Introducing Cats Part I: Start in a Small Space

Angel lived in my bathroom for about 2 weeks before I introduced her to the pride in gen pop.

You have a new cat. You’re excited to bring her home and introduce her to your resident kitty.

News Flash: Your resident cat is not even half as thrilled as you … but he can get there!

Introducing cats is a science – but fortunately for all of us, it isn’t rocket science.

My next few posts will provide a few different solutions for successful cat intros. Patience, as always, is very important. This post will cover one consistently necessary step: Start your new cat in a small space so she has time to adjust to you and your home – and everyone else has time to adjust to her!

1-2 Week Intro/Transition Period

Mama cat with kittens.
Femi relaxes with her six kittens in a bed in my bathroom.

Find a small bathroom or bedroom without hiding places to let your new kitty adjust for 1-2 weeks. Some call this a shutdown, but that’s not really what it is, so I’m going to call it the intro or transition period:-)

Remember, this is a cat, not a person. It’s a positive and KIND step to help the cat acclimate to her new environment by allowing her to adjust in a smaller space. This is also your time to bond with the newest member of your household. She will start getting used to how your home smells, and will start marking by rubbing against your furniture and fixtures.

Welcome Kitty Setup

  • Food bowl – Fill when your new cat is there. She’ll make the connection that YOU are her caretaker, and will start associating positive things with YOU.
  • Water bowl/fountain
  • Litter box with fresh litter
  • Bed with a blanket
  • Corrugated box scratcher with catnip
  • Handful of toys

A Fur-Do & Pawi-Cure


Tabby cat sleeping
Janine did not do well at the shelter. For two months, she hid in her cage, depressed. This is the night I got her. I immediately cut her nails and brushed her – just look at the pile of fur in the trash. She knew she was loved and safe. Some cats suffer severe depression in kennels.

The very first thing I do for a new cat is put food in their bowl in front of them, followed by a brushing session. Cats groom each other to bond. By brushing, you’re telling them, “I’m your caretaker. I care about you.” Don’t go to the point that the cat is angry or overstimulated. Just a little bit of brushing around the sides of the face and base of the spine (right where the tail starts) will help win over your new guest. If the cat does not allow it at all, that’s okay. Put the brush aside and try it later.

Nail Clipping a New Cat? Liz, Are You Insane?

I might be haha. Think of it as taking that plunge into cold water in the pool to get it over with. Remember, shorter nails are more comfortable, plus, you want her to start to learn that nail trimming is routine in her new home. It’s part of grooming! Be quick and limit the drama. The more you make a fuss, the more the cat will reflect your emotions. Review my previous post, “How to Trim Your Cat’s Nails” for tips.

Food & Poop

It’s harder to monitor eating, drinking, and bathroom functions if the new kitty is mixed with existing residents. You want to make sure everything is normal as she adjusts. Check to make sure everything is normal.

Sometimes a cat is too stressed to eat in the beginning. A day or two of fasting is usually okay (remember, outdoor cats don’t catch prey everyday). It’s also common for a cat to have diarrhea for a few days after a move, especially if you’re giving her different food. My common rule is if there isn’t any improvement by day three, I will go to the vet, but use your discretion. Anything highly disturbing, like bloody stools or vomit, worms in poop, etc., should be addressed immediately.

Socialization & Bonding


Incorporate lots of pets and scratching so the new cat gets comfortable with you, and gets more familiar with your scent. Every cat is different, but common areas for pets are the nose and head. For scratches, try the sides of the face, above the eyes, and the chin.

Pic from AnimalWised. Check out their article, The Best Places to Pet a Cat – How to Pet Properly.

Boost Confidence with Playtime

kittens crawling on legs
Kittens love crawling and playing on everything. This is part of the socialization process.

Start slow and steady: Grab a tiny toy and drag it across the floor. If the cat is engaged and looking at the toy, you’re on your way! As she gets more engaged, you can graduate to teaser toys that get her to jump and run around. Don’t be discouraged if she just wants to sit with her belly on the floor and bat at things. She is guarding her internal organs in this position, and therefore, feels safe in her new environment.

And if you have kittens … good news … they play with anything and everything.

One-on-One Attention

tabby kitten
High five, little one!

Spend a good portion one-on-one time with your new cat. Make sure all family members take turns interacting and feeding her. You don’t want to create any sort of favoritism, or it will lead to problems down the road.

Stress & Illness

The slightest change, even a positive change, is stressful for a cat. Change = Stress. A new environment is very overwhelming, which is another reason the transition period is a good idea.

Stress can also cause illness. Most cats have feline herpes in their system – relax, it’s just a kitty cold. A move can cause the virus to flare up. By keeping her in a small space, you can keep a closer eye on her, and you’ll know if she’s sneezing too much and might need to see the vet.

Next Up

Cat hair.

My next few posts will highlight different ways to introduce cats, and some will add tasks for you to do outside of the small space during your new cat’s transition period.

Want to watch your new cat have a blast? Give her a banana or sardines from Yeowww! Catnip Products. You can read why they work so well here.

By LizsKittyBootCamp

Hi, I'm Liz, and I'm a cat behaviorist who provides advice and insights on cat behavior.

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