When you adopt a new cat or kitten, it can take them a little while to adjust to their new home. One way to help with this transition is to set up a “safe room” in your house. This is a place where your new kitty can hang out until it feels more comfortable.
Why Your Cat Needs a Safe Room
Cats can be shy creatures, even under the best of circumstances. Kitties coming from hectic shelter or rescue environments might be suffering from some residual stress and anxiety. Even outgoing cats can benefit from having a safe room, which allows the cat to ease into new surroundings slowly by exploring at their own pace. A great big house (or even a smaller apartment) can seem enormous to a cat. One room is less intimidating and can make a cat feel secure.
Safe rooms are especially helpful if you already have one or more cats at home, because they allow the newcomer to be slowly introduced to your resident cats. Cats are territorial. They can become adversarial or aggressive if you try to force introductions. Most cats can eventually learn to get along, if allowed to get to know each other slowly on their own terms.
How to Choose a Safe Room
It’s helpful to choose the room and get it set up before you bring your new kitty home. A safe room should be a small space, preferably with a door. A bathroom, large closet, or smaller guest room are good choices for safe rooms. Avoid choosing rooms that are loud or that you need to use a lot (for instance, the laundry room).
Look around the room to identify any hiding places the cat might try to squeeze into—such as behind furniture—and try to block them off, so the cat can’t hide some where you can’t reach it. Also, check the safe room for any potential dangers. Lock away cleaning chemicals, hide exposed electrical cords, tie up pull cords on blinds, and remove any dangerous houseplants or flowers.
What to Put in Your Cat’s Safe Room
In the safe room, there should be a litter box, food and water dishes, soft blankets or a cozy bed, a scratcher, and a variety of toys. You can also add some cat grass to nibble or sprinkle a little catnip on a blanket for your kitty to enjoy. Place the litter box and food dishes at opposite ends of the room; cats do not like to eat close to the area where they pee and poop.
Having a hiding spot can make a shy or scared cat feel more comfortable, so you might consider adding a small cardboard box with a blanket for your new cat to sleep in. This gives the cat a place to hide but still allows you to access to it.
How to Use a Safe Room
When you bring your cat home, bring it in the room and place it gently on the ground. If he cowers or tries to hide, don’t force any interactions. Instead, sit on the floor and quietly observe your cat and talk to it. Speak in a low, soothing voice. After a while, leave your cat alone and close the door to the safe room to give it time to explore on its own.
Come visit your cat in the room at regular intervals, always letting it come to you. It can help to bring some treats or try to engage your cat with play by waving a feather wand. If you have no other cats in the home, you can leave the door open and let your cat come and go as it pleases, allowing it to explore the rest of the house on its own terms.
If you have other cats in the house, keep the door closed initially. Your resident kitties will probably come over to sniff under the door. You might hear some hissing, growling, or yowling as the cats smell each other. This is normal and is no indication of how they might get along in the future once they are used to each other.
How Long to Use a Safe Room
Some outgoing cats, especially those that are the only cat in the house, may only need to use a safe room for one or two days. If you have other cats, it may be a good idea to keep them separated for up to a week or even longer, depending on how things are going. If your new cat is eating and drinking well and seems happily engaged with play and interaction with you, it might be time to end the confinement.
To gauge how well multiple cats are getting along, you can try opening the door and watching the interactions. As long as your new cat wants to come out and explore, and as long none of the cats are engaging in aggressive or bullying behavior with the other cats, you can let the new cat integrate into the household at his own pace. If you feel your new cat is being bullied by your other cat or cats, go back to using the safe room for a few more days, then try again.
If your cats are showing aggression or just not getting along after two to four weeks, reach out to your vet for help. You might need the assistance of an animal behaviorist to help work things out.
Household Hazards - Toxic Hazards for Cats. VCA Animal Hospitals.