14 Tips for Bringing Home a Rescue Cat

Are you adding a new cat to your family? Congratulations! Adopting from your local animal shelter or rescue organization is a great way to make a difference in the life of a cat or kitten in need. As you’re preparing and getting ready for the arrival of your newest family member, there is a lot to consider. To help you get started, we have put together a list of tips for bringing home a rescue cat.

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This list will walk you through the coming weeks starting with preparing your home for your new cat through to helping him adjust to life in your home.

Preparation is key! Taking these steps to introduce your rescue cat both to his new family and his new home will allow you to set everyone up for a lifetime of happiness together.

What more could you ask for?

Be Prepared for Bringing Home a Rescue Cat with These 14 Tips

Purchase All Needed Supplies in Advance

The first thing to consider while getting ready for your new kitty is what supplies will be required in the first few days after he arrives in his new home.

After all, you’re not going to want to spend your early days stressing about the things that you may have forgotten.

Make sure that you have all the basics for setting up your cat’s space including food and water dishes, a bed, toys, a collar with identification, a carrier, and a litterbox with litter.

After purchasing everything, take the time to take it out and set up your cat’s space.

On the day that you bring your cat home, you want to be able to bring your new kitty straight into his ‘safe space’ without any hassle.

Create a ‘Safe Space’

Speaking of a safe space – you will need to create one somewhere in your home. In the beginning, this is where your cat will spend most of his time.

When you first bring a cat home from the shelter, they are dealing with a lot of change. It can be overwhelming!

By setting up a separate space that is just for your new cat, you provide him with an area where he can feel safe and secure while adjusting to the new sights, sounds, and smells of your home.

This should be a space that is just for him, restricting any other pets from accessing the space.

The best solution is to set up a separate room just for your new cat, using the door to keep everyone separated. Alternatively, you can set up a cat kennel or use a pet safety gate.

Beware! Cats are master jumpers and climbers, which may allow them to get past a gate.

Low Spaces Versus High Spaces

When creating your cat’s new habitat, there are two areas that you need to consider.

The low spaces in your cat’s home would refer to the areas they can access from the ground including the floor, under and on top of furniture like couches, and any items that are placed there.

This should include hiding spaces like cat condos and comfortable cat beds.

The high spaces provide your cat with a clear view of his surroundings, allowing them to see any threats and keep themselves safe.

You can create these safe spaces by including tall cat trees and cat scratchers, taller furniture like bookshelves and the back of chairs or couches, and wall-mounted cat shelves.

cat laying on a scratch post | 14 Tips for Bringing Home a Rescue Cat

Prepare a Pleasant Litter Solution

This may seem a little crazy to new cat owners, especially when considering what it’s used for.

But the most common reason for cats being returned to shelters and rescue organizations is issues with the litter box.

Setting up a litter box that is more comfortable for your cat to use will decrease the risk of “accidents” happening around your home, which is more pleasant for everyone.

Provide your cat with an open, uncovered litter box to avoid trapping unpleasant odors in the space.

There are several different types of litter available. Choose a fine litter, if possible, to make it less abrasive on your cat’s feet.

However, every cat has different preferences.

After bringing home a new cat, be open to changing the litter and experimenting with different types to find what he prefers and is most open to using.  

Familiar Scents Make Things Easier

If you know in advance that you will be bringing a new cat home, you can use scent to help ease the transition.

Cats mark their territory with pheromones, making it easy to identify if an area is familiar or safe.

Consider dropping off a blanket with the shelter or rescue and have them use it in your cat’s current kennel or foster home.

When you pick your cat up, bring the blanket with you, and place it in his safe space.

By transferring that blanket with its familiar smell, you will be able to add a little extra familiarity and comfort to an otherwise unknown area.

Ask About Your Cat’s Current Diet

Find out what foo the shelter or rescue organization is currently feeding your cat and stick to it in the beginning.

Changing your cat’s food over too quickly could cause digestive problems.

This includes switching from hard food to canned food, switching your cat to a new brand of food, or even changing the formula within a single brand.

If you prefer a different food, you can always make the transition. But it should be done slowly.

Have Identification for Pick Up Day

On the day you bring your new cat home, make sure to bring proper identification with you that can be put on your cat before you leave the building.

You can never be too careful.

Some rescues will provide you with a collar as part of their adoption fee, but this isn’t true for every organization.

In addition to the collar, make sure to bring an identification tag with your current contact information.

