You find yourself in an unfamiliar room. No one has explained to you why you are there or how long you can expect to stay. The room has several doors, none of which you are able to open, and beyond them you hear noises: rustling, scraping, music, and voices speaking in an unintelligible language. You are alone, or seem to be alone, but of course you are alert. Any of those doors could open at any time, and you want to see whoever comes in before he or she sees you.
Suddenly a latch turns, and a very large person walks in–a giant. He comes over to you and says something in the same foreign language you’ve heard through the doors. In fact, he smiles and nods as if you should understand his gibberish. Then, to your horror, he approaches. You cower, but the giant grabs you with his terrible, long fingers! Depending on your disposition, you might try to fend him off. Perhaps you begin to hyperventilate and struggle to awaken from the nightmare. Perhaps, at this point, Rod Serling’s voice tells you you have entered The Twilight Zone…
This scenario is, of course, much like the one faced by your adopted cat for the first few days, weeks, or months after you bring him or her home. If your cat is especially easygoing, and you take care to isolate him or her at first from other pets or small children in your home, then maybe the transition from wariness to mutual trust will take almost no time. Some adopters send us joyous emails within just a few days. On the other hand, if your cat is sensitive and was recently traumatized–whether by the sounds and sights of a county shelter, or by suddenly losing a comfortable home and beloved family, or by spending days or weeks outdoors as a stray after a foreclosure–the transition might take much longer. I personally have one cat who took to sprawling all over me after one day of hiding behind the futon, and another who didn’t climb into my lap for more than six months.
Kittens often adapt to a new home more quickly than adult cats do, and they typically adapt more readily to life in a multi-cat household, but even a kitten needs to be welcomed with care and patience. We sometimes see, on an internet forum, a posting in which a person has acquired a kitten of a breed known for its affectionate nature and then complains, after only a few days, “The kitten doesn’t like us!” Last year we had a kitten returned to us after only a week because the kitten did not like being carried around as much as the family’s children were inclined to carry it. Try not to expect too much, too soon, after introducing a cat of any age into a strange environment.
In the case of an adoption from PPCR, the foster mom should be able to give you advice based how your new family member behaved in foster care. For example, a cat who quickly adapted to a foster home, possibly with children and probably with other pets, has a good likelihood of adapting quickly to your home also. However, even in such cases, it makes good sense to be patient. Remember that the resident pets in a PPCR foster home are accustomed to welcoming new arrivals; your own pets might be less ready or willing to put a new arrival at ease. In addition, many of our foster moms have worked in rescue for years and have become expert at interpreting feline signals.
Even if your cat appeared on first meeting to be relaxed and confident, be sure to follow these guidelines to help him or her adapt to your household:
- Keep the new arrival isolated in a small space for at least one week before allowing access to the rest of your home. Spend time in the space, but keep interactions relaxed. Let the cat approach you. Move slowly, and do not force physical interaction.
- If you have other cats, wait at least two weeks before beginning introductions. Give your new cat and resident cat(s) plenty of time to grow used to each other’s smell through a closed doorway before meeting face to face. Then give each cat a chance to explore the other’s space without the risk of an actual meeting; for example, sequester your resident cats in the kitchen while your new cat visits the living room for the first time. Even once you have opened the doors, make sure your cats have separate bowls and litter boxes, and provide nooks and crannies for refuge. Bring the cats together at times when they are most likely to be calm—after a meal or play session—and supervise all interactions. It can take many months for cats to become friends. Some cats never do make friends, but most can coexist with other cats in a household. (We try to identify, in advance, those “divas” who will not tolerate other cats.)
Most importantly, try to remember that, like any significant relationship, the bond between you and your cat will need time to develop. Paradoxically, the greater your haste, the longer the process is likely to take.