t force interactions
It’s really important that you don’t try and force your cat into interactions with you that they may not be comfortable with. As much as you may adore your new friend they may be a bit wary of you. You need to build up trust with your new rescue cat and this takes time. If you try to pick up your cat and hold them against their will they may become very uncomfortable around you and even fearful of you.
If you have children it’s important that they know not to try and pick up the cat if they don’t want to be held. Also holding a cat on your lap when they don’t want to be held can also cause fear and anxiety and it won’t make your cat love you more, it only causes the opposite to happen. Some cats are not lap cats and some are, but take more time to trust you enough to want to sit on your lap. Allow your new cat to come to you and don’t try to force the relationship. You’ll actually find that the more “hands off” you are, the quicker your cat starts to want to sit with you or on you.
8. Play with your cat and interact with them when they are ready
When your cat is ready try playing with them with some toys. Playing with your cat is proven to strengthen the bond between cat and owner and can help cats to feel happier overall. Playing with toys such as fishing rod toys which you drag along the ground can also help them to exhibit natural hunting behaviours which are essential for a cat’s mental wellbeing. It will also be really beneficial if your cat is staying indoors for the first few weeks, which is advised.
9. Keep your new cat indoors for the first few weeks
It's advised that cats are kept indoors for 2-4 weeks before you let them outside. This is to help them learn that this new house is their home and so to avoid them running off and getting lost. Cats may become confused at first and disorientated in their new surroundings and may wander off looking for their previous home. Usually rescue centres do not rehome cats to areas where they have previously lived so as to avoid them from wandering back to their old house but they can still get lost and confused.
10. Consider making a safe and enclosed cat garden or catio
Many rescue cats have had a difficult start in life or have had previously traumatic experiences. Sadly, around 230,000 cats are hit by cars each year in the UK. After your cat has joined your household you may want to make sure you keep them as safe as possible and reduce the risk of any further trauma or harm coming to them. There are now options where you can safely enclose your garden and make it cat “escape proof”. This enables your cat to go into your garden to explore and play but stops them being able to venture out onto roads.
There are a few different companies who can come and install a cat protection fence for you (Protectapet, Katzecure, Sanctuary SOS) or you can make your own using brackets and mesh fencing, which can be purchased from DIY stores. This is a good option if you live near roads or you are worried your new rescue cat may not be very road savvy, especially if you don’t know their background and where they have come from.
Also some cats are more nervous and can be skittish around traffic and can run into a road if startled so they may be more likely to get into an accident with a car. Having an enclosed garden would therefore be safer for these cats.
You can also make a “catio” which uses an enclosed pen which your cats can go in outside but they can’t escape from. Some owners attach the catio to their house via a cat flap which allows their cats to come and go to and from the catio whenever they please.
11. Microchipping your cat
Your new cat will have most likely already been microchipped by the rescue centre or may have already had a microchip when they came into the rescue centre but it is really important to check. If your cat isn’t microchipped it is worth noting that in April this year it is the law for all cats in the UK to be microchipped. You must make sure to get your cat microchipped because if they were to run away or get lost it may be the only way of being reunited with them. Especially as a rescue cat may be really disorientated in a new home and could escape and get lost.
It’s also really important to note that once your cat has been microchipped you must keep the details up to date. If you change your phone number or move house your microchip details will no longer be up to date and this could prevent your cat from being reunited with you if they were not lost. It’s easy to update your details. Just contact the database which your microchip is linked to and you can usually either change the details online or over the phone.
12. Vaccinations, flea and worm treatment
Again, your new rescue cat will likely come fully vaccinated and wormed and flea'd by the rescue centre however it is your responsibility to now continue to do this. Cats need booster vaccinations each year so make sure to check when this is due and make a note of it. You can also tell your vets this date and they can add you to their reminder service which means they will contact you near the time it is due to remind you. This is very handy as it is easy to forget! Worming and flea treatment must be continued regularly so once you have your new cat home with you make sure to check when this is next due and add it to your calendar.
You could join a subscription flea and worm treatment plan and they will usually send out your cat's treatments each month or you can join your vet's pet health club and collect the treatment when needed.
13. Find a cat savvy vet and get your cat signed up and booked in for their first health check
Once your new rescue cat has joined your family it’s advised that you register them with a vet as soon as you can. Sometimes emergencies happen and having your cat already registered with a vet saves time when getting them an appointment. It’s important you find a vet who understands cats and who has a calm and safe environment for a rescue cat. If you have a cat only vet clinic near you then this would be a great option. Cat only vets are species specific and do not have dogs or other animals within the clinic. This means that for a nervous cat this will be a much calmer and less worrying environment for them.
Cat only vet practices also usually have vets and nurses who hold extra certificates in feline medicine, surgery, behaviour and nursing care, which means they are the cat experts! If you don’t have a cat only vet practice near you then the next best thing would be a Cat Friendly Clinic.
Cat Friendly Clinics are vet practices who have been assessed against the International Cat Care’s guidelines and who have proven that they are providing an extra level of care to cats within their practice – for example they may have separate cat and dog waiting areas, separate cat and dog hospital wards, a cat only consulting room and may have a vet with extra certificates in feline medicine and surgery. You can find your nearest cat friendly clinic by visiting https://catfriendlyclinic.org/cat-owners/find-a-clinic/. If there isn’t a cat friendly clinic in your area then just make sure you find a vet which gives you a good feeling when you visit.
If your cat seems happy there and you feel your cat is receiving a good level of care then it is the right vet for you. There may be a vet at this practice who has a particular interest in felines so it is worth asking when you register and you could ask to see this particular vet for your visit! When you do go to the vets for your cats first check up you can make it as stress free as possible by covering their cat box with a blanket when in the car and in the waiting room. You can also spray a pheromone or calming spray on the blanket before you place it on the cat carrier too as this can help cats feel less stressed.
When your cat is called in for their appointment make sure to open their cat carrier and let them come out on their own. Ask the vet to wait for them to come out of their own accord (a cat friendly vet will do this anyway) and let them wander around the consultation room first. If they don’t want to come out you can gently remove the top of the cat carrier so that they can stay in their carrier but the vet can still examine them. There are some cat carriers now which are designed to be top opening which are much more cat friendly.
Francesca’s behaviourist top tip - If you haven’t already purchased a cat carrier and are looking to get one before collecting your rescue cat I would definitely advise one of these carriers. They are also easier to get your cat into, not just out of!
14. Feeding your new rescue cat
The first few days and weeks with your new rescue cat are all about helping them settle in, making it as calm and stress free as possible and building up a lasting bond between you. There is also an element of realistic expectations that anyone adopting a rescue cat needs to be mindful of. A rescue cat may have a history of traumatic experiences, they may not have had much interaction with people or children or other pets and they may be nervous or skittish so they require a lot of understanding and respect.
Make sure to set realistic expectations of your new cat. If they haven’t been around humans much then they are unlikely to be a lap cat and rather than trying to force them to be something which they are not try and respect them for what they are. It may be that they never will be a lap cat and that is ok. They will still keep you company and you can still enjoy watching them curled up asleep in front of the fire or trying to catch flies in the garden.
Your new rescue cat will bring you much joy if you can focus on all the little things they do which make you smile rather than the things you wished they did do and take great comfort in knowing that you’ve given them a new beginning and a chance at a better, happier life.
If you'd like advice from Francesca, please use the contact form on her website to email her directly.
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