Welcoming a New Cat to Old Ghosts by Layla Morgan Wilde ( updated 5/1/2-18).
There are numerous methods to introduce a new cat to resident cats but what if the new cat is coming to home filled with feline ghosts? The ghost of felines past aren’t usually spirits but subtle leftover influences of the dead cat. How easily a new cat is introduced depends on how attached the cat’s guardian was to the old cat and their willingness to create a welcoming space for a new cat.
When a beloved cat dies everyone grieves in their own way: from being so wracked with pain they never adopt another cat to rushing to adopt scarcely before the corpse has cooled, and every scenario in between. The most difficult situation is when a feline family dwindles down to one remaining cat and when that cat dies it leaves the biggest void. I’ve come across this a few times in consults and the following recommendations will ease the transition of a new cat into their new home.
- Don’t rush to adopt. Grieving can take easily 6 months to a year or longer. But the human heart knows nothing of numbers. What may be a short time of grieving to one is adequate or even a long time for another. Always listen to your heart. As cat lovers know, cats choose us and they arrive in our lives at what may seem inopportune times. In hindsight, we realize these twists of fate were purrfectly timed.
- Out with the old, in with the new. After the death of a cat, it’s healing to include rituals to honor the cat’s life. It could be a ceremonial burial in the garden, cremation ashes stored in a special box, a paw imprint made, a pet portrait commissioned or a framed photo placed in a place of honor. Seeing the dead cat’s bed, scratching post, toys and food bowls can be unnerving reminders but imagine a new cat sniffing another cat’s scent on everything the old cat had scent-marked. The new cat will smell an intruder and not know they’ve vacated the premises.
- It’s not always practical to replace everything. Some cat condos are very expensive and can be “re-cycled” by spraying with an odor neutralizer like Nose Offence and then with Feliway to attract the new cat. Some items may have too much sentimental attachment like a personalized cat dish and is best stored away. The new cat will appreciate new cat bowls, fresh catnip toys, a new cat litter box and a new bed. After all who wants to wear a dead person’s clothes or sleep in their bed?
- Neutralize the entire home before bringing the new cat. At least a few days before, plug-in a “feel good” pheromone product like Feliway or Comfort Zone to make the home feel more welcoming. Do a thorough clean, washing floors, dusting and vacuuming. Cats scent mark furniture, cabinet, corners and door jambs usually at cat nose height. Clean with a chemical-free cleaner like Fizzion and spray an odor neutralizer on fabrics. Spot test first with delicate fabrics like silk.
- Hello new home! Even though the new cat won’t be introduced to another cat, I don’t recommend giving him an immediate run of the house. Prepare a quiet “cat room” equipped with his new bed, cat litter box, food dishes, toys and clean scratching post. Be sure there are places to hide and perch with a window view. Some cats will settle in fast and will be ready and eager to explore the rest of the house within a couple days. More nervous cats will need more time before exploring the rest of the home without being overwhelmed. This is especially true for large multi-storied homes. Before arriving home with the new cat, spritz Feliway spray along the baseboards at cat nose height and on the cat bed, sofa, upholstered chair or other furniture in the “cat room”.
- When you bring the new cat (in their carrier) through the front door, announce, “This is your new home. Welcome. It’s a safe place.” As you walk through the house to the “cat room”, “You’ll be staying for a little while in a special room just for you.” Place the carrier in the new “cat room”, close the door and open the carrier door. Keep the carrier in a corner of the room with the door open. Go sit on the floor away from the carrier and wait. Be occupied with your own activity i.e. read, check your email, meditate. Don’t encourage any “come here kitty” talk. Allow the cat to come out and explore at their own pace. While sniffing out their new space don’t try to pet them or pick them up. Let them come to you. If they seek you out, rub themselves on you, give them a pet and a treat. Don’t over-do petting. If they hide, let them be. If they hiss at you, ignore them and leave the room. Whenever you leave the room say, I’ll be back later. Visit the cat several times a day to be sure they’re eating, drinking and using the litter. Place calming homeopathic drops or flower essences into the drinking water. Engage in interactive play as often as possible, at least twice a day. When they are itching to get out and explore beyond the closed door after a couple days, make that decision then.
- Before allowing the new cat to explore the rest of the house, cat-proof it. Make sure all doors including basement, cabinets, shower, dryer doors are closed and all window screens secure. Some cats are skilled at opening cupboard doors. Make sure any cupboards containing any toxic products like bleach, cleaners, paint etc. are locked or cat-proof. The cat will be very curious and will want to explore the boundaries of every room on every levels. Note all objects on every counter, shelf or furniture surface. Could anything be knocked over? Close toilet lids, cover electrical outlets and safely bundle electrical and drapery/blind cords, keep any small sharp or dangerous objects stored out of reach. Ask yourself: if the cat would jump onto a large object, could it break, topple or trap the cat?
- After the cat has free run of the house, keep their cat room as a private sanctuary if possible. Cats adjust to new situations quickly and it won’t be long before the new cat will be making as many precious memories as the old ghost.