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5 Mistakes to Avoid When First Adopting a Cat

April 25, 2016

I just recently adopted a little kitty named Kleo. She is adorable and precious. When I first laid eyes on her she was in a little compartment in a pet store. It wasn’t that bad I guess, although at the time, I felt so sorry for her. She looked up at me with pleading eyes and when the pet store associate opened her door, she nudged my hand for pets. She was quiet and reserved, but very cuddly. I felt terribly sad that she was in that tiny box with only a cat bed to sleep in, a mini cardboard scratch pad and tiny bowls of water and food. I thought about her for weeks.

It had been about 15 years since I had a pet. I had grown up with cats and dogs, but the timing never seemed right to have one on my own. This time I decided to go for it and adopt Kleo. I knew she would be ecstatic to be out of that cage, with a big one bedroom apartment to roam around in. When I went to pick her up, I bought everything I thought she needed; food, kitty litter, litter box, scratch pad, etc. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional roller coaster she took me on for the first two weeks in her new home.

Unfortunately, I can’t blame her for the ups and downs within the first couple of weeks. I didn’t do my homework. I was a bad cat mama! I thought I knew cats from growing up with them. I was wrong. Adopting an adult cat is a whole other ballgame. It takes patience and understanding of the nature of cats. Especially cats whose histories are somewhat unknown.

Going on three weeks in, things seem to get better. But I wish I knew then what I know now. It would have made things a lot easier for both Kleo and I. Luckily, with the help of the adoption agency, I was able to fix the mistakes I was making with little Kleo. Now she seems much happier, and I am too! Here’s what I learned:

5 Mistakes To Avoid When First Adopting A Cat

1. Create a small space for them

This was my first mistake. When I first let Kleo out of her cat carrier when we got home, she made a beeline for our bedroom. She was scared to come out, but I finally coaxed her to come out from underneath the bed. I picked her up and brought her out to the living room to hang out on the couch. My boyfriend and I were watching a movie and she seemed to be okay. The problem was that first night I had put the kitty litter in the bathroom (common sense, right?) and her food bowls in the kitchen. She wasn’t having it. Nor would she for almost two weeks! She didn’t eat, and she didn’t use the litter box that night. Turns out she was scared of the kitchen and the bathroom. In my mind I was trying to train her to eat and use the litter box in a certain place. I soon realized that I would need to bring these things to her because for the first week or so because she wouldn’t come out of my room. What I learned is that cats need to get used to their surroundings before you train them to do things in certain parts of the house. Patience is essential.

2. Let them come to you

Mistake number two I made was picking her up and forcing to come out to the living room when she was scared to death of leaving the bedroom. It got to the point where she would run away from me when I entered the bedroom, afraid that I would pick her up. After about three days of this, I gave in. I haven’t tried to pick her up since. I just give her pets when she lets me and guess what? Now she comes to me! And she’s been making her way out to the living room more and more.  It’s scary for them to be in a new place with new people. And although we as new pet owners have the best intentions, sometimes we’re really not taking into account that it takes time for them to adjust, especially when we force them to be where we are. I’ve had to learn all over, cats are not dogs!

3. Place the kitty litter in their space

…Or else. The first night I had Kleo, I put the litter box in the bathroom and took her in there a couple of times so she knew where it was. The bathroom is literally right next to our bedroom so I thought it would be fine. It wasn’t. I soon learned she was scared of the bathroom and would not go in there. Hence, you can guess what happened; midnight meows and an accident waiting to be found in the morning. Poor thing! This also goes back to letting adjust to the new space. Especially if they’ve been in cramped quarters in a shelter or pet store, a one bedroom apartment can seem like a mansion. Best to have the litter box nearby.

4. Place their food in their sacred space

Cats in new surroundings tend to go on hunger strikes for the first day or so. This, I found out, is completely normal. However, I thought I could teach Kleo right away that she should eat in the kitchen. Nope. The first day or so, she would eat in the living room, but would refuse to go into the kitchen. Then something in the living room spooked her and she wouldn’t come out there to eat again. I spoke with the adoption agency and they suggested I put her food and water in her little space until she feels more comfortable roaming the house. She’s been eating like a little hungry lion ever since. Although eventually I definitely want Kleo’s food and water in the kitchen, she’s been making great strides at feeling more comfortable since I’ve started feeding her in the room. I think she’ll be able to make the transition soon!

5. Give them lots of love in their space

One thing I think I have been doing correctly is spending time in Kleo’s space with her. At first I wanted her out in the living room with me, hanging out at night. I still do! And she’s been making little appearances here and there this past week. But I’ve been spending a lot of time hanging out with her in her space in our bedroom, giving her lots of love. And I think it’s helped her transition a lot and built her trust in me.

What I’ve realized through this process is that building a relationship with your new cat is all about building trust. Eventually, they will come out of their shell if they feel safe. It may not be in the time frame that you hope for, however slowly but surely it will happen. I can already see major improvements with little Kleo and I couldn’t be happier to have her in my life.

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