Adoption Guidebook

Congratulations on your decision to bring a pet into your home. We truly believe that your new cat will bring energy and love to your home. At Tails High, we want to build a relationship with our adopters. This guide is meant to support you, but we encourage you to contact us with any questions you have.

Items to Buy Before You Bring Your Cat Home

Cat Food: We don’t endorse a specific brand of cat food, but we suggest checking labels to ensure that the first few ingredients on the food label are meat rather than grain or vegetables. Cats are “obligatory carnivores,” which is a fancy way of saying they mainly eat meat, supplemented by a few trace minerals. We feed the cats primarily Wellness, Innova Evo, and California Natural wet food while they are with us, so that’s what they’ll be used to when they get to your house. Turkey and chicken flavors are the safest flavors to try because some cats have an intolerance to fish or beef. Try buying one or two cans of different flavors of food until you learn what your new pet likes best. Then you can buy it in bulk online. Cats also love the water you squeeze out of tuna fish cans, and you can give this to them as a special treat.

Cat Food Dishes: Food and water bowls come in all shapes and materials. We recommend feeding your cat from shallow bowls or plates. Avoid using plastic food dishes because this can give your cat acne (“catne”) around the mouth and chin.

Litter Box: Litter boxes come in all sizes and styles. If you’re adopting a small kitten, remember that it will grow larger and need more space later on. Cats tend to prefer litter boxes without lids, whereas humans tend to like the lids because they help prevent the litter from going everywhere and it keeps some of the smells contained better. We recommend having more than one litter box if you have a large house or there will be more than one cat in the house. Kittens, like small children, don’t want to stop playing to use the litter box, so they wait until the last second and need the litter box to be close by.

Litter Scoop: Consider investing a few extra dollars in a large metal scoop. It will cut down on the time and effort involved in cleaning the litter box.

Toys: Kittens especially need to play with toys, just like children do. It isn’t necessary to spend much money on “real” cat toys because your kitten won’t distinguish between store-bought toys and paper bags, crumpled-up newspaper balls, rolled-up socks, and even empty boxes. Be sure to supervise your cats when they play with ribbons and string, and put these items out of reach when playtime is over. Many cats will chew on and swallow string, which can lead to an expensive trip to the veterinarian’s office.

Cat Carrier: This will come in all kinds of materials and sizes. We recommend purchasing one a little on the larger side to give your kitty a bit of breathing room.

Nail Clipper: Kittens especially are still learning how to control their claws, so you’ll probably want to keep them clipped. Pet stores sell nail clippers shaped especially for claws. The section on nail trimming explains how to keep your cat’s claws trimmed.

Scratching Post: Cats have a need to scratch (this is true even of declawed cats), so it is best to provide them appropriate places to scratch. Different cats like different scratching materials. Many like the inexpensive scratching boxes of corrugated paper, and others may like a short tower covered in either carpet or vertical sisal (a rough textile similar to a welcome mat).

Cat Brush: There are many different kinds of brushes on the market, and your cat’s fur length will dictate which type is best for you. Brushing your cat helps prevent hairball formation. It can also be a pleasurable bonding activity for you and your cat.

Kitty Treats: You can use treats to you lure your cat out from under the couch, praise it for using its new scratching post, and reinforce other good behaviors.

After You Take your Cat Home

When You First Open the Carrier Door

Most cats hate to travel, and they are upset by changes in their environment. Therefore, you can expect your kitty to be out of sorts and a little irritable or defensive when you first open the carrier.

Select a quiet, closed-in area, such as a bedroom or a small room away from the main foot traffic, and provide him with a litter box, food and water (set away from the litter box), toys, and a scratching post.

The cat will most likely want to find a good hiding place first, and it may take a few hours for it to calm down and feel safe enough to go exploring the rest of the room. Cats often sniff around the perimeter of a new room before exploring the insides.

Wet food needs to be freshened up every few hours. If you work during the day, mix the food with a bit of water to keep the food fresh for longer. The amount of food your cat eats will vary greatly depending on their size and age, but cats know how much to eat, so it’s good to leave extra food out when you leave for the day.

Give the acclimation up to a week. You should go in and offer your company, but don’t force your new pet to come out of hiding. If necessary, sit on the floor to talk to your cat and offer treats. Let your cat do all the sniffing necessary to feel comfortable around you; offer your fingertips first and let the cat make the first move by rubbing his mouth or cheek against your hand.

