Should I Take My New Cat Back to the Shelter?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I adopted a 6-year-old cat from a local cat shelter that has over 300 cats that are all around each other. When I met her at the shelter she was very affectionate and loving, and would not let me walk away from her. She had been in the shelter since she was approximately 8 weeks old. I adopted her almost 2 weeks ago and she has been hiding since I got her. She comes out to eat, drink, and use the litter box, and has been starting to come out while I sleep to check out other rooms. She purrs when I pet her and sometimes will come slightly out of hiding to let me pet her. Is this normal? My mother thinks that she misses the other cats and that I should bring her back to the shelter, but I feel like she is just adapted very slowly. Will she eventually come out of hiding?

~ Logan

Tuxedo cat hiding in the bushes

Hiding cat, (CC-BY-SA) by David R. Tribble

Siouxsie: Logan, please don’t let your mother take this cat back to the shelter. She is adjusting, but it’s taking time.

Thomas: Some cats do take longer to adjust than others. Being adopted is a big change for her since she’s been at the shelter since she was a kitten.

Bella: Cats really have a hard time with change, even if it’s a good change like getting a forever home.

Siouxsie: There are some things you can do to help your new kitty feel braver about her new environment, though.

Thomas: If you can get her to stay in one room, she might get a little bit braver if she has less space to explore at first.

Bella: But if she’s already hiding under the couch in the living room, for instance, don’t traumatize her more by dragging her out and bringing her into your bedroom.

Siouxsie: What your kitty needs is a confidence boost and some slow, patient work.

Thomas: Mama wrote an article for Catster with some tips on how to help a scaredy cat gain some confidence and own her space. We’d recommend that you check it out. After all, we did help Mama write it, so we know it’s good!

Bella: I’ve got to admit, Siouxsie and Thomas have done a good job training Mama. I’ve hardly had to do any work at all! Well, except that I still can’t get her to let me eat paper and plastic. *grumble*

Siouxsie: Don’t be silly, Bella. You know that stuff isn’t good for you!

Bella: You’re no fun!

Thomas: Bella, you be nice to Siouxsie — and stop chasing her around the house!

Bella: You’re no fun, either! Nyeah!

Siouxsie: Anyway, Logan, the basics of the article we mentioned are patience, quiet, and building your cat’s confidence with play.

7-foot-tall Armarkat multi-level cat tower

This is the 7-foot-tall cat tower Mama got for us.

Thomas: You should also make sure that she can get way up high. A nice, tall cat tree is a great way to do this, and they’re not very expensive if you order them online, either.

Bella: Just keep on doing what you’re doing, Logan. If you keep gently coaxing her out and rewarding her courage with treats and play, she’ll be a full-fledged part of the family soon.

Siouxsie: Oh, one more thing. For those of you who are thinking about adopting a cat soon, please think about adopting a pair. Cats sometimes have a best friend at the shelter, and the staff can tell you who that kitty is.

Thomas: If you’re able to adopt a bonded pair, you’ll help both cats to cope with the stress of moving to a new home.

Bella: In your case, Logan, we think it would be better to hold off on bringing any more cats home until your new baby is more confident about her surroundings. If you adopted another kitty now, you’d only be stressing her more.

Siouxsie: Please let us know how things turn out. And once your kitty starts to feel at home in her new home, please send us some photos. We love happy kitty pictures!

  • Rebecca

    By all means don’t take your kitty back! She just needs a chance to get used to her new environment.

    One thing a lot of people don’t realize about cats is how very territorial they are. Your new kitty obviously likes you, but it’s the new environment she’s having a problem with. She needs a chance to grow into her new home and make it hers. It may smell like other animals, or there may be new sounds she is frightened by.

    I think the cat tree idea is a really good one, because one way that cats show confidence is by being in high-up places. If you have more than one cat, you can actually look to see which one has placed themselves in a higher-up position physically – that cat is usually the boss cat in that household. For example, if there are three cats all lying on a bed, you will often see that one of those cats is sitting on a pillow or something to put themselves just a little bit above the others. This will be the dominant cat in that household. You can use this piece of information to help your cat build confidence, by helping her to “fake it until she makes it.” If you put her in a high-up place, you are putting her into a confident, dominant position and that can influence how she actually feels.

    Another thing you can do to help her gain confidence is by putting her into situations where she can be a winner – let her chase and catch a cat toy, like maybe one of those dangling thing-on-a-string toys. Then, once she catches and “kills” the toy, give her a little treat or snack to simulate the experience of making a successful catch. A cat who is successfully living in her territory is one who will be catching her meals, so if you can duplicate that experience you can help her feel like she is successfully “owning” her territory.

    As I mentioned, your new cat has already shown that she likes you personally so now all she needs is a little time to grow into her new surroundings. I’m sure that a little patience will pay off and you two will have a happy life together. Good luck!

  • Sparkle

    Awesome advice today! Poor kitty is just having a hard time adjusting – but she will, and she will be much happier in her own home in the long run.

