Base Camp — How to Prepare for your New Cat

By Jackson Galaxy

Congratulations on giving a homeless animal a new life in your home! You can bet on one thing; the cat you just adopted is in the midst of having her world turned upside down. Routine is a vital aspect of cat life; it’s key in how cats define territory. Things must look the same, smell the same, and so on in order for confidence in the territory to remain high. Now imagine the life your new companion was leading before he came to live with you. It makes no difference whether we are talking about a 7-year-old cat you adopted from the shelter or rescued from the street, or a 6-week-old kitten from a box in front of a supermarket. This cat’s sense of “stable-sameness” has been torn up by the roots. Knowing this (even if you know very little else about your new cat’s history), there is a very simple way of acclimating your cat to your home.

You may not have time to plan ahead, since new feline additions tend to occur on the spur of the moment, but if you can give the cat an immediate sense of belonging to a space that is already set up, it will make him feel more secure. What does “set up” mean? Let’s start with the essentials:

  • Litterbox
  • Litter (if you know the previous home, make sure to keep the litter type consistent)
  • Dishes (glass or ceramic work best for both food and water; no plastic or steel)
  • Scratching surface—a condo/post combination would be a great start to get your cat’s scent thoroughly on a piece of furniture; but at least provide an inexpensive cardboard scratcher to begin with.
  • Assortment of toys— but “just say no” to catnip if introducing a kitten!
  • If you are adding a kitten to your home, please read our library article “Before You Get A Kitten” about kitten-proofing your base camp.

Now that you have the “what,” let’s focus on the “where.” If you are introducing an only cat to the home who is not a kitten (over 1 year old), your bedroom is an ideal base camp, because it will inevitably become the core of your cat’s territory. Your bedroom is where your scent is the strongest in the house, and this will give your feline friend a sense of belonging with the new social group. However, if you have an aversion to having base camp in your bedroom, what with the litterbox and all, that’s okay. Another room will work. Remember, however, that base camp is a temporary situation—the litterbox, condo, dishes and toys will all eventually be distributed throughout your home. In any case, if you choose another room, make sure it’s not in the basement or unused part of the house. You do want a space where your cat’s highly refined senses can pick up the normal household activities that he will eventually be immersed in. This is, after all, a process of desensitization, of gradually getting them used to the territory.

If your new arrival is a kitten, or if you are introducing a new cat to another pet, the bathroom is a great place to start. For kittens, it provides safety. There is the least amount of wires to chew on or get tangled in, sharp corners to injure, and small places to get stuck in (but don’t forget to keep the toilet lid down to prevent drowning). The smaller space will also comfort the smaller cat. The bathroom is also a more neutral site for the purposes of introducing one pet to another. It is also the only room in the house guaranteed to have a door—an important characteristic of the room!

Take all of the items listed above and make sure they are placed in every available corner of base camp. Food dish should have ample space away from water; both dishes should be located in the furthest area from the litterbox. If you can provide a condo, place it where the cat can get to a window. Scatter the toys around the room (although if we’re lucky the cat will do that job for us very nicely, thank you!). f the room is not the bedroom, do make sure to provide articles of clothing, blankets, or towels, anything that carries your and your family’s scent—to give the cat that immediate sense of belonging we discussed.

Spend as much time with the new cat as you can during the first crucial days of base camping. Among the toys, you should have at least one interactive toy (a toy in which you are attached to one end and the cat to the other), to play with while you spend quality time. This will set up a routine of play to dispel stress, which is the basis of play therapy (you can read more about this in our article library article, “Play Therapy—Every Day!”). Also, take this time to set up a trusting relationship. Talk to your cat. Don’t necessarily try to pick him or even pet him, if he is acting fearful. Give it time.

Don’t crowd the base camp with every family member either. Cats on edge have a heightened sense of their already keen fight/flight response. Give everyone a turn, but let all family members know that quality time can be playing, or simply sitting and reading the newspaper aloud in a soft voice. Be aware of the small things like how your legs might be blocking what the cat perceives as an “escape route.” Make yourself as small as possible when sitting on the floor with the cat, especially in a cramped base camp like the bathroom.

It is not at all unusual for the new cat to seem extra-sensitive, fearful, agitated, or is just having a hard time adjusting.Flower essence formulas from Spirit Essences can be very helpful. We’ve actually developed a formula especially for the stress a newcomer experiences called “Changing Times.” This remedy not only helps adjustment into the new home, but eases anxiety from being in a rescue or shelter environment, and even helps to release emotional baggage from past abuse.

