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Bringing a New Cat into your Home - the Bonding Room technique

Planning is Important

Bringing a new cat into your home is of course exciting, as you anticipate the new furry friend who will become part of your life. For the cat however, unless they are an extremely confident puss, coming into a strange home with new people can be at best a little daunting, and sometimes - depending on the nature and past experiences of the cat - it can be downright terrifying!

Careful planning therefore is very important, to ensure that your new cat is introduced to your home in the least stressful way possible, (and is one of the reasons why pets should never be given as a surprise gift!)

The following 'Bonding Room Technique' is a tried and trusted method, designed to make your new cat feel safe and secure as he or she gets used to their new home.

The 'Bonding Room' Technique

Cat eating in bonding roomBefore your new cat arrives: prepare one room in advance, where he will be confined to begin with. Allowing a cat the run of the whole house straight away can be overwhelming and stressful for him; he will be far happier if he only has to cope with a small environment at first. The room should be warm and quiet, such as a spare bedroom, somewhere that you don't have to keep going in and out of. This will be your Bonding Room.

Place some food and water in the room, and a litter tray, being sure to keep the food and litter as far apart from each other as possible - cats are clean by nature, and don't like to eat near their litter tray. A Feliway Classic plug-in diffuser will help the cat feel more calm and relaxed (available at vets, pet supplies shops and online).

Leave some bedding / a blanket / cat bed / soft chair or whatever for the cat to sleep on, and a toy or two. A catnip toy is good as 85% of cats enjoy catnip, and it can help to calm him, or a jingly ball, cotton reel or similar. Better still is to allow the cat to bring with him any bedding or toys that he/she is already used to, as that will already have his smell on, and will act as a comforter.

Make sure there are safe places for the cat to hide within the room. You can buy items such as wigwams or cat-tunnels, but a good hiding place can be as simple as a cardboard box, or having a bed to hide under, or a chair to hide behind. Some cats may even choose to hide in the cat carrier for a while. Letting them hide wherever they wish is the first step to making them feel safe in their new surroundings.

When the cat arrives: place the carrier, with the cat still in it, into the Bonding Room, then open the carrier door, quietly go out of the room, shut the door behind you and leave him! This may seem strange to us, but we must remember that a cat's anxiety level is largely controlled by the confidence they have in maintaining control of their territory, so a cat will feel less anxious if he is left alone at first to assess his new environment.

Letting the cat hide: initially, a cat will look for the nearest hiding place and stay there until he feels comfortable with the situation. You can beg and plead and stand on your head, but he will not come out until he feels safe. Don't take this personally - just let him hide! If there are no obvious hiding places in the room, you can make one using a good size cardboard box with some soft bedding in, and a large t-shirt stretched round it and secured at the back - (see video).

Your new puss needs to become familiar with the smells and sounds of his new house. He must get used to your voices, the telephone ringing, radio or TV sounds, the toilet flushing, and all the normal sounds you take for granted.

He must also get used to the smells of your carpeting, furniture, cooking, and even of you. This can take time, depending on the cat's ability to process information and to start to feel safe. Now would not be a good time to invite friends or family over to see your new cat.

While the cat is in the Bonding Room, vacuuming is definitely out! Either make do with a dustpan and brush, or coax the cat into his carrier, and remove him to another room whilst the vacuuming is going on. Do not plan any parties or loud goings-on for a while, either!

On average, a new cat may stay in the Bonding Room for 2 - 7 days, but the cat will let you know when he is ready to explore further. (Please see Introductions & Hierarchies if you have other cats in the household.)

If your new cat hides at first - just let him hide!

Bonding with your New Cat

Cat washing in bonding roomA few hours after the cat's arrival: go slowly into the room, sit or lie on the floor, talking in a friendly, soothing voice. Don't attempt to reach for the cat unless he comes to you. If he doesn't come to you at this first meeting, you may need to have several sessions with him, leaving him alone in between visits. The key is to let the cat dictate the pace. 

Spend time with the cat: spend as much time as possible in the room, ideally sitting on the floor or a low-down chair or beanbag. Talk to him, read a book, play board games, write a letter, take a nap - you are basically just letting him get used to you, and then leave him alone. Each adult in the house should take turns going into the Bonding Room and spending some time with the cat, never trying to touch or pet the cat until he comes to you first.

Grooming and Playtime: once your new cat is comfortable in the Bonding Room, you can try brushing him (go gently though, some cats may be nervous of brushes if they are not used to them) and also use toys to make friends. One of the best interactive toys is a good old shoelace; most cats can't resist pouncing on it when it's trailed along the floor. This is often the first game you can have together, which will help the bonding process. If he's been used to a domestic environment, it shouldn't take too long for him to come to you for a fuss.