  • Gretchen

    This is exactly what happened when my brother adopted a cat. The cat stayed in hiding for quite awhile, and my brother was frustrated and felt like the cat didn’t like him. Slowly though, Sonny (the cat) came around and got more comfortable in his new environment. Now he is so affectionate that he’s pretty much always on my brother’s lap demanding to be petted. It just takes some cats awhile to settle in to their new home.

  • Sarah Lynnae

    Hi, Logan! The kitties have given you great advice. I completely agree that there’s no reason your new friend should go back to the shelter. It actually sounds to me like she’s adjusting pretty well, considering that she was at the shelter from a very young age and has only known that environment. You know that she’s coming out of hiding at times, and I have to admit that that was more than I knew after I brought my second kitty home. She was very, very scared, and my roommate and I finally had to make her a special “cave” to help her adjust.

    I’m not sure what your setup is currently, so perhaps this won’t apply, but if she were my kitty, I would set up one room, maybe your bedroom, with all her toys, food, water, litterbox, etc., and keep the door closed. Some cats are very curious and outgoing; my Momo wanted to see *everything* in the house right away, and he especially wanted to meet my roommate’s kitties. Most cats, though, need time to feel like a space is theirs and to be secure in it, so it’s usually a good idea to keep them in one room if you have the option. You’ll definitely know when the cat has become comfortable and feels at home in there, and you’ll know when the cat is ready to explore more of the living space and claim it.

  • InterestedPerson

    Definitely agree with all the voices saying “do not return her to the shelter”. AngelinaPashmina came to
    us from a shelter as an adult, and she is still working on trust with being held, etc., after 3 years. The only thing I would add is to spend time regularly telling her, however that would be for you, with mental pictures, words, whatever, that you have made this commitment and this is her forever home. IF this is what you mean. She will pick up any hesitancy you have about keeeping her.

  • Mechelle

    Play time is one of the best things to do with your cat. It’s a great bonding time between kitty and guardian and can also help with the socialization, exercise that every kitty needs, and confidence. Some cats are naturally more confident and more likely to explore right off the bat and acclimate to a new environment and it’s humans but others take time. Don’t give up, and don’t take the kitty back. Give all of you the time you each need to bond and become a family!

  • Titu’s Mum

    Hey Logan

    Please give your kitty more time to adjust. My human brought me from a pet store where I’d been a glass cage kitty for the first 6 months of my life and I didn’t understand about nice humans, or outside, or toys, or so many other things that my fur sister Daisy took for granted.

    It took me over a year to get brave and stop being a wussy cat, but now I’m a big brave kitty :) My human parents and fur sister took lots of time to play with me when I wanted to, and never rushed me. Lots of little pats and quiet talking made me brave and I started to realize I wasn’t going to be smacked or locked away in a small cage with lots of other grumpy kitties.

    Hopefully your kitty will be braver faster than I was. My mum says I was well worth the effort ~purrs happily~

  • Pat

    My 2 year old orange tabby boy hid under a recliner for a week. He is 10 now and we are best buddies.

  • Marty

    I’d definitely give her more time to adjust, it’s a big change for her!

    An option, is to ask the shelter if she had a shelter mate? Perhaps, if you could have two cats, she would like the company of a companion shed had there? As well as adopt out another kitty that needs a home.

  • Mariah Maloy

    My best friend adopted an adult kitty who hid for 6 months before becoming brave enough to come out. Now the kitty is very brave, fussing at people when it’s raining! Although, when she was hiding, she would come out at night to steal shoes, waking my bestie with a thumping from her tennis shoe that her kitty was dragging away!

  • dorothy

    Congratulations on your new fur baby, Logan. Just remember to put yourself in your kitty’s fur, so to speak. While cats aren’t human, they still have feelings and emotions. If you had lived someplace from the time you were a toddler, until you were around 30, then suddenly this person scooped you up and took you to a totally new home, with other humans, but NO Other Cats!?, wouldn’t want to hide under the bed. Oh, and don’t forget, this new place comes with a language barrier. So you can’t even communicate with your captors(?), family(?) or however you think of them.

    It seems to me the shelter should have given you more advice and information. I’m assuming they screened you before handing you a cat? Well they should have offered you a contact with experience living with cats.

    Good luck to you all. Adjusting to a new family member can be stressful, but the resulting pay-off will enrich your life 100-fold.

  • Kieran

    Two weeks is NOT a long time to adjust! Think about it – how long do YOU take to adjust to a new home when YOU move??

    In a similar situation, when I adopted a second cat, it took a good six months for the first cat to stop hissing at him. Now they cuddle together on my lap and lick each other’s heads.

    Cats are not objects. They can’t just fit in immediately wherever you plop them down.

  • Anita

    I work with a rescue group and a few times we have had cats returned because they hid and it was only after a couple days. Everyone wants a cat who is affectionate and loving. I’ve seen people adopt mixed breed Siamese who are distant instead of the sweet little black kitty with the great personality. Every cat has a unique personality. I work with a feral colony where there are sweet, loving cats and those who have seen us everyday for 10 years and still run when we come into view. Time and patience are what is needed with a cat. Good luck on your baby and don’t give up.


