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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

The advice in this book comes from Candi Wingate, President of Care4hire.com.
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Introducing a New Cat to the Family

So, you’re adopting a new family member!  Congratulations!  Cats can be wonderful additions to your family: they can provide 12 to 18 years (assuming they are indoor-only cats) of love and merriment to your household.  They can also teach your family about how to love and understand others who may view the world differently than you do (as cats typically do view the world through a somewhat different lens than humans do), how to handle gently beings that are smaller than you are, and how to care for those who are dependent upon you.  Here are a few tips to help you ensure that your newest family member adapts to your existing family members, home, and lifestyle as quickly and easily as possible.

  • Try to spend some time with the cat before taking him/her out of his/her familiar environment.  Sit or play with him/her for a little bit just to help him/her understand that s/he is safe with you.
  • Some cats are very comfortable riding in a car, but most are not.  Your new cat will likely be best transported in a pet taxi (a pet carrier) which can be placed on a seat in your vehicle.  Once your cat is in the pet taxi, jostle the taxi as little as possible as jostling can be unnerving for the cat inside the taxi.  Place soft items (blankets, small pillows, worn and unwashed t-shirts, etc.) that smell like you or his/her familiar environment in the taxi with him/her to make the ride a little less stressful for him/her (and, subsequently, you as well).  Also include in the pet taxi a small dish of water and some cat treats to further reassure your new cat that all is well.  Do not turn your vehicle’s stereo on during the drive unless you need to mask exterior sounds that may be distressing to your cat.  If you choose to play music, something with a slow tempo is typically more relaxing to both cat and human than is up tempo music.  This music won’t fully mask the sound of a jackhammer, for example, but it will provide a more comfortable sound overlay if played at a reasonable decibel.  A timid cat may be comforted by having a blanket placed over his/her pet taxi so as to prevent the cat from seeing out of the pet taxi; a more curious, gregarious cat may prefer to see what is happening around him/her.
  • When you get home, place the pet taxi, with your cat still in it, in a room pre-designated as the cat’s room.  This room should have a door that securely closes (thus blocking all access to the room), be temperature controlled, and have a variety of comfortable and stable surfaces on which the cat can sit.  Food and water dishes should already be in the room, ready for your cat to dine whenever s/he is ready.  A variety of toys and a litter box should also be in the room for your cat’s use.  (Note:  never place a litter box near food and water bowls as cats do not like this.)  This room should be cat-proofed (i.e., no containers of chemicals, no breakables, etc. in the room).  If you have other four-legged family members, they should not be introduced to your new cat at this time.  Have several of your human family members go into the cat’s room, close the door to the room, open the door to the pet taxi, and wait quietly and calmly.  If the cat is worried and chooses to remain in the pet taxi, you can try to entice the cat with cat treats.  Do not force the cat out of the pet taxi.  If your cat does not emerge after about 30 minutes, leave him/her alone in the room, giving him/her some private time to acclimate to his/her new space.  Periodically check on your cat to see if s/he has emerged from the pet taxi.  Once your cat has emerged from the pet taxi, observe his/her behavior.  If s/he is exploring his/her room with some degree of comfort, have one or two human family members enter the cat’s room, closing the door securely behind them, and sitting quietly and calmly for the cat to approach them.  The cat’s behavior will indicate if s/he wants to play, be affectionate, or peacefully co-exist with his/her humans: respond to the cat’s preferences.  If s/he is acting hesitant or nervous, allow him/her a little more private time.  If after 24 hours s/he is still acting hesitant or nervous, you will need to approach the situation differently.  The cat may need to be gently picked up, removed from the taxi, and cuddled for a while even without his/her initiating this.
  • Your new cat should stay in his/her room, behind closed door, with periodic visits each day from his/her human family members until the day that s/he begins pawing at the door and indicating that s/he wants to explore the house beyond the confines of his/her room.  If you have a small home, let your new cat explore as s/he wishes within the home at this point, always leaving his/her original room open to him/her.  If you have a large home and you can shut off areas within your home, allow your new cat to have access to graduated portions of your home . . . allowing your cat to range over larger portions of you home as time passes.  Ensure that the areas of your home that are accessible to your new cat are cat-proofed.  You can train your cat to stay off certain surfaces (i.e., kitchen counters), but this training will occur over time; in the meantime, take breakables, chemical containers, etc., off all accessible surfaces until your cat understands where it is and is no ok for him/her to be.  If you have other four-legged family members, their introduction to your new cat will need to occur gradually as well.  By this point, all your four-legged family members will have heard and smelled one another: they know at least a little about each other by these.  However, the face-to-face interactions can be tricky.  Pets can be territorial; the new cat may be seen as a threat to the territory of an existing pet.  Therefore, when the first face-to-face meeting is scheduled, ensure adequate human supervision for the endeavor.  Expect some growling or hissing.   If the meeting becomes violent (one four-legged family member attacks another), the combatants must be carefully yet promptly separated.  Another face-to-face can be arranged again (and again) until the parties accept one another.  During this process, each combatant needs to be able to have his/her own territory or safe space that will not be violated by the other combatant.  Also, both combatants need to receive love and affirmation from their human family members so that they understand that they are secure in their own space.  (In some families, the four-legged family members are introduced by being in the same room, but held by different human family members.  The humans may simply sit and watch television – at a distance from one another – while holding their four-legged family members.  This gives each four-legged family member an opportunity to view the other without having to worry about a physical threat at that moment.)
  • When one of your four-legged family members violates a family rule, you should promptly and gently redirect that behavior.  If the redirection is not prompt, the four-legged family member will not understand the connection between the behavior and the redirection.  If the redirection is not gentle, the four-legged family member will learn to fear his/her humans.  To that end, spanking a cat is not acceptable.  If your new cat is on a surface on which s/he should not be, say an elongated “no” (“noooooo”) in a low tone and normal volume, snap your fingers, point at your cat, and then pick up your cat and put him/her on an approved surface.  After awhile (not right away), your cat will understand but will likely continue to jump on unauthorized surfaces for a while anyway.  Once that understanding occurs (you will know this by your cat’s facial expressions—confused or guilty), you can add to your redirection repertoire, “Get down” and pointing down.  If months have passed without behavior modification, you may have a stubborn cat.  Stubborn cats can sometimes be persuaded by a little time (usually no more than 15 minutes) in a confined space such as a shower with glass doors (cats can easily exit showers with shower curtains rather than doors).  Confinement can be a successful punishment because then your cat is removed from his/her territory against his/her will.  Such confinement should occur promptly following the undesirable behavior.  (Note:  a shower stall is ideal for confinement in case your case needs to use his/her box while confined.)  In the alternative to brief confinement, you can spray your cat with a little water from a clean spray bottle (cats dislike getting wet).  You can also enlist the services of a pet behaviorist or engage your cat in some compromise between your wishes and his/hers.  Stubborn cats or cats who are intellectually challenged will take longer to train; smart, people-pleaser cats can be trained within weeks.
  • When your new cat can roam your home fully, without major violations of family rules, and has bonded adequately with all members of your family (both two- and four-legged), your new cat’s introduction to your family is complete.

Taking home any new family member, two-legged or four, can be a lot of work, but the love you will give and receive will make it all worthwhile.  Congratulations on your decision to adopt a pet!  May your lives together be long and happy!

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