Life with a New Cat
I am no stranger to sharing my life with pets. I have had 12 pets in my home over the past six years. Four of those pets were our dogs, seven were fosters, and one is our newest kitty addition, Van Gogh. I also cared for hundreds upon hundreds of pets as a professional pet sitter between 2008 and 2015. Yet, adjusting to life with a new cat has been different this time around - likely because I also have two small children and an old dog to consider.
Cats Need Time to Adjust
We have a large home and started Van Gogh in the guest bathroom for the first 10 days he was with us. He would come out of the bathroom when I was able to supervise his interactions with our dog, Caera, and our two kids - Noah, 5, and Mila, 3. Otherwise, the bathroom was a safe space where he had plenty of room, fresh food and water, his bed, and a litter box.
After the initial quarantine of sorts, we took Van Gogh on vacation with us. We spent spring break in Phoenix and Sierra Vista, Arizona last week. It was an awesome vacation and a great way to continue integrating our new cat into our family. Unfortunately, however, hotel living had its challenges. Four humans and two pets in small spaces can be rough. While Van Gogh is super easygoing and eager to please, traveling definitely interrupted his adjustment period but, luckily, didn't seem to set us back.
Now that we're home, Caera and Van Gogh are getting along famously. Caera is no longer as nervous around Van Gogh. He's settling in beautifully and behaving quite well. He's doing so well, in fact, that we've given him full reign of the house.
All in all, I find that Van Gogh has adjusted really well to our home, family, and changing dynamics. I believe he's adjusted more quickly than most cats would under the circumstances, but he is young and confident, which definitely helps.
Cats are Curious
Our new kitten is unsurprisingly curious about his new surroundings. We need to watch him carefully to make sure he's not getting himself into trouble. Van Gogh is also very food-motivated, which means our family needs to be careful about what we leave out.
Adjusting to a new cat is very different than adjusting to a new dog because cats can reach more surfaces. When we only had a dog, leaving food out on the counter wasn't an issue. Caera has never been a counter-surfer. Now, with two young kids and a curious kitty, I have to be on counter patrol and spill control at all times. My kids made a mess of macadamia nuts yesterday and my husband and I had to clean them up immediately because macadamia nuts are toxic to pets. I have since asked my husband to avoid macadamia nuts with the kids for the time being. There are other less dangerous snacks we can offer them.
Van Gogh isn't currently climbing many surfaces but I'm sure he will as he grows. And, as he gains more confidence, he will likely find his favorite spots and investigate more areas of our home. I, therefore, have to be more mindful than I've been in the past about not only what I leave out in the kitchen and bathrooms but also what my kids and husband leave out when I'm not in those areas with them. It's a big task, no doubt, but it comes with the territory when acclimating to a new cat.
Cats Need Accessories
Cats are rumored to be less work, less commitment, and less expensive than dogs but that's not been our experience adopting Van Gogh. Having spent the past 5+ years in a dog-only home, we have plenty of dog accessories like leashes, toys, harnesses, and bowls. We didn't, however, have cat trees, scratching surfaces, and litter boxes with all the accouterments that we needed for them. I've spent about $500 on cat-friendly structures and accessories so far and we've only had Van Gogh for three weeks. In addition to the cost, adjusting to his arrival has meant finding places for litter boxes, deciding where to place scratching surfaces, and playing with how to keep Caera out of Van Gogh's bowl and litter.
Cats, as well as dogs, need toys and enrichment, which is a challenge with a dog and young children because they too are curious. I got Van Gogh a wand toy, for example, and my son was swinging it so hard, we had to put it away to prevent injuries. I also got Van Gogh a treat dispensing toy and Caera became obsessed with it. It's got her teeth marks all over it. Luckily, it still functions properly but it barely lasted a day before getting all scuffed up. I also had the forethought to purchase treats that were safe for both cats and dogs therefore Caera enjoyed the treats when she finally figured out that biting the plastic wasn't going to get her a payoff. Oh, Caera.
I'm very happy with all we have purchased for Van Gogh. I especially love this cat tree/condo from Wayfair that attaches to the wall. I feel it is safer than the standard cat tree and a great elevated space on which to feed Van Gogh.
Cats Need Grooming
One of the riskiest parts of bringing home a new cat, namely a kitten, is that they are known to have very sharp claws that can tear up your skin and couch in two seconds flat. For this reason, it was hugely important for me to get multiple nail clippers for Van Gogh and get him used to having his nails clipped from day one. I've never been keen on clipping my dog's nails because they are so thick and hard to cut but kitten nails are way easier to trim. Van Gogh also lets us cut them with minimal reluctance.
Speaking of nails, cats like to scratch as part of their grooming regimen, so I purchased a few of these scratch pads to leave around the house. I like that these can either be portable or affixed to the wall. Thus far, it appears that Van Gogh likes horizontal scratching surfaces therefore I have a few of these that I move around the house depending on where we're hanging out. Using these proactively has definitely helped keep him from scratching the furniture, carpeting, etc. He clawed up our new leather couch but we expected that and had these wipes ready to go in case that was to happen. They definitely help but prevention is key.
In addition to nail clipping, cats need brushing. While they spend all day grooming themselves, I wanted to prevent shedding and random cat hair all over my house. I personally can't stand feeling like my face is covered in cat hair and, because Van Gogh likes to cuddle really close, it's inevitable. For this reason, I purchased not one but two grooming products for Van Gogh. The first is a slicker brush and the second is a stainless steel comb that was recommended by The Charleston Cat Groomer, who I interviewed on season 2 of my show. I also ordered her grooming bundle for short-haired cats because it comes with such great stuff.
I brush or comb Van Gogh every evening while we're snuggling on the couch and he loves it. I also love to see the amount of hair that is trapped in the brush or comb and isn't getting stuck to my clothes or throughout the house.
Cats are Fun
While we've been busy adjusting to having a new pet, new species, new experience, we've also been loving the process. My kids are so happy to have a playful, soft kitten to interact with. Chris and I love the snuggles we get from our littlest member of the family. And, Caera's separation anxiety has noticeably subsided since she accepted Van Gogh's friendship.
I can't tell you how lucky I feel to have found such a perfect fit for our family. I love that he's so mellow and happy to be near us. I also like that my kids are taking a more active role in caring for our new pet than they have in the past. I believe that these experiences will shape them to be excellent caregivers to pets and people in the future.
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