New Adopter Information

Below are a few common issues new adopters might encounter and some tips on how to address them. We hope you find this information useful!

Introducing your cat to existing pets

While it’s impossible to guess how your new cat will get along with your existing pets, there are steps you can take to facilitate a happy, positive introduction. We advise against immediately introducing your cat to your existing pets. Here are resources on best practices for introductions:

View our one sheet guide on the most common health issues seen in rescue cats.

Inappropriate elimination

If your cat is demonstrating unusual litter box behavior, it’s important to understand that your cat is not doing it out of spite. There are many reasons for inappropriate elimination, and it’s sometimes resolved with an easy change in box location or litter type.

Your first step should be ruling out a medical condition. Cats frequently express physical discomfort or illness through a change in habit or behavior, and what might be an annoyance to you could actually be a sign that there is something medically wrong.

If your vet has ruled out medical issues, the behavior may be territorial, stemmed by anxiety, or resulting from dissatisfaction with the box setup. Here are some common non-medical reasons for inappropriate elimination:

Unhappy with litter or box

  • While a covered box is appealing to humans, it may cause the cat to feel trapped and at risk of ambush (especially in a multi-animal home)
  • Size of box should be large enough for the cat to turn around in
  • Scented litter may be unappealing to cats
  • The feel of the litter or the pan liner (if used) may be unpleasant to your cat. This happens most frequently to declawed cats, whose paws may be extra sensitive throughout their lives
  • Placement of box should be convenient to the cat, feel safe to the cat, and socially significant to the cat. A place once safe to your cat may become stressful with introduction of a negative association (i.e. cat is ambushed or hears loud noise while in the box).

Number of boxes

The general rule of thumb is to have as many litter boxes as you have cats, plus one. In multi-cat houses, boxes should be spread throughout the house, as your cat regards several boxes in one place as just one box. In multi-level homes, there should be a box on every story.

Dirty box

Cats are fastidious creatures, so if the box is not scooped or cleaned frequently, they may seek cleaner options. A good rule of thumb is to scoop boxes twice daily and replace litter monthly, washing the box with diluted dish soap.

Changes in routine and other territory stressors

One of the most important things to a cat is whether her territory today is the same as it was yesterday. Any number of changes could be a stressor to your cat—arrival of a new animal or family member, someone’s departure, visitors, storms, etc. Animals outside can also trigger territorial stress, as can the relationships among your pets inside. Depending on the stressor, there are different ways to help your cat cope.

Scratching and claw maintenance

First of all, keeping claws trimmed helps reduce damage. Search YouTube for how-to videos, or you can take your cat to a vet / groomer for a trim. You could also try Soft Paws to cover her claws.

Regarding scratching undesired scratching surfaces, try a No/Yes approach:

Give her a NO

  • Put double-sided tape on any inappropriate places she’s been scratching. This generally works very well–cats hate the feel of tape, yet it’s humane.
  • One thing we DON’T recommend is the spray bottle. Since she only gets sprayed when the humans are around, it is ineffective as a behavior modification–she’d end up associating the spray with you, not the scratching. She may also view it as an act of aggression, so it could hurt the bond between you and your cat and cause her to become aggressive.

Give her a YES

This is very important since cats need to scratch and stretch–the NO won’t work without the YES

  • Put an appropriate scratching surface in front of / on top of the spot she’s been scratching, so she has a better alternative
  • For horizontal scratching (like carpet inexpensive corrugated cardboard works well, but there are plenty of fun options, too
  • For vertical scratching (like sofas): a tall sturdy post like the ultimate scratching post that’s high enough for them to stretch vertically
  • You can put some catnip on the appropriate scratching places to attract them there. Many of us fosters have some kind of scratcher in every room of the house to give them something to “own” that isn’t furniture

Keep in mind that if you bring in new pieces of furniture, they are going to want to scratch it. New things = new territory to mark. So have tape and scratching posts ready to go!

Other issues

A cat behavioralist can help you determine stressors or address bad behaviors. World-renowned cat behavioralist Pam Johnson-Bennett lives right here in Nashville. Johnson-Bennett has written several books and has her own television show dedicated to helping owners understand their cat’s behavior, and she does both phone and in-home consultations.

Pregnant and new mothers

Many women are counseled about Toxoplasmosis, a zoonotic disease that is passed by fecal-oral transmission–which means you must ingest cat feces to be at risk. This disease leads to concerns over the safety of pregnant women or new mothers owning cats. However, studies have shown that the risk of getting Toxoplasmosis from gardening is higher than the risk of getting it from your cat. Simple solutions are to wear gloves while cleaning the litterbox or enlist the help of your family.


Just like with flowers and bushes, some cat owners experience allergies that may vary in intensity throughout the year. For many owners, these are manageable with guidance from your doctor. If you think your allergies might be cat-related, make an appointment as soon as possible to speak with your primary care physician about how to keep your allergies under control.