Introducing your new cat to other resident pets is another step taken from the base camp that’s discussed in another article, “Cat-to-Cat Introductions”.

The final element, and most tricky, involving base camp, is de-camping. When is it time to let the cat out and about the rest of the territory with confidence? We can’t tell you that. Only you will know when the cat is feeling strong enough to “spread her wings,” so to speak. There’s a fine line between territorially traumatizing a cat (especially one that’s been in and out of rescue situations), and allowing her to problem solve on her own. Some cats are ready overnight, some in a few days; some—because of their history—can take a week or two. The more you can listen to what she has to say in those first crucial hours in camp, the clearer the answer will be for both of you. When it is time, keep the transition slow. We know you want that litterbox out of your room. Plan where its final destination will be and move it literally just a few feet a day. An ounce of slow-going is worth a pound of peeing-on-the-carpet prevention. Take all of the key elements from camp and begin to spread them throughout the house—the condo in a sunny window in the living room, the blankets to a couch, the toys in different rooms. This will allow your cat to recognize these objects, already claimed as his or hers, and transfer them to a new area of the territory.

Most of all, take your time! You only have one chance at introducing your new companion to your home and your life. What’s a few extra hours or days in the years you will spend together? Once again, congratulations and best wishes for a long and healthy relationship!



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10 comments for “Base Camp — How to Prepare for your New Cat

  1. Jean Hofve DVM
    December 20, 2013 at 10:50 am

    They’re porous and hold bacteria. Impossible to sterilize. Yuck!

  2. tbrauner
    December 17, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Just curious, why no plastic dishes?

  3. FBMC56
    June 18, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    My wife and I have a 2 1/2 yr old female black domestic cat, rescued her from the humane society, we got her when she was 6 months old.

    Today we adopted another cat, a female 10 week old.

    We brought the kitten in via cat carrier, set her up in the bathroom, one reason she was just spayed over the weekend and doesn’t need to by jumping around.

    The older cat is now mad as hell at us, hisses at me and my wife along with the occasional growling, and has not taken refuge under one of the chairs.

    Could anyone please offer some ideas or insight on what we should do? thanks in advance.

  4. jhofve77
    May 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    If you didn’t introduce them correctly the first time, you’ll have to separate them and start over. See:

  5. hbkstepp
    May 19, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    I just got a new kitten and its a girl but my cat George he is seven and he hates her he already attacked her 2 times and we can’t touch him and he’s my baby and I don’t know what to do it makes me so sad it’s messing up our relationship so sad

  6. jhofve77
    July 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    In this sort of situation, the root is often an improper introduction. This requires starting over from the beginning, as if they had never met. Kittens need plenty of exercise, and that means Play Therapy. Otherwise the kitten will invent his own games, like “follow the other kitty everywhere all the time.” Of course, play with each cat *separately* if they cannot (yet) play nicely together. There needs to be at least 2 and preferably 3 litter boxes for 2 cats, in order to prevent even more behavior problems and even health issues. See:

  7. dmoamin
    July 1, 2012 at 8:25 am

    I made corrections, sorry again for the mistakes, here we go: I found a small male kitten outside my apt, me and my husband decided to keep him.We already have a ten year old siamese cat. Who is an alpha female cat, to her suprise she couldnt chase this kitten out or force him to leave he just simply wont take no for an answer. Our problem now is that this kitten, we think he is about three months old, is following our siamese cat everywhere she goes. Even when she goes to the lit box, he goes in with her, if we try to play with her he jumps in the middle and starts playing and she leaves the space. We did think about finding a place for him or taking him to SPCA but we in away fell in love with this lit boy. We still of course love a lot our Suki but we dont know what to do. At nite both of them want to sleep next to me and we have this lit war of anger on Suki s end who thinks he is following her, and him being scared and confused. Any help please? We are losing our minds.

  8. jhofve77
    July 21, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Here’s the article with precise instructions:
    Just go slow and let the cats guide you as to pace and when *they* are ready for the next step. Good luck!

  9. Judy Brazeel
    July 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    I adopted a feral cat into my home. I already had 4 living in the house already. The feral had to have one leg amputated. I have given her a room in the house and she has lived there for about 6 months. She is doing great, adjusted, loves her room, windows, toys, etc. However, I would love to introduce her to the other 4 cats. Not sure how to do this. Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. I just keep them all separed. The new cat stays in her room during the day while the other cats have the run of the house. Around 4 or 5 in the evening, I put the other in a bedroom and let the new cat have the run of the house. Would love to have them all one big family, but just not sure how to do this…Any help greatly appreciated.

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