Top Tips for Adopting a Cat

Bringing home a furball is the adventure of a lifetime. Consider our pro advice to ensure you and your feline familiar live happily ever after.

June 16, 2021
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Anyone who’s tapped into the Internet’s inexhaustible supply of cat videos knows those little pranksters are like furry hits of serotonin. People with cats of their own, in turn, will talk your ear off about this. (Study after study offers evidence that feline family members can both alleviate depression and loneliness and boost our moods; cat ownership has even been associated with reductions in stress and blood pressure.)

Bringing a cat into your home is life-changing for both of you, and the best way to ensure those changes are wonderful ones is to prepare, prepare, prepare. We turned to the experts for advice on how to do just that.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

Photo by: Seattle Meowtropolitan

Seattle Meowtropolitan

According to the ASPCA, about 3.2 million cats enter the U.S. shelter system every year; approximately half that many leave it with new families. That’s both a sobering statistic and one that should give potential cat guardians hope: With more than 3,500 brick-and-mortar shelters across America and online tools like Petfinder — a searchable database that includes animals from 11,000 shelters and adoption organizations in North America — it’s never been easier to find the feline that’s right for you.

Consider cat cafés — where patrons can both purchase drinks and snacks and spend quality time with kitties — in addition to other adoption avenues. “Cat cafés are a great way to meet several socialized and adoptable cats at one time,” says Jessica Arnold, Petfinder’s shelter engagement manager. “Many cafés partner with or are an extension of shelter or rescue organizations, so expect the same amount of knowledge about each cat as you’d get if adopting directly from a shelter. They should have a good understanding of which cats may be a good fit for your family, especially if you have other pets or children in the house. So grab a coffee, pet some cats and ask questions.”

Consider Your Space

Black House Cat on Climbing Post

Photo by: Shutterstock/Simone Hogan

Shutterstock/Simone Hogan

Unless you plan on leash training your pet or creating an enclosure where he or she can experience the outdoors, your cat will likely be spending all of their time inside your home. (Letting a pet cat outside unsupervised both exposes it to disease and trauma and has the potential to devastate local wildlife.) For that reason, you need to ensure your home is both safe and stimulating.

“I always encourage new and potential pet owners to look at their home environment through the eyes of a pet,” says Annie Valuska, Ph.D., senior pet behavior scientist for Purina. “Perhaps the most important consideration is safety — before you bring your new cat home, carefully examine the space and remove any safety hazards, such as toxic plants or other household items the cat shouldn’t ingest or chew on, and block off access to any spaces where your cat could get into trouble.”

“If you have a smaller home, an older cat who is less active might be a better match,” adds Claire Lacey, adoptions manager at the San Francisco SPCA. “If you have a large house, you’ll want to avoid adopting an overly fearful cat, as a lot of space can be overwhelming. If you have an outdoor space, consider creating a 'catio,' which is a fenced-in area where your cat can safely relax while enjoying the outdoors. You can also create an enclosed outdoor area using Purrfect Fence.”

Finally, have you looked into clever cat furniture? “The best way to maximize a smaller space is by increasing your cat’s vertical space,” notes Elyise Hallenbeck, director of strategy leadership giving and the feral cat initiative at Bideawee (a no-kill animal welfare organization with three shelters in New York). “Introducing a cat tree, installing cat shelves and making the most of your vertical space is a great way to make a small home or apartment more cat friendly and increase your cat’s comfort.”

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Think (Inside and) Outside the Box

You’ve figured out what Patches will use for a powder room, right? While you won’t have to take her outside to do her thing at dawn, you will have to get creative about facilities that are comfortable for both of you. “There are a number of furnishings now that conceal litter boxes, and some very effective litters (like Tidy Cats) that can help keep even small spaces smelling fresh,” Valuska says. “We recommend having one more litter box than you have cats, so if you adopt one cat, you’ll want two litter boxes available. Make sure the boxes are in different areas of the house, not side by side this will increase their comfort level and reduce the likelihood of out-of-box elimination.”

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Give an Older Cat a Home

The Shape of Things

The Shape of Things

Everything about Nikia’s style is effortless — a casual elegance that the designers worked hard to translate into her home. Small touches, like the evolving layers of geometric pattern that go from the table legs to the lamp base to the lamp shade create a subtle but palpable mix of simplicity and sophistication. On the couch, “M” — a lucky black cat named for the letter formed by the shape of his head and ears — sits across the room from the portrait that he didn’t model for, but could have.

Photo by: Genevieve Garruppo

Genevieve Garruppo

Speaking of litter boxes, it’s worth noting that adopting an adult cat means skipping potty training altogether. While kittenhood is an unquestionably adorable stage of life, an older animal could be a better fit for you. “Senior cats are often mellower than young kittens, who can be more rambunctious and require much more attention to keep them out of mischief,” Lacey says. (She notes that all cats should get at least two 15-minute interactive playtime sessions each day.) “And while a kitten’s personality is still developing, a senior’s is more fully formed and predictable, so you’ll have a better sense of what kind of cat you’re adopting.”

Hallenbeck concurs: “The best part about adopting an adult or senior cat is that you know exactly who that cat or kitten is going to be. Whether you’re looking for a Velcro cuddle buddy, a high-flying acrobatic ball of energy or a feline friend with a bit of cat-i-tude, Bideawee or your local shelter or rescue can help you find your perfect pairing.”

Provide a Gentle Welcome

Orange Cat Cuddling With Black Cat

Photo by: Shutterstock/Kamila Koziol

Shutterstock/Kamila Koziol

“Moving into a new home can be a stressful experience for cats,” Lacey explains. “Have a safe, confined area that allows your cat to make a gradual transition. This safe haven is where your cat will stay until she is completely comfortable with her new home (which could take days or even weeks), as well as a place she can retreat to anytime she needs a little space and alone time. The ideal safe haven is small, quiet and easy to close off with a door. It should be mostly free of furniture, especially anything your cat can hide in or under where you can’t get to her. Furnish the safe haven with a bed, water and food bowls, some play-alone toys, a scratching post near the bed, and a litter box as far away from the bed and food as possible.”

If you’re bringing a newcomer into a household that already includes companion animals, “you should take the introduction process slowly, allowing pets to get used to each other’s scent and sound through a closed door, scent swapping by swapping blankets or beds, and eventually allowing for a supervised face-to-face introduction,” Hallebeck says. Yes, that can take days or weeks, too — and that's perfectly okay.

Know Your Expenses

Photo by: Cassidy Garcia

Cassidy Garcia

The joy of cat companionship is priceless, obviously, but one can tag its associated costs with some confidence — and one should, since assuming responsibility for a cat means assuming responsibility for its health and happiness for the rest of its life (which could be up to 20 years). According to a 2020 analysis by Rover, initial expenses for bringing a cat home — outlay for medical care, food and supplies, licensing and microchipping, and so on — can range between $440 and $1,245, depending on whether or not you’ll be paying for procedures like spay/neutering and vaccination (which are sometimes handled prior to adoption). Monthly expenses thereafter, in turn, will average between $60 and $125 per month. Got it? Now go find your furball, and please send us videos.

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