Over a few days, slowly introduce him to the rest of your house, including the other pets and household members. Make sure the cat always has access to “his” room so he can escape to it if he feels nervous. It will take a little while, but she’ll soon start to feel comfortable at home.

Cat personalities vary greatly. Yours could be full of self-confidence and ready to play immediately or very timid and eager to hide. Let your new pet guide you to the level of attention she wants. Some cats will crawl into your lap for affection whereas others may want the stability of the floor while being cuddled.

Introducing your Cat to Other Members of the House 

Cat-to-Children Introductions

Depending on the age of the child, your new cat may find the child’s natural energy level threatening. At first, have your child sit very still while you hold the cat, and let your child hold out its hand for the cat to sniff.

When teaching your child how to pick up, hold, pet, and play with a cat, always leave the cat an escape route. The cat’s natural tendency will be to run away rather than lash out if it suddenly feels threatened.

Teach children how to read when a cat is signaling, “Leave me alone!”

Teach children not to disturb a cat that is eating or sleeping.

Older children need to be reminded not to roughhouse with a cat. If the cat is treated roughly even once, it may become fearful of the child and seem unfriendly.

Involve your child in the daily care of your cat. Even younger children can help place food dishes on the ground and refill water dishes. This will help your child gain the cat’s trust and feel like it’s the child’s pet too.

Cat-to-Cat Introductions

Wait for the new cat to acclimate to the small area you’ve chosen before introducing her to other cats.

Before cats see each other, they need to smell each other. Cats have glands at the corners of their mouths that secrete a scent cats use for communication and territory marking. Try swapping the cats’ beds so they can each experience the other’s scent. You also can rub a fresh washcloth against the side of each cat’s cheeks to fill it with scent, and then let each cat smell the other’s washcloth.

Your older cat will most likely feel threatened by the new cat’s presence at first, and needs time to become accustomed to the idea of a new pet in the house. He may growl and hiss at the door to the room where your new cat is staying. It may take several days for the hissing or growling to subside. The process can be painfully slow for humans, but it’s important to stretch out the introduction to a pace comfortable for the cats.

Some time over the next few days, try placing the new cat in its carrier and bringing it into your main living area. Give both cats some treats or food so that they associate each other’s presence with a pleasurable experience.

Once the cats are comfortable in this situation, allow them interact under your supervision. Make sure to give each cat an escape route, and don’t worry if initial interactions last only a few seconds or minutes.

Gradually increase the time the cats spend together, as long as they are not aggressive toward each other.

Cat-to-Dog Introductions

Give the new cat about a week to acclimate to a safe room in the new environment.

When the cat acclimates and is no longer hiding, place a dog bed in the room for the cat to smell.

When you first introduce the cat to the dog, do so in an open space where the cat can have several escape routes. Apply a leash to the dog and occupy it with some obedience exercises and with food treats as a reward for calm responding. The cat needs some time to watch the dog’s body language before the two interact face to face.

Never let the dog rush toward the cat, even if only in play.

Gradually allow the dog and cat to spend more time together, but always supervise them until you are absolutely sure there is no threat of danger to either of them.

Beyond the First Encounter

The acclimation process can feel excruciatingly slow sometimes. Check out this article from Cat Fancy about one new parent’s introduction strategy. This article from a new parent tells a similar story of how long it can take a cat to feel comfortable in a new environment.

Being a new cat owner is much like being a new parent. There is suddenly a new member of the family with strange eating, sleeping, playing, and bathroom habits. Give yourself as well as your cat time to adjust to the new situation. We are always available to answer questions. Our main phone number is 703-819-5240.

The Internet is a good resource for learning good pet-parenting practices. For example, the “Beginner’s Guide to Being Owned by a Cat” has a comprehensive list of articles and videos to answer all the questions about cat parenting you didn’t know you had.

For a bit of tongue in cheek reading, try “Thirteen Lessons for New Cat Owners.”

Avoiding Common Problems

Prevent “Kitty Scissorhands” from Shredding Your Home

Check out the instructional video, “How to Trim Your Cat’s Claws.

Let us know if you’d like a nail clipping lesson. It can be a bit tricky at first.

In many instances, adding a scratching post to the house solves the cat’s inner need to shred the furniture.

Position the scratching material near where the cat sleeps, as cats often want to scratch when they wake up.

Alternatively, try placing the post in another desirable location, such as near a window or around where the family congregates when at home.

SoftPaws and Soft Claws are acrylic claw-shaped caps that you glue over the cat’s claws. They need to be reattached every few weeks, just like a manicure.

