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Cats are easily stressed, which is why they depend so much on routine. As a result, anything new can be a problem for them. You need patience and consistency to give cats time to get comfortable with any changes, new people, and new behaviors.
Cats learn social behavior by watching their mothers and you. To help your cat or kitten get comfortable with you, give it a chance to observe enticing behaviors from a safe location before asking the cat to accept you.
When you first bring your new cat home, set up a cattery cage. This will be where your cat will live at all times for about a week as you introduce it to your home. This establishes a safe, dependable environment for your cat while it transitions into your home. It gives the cat time to become familiar with the sights and scents in your house and among your family members. Place a covered cat bed with soft bedding and a small litter box in the cattery to make it fully self-sufficient. Put water and food bowls at the opposite end of the cage from the litter box. Locate the cattery in active room where the cat can observe your family’s daily routines, including those you’ve created for the cat’s care. But ignore the cat most of the time. It needs to put you in the center of its world and “win” your affection. However, it is useful to talk out loud to yourself so that your cat gets to know your voice.
Start by feeding your cat in the cattery at least three times a day, but don’t leave food in the cage for more than 15 minutes. When you deposit and remove food and water, do not engage with your cat by talking to it or petting it. Separately, conduct some of your own daily activities directly in front of the cattery, like brushing your hair, organizing your briefcase or your child’s knapsack, or spending time on a computer. Keep the activity low key but in the cat’s view.
Once the cat gets comfortable with eating, begin to leave your hand in the cage a little longer when removing the food. At each feeding, let your hand rest a little closer to the cat. When you think your cat is ready, start placing your hand in the cage and letting it linger there before feeding until the cat will eat with your hand in the cage. When the cat begins to rub your hand, try putting a small amount of food on one finger and place your hand in the cage near the cat. Let your hand relax. When the cat licks the food from your finger, it is a sign that your relationship is forming.
Give your pet quiet praise, but don’t shout with excitement. This will be counterproductive and will frighten the cat. Finally, using the same technique, wait to make any further progress until the cat eats a treat from your hand.
Now you can shift your concentration on opening the door to the cage and allowing the cat to come out. First be sure that the door to the room is closed. Again, proceed in baby steps that allow your cat to make adjustments and become familiar. Open the door of the cage and place your hand just outside of it. When the cat rubs or licks your hand, give it quiet praise. Then move farther away and put some treats around you on the floor. Reinforce each achievement with soothing words of praise. The process may be slow, but it leads to trust, the best framework for your interaction and future relationship. Continue applying this approach to get the cat comfortable with being held, using the real litter box, using the scratch post, and completing any other behaviors you want from your cat.
If both cats lived with other cats before, especially litter mates, there’s a better chance they will reside well together. Regardless, the first impression your new and existing cats have of each other may set the tone for life. So be prepared before introducing a new cat to an existing cat. Allow at least two weeks of isolation before beginning the introductory process between cats. This gives your new cat time to make all the other stressful adjustments it needs and to ensure that your new cat does not carry any diseases or infections.
Set up the two cats in adjacent rooms that have a door between them or in two enclosed areas next to each other. Let the cats smell and hear each other but not see each other. Feed them both treats from the door between them to increase their interest and awareness in the other being you’re engaging with. After two or three days, switch rooms to allow each cat to fully familiarize itself with the other’s scent. Next, place a screen between the two rooms and begin playing with each cat in proximity to the divider so that the other cat hears and sees what you are doing. Don’t proceed with the next step until you are sure that neither cat demonstrates any aggression about your time spent with the other, which will take one or two weeks. Play with each cat close to the divider and, over a few days, keep moving the play closer to the divider until you are right up against it. Watch to see if one cat strains to play with you while you play with the other. If neither cat shows aggression and both come up to the divider when you play with the other, then you can move on to the next step.
Eventually, you will be able to remove the screen between the two rooms. Expect some stress at first. One or both cats may hide for a while. Keep a close watch on both cats. The goal is for them to either engage playfully and comfortably with each other or to ignore each other. If there are any signs of aggression, get between the cats and separate them. Then help them through baby steps until they get comfortable with each other’s presence. During this transition period, watch for signs of stress or territorialism, such as one cat harassing the other, soiling outside the litter box, withdrawing, losing appetite, constipation, or any other irregularities. This may mean that you are going too fast and you need to take a step or two back and give your cats more time to adjust to each other.
There are two ways to simplify this process. One is to purchase two cats at the same time from the same litter. You won’t have to orient them to each other at all. Second, if you are bringing a kitten home to a young or middle-aged cat already residing in your home, don’t introduce the kitten until it is spayed or neutered, which will prevent any sexually-oriented aggressive behavior.
Cats often live in households with other pets. The process to effectively introduce your cat to another pet is the same as it is to introduce the new cat to another cat. However, the process may take more time for other pets, particularly if they are natural predators to cats. Be sure to maintain careful supervision over your cat and other pets for the first month or two that you allow them out in a room together, particularly when one is predator and the other prey. They may appear to be fine, yet in an unexpected moment, nature could take over and cause an instant of extreme aggression.
Consider the entire pregnancy as an opportunity to acclimate your cat with the introduction of a new person into your home. You’ll need time to get the cat familiar with all the new sights, sounds, and scents caring for an infant brings into your home. Play tapes of baby sounds. Rub some baby lotion or powder on your hands. Set up the nursery as early as possible and give your cat time to wander around. You can even carry around a baby doll while doing routine activities so that your cat observes the changes. About one month before the baby is due, cover all surfaces that will be off limits to the cat once the baby arrives throughout the house, especially in the nursery. Cut out pieces of cardboard the size and shape of each surface, such as the changing table and crib. Put double-sided tape on one side and cover with the tape side up. Cats dislike sticky surfaces and will avoid these areas. A month will give them the time they need to relearn their behaviors and avoid these surfaces in the future.
If you originally placed the litter box in what will become the nursery, start the process of changing locations as soon as you find out you are pregnant. Each day, move the litter box a little bit closer toward the new location. If you move the litter box too much at one time, this will cause your pet stress and may result in soiling outside the litter box, so take it slow and move little by little. If you will need to adjust other elements of your cat care because of the baby’s schedule, try to anticipate as much of the new routine as possible and begin making the shift two or three months before you bring the baby home.
Once the baby is born, have someone take an article of clothing or fabric with the baby’s scent home and give it to your cat so it can become familiar with the new scent. When you bring the baby home, don’t be surprised if all the visitors cause your cat to go into hiding. Let the cat come exploring your infant in its own time. As it gets more comfortable, you can introduce it to the baby.
Never leave a baby alone in a room with a cat unsupervised, and be extra careful that the cat is out of the nursery when your baby sleeps or naps.