We are happy that you have decided to add a cat to your household. There are many lovely cats to choose from—ranging greatly in age and temperament. Before selecting a cat, it is best to think about what type of cat would best fit into your lifestyle. Below are some of the factors we consider wise to understand before you bring home your new feline.
If you have never had the pleasure of a feline in your home, you will need to be initiated gently! Though a kitten seems non-threatening and oh-so-cute, they are babies and need lots of time and attention. Kittens usually require more training in household manners, and the home will need to be kitten-proofed so that they cannot injure themselves, as they will get into everything! Also, a kitten will develop a personality based on learning and on genes, and the personality may be one that you didn’t plan for or are not ready for. It certainly could be an OK match if your heart is set on it, if you have time on your hands, and a willingness to learn. However, an adult cat with the right personality will likely be easier and more predictable.
If you are well versed in feline ways, you have many options. For instance, you will be able to take on a cat with behavior issues such as nipping or hiding. If these issues persist, we will show you how to handle these common problems.
If the human members of your family are young, say under twelve, we recommend that you avoid cats who are skittish or easily startled by noises and activity. You should also avoid cats with a history of aggression.
Though kittens are cute and playful, they are not always good matches for households with young children. Kittens are fragile and need very consistent and gentle handling. They can develop serious behavioral problems if not raised with consistency and care by all members of the household.
If you have a small apartment, we would advise a less active cat, perhaps one that is over five years old. If you have a large house with multiple bedrooms, you will want to avoid an overly-fearful cat, as a lot of space can be overwhelming, and your cat may spend a lot of time hiding.
Are you home a lot or gone all day? All cats need daily attention, both petting and interactive playtime, but some cats need more. If you are gone all day, you should think twice about getting a young kitten or a needy cat. Behavioral problems (such as biting, scratching, and destructive behavior) are common if cats are under-stimulated. A more independent temperament may suit your lifestyle better.
If you often have company over, you may consider an outgoing cat who will enjoy the extra attention. A shy cat would be overwhelmed by lots of social gatherings and would likely hide.
Consider the grooming needs of your new cat as well. A longhaired cat is going to need more attention to its coat. This will include thorough brushing anywhere from once daily to a minimum of twice a week.
You could also think about getting two cats instead of one; this way they can provide stimulation and company for each other. An excellent option is to adopt cats who have come into the shelter as a pair and have a history of getting along well. Barring that, you could adopt one cat now, and then come back in a month or two, after your cat has settled in, to adopt a suitable companion.
Do you have an idea of what type of personality you like in a cat? Are you looking for a very playful cat or a lap cat? While it can be difficult to tell how your new cat will be in a home, we do have personality profiles that will let you know what we have observed here. If a cat is a “lap cat” in this setting, she is likely to be in a home as well. Remember that some of these cats will fall into the “needy” category. If a cat is very high-energy here, she is likely to be high-energy in a home. On the other hand, a cat that is mildly shy here may very well become less shy (and potentially more active) over time in a stable home. So, be sure to take these factors into consideration when you are looking.
If you have a cat-friendly dog, you will want a kitten (needs lots of supervision with a dog), a confident adult cat, or an adult cat who has a history of enjoying life with a dog. Avoid very fearful cats, declawed cats, and otherwise disabled cats (such as three-legged) unless you have a very small and docile dog. Make sure you have the time and space to introduce the two gradually. You should also be willing to make practical changes to your environment as needed, such as blocking your dog’s access to the litter box and installing safety gates.
It is best to match temperaments and stay within the same age group, when adopting a second cat. If you have a playful, active cat at home, you will need one who can put up with and maybe even enjoy that level of energy. Likewise, if you have a mellow older cat at home, don’t bring home a hyper, aggressive kitten. We have cats available for adoption that have demonstrated goodwill toward other felines. You may want to start by looking at some of these kitties, especially if you are not sure if your cat at home is good with other cats. It is important to realize that no matter who you decide upon, it will take time, and space to separate the cats, in order to make gradual introductions. Cats are territorial animals and often take weeks or months to adjust to another cat in their space.