Teaching Good Behavior

Cats are different than dogs in that you can’t obedience train them. Instead, you have to outwit them by teaching them that what you want is also what they want.

Cats are great at linking two behaviors together. For example, one of our volunteers taught her cat to scratch his post by feeding him a treat whenever he did this. Soon, the cat figured out that scratching was the best method for getting treats, and now it thinks of the scratching post like a treat dispenser.

Never feed your cat in places where you don’t want the cat jumping up (such as the counter or the table). If your cat jumps on the counter because it hears you preparing the food, prevent the cat from eating from the dish until it reaches the proper eating area.

Never feed your cat people food from the table.

Try adorning the countertops with lemons and oranges. These fruits are toxic to cats, so they naturally avoid them.

Sprinkling crushed eggshells on prohibited surfaces discourages cats (as it would humans) from stepping there.

Try double-sided tape on furniture or other spots you want to keep cats off of. (Don’t worry; it’s only temporary until the cat learns not to walk there.)

Litter Box Advice

Cats prize clean environments. They will appreciate it greatly if you scoop out the litter every day.

If you find that the garbage stinks when you scoop litter into it, try scooping it into a Ziploc bag before throwing it in the trash.

If the cat can’t quite seem to remember where its litter box is, try sprinkling an herb called Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract on the litter. It works like a charm on kittens and makes older cats walking by the litter box think, “Don’t mind if I do!” The container also comes with a pamphlet of additional tips.

If clay litter seems too heavy to schlep home from the store and then schlep to the garbage, try Feline Pine (made from sawdust) or Yesterday’s News (made from recycled newspaper) instead.

If the cat is using its litter box perfectly and suddenly starts to have accidents when there as been no other change to the cat’s environment, you should take the cat to the vet to check for a urinary infection.

Hairball Prevention

Your cat’s first hairball can be alarming, and you’ll probably want it to be the only one you ever have to deal with. Brushing your cat daily to remove excess fur is the best way to control this problem, but there are other solutions as well:

Invest in a few different types of cat brushes. Daily brushing is the best hairball control remedy.

Try adding a bit of fiber to your cat’s diet in the form of hairball control food or hairball control kitty treats.

Try administering a bit of petroleum jelly. Pet stores sell tubes of it in tuna, malt, and liver flavors. You can mix it in the cat’s food if they like the taste. If they don’t like the taste, you can administer it like a medicine, or try wiping a bit on their paws so they are forced to lick it off.

Frequent hairballs (more than one or two per month) warrant a trip to the vet.

When You Should Take Your Cat to the Vet

Prior to adoption, all cats and kittens are up-to-date on vet care, have been spayed or neutered, and have received their yearly vaccinations. However, a sneeze or a tumble off the bed can have new owners worried that there is something wrong with their cat. Here is a basic guide to what is normal and what needs medical attention, but we urge you to call us for a consultation so that we can offer a solution or let you know if a vet visit is necessary.

Basic Guide to Illness:

Sneezing by itself is not cause for concern. Cats sometimes also limp when they have a cold, which is normal.

A sudden loss of appetite warrants a trip to the vet.

A sudden decrease in activity level, sudden hiding behaviors, and aggression toward normal family members (with no other changes to the environment such as company coming over) are indications of illness and necessitate a trip to the vet.

Cats often spend a lot of time grooming themselves, but if a cat spends a lot of time grooming a single area, it could indicate trouble such as mites, fleas, or skin infection.

If your cat is well trained to use the litter box and suddenly begins to have accidents or urinates much more frequently than normal (one of our volunteer’s cats even began to use the toilet), this is a classic sign of a urinary tract infection.

Basic Guide to Injury

Kittens especially tend to jump from high places, fall down a lot, and roughhouse with their litter mates. Kittens, like children, tend to bounce back and recover more quickly from bumps and bruises than adults. It takes some practice to figure out when not to worry:

Cats heal from lacerations and scratches much faster than humans do. This can be a good evolutionary trait, but it puts them at higher risk for an abscess (when a wound heals over a bacterial infection). If you notice a soft swelling under the skin and the cat seems to be in pain, the vet should handle this.

Lacerations to pads and torn toenails are two of the most common paw injuries in cats. Most paw injuries heal well without much treatment, but keep in mind that cats have a higher risk for infection, so the area should be cleaned often during the healing process.

If one eye is swollen, this is a good indication that your cat was scratched or has debris in the eye. This situation warrants a trip to the vet.