Transitioning is an extremely important phase of your kitten's development, and attachment to you. Rushing this phase can create all sorts of problems. I want to share a comment from one of our kitten moms. Martha adopted one of our boldest kittens ever! Her Phoebe is extremely affectionate, confident, and outgoing. However, even though all signs appeared to be there that Phoebe would be 100% when she got home with her new mom, Martha carefully followed the transition period instructions, and wrote she was very glad that she did. Even with this rambunctious outgoing kitten who bonded immediately, Martha noticed developments over Phoebe's first week or so at home.
Martha sent me an email sharing that Phoebe was sound asleep in her lap. She wrote, "It was interesting that although Phoebe appeared to be "just fine" at arrival, I could really tell when she calmed down and felt more secure. Each kitten has his or her own way of expressing discomfort or uncertainty, now I have a clue to hers." Martha followed up by commenting, "I think that there is no way you can over emphasize to people the advisability of keeping their kitten in one room for a period of time. Yesterday, whenever Phoebe would fall asleep on my lap, she would startle easily and was clearly not really resting. Today she is zonked out at this moment, still on my lap, but really truly asleep."
Preparing Kitten's Bedroom
The most important step you can take is to carefully prepare your kitten's bedroom/transition room. This room gives your kitten her a "safety zone" while she is adjusting to her new home. In her bedroom plan to have her climber (if it fits) scratching post or pad, food, water, litter box, and a place to sleep like a wicker bed and blanket or a clothes basket with a pad in the bottom of it. She will want something she can "hide" in. Many folks take the door off the shipping crate or carrier and leave that in the room with their new kitten. This provides a perfect "cave" for kitty and allows her to "come out of her shell at her own pace. Even if you do not have a bedroom to keep her in with the door closed, you can keep your kitten in a bathroom.
Rushing this phase or ignoring it is the # 1 reason we hear concerns from kitten families such as "She won't let me pick her up," or "We can't brush her," or "We can't pet her, " or "She hides all the time" or "Why won't she play with us?" These questions worry us, since we know that now everyone needs to go backwards in order to go forward. With kittens and cats, it is much better to set successful habits right from the outset than try to fix things later on.
Additionally, having your kitten in a small area near her litter box assures you that she won't get lost in her new home or forget where it is, leading to an accident. The problem with accidents is kittens use smell to identify toileting areas. You don't want that area to be a corner behind the sofa!
How Long Does She Stay "in there?"
Plan on having your kitten in her transition room at least a week. Transition can take up to several weeks for some kittens. Behavior and confidence vary from kitten to kitten. There is no way to 100% predict a kitten's reaction to leaving its mother and litter mates. Even a very bold kitten can be quite nervous those first days or weeks in a new home. Depending on your kitten's temperament, and her experiences in shipping or driving home with you, you may find anything from bopping right out of her carrier ready to play, to nervousness and hiding when she arrives. Hiding or being afraid does not mean your kitten doesn't like you! She has just experienced the largest change of her life. She has gone from living with Mom and all her brothers and sisters to being alone or with a litter-mate. Smells and sounds are different, light is different, who is in the home is different. Everything is new to her.
What are the phases you should expect?
Phase I: Initially most kittens are cautious. They are often curious and will explore their room after they have had time to listen to their new home and get used to the sounds and smells. During this first day or so, go into your kitten's room every hour or so. Talk quietly and lovingly to your baby. Tell her how glad you are to see her. Key steps to observe for in this phase are to see your kitten eat and drink, and be using the litter box. It is rare a kitten refuses to eat. This is most often the result of trying to change her food while she is learning about her new home. Even if you do not plan to continue the foods we recommend, be sure to feed those foods only during the first four to five weeks. Keeping things as "normal" as possible for your kitten right through her 16 week vaccinations is one of the simplest ways to make sure she learns quickly she is home! Plan on leaving only one small ball or mouse in with your kitten at this time.
Phase II: The next phase will bring your kitten "out of hiding." This can take anywhere from one day to over a week. Do not push this stage! Rushing it frightens your kitten and delays trust building. The average kitten will come to this point in three to four days. What you will notice: Your kitten is out and about in the room when you enter. She does not "dash" for cover when she realizes you are in the room. She is interested in food you have brought in or is looking to you for a toy to play with. At this stage you will want to be bringing in a toy or two you think she is most likely to want to play with. We suggest the "wand" that is shipped with her. This wand has a long multi colored string on it and our kittens love to chase it. Drape it gently near her and "snake" it slowly across the floor. It may take a visit or two to "her" room before she begins to follow it, attempting to bite at it or pat it with her paws. Be sure to remove the toy(s) when you leave the room. This seems mean, doesn't it?! However, you want your baby kitten to associate you with "good things" and toys are "good things!"