Indoor cats typically live safer and longer lives, as they avoid such hazards as being hit by cars or contracting fatal diseases such as FIV (Feline Immune-deficiency Virus) and FelV (Feline Leukemia) from neighborhood cats. We encourage people to look into alternatives to letting their cats roam the streets, such as fencing in your yard with special cat-proof fencing or perhaps harness-training and “walking” your cat. However, if you are determined that your kitty go outdoors solo, you should avoid white cats (they can get skin cancer) and skittish cats (they are more likely to run away, and very difficult to find if hiding). Cats who have been declawed should never be let outdoors, as they are unable to adequately defend themselves and often have impaired ability to climb.
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 his 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 him 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 his space can he 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 him. 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 him 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 he 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. He may also hide somewhere unsafe (such as under the stove, inside a reclining chair), and stay in hiding for several days. He may forego eating, or even urinate or defecate in his hiding space. The “safe room” gives them a small space where he will feel secure, and will also make him more sociable with you. The less he is worried about his territory, the more interested in YOU he will be! By providing your scared kitty with a cozy or box to hide in, you are making him feel safe in a way that also allows you to pet him while he is 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 him from being exposed to the chaos that comes with moving, the better! If he is startled by the commotion, there is a good chance he 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 accidently open it. Eliminate chances for escape when transporting your cat to his new home by putting him in a secure carrier while he is still in the safe room. In the new house, again give him a safe room to adjust to before allowing him 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 his 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 he can handle. You will want to see all of the following:
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 the cat meows at the door, but when you open the door he runs and cowers back in his bed or box, he is 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 him to his safe room for a few hours and try introducing him to the rest of the house later.
Don’t feel bad for confining your kitty at first. It will help him relax and adjust to his new surroundings much quicker. The sooner he adjusts, the sooner he will have full-run of the house in his comfortable new home!
Learn about the recommended care for kittens.
Find your pet’s perfect match. Before taking the plunge, it’s important to know whether the dog you’re considering is a good candidate to live with your cat and vice versa. The best possible indicator is confirmation that the dog has successfully lived with a cat before and vice versa.
Audition potential pets. If there is no history of successful cohabitation, the next best thing to do is to “audition” them with the other species before proceeding. Unfortunately, we do not hold dog and cat meetings at our adoption center, since it is a stressful environment and does not often indicate how the animals will act in a home. However, if you have friends or family with dogs, ask them to come over to meet your resident cat. Likewise, ask if you can bring your dog over for a trial meeting with their cat. Dogs who are not well socialized with cats are likely to react as though they were either other dogs or objects of prey. This means they will direct play behaviors, investigation, and posturing at cats or will chase them. Sometimes they will do both, depending partly on what role the cat plays.
If the dog is gentle, relaxed, and friendly, and is not much of a predatory type (i.e. doesn’t chase cats or squirrels when outdoors), he is a good prospect to develop a relationship with a cat. Predatory types are much more stressful for cats and must be constantly managed when around the cat if they are to live with one. Predation is a deeply ingrained trait and is not something a dog can be easily trained not to do.
When you audition a dog with cats, do it on leash to avoid overly stressing the cat(s) and any chasing. If possible, use cats with dog experience—they are less likely to flee or become stressed. It’s also good to try out the same cat on more than one occasion, as well as trying out more than one cat. Good signs are cautious investigation and wagging, along with respect (i.e. backing off) for cat defensive signals. Bad signs are instant attempts to chase, out-of-control straining at the leash, whining, barking, and agitation. Many dogs will fall somewhere in the middle, which will make your decision less clear.
