6 Tips to Adopting a Shelter Cat

Shelter cats need your love. Answer these six questions to find the perfect adopted cat match!

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Updated: March 6, 2013, 11 a.m., EST

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Orange kitten -- 6 Tips to Adopting a Shelter Cat
Pick a cat you connect with, but also answer a few key questions to make the right match.
Cat shelters are full of wonderful cats who need loving homes. And no matter how tempting it is, you can't take them all!

Connecting to a cat from the heart is essential, but you need to consider many other factors before adopting a cat who will fit your lifestyle and easily integrate into your household. Adopting a cat is a commitment not to be taken lightly.

Answer these questions before adopting a cat:
  • Will the cat be alone all day? Cats can become bored and depressed when left alone for long periods of time without someone to interact with. If you are gone for most of the day, adopt a bonded pair of cats. Cats who are buddies keep each other entertained while their favorite person is away from home. Although adopting two buddies can help chase the boredom blues away, the cats will need to have daily, quality time with their favorite person or people.
  • Do you have other resident pets? Your new adopted cat must fit in with your other pets. Introductions will go faster and smoother if your resident cat is cat-friendly. Some cats just don't like other cats. Ideally, the new adopted cat should be similar in age and energy level to your resident cat and have successfully lived with other cats. Pet dogs should be cat-friendly, never chasing or hurting cats. When integrating dogs and cats into a household, adopt a dog-friendly cat.
  • Do you have children? Are the kids cat-friendly? Children should not chase or corner cats and both cats and children should always be supervised when together. Choose a calm adult cat who has lived with children. Your house needs to accommodate high areas, such as cat trees and shelves, that are inaccessible to children. Baby gates will also help create sanctuary areas for the new cat. 
  • Do you enjoy highly active cats or would you rather relax at home with a low-key cat who is satisfied with lap sitting and quiet cuddles? Research the different cat breeds and take in account age-related activity levels. Some cat breeds are very active, while others are more sedate. The cat's age also plays a major role in how busy they are. Kittens are incessant little balls of energy. They need lots more play and attention than adult cats. Senior cats make wonderful companions and as a rule are not as active as kittens or young adult cats.
  • Is your house cat-ready? Your house must be large enough to accommodate uncovered cat litterboxes, feeding stations and comfortable sleeping arrangements. In addition, cats need vertical territory, scratchers and interactive toys. Place vertical territory, such as cat trees, shelving and perches throughout your home. If your house is small, place shelves and perches at different levels for vertical territory solutions. Interactive cat toys and cat scratchers help keep your cat entertained.
  • Do you like helping special cats? Cat shelters are overflowing with cats, so many elderly cats and cats with physical or behavior challenges are euthanized. Most shelters consider these special cats unadoptable even though they make wonderful pets. Although you might have to slightly modify the home environment to accommodate a special needs cat, it is well worth their companionship and the knowledge that you've saved the cat's life.  
After you know what to look for when adopting a cat, check out your local shelter. Read all of the history, behavioral and medical information that is posted about each of the cats who catch your eye. Some shelters have TLC (Tender Loving Care) volunteers who post their impressions and their experiences with each cat they handle.

Finding the right cat companion involves soul searching and information gathering, but the ultimate decision on adopting a cat comes from the heart.

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Reader Comments

Ilse Devriese    International

6/24/2015 1:33:34 AM

Thanks for making people think before they adopt, so they can find a compatible animal. I always tell my clients that this is a roommate you're adding to your life, so think about who you want to share your life with.

One other point I would like to add for seniors: if you're not sure you want to/can commit to a possible 18+ years of having a roommate, a senior might just give be right for you and you for them. They tend to be more relaxed, as the article already stated and give you less trouble while not tying you down for two decades. Many would love a great owner to spend their golden years with, instead of in a shelter.

Debbie    Herald, CA

6/18/2014 11:27:31 PM

Good information. My only comment is that the majority of shelter cats are classified as domestic short hairs or domestic long hairs, not purebreds. However, you can often find a Siamese mix, Main Coon type, or Bengal cross, etc., so it's still helpful to know some breed characteristics, and of course listen to the shelter staff and volunteers.

Elaine    International

6/7/2013 8:02:54 PM

Very good article - especially about adopting older cats. My first cat was about 13 years old when I inherited him from a deceased relative. It took a few weeks for us to bond. After that he was my very best loving friend. We adored each other. When he died at age 19 I was devastated.
Six months later I adopted a 3 year old cat from a shelter. She was much more active but also very affectionate. I don't know why she was surrendered to the shelter. She was very well socialized and very affectionate. She is my new best friend. I should also mention that I am a senior who has had some health challenges in the past couple of years. The affection I receive from my loving pets has helped me though some difficult times.

J    Lake, NY

6/7/2013 5:41:26 PM

Nice article! :)

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