There is nothing so heartwarming as when a family visits an animal shelter and falls in love with a cat who needs a home. The kids, the kitty, and shelter staff all become excited about this wonderful news!
Amid the excitement of acquiring a new pet, however, parents must prepare their home and all who live in it to ensure that the new family member starts off on the right paw. Here are some suggestions for a happy adjustment with your new feline friend.
THE PERFECT MATCH
Parents will want to select the right pet for their family. When deciding on a cat to bring home, it is especially easy to to fall in love with all the cute kittens who need homes. Kittens can be great fun and have lots of energy, but it is wise to remember they are kittens and don’t always know what is appropriate and what isn’t—especially when interacting with small children.
Take the time to train your children on proper ways to hold and pet a small animal. Kids and kittens can have marvelous relationships as they can grow up together; however, parents should keep in mind that even the smallest kitten has teeth and claws that can result in bites and scratches. Never leave a small child alone with your kitten.
Choosing an adult cat can sometimes be a better choice for families with kids, since they are usually much calmer, already trained, and used to living with people. Feel free to discuss your concerns about selecting the right cat with shelter staff. They can usually tell you which cats would work best with children since we test their temperaments prior to placing them up for adoption and have probably spent a lot of time getting to know what makes each cat unique.
Because I have spent years trying to help cats find new homes, I encourage families to consider adopting a special needs cat. Most shelters have cats with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), diabetes, and stomatitis, which is a condition resulting in inflammation and sores in the mouth. While some special food, medication, and care are required in these cases, none of these illnesses is contagious to humans or dogs, so please do not hesitate to adopt such kitties.
The ability to help a special needs cat can be a wonderful learning experience for your family. And I’ve found that special needs kitties seem to be amazingly grateful that you have taken them in and provided a loving home for them.
THE NEW ARRIVAL
It is a good idea to purchase all the basics for your kitty before you bring him or her home. You will need litter boxes, food, bowls for food and water, toys, and appropriate scratching options. In your home, you should provide access to vertical space with a cat tree that will allow your kitty to view the family as he or she gets used to the new surroundings.
Also, ask caretakers at the shelter what activities the kitty liked to engage in while in their care so you will know what else to buy. All of this pre-adoption preparation can be both fun and educational for children. They will learn that having a beloved animal friend requires work: budgeting, planning, and nurturing.
Adopters should remember that cats may hide for the first week or so in a new home, so parents will want to remind children to give the kitty his or her space until the cat feels comfortable enough to venture out. It is normal for children to want to play with the new cat immediately upon bringing him or her home, but cats are cautious in new environments and will want to quietly observe the routine in a new home.
Once they feel comfortable with the comings and goings of a new family and the different level of noise and activity, they will start to explore. Encourage kids not to be disappointed while waiting for the cat to adjust. This critical period is the time to respect your kitty’s individual needs and keep expectations realistic.
Special toys used for daily play time and wonderful treats that the kitty really likes will entice him or her to come out and play. Maybe let children help select these items and teach them patience and understanding as they coax the cat to be more sociable.
MORE TRANSITION TIPS
Consider starting your cat in a smaller room with food and a litter box before letting them progress to the rest of the house. After your cat is more comfortable, you can eventually relocate litter and food to a different place by adding a second set-up in the new area. Once they begin using it consistently, remove the old set-up. Let kids monitor and organize these stations to learn more about cat behavior and care.
This period of acclimation can be scary for new kitties. They will be hesitant and on their best behavior. Everything will seem to be wonderful during this honeymoon phase, which may last for the first several weeks.
As new cats become more familiar and start to feel like one of the family, they do what all children do: they start to push boundaries and test the limits of their parents’ patience. Scratching furniture, climbing curtains, getting on countertops, and not using the litter box can manifest. Such behavior can be frustrating.
This phase is an excellent time to consult shelter staff to help ease the transition. Any behavioral issues should be addressed early before they become a learned behavior that is difficult to change. Use this time to educate children on managing and problem-solving a difficult situation. Perhaps this exercise will give kids some empathy for parents!
Bringing a shelter cat into your home is one of the most wonderful experiences that you and your children can have. Your family not only receives a wonderful loving companion to enjoy for up to two decades, but also saves the life of a cat who is waiting for an open space at the shelter. Enjoying feline friendship while also helping homeless pets is a win-win for everyone.
Criss Bruneman is the feline services consultant for the Norfolk SPCA and has worked or volunteered in animal sheltering for more than 20 years.