Dog temperament. Sometimes, with diligence and perseverance, a dog with intense predatory drive can be taught to direct it at other outlets and stick to carefully trained rituals and routines when around the cat. However, this is tricky and does not work in every case. Dogs who are less intense are better prospects. It is important to know that dogs can and do sometimes injure and kill cats. Dogs who kill cats are highly predatory and can be easily picked out. A pair or group of predatory dogs is at greatest risk. It’s also important to know that most dogs that chase cats are not in this category. Although they chase, they do no physical damage if they catch or corner the cat. The psychological stress for the cat is still present with these dogs, of course, and is an important consideration.
Cat temperament. There is a range of temperament in cats and this is a factor that will influence the success of dog-cat cohabitation. In general, relaxed, laid back cats and kittens are the best prospects to accept a dog. They are also at lower risk to flee and trigger chasing, which will allow a social—rather than a predator-prey—relationship to develop. Shy, skittish and declawed cats are less rosy prospects. Declawed cats are more vulnerable and are more likely to act aggressively when cornered.
Cats who have not been socialized to dogs will almost always behave defensively by either fleeing or demonstrating an aggressive display the first time they encounter a new dog. If the dog does not come on too strong, and if the cat is given dog-free zones to retreat to, many cats will gradually get used to the dog and sometimes even become bonded.
If you’ve decided to blend a dog and a cat in your household, here are some pointers:
Getting ready. Preparation is half the battle. Before you bring your new dog home, be sure to:
Set the stage. Have a “safety room” or rooms as well as high places the cat can access but the dog cannot. Baby-gates, cat doors, and clearing high surfaces can accomplish this. It is important that the cat can retreat and regroup away from the dog, and then venture forward into “dog territory” at her own pace. The cat should have access to food, water, and litter in this area so no interactions with the dog are forced. Dogs should not have access to the cat litter box—it is too stressful for the cat, and the dog may eat cat feces and litter. Most dogs will also eat cat food the cat leaves behind. We suggest feeding cats in the cat’s “safe” room or on a high surface.
Don’t force interaction. Never force the cat (or dog) into proximity by holding, caging, or otherwise restricting her desire to escape. This is stressful and does not help. Aside from being inhumane, stress is a common reason for behavior problems in cats, including litter box avoidance.
First meeting. For the first introduction, have the dog on his leash in case he explodes into chase mode. If it seems to be going well, take the leash off and supervise closely. If the dog is behaving in a friendly and/or cautious way, try not to intervene in their interactions, except to praise and reward the dog for his good manners. Interrupt any intense chasing and try to redirect the dog’s attention to another activity. This is very difficult so you may be forced in the future to manage the dog on-leash around the cat until you have worked out a routine or divided up the house.
Building the relationship. The length of this phase varies from one “sibling pair” to another. Carefully watch both pets’ body language for clues before you increase their time together. Until then, follow these guidelines:
Setting the scene. Help your new cat settle into your home by keeping her in a small room with a litter box, food, water, toys, and a safe place to hide (such as a cat carrier with a towel inside). Choose a room that doesn’t interrupt your resident cat’s routine. Let her become comfortable there for three or four days.
Do not allow the cats to interact during this time. However, it is fine for the cats to be sniffing under the door and investigating. Switch bedding and other items that have the scent of each of the cats on them. This way each cat can become used to the scent of the other without meeting face to face.
Spend quality time with each cat on either side of the door—petting, playing, and relaxing. Again, this will allow them to be aware of each other in a non-stressful situation. This is often reassuring to both cats.
Signs of stress. If at any point the hissing is intense, or either cat is growling, continue to keep them separate for as long as it takes the upset cat(s) to settle down. Other signs of stress are: not eating, not using the litter box appropriately, over grooming, etc. If these symptoms are apparent in your resident cat, please call your veterinarian. If the adopted cat shows these signs, please contact the SF SPCA. This may mean that the separation needs to last a week or more. If the cat’s interaction is more intense than you feel is normal, please contact the SF SPCA.
If there is no intense hissing from either cat (i.e. loud hissing with wide-open mouth and teeth showing, or multiple hisses), prop the door open about an inch to allow the cats to view each other without being able to make contact. Leave the door like this for a few days. Watch their interactions; if no serious hissing or aggression is noted, then it’s time for the next step.
