Top tips for first-time cat owners

Bringing a cat into your home is incredibly rewarding. Whether your new furry friend is a kitten, or you’ve decided to give an older cat a second chance of happiness, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to making your new pet comfortable.

So, you’ve decided to get a kitten or rehome a cat and have found your purr-fect match – great news! But how do you prepare yourself and your home for your new pet? If you’re getting a cat for the first time, it’s important to prepare by finding out as much as possible about your new pet and researching what they’ll need before bringing them home.

What should you know as a first-time cat owner?

A new kitten or cat will need your time and attention, particularly in those early days while they’re settling in. So, make sure it’s the right time for you to adopt.

Getting a cat for the first time means you’ll have a lot to learn, but the most important thing is to set up their resources in their sanctuary room, including their litter tray, and let them settle into their new home at their own pace. Every cat is different in this respect. There will be plenty of opportunities later on to spend time with them, set up feeding routines, groom them and play with them to keep them entertained.

If you have a dog or other pets, you’ll need to consider how a cat would fit in with them and whether the home environment is suitable. Ensure any meetings with other animals in the home are very gradual, calm, controlled and positive. It’s especially important to very gently introduce your new kitten to your dog if you have one.

If you have children, it’s important to teach them how to properly care for the cat and to explain the importance of giving the cat space to reduce the chance of your pet being overwhelmed.

The important question you need to ask yourself is this: is this cat or kitten right for our home and is our home right for them?

What to know before you rehome a cat

If you’re welcoming a lovely little kitten into your home, there are few things you can do to understand more about your new pet before they arrive.

It’s important to meet your kitten with their mother while they’re in the litter so you can see how well looked after they are, how well socialised they are, how old they are and what their general state of health and welfare is. Ask the breeder whether the kittens have been vaccinated, wormed and treated for fleas, and what their exact age is. A kitten that has been taken from their mother and litter too soon can suffer from behavioural problems later in life due to lack of socialisation. Kittens should stay with their mother until they are at least eight weeks of age.

If you are rehoming an older cat, it’s important to remember that your new cat has had a life before meeting you. Try to get as much information as you can from the previous owner or rescue centre. This will help you to settle your cat and meet their needs as they get used to you.

If you are adopting your cat from another household, such as a family member or friend, ask the previous owner as many questions as you can to learn about your new cat. For example, what food are they used to? Have they been kept as a house cat or are they used to free rein in the garden? Are they happy to be around children and other animals or do they prefer their own space? All of these are useful questions to ask so that you can understand how your new pet might settle in.

If you are adopting your cat from a rescue centre, talk to the staff who spend time with the animals in their care. They may be able to advise on the cat’s personality, likes and dislikes, level of affection, how they feel about being groomed or picked up, if they prefer being around adults or children, if they are comfortable around other cats, and their general medical history. Some rehoming centres may arrange a home visit and ask you lots of questions so that they can help you find the perfect match, as well as answer your questions and give you advice on how to prepare.

In both cases, you should ask why the cat is being rehomed. This is so you can fully understand the responsibility you are taking on and reduce the risk of needing to rehome your pet yourself further down the line, which would cause unnecessary distress to both you and your pet.

You’ll also want to verify your new pet is healthy. Check that any cat you’re interested in adopting has had a recent vet check, and arrange a vet appointment with the vet of your choice. Be sure to investigate your insurance options before bringing your new cat home.

Make sure your new cat is microchipped and update your address and contact details on the microchip. Most providers have an online portal you can do this through, but your vet may be able to help if not.

The early days with your new cat at home

As a first-time cat owner, it’s important not to force your pet to be friends with you in those first few days. Given space, most cats will soon settle, especially when they realise that you’re the provider of good things, such as shelter and food. Despite their aloof reputation, cats are generally affectionate and loving when they feel safe. Unlike dogs, however, they tend to prefer their own space and seek attention on their own terms.

Rescue cats, in particular, can take more time than you might expect to settle into a new home, so the key for first-time cat owners is to be patient. You might have a confident, relaxed cat that quickly feels at home, but equally you could have a nervous cat that needs a little longer. Providing a predictable routine for your cat is key. The rehoming centre you adopt your pet from will be able to advise you on your cat’s unique needs and personality so that you know what to expect.

Cats are habitually clean creatures and having access to clean litter trays is very important to them. Put at least one litter tray on every floor of your home to allow your new cat to access a litter tray quickly and easily as they learn their way around.

Engage with your cat regularly and positively. This means stroking them, grooming them, playing with them and giving them the odd treat. Do not force affection and attention on them, however. Instead, interact with them on their own terms, letting your cat come to you when they’re in the mood for playtime or a stroke.

It’s important to give your cat space to relax and hide away. Cats are naturally denning animals, so provide suitable beds in quiet places away from the bustle of family life. Also, make sure that your pet has high spaces for them to escape to, as cats feel safer higher up. If you notice your cat is a little anxious or nervous, help them to relax by using a pheromone diffuser – these are man-made versions of the substance a cat leaves behind when they rub their cheek on your leg or furniture.

Letting your cat outside for the first time

If you have a fully vaccinated adult cat, they are safe to go outside in terms of their health. Nevertheless, it is still very important to keep your new cat indoors for a minimum of two weeks once you’ve brought them home. Even if your older cat is very keen to go outside, it’s important that they have time to settle into your home, learn the sounds and smells, and feel comfortable before you let them out for the first time. This will also ensure that they know where to come back to if they do have a tendency to roam. Over the first two weeks, you and your cat will also have an opportunity to deepen your bond with each other.

If your cat is restless indoors, and has lots of energy, it’s important to help them manage this energy with more play time and scratching posts. You could also incorporate training sessions into your day.

It’s important to not let your new kitten go outside until they’re fully vaccinated and, ideally, neutered. Kittens get their first vaccinations at around nine weeks old and then their booster vaccinations at three months old. This means that your new kitten should not go outside until they are at least three months old. Cats Protection recommends that cats be neutered by the age of four months to avoid unwanted litters.

Once you’ve decided to let your cat or kitten outside, it might be time to train them to use a cat flap. If your cat isn’t naturally curious about using a cat flap, try taping the flap open and place treats on the other side to tempt them out.

It’s natural to feel a little anxious when your cat goes outside for the first few times. However, if you have made the home a secure place, where your cat feels relaxed and happy, you should be confident that they will return. Before you let your cat out on their own, ensure they have been microchipped. You may want to fit them with a quick-release collar and an identification tag, although be aware that cats can get collar injuries, especially if collars have not been fitted correctly.

Training your cat to do tricks and walk on a harness

As your bond deepens between you and your cat, and if they are a naturally intelligent breed, you might want to gently and gradually introduce training sessions. Some breeds of cat enjoy playing fetch with their owners and learning tricks. These can be great ways to get your pet used to cat carriers.

As well as fetch, two tricks that cats can learn are ‘sit’ and ‘high five’. Bear in mind, however, that training sessions for cats should be very short – just a few minutes.

Don’t be disheartened if your cat doesn’t like to learn tricks. Some breeds may not take well to training, but they’ll still enjoy spending time with you. Stay positive, give lots of praise and treats, and enjoy bonding with your cat.

What are your top tips for first-time cat owners? Tell us on social media using #PethoodStories.

Back to top