What to Consider Before You Adopt a Cat

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If you're looking to bring a cat into your life, consider adopting from a shelter rather than purchasing them from a pet store or breeder. This method has several benefits, including lower initial costs. Adoption fees usually cover the cost of a health check, vaccinations and spaying or neutering. When you adopt a cat from a shelter, you also get to choose from a wide range of cats varying in age, temperament, and coat color and pattern. With so many to choose from, though, adopting a cat can be overwhelming. Here are some guidelines to help you narrow your selection and find your best match.

Consider Your Lifestyle

Before beginning your journey to adopt a cat, consider your lifestyle and personality. Do you work full time, travel a lot or frequently attend social engagements in the evenings and on weekends? If this sounds like you, opt for an independent cat. Cuddlebugs tend to get lonely.

A high-energy cat or rambunctious kitten is a great companion if you have plenty of free time (and patience) to keep up with them zipping around the house, batting toys in all directions, and playfully attacking unguarded toes and fingers. If you're looking for a feline friend to share the couch with you at the end of a long day or sit on your lap while you work from home, a quiet, mature cat who loves to cuddle might be a good fit.

Consider your family makeup as well. If you have small children or other pets, for example, look for an easygoing, friendly cat who is well socialized and can get along with humans and pets of all sizes. No matter how relaxed the cat is, however, you'll want to show your children how to properly handle them to help encourage positive cat-child relationships.

cat in owner lap while she is reading

Contemplate Cat Characteristics

Now that you've thought about your schedule, energy level and family structure, it's time to zero in on cat characteristics. Here are the main factors you'll want to consider.


Kittens are hard to resist, but keep in mind that they're extremely energetic and require a lot of time and patience. Most pass through a destructive phase as they grow. Kittens explore the world with their mouths, and it's normal for them to scratch and bite as they play and learn. They also don't have a set schedule and may keep you up at night. Another consideration is that a kitten's temperament can be hard to predict, as it may change as they mature into an adult. On the other hand, kittens can often adapt to their new environment more easily than older, set-in-their-ways cats.

If you're looking for a cat with a specific temperament, it may be best to choose a mature cat, since what you see is what you get. Older cats tend to be calmer and often have the advantage of already being litter box trained, socialized and acclimated to living in a household. However, while most kittens will come to you healthy, older cats may require a bit more maintenance to keep healthy. For example, they may have dental disease — which is common in adult cats — that you'll need to address. You may also get less time with an older cat. That said, most people want to adopt a kitten, so if you adopt an adult cat, you may literally be saving their life. If you're still torn between adopting a kitten or an adult cat, making a pros and cons list can help.


Your cat's temperament and personality will have a lot more bearing on how happy you'll be together than superficial traits such as what their coat looks like, so determine your preferences before visiting the shelter. Luckily, shelters allow and often encourage you to interact with the cats one-on-one in a cat-designated room before adoption. This will help you better determine their temperament. If a cat is open and playful, they're probably confident and fairly independent. If they hide in the corner, they'll likely take some time to warm up to you. If they're friendly, purring and letting you pet and hold them, it's a good sign they'll be a great cuddle buddy.

That said, it can be difficult to gauge a cat's true personality when meeting them for the first time in a shelter environment, as this can be a stressful situation for some cats. 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.


Purebred cats have somewhat predictable characteristics based on their breed. For example, Siamese cats tend to be loud and vocal, and you can assume that Maine Coon cats will be friendly and affectionate. Before you visit the shelter, 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, as well as short-haired and long-haired varieties. The temperaments of these cats can vary wildly. 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 likely to develop genetic diseases associated with particular cat breeds.

kitten inside a supermarket bag


Long-haired cats are beautiful, but they require regular grooming and maintenance. If you don't have the time to devote to combing and detangling your kitty's coat, opt for a short-haired cat. Long-haired cats also tend to have more, and larger, hairballs from self-grooming. There's plenty to love about their silky coats — just be prepared!

Special Needs

Special needs cats include senior cats with ailments that are common to aging, such as cats who are blind, deaf or disabled, and those with chronic health conditions. These cats can capture your heart and give you years of loving relationship. In return, you may need to offer more time and attention to cats with special needs, and they might also need regular veterinary care and medication that can be costly. Before welcoming a cat with special needs into your home, be honest with yourself about whether there's room in both your schedule and your budget to realistically accommodate their needs.

Select the Best Cat for You

In general, 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 their enclosure and purrs happily while rubbing their face against your hand. Cats who appear to have adjusted well to the shelter environment and its other inhabitants are likely to adjust well to your pets, too. If you have a quiet home, consider a shy, reserved cat. They may come out of their shell once they've relaxed and gotten used to their surroundings.

Adopting a shelter cat is a rewarding experience. Not only does it offer companionship, but it gives you the joy of knowing you've rescued a cat — and that your adoption opened up a space for that shelter to rescue another cat in need. Evaluating your lifestyle and considering what you're looking for in a cat will help you make a match that's truly rewarding for both you and your new kitty.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten

A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and certified veterinary journalist, Dr. Sarah Wooten has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice, is a well known international speaker and writer in the veterinary and animal health care spaces, and is passionate about helping pet parents learn how to care better for their fur friends.