    Oh My God……..dont you dare take this kitty back – this is a new environment for him & he will get use to it. i adopted a kitty, sight unseen, labeled wild, from Arlington, TX, &, not knowing how he would be when he got to Milwaukee, yes, it took him about 4 months to be the lover he is today!
    Regardless, if your kitty will be a lover or not, YOU SAVED AN ANIMAL!! you know, you could always get another kitty to keep your new kitty company :)

  • Josephine

    Hi Logan,
    You’re getting excellent advice from experienced humans and their wise owner cats! One more thought, which applies to just about all rescued and shelter pets. A forever home is the closest thing to Heaven on earth for an adopted animal. Returning a pet that is slow to adjust or needs extra help, understanding or even a bit of medical help (not that your kitty sounds sick, just scared) will truly make her feel rejected. She won’t understand what she did “wrong” (nothing, of course) but it will make things twice as hard for her if she is ever fortunate enough to be chosen again. And she may not ever feel confident enough to pick another friend to trust the way she clearly picked you. Both of you have a wonderful thing! Hang in there with each other and you will both be glad you did!

  • San Pedro Cat Lady

    I now have the greatest friendship with an adult cat I adopted about 4 years ago. He, too, was a scaredy cat and would only sneak out from under my bed at night for the first several months after I brought him home. From a similar previous experience, I’d learned that by ignoring him beyond holding one-sided conversations directed at him whenever I was in the bedroom, he’d eventually start coming out for longer forays–just as long as I did not try to lean in his direction or reach out to him. His appearances began to extend into the living room where I’d be watching TV, aware he was there but NOT paying attention to him. Finally, one day out of the blue he jumped up into my lap. I didn’t reach out to touch him–I kept watching the tube but I’d talk to him. This went on for a few days until he finally stuck his head into my hand, and life has been a very special experience ever since. This has happened to me with two of the best cats I’ve ever owned.
    Ptease do everything in your power NOT to return your cat to the shelter!! It may take several months to form a bond, but the rewards can be incredible. Adult cats in shelters are the hardest to place in forever homes, and when “Return” appears on a cat’s info card, it too often ends up with the cat being euthanized–just because he was shy or afraid.

  • Catherine Murdoch

    Please don’t take kitty back to the shelter! I have had a similar problem to yours. When my cat Cindy first came to live with me her behaviour was very like that of your kitty. I adopted her because her former family were moving and couldn’t take her with them so Cindy didn’t know me or her new environment and would hardly eat anything. She gradually adjusted and came out of hiding to interact with me. My vet told me if it came to desperate measures I could give her valium but fortunately this was not necessary. Actually, the fact that she wasn’t eating much stressed me out and I suggested the vet give me valium as well (they declined.) Cindy came around and eventually so will your kitty.

  • Phyllis

    She most likely does miss the other kitties, but don’t bring her back to the shelter. These things take time, but she will come out of her shell. We just got a new kitten from a friend, he was 6 weeks when I got him and it didn’t take too long before he was playing with the two big cats we have, he weighs all of four and half pounds. So just wait and see with your new kitty, he will come around.

  • Josie

    Don’t you worry, your kitty will probably be fine, with time. As everyone else is saying, two weeks is far too short to start worrying about adjustment issues! Just give it some time, and before you know it you’ll be the best of friends, all grooming and petting and purring.

  • Logan

    Thank you guys so much!! Elaine is making an amazing breakthrough, coming out to the living room and playing during the nights and now daytime as well. She is still a bit skittish around new people, and will go t o her hiding spot behind the radiator when someone new arrives. We are beginning to have an incredible bond and she has become eager to play with me and have me pet her as much as possible. I have been thinking about getting another cat as well, to help her to feel more at home, as well as to have a playmate when I am not home.

  • Kathie Bass

    Don’t take the kitty back to the shelter! Hindsight is 20-20 and of course it would have been better if there was a cat buddy you could have adopted as well. But not right now, too much change. I brought a feral kitten into my ho,e during an intense rainstorm 12 years ago. Somehow I managed to get him into the vet to be neutered and vaccinated at a year old. But mostly for 12 years I didn’t see him and if he did come into the area of the house where I was, if I made eye contact with him he ran! I knew where he hung out of course and went there several times a day and talked to him. Lo and behold, one night I was in bed about half asleep and I felt something cuddle up to me and put a paw on my hand and keep it there, for hours. I knew who it was. Shortly after that he began to come into the main area of the house but still if I made eye contact he ran. Finally last winter I heard a plaintive meow from the side of my desk chair and who was it but Eddie. He has been out ever since, he has a buddy from my other cats that he hangs out with but when I’m in my recliner reading or watching TV he is right there in my lap, purring his heart out and I can now even look at him and he stays. He comes to me when I call his name, it is nothing short of miraculous. What made him decide to come out of his self-imposed hiding in the attic storage area ,(which isn’t really an attic, it’s a space in the back of the house that is connected to the front), so even when back there he always knew what was happening in the front of the home. But at 13 years of age, I don’t know what brought him out, maybe I finally earned his trust.. I don’t know but I am extremely gratified at being with him in a normal way after all that time. So don’t give up!!!