What You Need to Know When Adopting a Cat

If you're looking to adopt a cat, consider adopting from a shelter rather than purchasing her from a pet store or breeder. For one thing, it's less expensive. The adoption fee usually covers the cost of a health check, vaccinations and spaying or neutering, all of which are typically done before a cat is placed up for adoption. Many shelters also evaluate cat characteristics, such as temperament, prior to making her available, and they can help you select a suitable cat for your household, personality, and lifestyle. Shelters also offer a wide range of cat characteristics, from young to old, long-haired to short-haired, varying colors, coat patterns, and temperaments. Many shelters carry a variety of purebred cats. With so many cats to choose from, however, a cat shelter can be a little overwhelming. Here are some guidelines to help you narrow your selection and make the best match.

Consider Your Lifestyle

A small tabby kitten lies on ground pawing at fuzzy cat toy.Before beginning your journey to adopt a cat, it's a good idea to decide what characteristics you want your new kitty to have. For this, it's important to consider your lifestyle and personality. Do you work full-time, travel a lot, or frequently attend social engagements in the evenings? If this sounds like you, you should probably opt for a cat that is independent and no-fuss. A cuddlebug kitty may be lonely if her human friend is always gone.

A highly affectionate or high-energy cat is a great companion for a homebody. Those with plentiful free time and the virtue of patience can keep up with a rambunctious kitten that will zip around the house, bat toys around, and playfully attack your fingers. If you're looking for a feline friend to share the couch with you at the end of a long day, consider adopting a quiet and loving cat.

Consider your family makeup as well. If you have small children or other pets, for example, you'll need to look for an easy-going, friendly cat that is well-socialized to deal with people and other animals. It might also be best to look for an older cat, unless you're able to provide constant supervision. Kittens, while super cute, are also fragile and prone to injury from grabby little hands or impatient older animals.

Cat Characteristics to Look For

You have a number of decisions to make when the time comes to adopt a cat. Here are the main things you'll want to consider:

  • Kitten or adult cat. Kittens are hard to resist, and you might have your heart set on one. Just keep in mind that kittens are extremely energetic and require a lot of time and patience. A kitten's temperament can also be hard to predict, as it will change as the kitten matures into an adult. If you prefer a cat with specific temperament traits, it's best to choose one that is mature. Older shelter cats tend to be calmer and often have the advantage of already being litter box trained, socialized, and acclimated to being members of a household. Also, keep in mind that kittens grow up much more quickly than human babies. Most kittens will reach maturity and become an adult within a year's time.
  • Temperament and personality. Do you prefer a cat that is friendly and outgoing, or one that keeps more to herself? Does she need to get along well with children or other pets, or will she be an only cat? Do you want her to be energetic and playful, or more calm and laid back? Would you like her to be talkative or would you rather she be quiet? These characteristics have a lot more bearing on how happy you'll be with your new kitty than superficial traits like what her coat looks like, so it's important to determine your preferences before visiting the shelter. Luckily shelters allow and encourage you to interact with the cats before adopting in a cat-designated room. This will help you better determine her temperament. If she is open and apt to playing with toys, she probably is pretty outgoing. If she hides in the corner, she probably will take some time to warm up to you. If she is very friendly, purring and letting you pet her, she is likely a great cuddle buddy.
  • Long-haired or short-haired. Long-haired cats are beautiful, but they require a lot of grooming and maintenance. If you don't have time to devote regularly to combing and detangling your kitty's coat, it's probably best to stick to a short-haired variety. Also, long-haired cats tend to have more, and larger hairballs from grooming. Just be prepared!
  • Coat color. Regardless of hair length, cats shed. If you're someone who has a pristine white or light-colored living room and wish to keep it that way, you probably wouldn't be happy with a dark-colored cat. Similarly, if your wardrobe includes a lot of black or navy and you plan to cuddle your kitty, you should probably skip a white or light-colored cat.
  • Breed. Siamese cat with big, bright blue eyes sits staring up.Purebred cats, such as the Siamese, have somewhat predictable cat characteristics based on their breed. For example, you can be certain that a Siamese will be loud and vocal, just as you can be certain that a Maine Coon will be friendly and affectionate. Before you visit the shelter, it's a good idea to research different cat breeds and their temperaments.
    Keep in mind that the majority of cats fall under the category of common domestic house cat, all of which are mixed breed. This category includes cats with distinctive coat patterns like tabbies, tuxedos, calicoes, and tortoise shells, and also includes short-haired and long-haired varieties. The temperaments of these cats can vary wildly. Even two cats who appear identical on the outside can have vastly different personalities. One benefit of their diverse gene pool is that mixed-breed cats are less prone to genetic disorders common to pure breeds, says VCA Animal Hospitals.
  • Special needs. Special needs cats include senior cats with ailments that are common to aging, blind, deaf, or disabled cats, and those with chronic health conditions. While your heart might go out to such a cat at the shelter, it's important to bear in mind that cats with special needs will need more of your time and attention, and might also need regular veterinary care and medication that can be costly. Before taking on such a challenge, be honest with yourself about whether there's room in both your schedule and your budget to realistically accommodate the cat's needs.

Selecting Your Cat

Many shelters have adoption counselors on staff who can help match you with the right cat. If no counselors are available, you can still talk to shelter staff and volunteers who have spent time with each cat and gotten to know their personalities. If you're on your own, it can be difficult to gauge a cat's true personality when meeting her for the first time in a shelter environment, as this can be a stressful situation for the cat and she may adjust her behavior accordingly.

In general, Vetstreet recommends that if you have a home with children or other pets, look for a bold, friendly cat who runs over to greet you when you look into her enclosure and purrs happily while rubbing her face against an offered finger. Cats that appear to have adjusted well to the shelter environment and that get along well with the other cats are likely to adjust well to the other pets in your home. Otherwise, if you have a quiet home, it might be a good fit for a shy, reserved cat that may become more relaxed and outgoing once she's spent some time in your home.

Adopting a shelter cat is a rewarding experience. Not only does it bring the enjoyment of caring for a new companion, but it also gives you the joy of knowing you've rescued a cat, your adoption opens a space for that shelter to rescue another cat in need. Following these guidelines will help you make a match that's truly rewarding for both you and your new kitty.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.

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