If you’re unsure of what your shelter or rescue will provide, reach out to them in advance giving yourself plenty of time to pick up anything that you may need.

The move to a new home may trigger feelings of anxiety or stress or your cat, which could cause a fight or flight reaction sending him bolting as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

cat laying in a kennel | 14 Tips for Bringing Home a Rescue Cat

Transport Your Cat Home Safely

When it comes to tips for bringing home a rescue cat, we can’t skip over the actual trip from the shelter.

Before picking up your cat, purchase a cat carrier to allow you to make sure that your cat’s car ride to his forever home is going to be a safe one.

During transport, secure the carrier using the car seatbelts.

Never let your cat wander loose in the car. Not only can this distract the driver, but it could also lead to serious injuries if you were to get into an accident (and accidents happen).

Create an Emergency Contact Sheet

Even if you take every precaution on this list, accidents and emergencies can still happen. That’s why they are called accidents!

One way that you can be prepared to handle an emergency in the best way possible is to create an emergency contact sheet and display it somewhere easy to find in your home.

This should include important emergency phone numbers such as the Pet Poison Helpline (1-855-764-7661) and your vet’s contact information.

Let Your Cat Dictate the Pace

If you’re wondering how long to keep a new cat in one room, there is no one easy answer. Instead, you should follow your cat’s lead.

Pay attention to his comfort levels.

A cat that is overly anxious and uncomfortable with the new situation may need to be kept in a safe room for longer than a cat that starts to adjust quickly to its surroundings.

If you’re bringing home a second cat, you should also pay attention to the stress and anxiety levels of your first cat.

Just as we recommend the 3-3-3 rule for adopting a dog, the same concept applies to bringing home an adopted cat – he needs time to decompress, assess his surroundings, and feel safe in his new environment.

cat hiding under blanket | 14 Tips for Bringing Home a Rescue Cat

Don’t Rush Introductions to Family Members

When introducing a new cat to your home, there is more to consider than just the surroundings. You also need to introduce your kitty to his new family members.

First, give your new cat time to decompress and adjust to his new space.

The process of introducing your cat to either human family members or other pets shouldn’t be rushed. Instead, the secret to success is to take your time and approach just one introduction at a time over an extended period.

This will help to reduce the stress and anxiety that your cat may feel in the process.

If you are a multi-pet household, keep your pets separated throughout the process except for short, supervised introductions.

For households with children, take time to teach your children to interact with the new cat. Watch the reactions and stress levels of all parties involved and don’t be afraid to cut an introduction short.

Learn to Recognize the Signs of Stress or Illness

While your cat is going to need to decompress and adjust to his new surroundings, you should also keep your eyes open for any red flags when adopting a cat.

This includes signs that your cat may be suffering from an illness that will require medical care such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Irregular heartbeat, racing heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing or panting
  • Difficulty breathing or appearing breathless
  • Not eating or drinking for an extended period
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Discharge from the nose or eyes
  • Limping or lameness
  • Wounds or swelling
  • Hair loss or skin irritations

In addition to physical illness, you should also watch for signs of stress that are lasting for a long period of time such as hiding for days on end or refusing to eat for a longer time.

Stress IS normal during the decompression stage, but too much stress could lead to long-term problems.

Reach out to your veterinarian and express your concerns. They may be able to recommend a calming product to help with this transition.

Plan a ‘Happy Visit’ with Your Veterinarian

One of the biggest sources of stress for many cats is a trip to the veterinarian, but it doesn’t have to be!

There are two factors to consider, the first being the trip itself and introducing the carrier to your cat so that they aren’t stressed before even arriving.

The second is to introduce the vet clinic and your veterinarian specifically as a positive experience.

To assist with this process, many veterinarians will welcome a “happy visit”. This is a short appointment where your cat visits the clinic just to be introduced to the space and the people.

Make sure to include treats and praise to make the experience as positive as possible.

Your veterinarian is an important team member when it comes to providing your cat with a long, happy, healthy life. So, it’s best to start the relationship off right.

cat in carrier pin | 14 Tips for Bringing Home a Rescue Cat

Patience is Key

When bringing home a shelter cat, be prepared to exercise patience and understanding. The decompression and adjustment phase may take a while.

Investing some time early on will set you and your new cat up for success down the road.

Do you have experience adopting a cat? If so, do you have any tips for bringing home a rescue cat that you would like to share with new cat parents?

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