Helping An Adult Cat Adjust To A New Home

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  • Bringing an adult cat into the home is rewarding for the new family and gives an adult cat a second chance. With low adoption rates considerably lower for adult cats, it is great when a family decides to take on an older cat.

    But, sometimes adult cats can take a little longer to adjust to their new home than a kitten, in this article, we look at ways to make the move as smooth and stress-free as possible for your new addition.

    What you will need

    • Cat carrier
    • Cat tree
    • Bed
    • Toys
    • Food and water bowls (stainless steel or ceramic, avoid plastic as it can harbour bacteria and cause feline acne)
    • Cat food (preferably the same type and brand as the cat was eating in its previous home or shelter)
    • Anti-parasite treatment (flea, tick and worming meds)
    • Litter tray, scoop and cat litter (preferably the same brand as the cat was using in its previous home or shelter)

    Prepare the home before you bring the cat home so that you can take her straight to her room when she arrives home. If at all possible, have some of her belongings from her previous home (if you know the former family), which can provide a sense of comfort.

    Is the cat microchipped?

    If she is, make sure the necessary paperwork is filled out to transfer the cat into your name and send the updated details to the microchip registrar so they can update the cat’s file. I also provide my veterinarian with all new cat’s microchip details because most people will take a lost cat to the nearest veterinarian, who can scan the cat and if she’s on file, call the cat’s family.

    Give the cat time

    First of all, have reasonable expectations. Adult cats will adapt to a new home, but sometimes (not always) it will take a little while, so be prepared for this. Make interactions with the cat positive ones, but don’t force things. Give lots of head scratches, treats and schedule time, daily to play, all of which can help to build feelings of trust and positive associations between you and the cat.

    It can take days, and sometimes weeks or months for a cat to settle in (that goes for some kittens too), but with time, it will happen. There are lots of factors at play including the personality of the cat, the cat’s history; if she came from an abusive home, she would need to learn to trust again, as she recently lost a much-loved companion, human or feline, if so, she will be grieving. Your circumstances, for example, if you have children or a dog and the cat has not been around either in the past, can also affect the new cat. A cat who has never been around young children, other cats or dogs will often find it frightening and overwhelming, which highlights the importance of slow introductions.

    Confine the cat to a small area

    Bringing a cat home and giving it free access to the entire house can be daunting. It can help to settle in the cat by providing it with its own space in a spare room, bathroom or laundry. Set up the room with the cat’s litter tray, food and water bowls, a bed, and if space permits possible a cat tree. Provide an area such as an enclosed cat bed, or a cardboard box that the cat can retreat to if it is feeling scared.

    When you bring the cat home, immediately take her to her new room and open the cat carrier. Don’t force the cat out; let her come out in her own time. Sit on the floor next to the carrier and gently coax her out using a soft voice and some cat treats. Avoid making direct eye contact with her, instead, look at the cat, blink slowly and then look away, This is cat talk for ‘ I’m not threatening’. Don’t be surprised if she doesn’t eat immediately; some cats will lose their appetite when they are dealing with changes, such as a move to a new home. It can help in these early days to offer her food that is strong-smelling, such as tuna. Warm it up a little in the microwave first to increase the aroma.

    How long the cat is confined depends on how quickly she settles in and how other members (and pets) of the household are. Generally, I start to increase a new cat’s boundaries after a week or two and monitor how they handle this, if they seem curious I will continue to let them explore, if they are fearful, I don’t push it.

    Use Feliway

    Feliway is a synthetic form of the cat’s feel-good facial pheromones. It comes in a plug-in form. Cats rub against things they consider to be theirs (table legs, the side of the sofa, your legs), and the pheromones released to give the cat a sense of comfort.

    Keep resident pets away from the new cat

    Let the new cat settle in before introducing it to other pets in the home and make the introduction slow. Put dogs on a leash when introducing the new cat as the cat may flee, which can in some cases, trigger the dog’s chase instinct.

    Expanding the new cat’s space

    Once the new cat’s confidence has grown, you can gradually introduce her to other parts of the house. Let her decide how far and when she wants to venture out if she doesn’t seem ready, don’t force the issue. You can try to coax her out by moving her food bowl gradually towards the door and beyond. If she retreats, try again the next day or so.

    Senior cats

    From the age of six or so, arthritis can develop. Studies have revealed that 60% of cats aged 6 have arthritis. This painful condition occurs when the shock-absorbing cartilage which cushions the joints wears down and is eventually lost. Signs to watch for include:

    • Reduced mobility
    • Avoiding using the affected joint
    • Reluctance to jump
    • Stiff gait, particularly first thing in the morning or after waking from a nap
    • Limping
    • Swelling around the joints
    • Loss of muscle mass
    • Pain in specific areas you touch
    • Overgrown claws
    • Unkempt coat due to difficulty grooming
    • Weight gain (due to moving around less) or weight loss (due to loss of appetite caused by pain)
    • Change to sleeping pattern, trouble settling down and getting comfortable, sleeping more or sleeping less
    • Changes to routine, sleeping in different spots, going outside less
    • Urinating and defecating outside the litter tray

    If you do suspect the cat has arthritis, it will be necessary to make modifications to accommodate this. Provide the cat with a litter tray with low sides, which are easier to climb in and out of, keep the cat’s food, water bowls and litter tray within easy reach, so don’t expect an arthritic cat to climb stairs to get to these things.

    Changing the cat’s diet

    If you know what the cat has been eating, stick to the same food during the settling in period. If you would like to change the cat over to a different diet, do so only after the cat is eating well and make the transition slow by gradually mixing in a small amount of the new food with the current food. Over several days, increase the new food while decreasing the old food. If the cat rejects the new food, stop and try again later. Cats can and will go on hunger strike, and this can lead to a potentially deadly disease known as hepatic lipidosis. Never attempt to out-wait a cat who is refusing to eat.

    Schedule a health check

    We always recommend all new cats have a health check with a veterinarian to evaluate the overall health as well as the age of the cat.

    If the cat’s vaccination history is not known, the protocol is a series of two vaccinations spaced four weeks apart.


    I’ve adopted several adult cats, and ALL of them have eventually settled into our home. Our most recent adult adoptees, Calvin and Norman, settled in right away, possibly because they had each other for comfort, possibly because that’s just who they are. Other cats have taken a little longer to adjust, but it’s generally never been more than a few weeks. All they need is a little time and patience and a lot of love and understanding. You will be rewarded in spades.


    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio