This is an incredibly difficult time for the Ukrainian people, many of whom have had to flee their home country with their beloved pets. iCatCare has created this guide to help families hosting Ukrainian refugees with cats, understand the challenges of the situation and help to support the health and wellbeing of cats as they settle into a new environment.
Cats coming into the country, particularly those that have had to quarantine, are likely to be just as stressed and traumatised as their owners. Providing the time and space for cats to decompress and settle into a new routine is critical. Host families can help prepare by asking owners about their cat’s current lifestyle prior to their arrival. Just keep in mind that this is an extremely stressful time and people may feel too overwhelmed or distressed to answer all of your questions. Some owners may also be unable to speak English and may have trouble communicating their cat’s needs. Charity organisations involved in the transport of pets from Ukraine (linked at the end of the article) may be able to provide further assistance in this situation.
Helpful questions to ask include:
- Does your cat live indoors or outdoors (or a combination of both?)
- Is your cat neutered?
- What kind of litter box/tray/pan and type of litter does your cat use?
- What foods do they eat? (though brands of food may differ, you may be able to find similar flavours and textures)
- Does the cat have any health conditions and how are these managed?
- How is the cat’s home currently set up? Consider resources such as food, water, bedding and litter trays.
- Is the cat used to interacting with other animals or children?
- What else does your cat need?
Setting up your home well from the start will make a big difference in helping a cat settle into a new environment. Many of the cats in Ukraine live a completely indoor lifestyle and may be quite content keeping to a confined section of the house away from other pets and family members. Try to keep ‘what does your cat need?’ at the front of your mind and make sure to have the owner’s consent when making any decisions. They know their cat best and understand their unique needs. If you have never lived with a cat before, we recommend taking some time to learn more about what to expect and make sure this decision will be the right one for everyone involved.
Start by setting up a room or confined section of the house where the new cat will be safe and secure. Be mindful of any potential hazards such as poisonous plants, breakable objects, fireplaces, and possible escape routes such as unlatched windows. Place a litter tray in one corner of the space, opposite from the cat’s food and water (which should also be placed separately away from each other and the litter tray). If the cat has their own bedding or a blanket with them, a familiar scent can help them to feel more comfortable. Though it can seem like a good idea to share or use another cat’s bedding, the unfamiliar scent may only increase stress for the new arrival. Instead, provide clean, unused bedding options or set up a simple cardboard box on its side containing a fleecy blanket that doubles as a secure hiding place. Scratching posts and toys should also be provided, just don’t be too concerned if the new cat isn’t ready to use them immediately.
Cats with underlying health conditions may also require modifications that help them feel comfortable in their environment. For example, cats with arthritis or mobility issues may be more comfortable climbing into a litter tray with low sides. Ask their owner how you can help support these needs or ask your vet for more advice.
For more information on setting up a cat friendly space and helping a new cat settle in visit:
Once you have set up your space well, try not to make too many changes and give the cat plenty of time to decompress and adapt to its new surroundings. Avoid rushing any introductions with family members and other pets. Some of these cats may have never experienced living in households with multiple cats and their owners may prefer that they remain in their own space.
For more information on making introductions to other pets and children visit:
Host families will also need to consider the health of the cat and access to veterinary care. Start by calling your local vet clinics to see if they are able to take on the cats of Ukrainian refugees as new patients. The Humane Society International has recently launched a programme called ‘Vets for Ukrainian Pets’ to allow refugees to access free veterinary care in 38 European countries (including the UK). The programme will cover the treatment costs of up to five pets (cats, dogs, or horses), as well as vaccinations, microchipping and medical examinations (up to 250 Euros per animal). Vets treating the pets of refugees can claim reimbursement for their treatment through the program.
By hosting refugees and their pets, you are doing something truly compassionate to help both humans and cats alike. Patience and empathy will be key to helping cats that have experienced the stress of moving under such traumatic circumstances adjust to life in a new home. Things like toileting accidents may occur, especially in the early days, and it’s important never to punish or scold the cat. Instead, make sure they always have access to a clean litter tray and try to provide their preferred type of litter (e.g. clay, crystal, recycled paper). The spacing and placement of litter trays around the house will also play a role in how comfortable cats are using them. For example, a cat may avoid using a litter tray that has been set up next to a noisy washing machine. For more information on toileting problems see https://icatcare.org/advice/soiling-indoors/ and contact your vet for further advice.
Sources of information and useful links:
UK Government Information on bringing pets from Ukraine into the UK with their owners
Quarantine Authorised Premises
How to Cross the Border with Pets
Specialist Pet Travel offering help and advice with emergency travel of pets from Ukraine
Advice Pages from International Cat Care on cat care
Advice pages from Cats Protection on cat care
Advice Pages from Dogs Trust on dog care
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I am the feline behaviour specialist at feline charity ‘International Cat Care’. We are about engaging, educating and empowering people throughout the world to improve the health and welfare of cats by sharing advice, training and passion.