Phase III: The final phase occurs somewhere between four days and several weeks. This is when you will see your kitten DASH by you to get out the door. She has had enough of confinement and is ready to meet the rest of the household. Even though she is now interested in the house, be sure to put her in her room at night or when you go out. This provides security and safety for her. We encourage this practice to remain in place. For allergic families, it keeps the any allergen in one place for 1/3 to 1/2 the day. For all families, it provides a safe place for her during parties, times when repairfolk are in the house, or other occasions when the hustle bustle might allow a curious cat to escape outside and become lost or injured. If your kitten associates her room with safety, you will not have to contend with a frustrated cat meowing loudly in her room during your dinner parties, or while your allergic aunt is visiting.
Before allowing your kitten access to the rest of the house, be sure you can answer "yes" to the following questions both for yourself, and for any other members of your human household (we'll get to animal friends in the next paragraph).
1. My kitten acts confidently when I am in her room.
2. My kitten allows me to pick her up without running away.
3. My kitten is comfortable being held for a period of time.
4. My kitten allows me to comb her fur.
5. My kitten allows me to play with her feet.
6. My kitten is eating and drinking well and using the litter box perfectly.
7. My kitten enjoys playing interactively with me.
8. My kitten enjoys playing with toys by herself.
9. My kitten is not crying at night.
10. My kitten is using her scratching post and pads and not scratching inappropriate surfaces.
If you can confidently answer "Yes!" to EACH of these questions, then it is time for your kitten to begin to join the rest of the household. If you have been blessed with a more retiring kitten, or one who seems to be taking separation from Mama and litter mates very hard, it is frustrating, especially if friends share how "their" kitten just bopped into their house and took over. Remind yourself that your Siberian kitten will be living with you for the next 12 to 18 years and the time you take now to provide her comfort and time will reap dividends for years. Though it surely may seem that you have "the only" kitten who has ever taken so long to get through each of the phases, it is MUCH, much better to allow her her own adjustment time. She will pay you back one thousand fold in trust, love, and the pleasure of having a comfortable, engaging cat.
Meeting The Household
The final stage in your kitten's adjustment is just as important as the earlier ones and should be handled just as carefully. This is the time where they are meeting any cat and dog friends you have in your house, and learning to leave the birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, and fish alone. We do encourage you to read over the list of poisonous plants we have posted on our site, and to remove all of them from the house before your kitten even arrives home. If you did not have time to get to it then, please take the time before letting your kitten have free roam of your home. Rehoming a gorgeous houseplant is much less stressful in the long run than an emergency Vet visit in the middle of the night with a desperately ill kitten or cat.
Steps to take before allowing your kitten free roam:
1. Remove poisonous plants.
2. Tape or remove loose wires or cords.
3. Secure or put away fragile art and glass pieces.
4. Ensure all windows are safely screened and not open more than two inches. Anything wider and a curious kitten can press against the screening and fall out.
5. Evaluate placement of pets such as birds and fish to ensure their safety.
6. Cover plugs with caps.
7. Consider removing curtains or tying them up temporarily.
8. Look at the house with an eye to where a curious kitten might exit and discuss with your human family how to protect your kitten from accidental escape.
9. Bring other cats and dogs to the door of the kitten's room, so that they have a chance to smell and here her.
10. If you have other cats, start to trade their litter boxes with the kitten's so that they get used to the smell of each other.
When you introduce your kitten to other furry friends:
1. Remain with your pets at all times.
2. Put your new kitten in her crate with the door closed. Place the crate near you as you sit there talking calmly to the kitten, allowing the other animals to come up and smell the new family member. You may hear the kitten growling and also your other cats. Dogs who are familiar with cats are generally blase or happy about the newest family member.
3. After about 15 minutes, take kitten back to her room.
4. Repeat either later in the day or the next day. The third time, have your kitten out and about and any other cats crated, or your dog(s) on leash. Allow the kitten to explore the room (preferably one with doors).
5. Another step is to have the other animals in her room and allow her run of the house (be sure she knows where the litter box is!).
6. If you have other cats, the best rule of thumb for number of litter boxes is one per cat, plus one. This ensures there is always a free box!
7. Continue the paced meetings until you are supervising face to face encounters. Cats have a dominant social hierarchy. It may take time for the old and new felines to adjust. Watch carefully. It will be a judgment call on whether to intervene. At some point they will need to work out the social order. You just don't want that to occur in a way that will wreck the gentle adjustment you've provided.
8. When you feel confident in their behavior, allow them all to interact while you are not there - but are within ear shot. Do go in and out of the room(s). It's no fun to return to what you thought was a peaceful situation to find your kitten terrified and shaking silently under a chair or in a corner.
Be sure to have your kitten in her safe room when you are not there to supervise - whether you have other pets or not. This is especially important at night when you can't be there to oversee her and be sure she is not in trouble.
There can be set backs during transition. Do not be discouraged. Simply "back up" a phase or two and wait there until your kitten has "readjusted" and then again move forward. Please be sure to be in contact with us if you are concerned about your kitten's adjustment, or any of the phases. We are here to walk you through this and be sure that you and your new kitten have a happy, healthy life together!!
ForestWind Siberians... pure, healthy kittens since 2005