Moving with Your Cat

The Importance of Confinement

When introducing any cat into a new home, there is one thing all cats need—time to adjust to his new space. You can make the adjustment period shorter by letting your cat get to know their new home slowly. Many adopters hesitate to confine their cats, thinking it is “mean,” but the nicest thing you can do for your cat is give them a “safe space” at first.

Cats and their territory. Cats are territorial by nature, and their first priority in any situation is establishing and knowing their territory. Only once the cat is comfortable in their space can they feel comfortable eating, drinking, resting, and eliminating.

The safe space. Ideally, this area should be a small, quiet room (bathrooms, small offices, or large walk-in closets are all good candidates) without any hiding spaces such as under the tub or bed, behind a bookshelf, etc. You don’t want to have to pull your cat out of hiding in order to interact with them. However, you can provide your cat with an acceptable hiding space by tipping a box on its side and putting a towel inside. You may also find that your cat, like many others, enjoys cat cozies or tee-pee style beds.

The room should be set up with a litter box on one end of the room, and the food, water, and bedding on the other side of the room, as far away from the litter box as possible. The cat should be given some safe toys to play with, and should be given visits while confined to this space. Start off slowly when visiting your kitty—don’t do too much petting or interacting until the cat has had some time to settle in. Sit in the room and see if the cat will approach you. If not, offer them your hand to sniff and try some gentle face pets. Give your cat frequent breaks and work up to more handling. Be patient and remember, the more love, the quicker they will adjust!

The importance of a safe space. Confinement is especially crucial for shy or fearful cats. Many cats are overwhelmed when they first move into a new place; this is normal behavior. However, for a cat that is naturally fearful, it is even more terrifying to be in an unfamiliar space. Given the free run of the house, a scared cat will often bolt around, looking for a safe place to hide. Many cats injure themselves running into furniture or walls in a panic. Your cat may also hide somewhere unsafe (such as under the stove, inside a reclining chair), and stay in hiding for several days. They may forego eating, or even urinate or defecate in their hiding space. The “safe room” gives them a small space where your cat will feel secure, and will also make them more sociable with you. The less they are worried about their territory, the more interested in YOU they will be! By providing your scared kitty with a cozy or box to hide in, you are making them feel safe in a way that also allows you to pet them while they are hiding.

Kittens and confinement. Kittens also benefit from an initial confinement to a small room (or even to a large cage/crate.) This will give you time to kitten-proof the rest of your house. There are three reasons to confine a smaller kitten: it reinforces good litter box habits, it prevents injury, and it means you don’t have to search for your kitten. This is especially important when you are unable to supervised during the kitten’s initial adjustment period and if you have a large home.

Moving into a new home. When moving, it is best to confine your cat to a safe room before and after the move. The more you can prevent them from being exposed to the chaos that comes with moving, the better!  If they are startled by the commotion, there is a good chance they could slip outside when doors are left open. Be sure that anyone helping with the move knows that there is a cat in the room by putting a sign on the door so they don’t accidentally open it. Eliminate chances for escape when transporting your cat to their new home by putting them in a secure carrier while they are still in the safe room. In the new house, again give them a safe room to adjust to before allowing them full access to the house.

When bringing a new cat into a home with resident kitties, the new cat should be confined to one room for a few days (sometimes weeks). This allows the cats to get to know each other by scent and accept each other’s presence without having to see each other face to face, which can be a very threatening experience for a cat. Please refer to our Introducing Cats handout for more instructions on this subject.

When to let your cat explore. You may be wondering when you can be sure that it’s okay to let your kitty out of their safe space. For some cats, the confinement period will be only a few hours—for others it could be several weeks. The important thing is that you do not rush your cat into being exposed to more space than they can handle. You will want to see all of the following:

  1. The cat is performing their natural functions: eating, resting, grooming, and using the litter box.
  2. The cat is responsive, allowing you to pet and play with them.
  3. The cat is comfortable with you doing normal activities in the room, and is not afraid of you when you stand up or walk around.
  4. The cat is showing some interest in getting out of the room.

Don’t mistake just one signal for readiness. Even a very scared cat may meow or scratch at the door for attention. This does not mean the cat is ready to explore more space—for example, if you notice that your cat meows at the door, but when you open the door they run and cower back in their bed or box, they are not ready.

When possible, expand a cat’s territory slowly (especially for fearful cats). You should close all the doors to bedrooms and allow the cat to first explore the hallway and rooms that do not close off (such as the kitchen and living room). If at anytime your cat seems overwhelmed, return them to their safe room for a few hours and try introducing them to the rest of the house later.

Don’t feel bad for confining your kitty at first. It will help them relax and adjust to their new surroundings much quicker. The sooner they adjust, the sooner they will have full-run of the house in their comfortable new home!

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