First interactions. If the sniff visits are going well, it’s time to start supervised interactions. Open the door and let the new cat come out and explore. Let the cat come out of the room at her own pace. Forcing the cat to come into a new territory will just make the cat increasingly tense and prolong her insecurity. Let the cats enter each other’s territory for about a half hour. Then separate the cats and repeat this process a few times each day.
If a cat seems overly stressed about the other cat, you can distract the cat with toys or food treats, but be sure to keep the toys four or more feet apart when playing. Sometimes cats play so hard that they forget to be upset about the other cat and start to become accustomed to the other cat’s presence. There may be rivalry for toys, so this may not always work. Treats may also help alleviate this situation, so be sure to give them treats in the presence of the other cats. This will not only distract them, but it will also serve as a reward for not hissing.
At the end of the play or treat session immediately separate the cats. This time apart allows them to be able to process the information they gained while they were together. It also allows them both to regain their sense of territory and confidence, which encourages a favorable interaction at their next meeting. Continue this process daily, lengthening the amount of time they are together a little each session.
Never punish a cat for aggressive behavior toward another cat. Most owners do this thinking they will teach the cat that the aggressive behavior is inappropriate, but it only ends up making the cat more stressed and upset, prolonging the cat-to-cat aggression. The best way to react is either to stay silent, and calmly separate the cats, or to speak softly to the cats.
If the new cat is shy, the introduction must be taken more slowly. She will need extra time to settle into her new environment, and to feel comfortable in her safe room. It may be necessary to repeat the introduction and separation program several times. This separation time is also an excellent time for you to bond with each cat, one at a time, so that they do not over-bond to each other.
When ready, open the door and allow the cats to interact on their own time. Do not force either cat to go from one space to another.
Supervise their interactions. Only let them interact for short sessions: ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Then separate them again. Do this several times a day until you are sure they are tolerating the presence of the other cat, and not fighting, chasing, or watching the other cat intensely. Do not leave them alone together until you are reasonably certain that they will not hurt one another.
Introductions often take time. Some cat-to-cat introductions go very smoothly, while others may take weeks or months before the cats learn to tolerate each other. The best thing to do is to go as slowly as necessary—don’t rush the introduction. Please remember that you are hoping and working for a very long-term relationship; being patient at first will pay off! Rushing the introduction will often cause serious problems which may take longer to solve—or in some cases, may never be solved.
Finally, most cats will adjust to living within a multi-cat household. Like people, some will enjoy it more than others. Patience on the part of all concerned will be more likely to produce an enduring peace than anything else. Enjoy your kitties!
To expedite the adoption process, please complete the cat or dog adoption form and bring a printed copy with you to the SF SPCA Adoption Center (Hours & Location). This helps us better understand what sort of pet you’re looking for so we can guide you every step of the way! Please bring a valid photo ID and verification that you are allowed to have a pet where you currently live.
First, we’ll meet with you to find out more about you and your pet preferences and answer your questions. Our goal is to help you find the pet that best fits your lifestyle and living situation so we want to make sure you have a realistic understanding of the time and resources necessary to provide training, medical treatment, and proper care for your new pet. This can take time so please allow at least one hour for the adoption process.
Once we have a good understanding of your living situation and the type of pet you’re interested in, we’ll make introductions and let you spend some quality time getting to know each other to see if there’s a love connection. It’s important that all household members take part in this important decision so please make sure everyone is present (including any resident dogs if you’re considering adding a new pooch to your pack).
Once love happens, we’ll complete the paperwork, review all the SF SPCA adoption benefits, provide information on any known medical or behavioral issues, and share tips to make the transition a success for both you and your new pet.
We consider you and your new furry friend a part of the SF SPCA family so please reach out with questions ― and be sure to share your adoption stories and pet photos at sfspca.org/stories
Don’t forget to schedule your first free health exam at the SF SPCA Veterinary Hospital within three days of adopting.