Scent swapping: Cats use scent to become familiar with others - cats and people. To let your new cat get to 'know' the family, gradually introduce him to clothing or other material that has each member of the household's smell on, such as a recently worn t-shirt, or a pillowcase that has been slept on. To help familiarise him with any other pets in the home, bring in a piece of their bedding or a toy which has their smell on - and vice versa, so that your resident pets get to 'know' the new cat before meeting him.

Children: young children should always be accompanied by an adult in the Bonding Room, because they may become too excited and slow down the bonding time.  

Nervous Cats

Reading with cat in bonding roomIf the cat is particularly nervous or shy, you may find the first few visits, or even the first few day's worth of visits, consist just of you going in to put down food and water, and to change the litter, then do a little more talking (or reading) to the cat, and then going away again. Follow the same steps as above, but be aware that some cats, if they are particularly nervous, will take longer to come out of their shell.

Let the cat get used to their environment and learn to trust you at their own pace. Given time, even very nervous cats can blossom into friendly, happy cats!

Winning round a nervous cat is hugely rewarding, when finally he comes to trust you, and lets you stroke him for the first time. Just let him take things slowly - even if that takes days, weeks (or even months in extreme cases) it will be worth the wait!

A plug-in Feliway Classic diffuser is particularly helpful for nervous cats, as its soothing pheromones will make him feel more relaxed, and help encourage him out of hiding. 

Eating and Toileting

Don't Panic! Most likely, your new pet will eat, drink, and use the litter tray when you are not there. However, many cats can withhold these functions for a day or even two. This is quite normal. Keep trying to soothe your new pet with your voice. On the other hand, most cats won't put you through this trauma! There is no way of knowing what their reaction will be to their new environment. In the event that your new cat is not eating, drinking, or using the litter tray after two days, call your vet for advice.  

Exploring the House

Cat bonding at own paceIf you already have another resident cat, careful introductions at this stage will help towards feline harmony - please read our page on Feline Introductions and Hierarchies.

Let the cat decide: your new cat will let you know when he is ready to explore beyond the Bonding Room. On average, a new cat may stay in the Bonding Room for 2 - 7 days, but generally the cat will let you know when he is ready for the next step. He will come to you when you enter the room and will be comfortable in your presence, and when he is ready, may try to follow you out.

Before allowing the new cat out of the Bonding Room, make sure all doors and windows are closed, and if you have a cat-flap, make sure it is locked - he will need a couple of weeks to get used to your home before being allowed outdoor access (see 'The Great Outdoors' below).

When you feel the cat is ready, open the door to the Bonding Room and let him explore the house. Leave the door to the Bonding Room open, so that he can return if he wishes. Don't chase the cat, just let him explore and get comfortable.

Feeling secure: cats will often return to the Bonding Room when they feel the need for security. This is normal. You will know if you have released your cat too soon if he runs and hides. Should this happen, call the cat's name in a friendly, gentle manner. Do not attempt to touch the cat if he hides. Simply be there in a non-aggressive way so the cat does not feel cornered or threatened. It's far better to let them hide when they feel they need to.  

Letting your New Cat Outdoors

If your cat is to have outdoor access, they should be kept indoors at first, ideally for the first 2 weeks, to prevent him straying back to his old home, or getting lost or run over. Cats from rescue centres are almost always neutererd prior to adoption, but if your cat is not neutered, please make sure they are before you let them outdoors. You should also ensure your cat is microchipped / has an ID collar (or both!) before being allowed out. See our blog post on Microchipping Your Cat for more information.

The first time you allow him outside should be during the daytime and just before a meal, so that he is hungry and has a good reason to come in quite soon. Stand at the open door as you let him sniff and explore the garden for a few minutes, then call him or rattle the biscuit box, to encourage him back for his meal. Several small outings like this, over the next few days, will ensure that he is familiar with his immediate vicinity, and that he knows where home is.

Even once your cat is settled into your home, we strongly advise keeping your cats indoors at night-time. This reduces the chances of them going too far and becoming lost or wandering onto roads, it is also kinder to nocturnal wildlife such as mice. 

The above is only a guide, each cat is different, but it should help!

Further Information

Cat-to-Cat introductions: Please visit our Feline Introductions and Hierarchies page for more information.
Behavioural Advice: Visit our Pet Behaviour links section.
Find Rescue Centres near you: Full list of Cat Rescue & Adoption Centres across the UK & Ireland  

Remedial Products

Feliway spray or diffusers help cats feel more calm and relaxed, so can be very helplful when bringing a new cat into your home. You can get Feliway products from your vets, pet supplies shops, or online. There is also a calming spray called 'Pet Remedy' which may help, and is available from most vets.

Credits: our grateful thanks go to: Debrah Regal - for allowing us to use her 'Bonding Room' articles when compiling this page. Debrah is President of Valley Cats, Inc., a non-profit, no-kill cat and kitten rescue in California. Thanks to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home for the T-Shirt-Box-Bed video. Thanks also to Bodger, for the photographs, for the experience, and for the pleasure of having known and loved him.

Cats Needing Homes UK and Ireland