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This won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows anything about cats, but our feline friends can be extremely territorial. In fact, "if they're going into a brand-new territory—where they don't own anything and there are new smells and sights and sounds—it's going to take them some time to sink back into their skin and to feel they belong in that new place," says Jackson Galaxy, a cat behavior and wellness expert.
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That means when you bring your new cat home, he or she may need time to adjust. "They're leaving all they've known and are entering a whole new world with different humans, scenery, and scents," says Jessa Paschke, behavior and training specialist at Mars Petcare North America. But you can make their transition easier, and make them feel more at home, with these tips.
Introduce them to your home slowly.
When you bring your cat home, don't give him or her the run of the house just yet, says Galaxy. Instead, he suggests creating a "base camp" where you place all of their belongings, like litter, blankets, or a bed. By doing this, "they can look out windows and get a lay of the land and just 'own' that one space before you start opening up the rest of the world to them," Galaxy explains.
Spread their belongings throughout the house.
After a few days, allow your cat to roam your home freely. Place his or her belongings—things they have soaked with their scent, like their bed or fabric toys—throughout the house, Galaxy says. "When placed around the house, they act as territorial sign posts for your new cat, so whenever they walk by something that was in their 'base camp,' they smell it and they're reminded that they belong and live [in your house]," Galaxy says. "It increases their confidence."
Create routines for your cat.
Galaxy also recommends creating routines for your cat—rituals that can become a part of your pet's everyday life. "Just like humans, cats thrive on stability from day to day and knowing how their day is going to go," he says. "Nobody likes anarchy, so feeding times, doing the same thing when you wake up in the morning, and scheduling playtimes are all important because it gives your cat confidence. Make sure your cat has things throughout the day that become normal."
Give your cat time to adapt.
It will take your cat time to adjust to his or her new home, says Paschke. "Every cat will need a different amount of time to get used to their new home," she says. "It's important to not flood them with too many new encounters too quickly, or expect immediate confidence. They'll grow confidence in their own space first and then they can then begin exploring connected rooms. Let your cat make their own moves and not coerce them into situations they may not be ready for."
When planning space for your new cat, think vertically. "Cats define their space vertically, from floor to ceiling, as opposed to how humans define space," Galaxy explains. Maximizing your cat's space and making him or her feel at home might mean creating pathways for him or her to walk without touching the floor. (For example, you might position a cat tower close to a window, or make space for them to walk on your bookshelf.) "This will increase their perception of the volume of space they have in your home," Galaxy says. "It will give them a sense of belonging." Try a hammock secured under your table, a drop-down shelf to your window, or even a basket mounted to the wall.
Enrich their space and life.
Even as your cat adjusts, continue to introduce rewarding things to his or her life, Paschke says. "Toys such as play mice, teaser toys, or catnip-infused items can help encourage cats to use some of their new space," she says, while "food-based games and brain games can help them exercise their mind." Or, put a bird or fish show on your TV to really entertain your new feline friend.