Settling in a new cat in a small flat
September 19, 2020 5:02 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend who lives alone in a small one-room flat and plans to get a cat. How would you go about settling a new cat in, given that s/he can't give it a room of its own to get acclimatised, as is advised by most rescue shelters? We're in the UK.

My friend has a small apartment (with garden) and wants to adopt a cat.

Rescue centres, friends and the internet all advise that you give the cat a room of its own to get acquainted with first. My friend has only one room in their apartment - the sleeping area and living space (now her home office) and a small galley kitchen separated from the main section by an archway.

How would they go about getting the cat settled in when there's only one room in the apartment? I suggested moving some furniture around temporarily to cordon off part of the main room into a little safe haven for the cat, or potentially using the galley kitchen as cat's home base - but my friend would have to go into and out of the kitchen a few times a day which might freak the cat out. She's working from home so would be around the whole time.

She's got a ton of supplies for the cat including a little tent bed thing that he can crawl into, and the kitchen has lots of shelves and nooks and crannies and a nice window ledge for him to sit on.

How did you settle your new cat into a small living space?
posted by sockandawe to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
If the friend has a separate bathroom, that might be where the litter box is anyway, and if there was a soft napping place, it could work nicely. Otherwise I wouldn’t worry too much as long as there are hidey places around the studio.
posted by Hypatia at 5:22 AM on September 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

As an n = 1, in a (slightly larger than your friend’s) one bedroom setup, my adopted cat escaped the room I had set up to keep her in to get acclimatised within hours of coming home and seemed more content with free reign of the house and choosing her own spots in which to curl up.
posted by Erinaceus europaeus at 5:26 AM on September 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

It's ideal but not at all necessary. The main thing is to show the cat where the litter box is, make sure there's at least one cosy spot out of the way, and go do something else in the flat for awhile – cook, do some work at the computer, or otherwise take your attention off the cat for awhile. Most cats will nose around for a little while then take a nap, and come see you in a little while when they're hungry. (I used to foster cats and it almost always worked this way. I didn't have a separate room either.)
posted by zadcat at 6:00 AM on September 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

If the space is small and there aren't any other cats, then it's not even worth worrying about. Maybe try getting a more confident cat, which is fun anyway.

The only issue is that the cat will find a safe spot if it feels like it needs one. So there's some work to do to make sure all the places the cat can find are actually safe. An adult cat can fit through maybe a 5cm gap if the other dimension is relatively wide - so one has to go through ones apartment and decide which small gaps to eliminate and which one is willing to look behind for a scared cat. This becomes far less of a problem as the cat acclimates, but never quite goes away.
posted by wotsac at 6:26 AM on September 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

Ps: for some cats, having a space matters a fair bit. For some cats, it's not a big deal at all. My first cat appreciated having my bedroom as a space for a couple weeks, but she'd have done totally fine if she had been loose in the apartment all day. mostly she was glad to be out of the shelter. Most of my adoptions have gone similarly, excepting one feral cat who had no interest in exploring the house for weeks (first move. After that, he's become a brave adventurer).
posted by wotsac at 6:41 AM on September 19, 2020

I would put out a cardboard box somewhere as another place for the cat to temporarily hide, but it might just go under the sofa or something. Leave the cat's carrier somewhere open and tucked away, too, in case it wants to go back in there. But the cat will probably adjust pretty quickly. Just ignore it until it's ready to come out and avoid making loud noises.
posted by pinochiette at 6:42 AM on September 19, 2020

The traditional advice for when you bring a new cat home is to either butter its paws or take each paw and dip them into the juice in a bottom of a can of tuna. The cat will then have to settle down for a long and tasty grooming session, and since grooming is relaxing for a cat and their territory centres around their food sources this will start the process of getting the cat relaxed and attached to their new home.

Much will depend on the temperament of the cat and how attached it is to its current home. If the cat is a kitten at an age to need to leave the mother and seek out its own food source, and if it has gone through a someone who rescued it, a shelter and a foster home it is likely to take the new home in stride. If the cat has had only one owner and had to be re-homed after fifteen years the adjustment will be harder.

Make sure the surfaces are not covered in clutter so that exploring is tricky for the cat because a leap onto the mantelpiece can result in loud clatters and a cat falling down. If there is no scent of possible rivals or possible predators the cat will relax much sooner. For this reason a brand new never been used cat pan is a good idea. Lingering distant ancestral scents in an old one even if we can't smell them, or any other lingering cat scents, will make it harder for the cat to relax.

If the cat chooses a hiding place, food, water and treats should be brought to them so they feel safer in that hiding place, rather than used to try to coax the cat out of their refuge. They should be allowed to explore at their own pace. Avoid restraining the cat, but if they have to for any reason, the cat should be groomed while it is being held down, doing anything the simulates the sensation of a mother cat washing it. Domination should always be accompanied with the reassurance of grooming.

Follow the usually animal body language tips to avoid scaring them: No staring - glance away and blink frequently while watching the cat, no running, no thumping, no snatching, grabbing or chasing. Shoes should be removed and steps should be slow, predictable and quiet. The cat will need time to figure out how likely they are to be walked on. Many cats will not have anything to do with heavy footed people or people who move abruptly, and the bigger the person the more frightening they are.

Use sound cues so that the cat quickly recognizes that food is being produced. If the cat is fed canned soft food tap the lid on the can several times after it is opened. That sound is distinctive and within two or three experiences the cat will know and be listening for it hopefully. For dry food shake the container deliberately. Later this sound can be used to call the cat and is very useful when you are not sure if the cat has managed to get out and are trying to find it inside the home. For the first few days feed the cat tiny meals often so they get the idea that food here is easy to get and frequent. After that they can move to a once-a-day feeding schedule if they prefer.

But make sure the new cat owner does not feed the cat as soon as they get up, or the cat will become an insistent and troubling alarm clock. The human getting out of bed should never be the cue that meals are about to occur or the cat will learn that all they need to do to get fed is to get their human out of bed.

If the cat is one that hides, patches of warm sunlight to bask in may be helpful to get the critter out of the hiding place during the day time, or a heater when sunlight is not available. Remember cats are crepuscular, so they are apt to be more willing to explore at dawn or twilight.

Play at first should be quite gentle and un-exciting, as a cat who races after a toy and suddenly feels scared because they got on the table and upset the human, or found themselves trapped or in an avalanche is a cat that will be stressed and unsure of their safety. An additional reason for gentle play is that you want to know how well the cat understands the concept of velvet paws. Some do not and the new owner's play will have to match the cat's understanding or bloody lacerations can result, which is distressing to both owner and cat. If the cat does do something like grab a hand, sinking claws in, the best reaction are small but definite mews of distress from the human. "MEE!" It should sound like a squeak. Cats who have velvet paws usually have learned from playing with other cats and that is how the kittens signal when the game has gotten too rough and is no fun.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:46 AM on September 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

The cat would appreciate a spot where it can chill and the human can't follow it. Under the bed would be good, for instance.
posted by Omnomnom at 8:30 AM on September 19, 2020

If there is a closet, kitty may choose that as their safe space, and they are more than capable of slipping in there without human noticing. I would advise making sure all closet doors are propped open at least a crack so kitty doesn’t end up getting trapped inside.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:54 AM on September 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

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