When my brother moved out of state, my mom adopted his 12-year-old cat, Shaft. That sweet old boy was a little confused by his change in scenery, but my mom made Shaft feel as welcome as possible by spending a lot of time with him as soon as he entered the house. He adjusted quickly and soon was lounging throughout the house, watching the birds out on the patio and snuggling with whoever sat on the couch.
My mom tried to make Shaft’s first week home as welcoming and stress-free as possible by taking care of a few things ahead of time, like setting up the litter box, cat-proofing the house and picking out the best type of food. You can do the same thing before you bring home your senior cat. But what should you do from the first moment you and your new senior cat walk in the front door?
First, realize that senior cats – those between the ages of 11 and 17 – are not as spry as kittens, adolescents or adult cats. They may have arthritis or other ailments, and some may even show signs of the feline equivalent of senile dementia. Still, senior cats have many things in common with their younger counterparts, including the need for a loving family. This is where you come in!
I asked some longtime cat owners for their advice on the best ways to care for a new senior cat during the first week at home, and the overwhelming message they shared was to make sure the cat feels secure, safe and loved. The ways to do that are probably different for every senior cat, because each one has his or her own personality, but one suggestion I heard repeatedly was to set up a room just for your cat while she adjusts to your home. Ideally, the room should include:
- A litter box
- Food and water bowls
- A cat scratching post or pad, so she has something to scratch
- A cozy cat bed (this even can be a fuzzy blanket or fluffy towel – you don’t have to buy a fancy cat bed, but sometimes it’s fun to shop for them)
- Somewhere the cat can burrow and hide, like a cardboard box set upside down (you might want to cut two holes in the sides, so your new cat feels like she has two escape routes)
Ease Into Life With Your Cat
When you first bring home your senior cat, take her right to her special room. Set the carrier on the ground and open it. Depending on her personality, your new cat may come right out … or not. If she does come out, gently pet her and tell her you are happy she is home. You may want to sit on the floor near her so she can climb into your lap if she wants. Try to resist the urge to pick her up and hold her, unless she seems to want you to.
Take a minute or two to show her where she can find the litter box, as well as her food and water bowls. Don’t worry if she doesn’t eat right away – some cats may go a day or two without eating while they adjust to their new surroundings.
Most cat owners I talked to said they offered their new senior cat food and water right away, putting out just a small amount of food so the cat wouldn’t overeat and feel sick from the stress of the new place. They also said that not all cats seem interested in the food at first, though most of them sniffed it.
If she doesn’t come out of her carrier right away, sit next to the carrier and talk quietly to her, encouraging her to come out and meet everyone. Your calm, friendly attitude may coax her out. If she is still reluctant, leave the room for a little while, shutting the door behind you. She may want to explore on her own.
Give your cat a little time in the room on her own – but be sure to check in within an hour or so. You want your new feline friend to get used to you quickly, and to understand that she can trust you. When we first brought home our cat Jack we would sit on the floor and let him come to us. Both my kids and I went in the room we had set aside for him together, so he would learn to trust all of us.
Build A Bond With Your Feline Friend
During that first week, try to spend as much time with your new senior cat as possible. Bring a feather wand or other interactive toy – playing may help your cat relax and adapt to her new territory. The extra time you spend together will help your cat adjust and help her feel much more comfortable around other people, many cat owners say.
“Love the cat, and make your cat feel safe,” suggests Tamara McFarlan of Murrieta, Calif.
She also says you should expose your cat to many friendly people, “so you don’t have a skittish cat on your hands.” This has worked for her cats, Chase and Lola, in a busy household that also includes four kids and a dog.
Matt Martin, a Persian breeder from Rio Rancho, N.M., reminded me that older cats, including seniors, may need a little more time to warm up, as they are not as naturally curious as kittens.
“As cats age, they are not as playful,” he says. “Older cats are also less adaptable to new environments.”
To help your senior cat adjust at her own speed, let her explore the house gradually. This strategy worked for Ruth Busenkell when she adopted Mike Tyson, an older feral cat that lived near her home in Los Angeles.
“New digs can be overwhelming, and cats will find a place to hide if they feel nervous or scared,” she says.
The room with all of your cat’s necessary supplies will serve as a safe haven as she settles into her new home.
Cameron Whittaker of San Diego, Calif., did something similar when she brought home her cats, Lexi and Lina.
“I restricted them to one room for about a week, then slowly expanded their exploratory territory,” says Whittaker. “I spent a lot of time just sitting in their room that first week, letting them climb on me, smell me, see that I was calm and they could trust me.”
When you let your senior cat out to explore, stay nearby. As you may already know, some senior cats can become disoriented and scared, and you’ll want to be right there to reassure her if she shows signs of distress.
Set A Routine
When it came to feeding and other care routines, Whittaker thought about those details before she brought home her cats.
“I think the best advice is to decide how you want to care for them before you bring them home – food, cat litter, grooming, sleeping – and then be consistent from the get-go,” she says.
After your senior cat has been in your new home for a week or so, be sure to schedule a visit with your veterinarian so your cat can get a clean bill of health. Enjoy your new cat!
By: Stacy Hackett
Featured Image: Via Gina Cioli/Lumina Media