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San Diego Humane Society

Cat Confinement in a New Home

Introducing a cat into a new home takes time for them to adjust to their new space. The kindest thing you can do when first taking your cat home is provide a safe space, and during an adjustment period, let your cat get to know their new space gradually.

Cats are territorial and their first priority is to establish and know their territory, so they can feel safe and comfortable enough to eat, drink, rest and eliminate.

Creating a Safe Space

A small, quiet space with a door, such as a bathroom or small bedroom, is an ideal safe space. Here are some tips for choosing and setting it up:

  • Avoid a space with built-in hiding places (under a bed or behind a tub), or block off any possible hiding spaces before letting your cat into the space. You don’t want to pull your cat out to be able to interact with them.
  • Provide an appropriate hiding space like an open carrier or box with lined with a towel or a cat bed that’s covered.
  • Set up food, water and bedding at one end of the room, and the litter box as far away as possible.
  • Provide toys your cat can easily play with while they are alone.

Visiting Your New Cat

Visit your cat while they are confined. Start slowly by not forcing interactions or petting them too much until they have had some time to settle in and adjust. If you sit in the room and your cat approaches, offer your hand to sniff and try some gentle face pets. Your cat might even rub their face on you. You can also bring in treats to see if your cat is interested. Don’t go too fast or do too much, and give your cat frequent breaks. Build up to more handling over time. It’s hard when you’re excited about a new pet, but be patient.

Do Kittens Need Confinement?

Kittens do benefit from being confined to a small space or large crate when you bring them home — and when you’re away from the home. As they explore their space and their curiosity grows, kittens will often find places to play, sleep and even go to the bathroom where you may not realize they fit. Confining them helps you know where they are, prevents accidents and even reinforces good litter box habits.

If Your Cat Is Fearful

For shy or fearful cats, confinement is crucial. It is perfectly normal for cats to be overwhelmed when they first move into a new place. For a cat who is fearful by nature, being in a new place can be even more terrifying. If given too much space, they may become panicky and injure themselves as they look for somewhere to hide or wedge themselves into an unsafe space. They may even stay there for a long period of time without eating and might end up urinating or defecating where they are hiding.

The smaller and safer the space you can provide, the more they will feel secure and help them to be more sociable with you. Give them as much time as needed in their confined space. For some fearful cats, it could be a week, several weeks or potentially longer. Go at your cat’s pace.

If You Have Multiple Cats or Dogs

When bringing a new cat into a home with resident cats or dogs, you should confine your new kitty to one room for at least a few days. Keeping them separate allows them to get used to each other by scent and accept the other’s presence in a non-threatening environment. Please refer our articles on Introducing Cat or Introducing Dogs to Cats for more instructions.

When Moving to a New Home

If you are moving, you should confine your cat not only after the move but before as well. This will reduce exposure to all the chaos of moving familiar things and prevent escapes that could result from your kitty being startled. To avoid any opportunity for escape when transporting your cat to a new home, use a secure carrier while still in the safe space at the old house, so your cat is used to it. Please refer to our article on Moving With Your Cat for more information.

Leaving the Safe Space

Every cat is different, and for some they need only be confined for a short period of time but for others it could be several weeks. Be careful not to rush the process. You will want to see that your new kitty is:

  1. Eating, resting, grooming and eliminating in the litter box.
  2. Responsive and engages with you for petting and playtime.
  3. Comfortable with you being in the safe space and not afraid when you stand, walk around or do normal activities.
  4. Showing interest in leaving the room, not just the door being open. (A scared cat may still meow and scratch at a door to get out but, once opened, may run back to their bed and cower if not ready to leave the room.)

Be careful not to equate one of the above with your cat being ready. You’ll want to see all of these signs, not just some of them.

When your cat is ready, try expanding their territory slowly by closing other doors where possible and gradually letting them explore more space. If at any time your cat seems overwhelmed, afraid or panicky, return them to the safe room and try again in a few hours.

Remember, confining your cat at first is good for them. It will help them get to know their new territory safely and calmly, and they won’t feel overwhelmed by being introduced to too much too soon. This will help your new family member acclimate much quicker to their new home with you.

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing behavior@sdhumane.org or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. We aim to respond within 7 days, but responses may take up to 2 weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-299-7012, ext. 2398. 

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