Cat Care

How to Adopt a Cat: A Comprehensive Guide

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So you've decided to adopt a cat... congratulations! Whether young or mature, big or small, bushy or hairless, cats are fantastic creatures. Adopting the right feline and going through the process can seem a little tricky, though. That said, we have put together this comprehensive guide to help you discover the best kitty for your household, find the right rescue or shelter, and navigate through the sometimes complicated adoption process. By the end, you'll be well on your way to bringing home the cuddly, funny, delightful creature that will make your house a happier place!

Things to Know Before You Adopt a Cat

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If you have never owned or adopted a cat before - or even if it has just been a while - there are plenty of things to keep in mind before you dive head first into the process. Cats, in general, are surprisingly simple to care for - at least, compared to other animals - but they still require a good deal of attention, time, and love. In this section, we will touch on some important things to remember before you set out to adopt a cat, such as appropriate food and accessories to have on hand before you bring your fuzzy new friend home, medical requirements and long-term needs, feline personality types and traits, and acclimating your new roommate to his home and other household members.


When you first decide to adopt a cat, the idea may seem downright magical - as well it should... I mean, cats are marvelous little creatures. However, before you make the final decision to adopt, it is important to consider a few things. For instance, who else lives in your home? Are there other pets? Roommates, significant others, or a spouse? Elderly people or small children? Of course, I doubt you'll make the momentous decision of bringing home a new kitty without mentioning it first, but it is important to take their opinions to heart. It is also essential to remember that cats may not be a good fit in homes with people with allergies or certain health conditions, or with animals that have a bad track record with felines.

Furthermore, you must keep in mind what variety of cat you're bringing home. Although cats are surprisingly adaptable, those who do not get along well with other pets may have a hard time fitting in with your existing furry family members. If you have small children, it is important to either teach your kids to be gentle, or wait until they are a little older before bringing a cat into your household.


Before you adopt a cat, it is a good idea to get a grip on feeding. What do you want to feed your new little buddy? Organic, minimal ingredient-style foods or more common off-the-shelf types? Dry or wet? Maybe even a combination? There really is no correct answer, and there are a several things to bear in mind before you make a decision. First, think of what they have been eating in their current living situation. A cat's stomach can be incredibly sensitive, so a rapid shift can cause some major digestive issues. To remedy this, you might want to either keep him on his current diet or gradually shift him over to his new comestibles.

Second, you will want to factor in your cat's age. If you are planning to adopt a kitten, his nutritional needs will vary significantly from the needs of a fully grown cat, and will change as he gets older. On the opposite end of the spectrum, mature felines may need special diets due not only to age, but also to preventing or treating disease.

That brings us to our third item: feeding for health. Knowing your kitty's health history can help quite a bit when making a decision on a diet. If your new friend has any known health conditions, it might be best to speak with your vet. She can provide advice, or may offer a prescription diet based on your cat's particular needs.


When you adopt a cat - whether this is your first, or just the newest in your feline-loving house - there are a ton of little odds and ends that will help make your new kitty feel at home.


In addition to finding the right food, it's essential to find the right thing to serve it in. In most cases, a simple ceramic or stainless steel bowl will absolutely suffice. If you adopt a kitten, though, it's a good idea to choose bowls that are small enough for him to reach, but big enough to meet the demands of your growing feline.

It is important to keep height in mind for adult cats as well. Kitties come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, so very long-limbed cats may require a platform for his bowls, while shorter cats may do better with more shallow dishes. Of course, face shapes may also dictate bowl types. For instance, brachycephalic (or "squishy faced") cats, such as Persians, will need wider dishes. On the other hand, the narrower faces of cats like the Cornish Rex mean that they can eat and drink from just about anything.

Ceramic and stainless steel bowls are not the only options. Drinking fountains are a great choice for both kittens and adult cats, as these handy little contraptions keep your kitty's water fresher longer. The only downside is that the sound of the device and the swishing of the water might be a little off-putting for some cats. In addition to drinking gadgets, there are also a ton of options for food bowls. For example, there are puzzle feeders that double as toys, timed bowls that drop cups of food at pre-set times, and feeder mats that help slow down rapid eaters - which might be useful for shelter cats that have had to fight for their food in the past.

Crates and Carriers

Crates and carrying cases are an essential staple. Although your new feline friend may very well turn into a "lazy house cat," there will be times when you will have to take him out of his comfort zone and into the great outdoors. Furthermore, crates, if appropriately introduced, can serve as a cozy safe spot for your cat.

The most common types of crates are thick, solid plastic boxes with ventilation holes throughout, and a sturdy handle on top. There are other options on the market, and these include backpack-like carrying cases, soft-sided suitcase-style crates, and front-side carriers - though, I would only recommend those if your kitty already likes the outdoors.


Bedding is not necessarily mandatory when you adopt a cat - after all, they pretty much sleep wherever they like. However, if your kitty came from a comfortable foster home, he may be used to sleeping in special beds. There are a lot of types of cat beds on the market, including cushy stuffed rings, big fuzzy pillows, and small, soft-sided houses.

Although bedding may not be essential around the house, you will definitely want to include something warm and comfortable inside of your crates - especially if they are the hard plastic variety. Thankfully, this type of bedding doesn't necessarily have to be anything fancy. In fact, old towels or sheets should suffice. Crate bedding should be comfortable, but easy to care for or safe to discard, as this bedding style is most frequently used when transporting your pet - often to the vet - which means that there is the definite possibility that it will be soiled with urine, feces, or vomit, heavy shedding, or unusual scents that you and your new feline will definitely not want hanging around the house.


Here comes the fun part: cat toys! No matter the age, toys are essential when you decide to adopt a cat. These seemingly innocuous little items not only help to keep your feline busy, entertained, and fit, but also help to acclimate him to his new home, and allow him to bond with both you and other members of the household.

In the early days, while you're still getting to know your new pal, simple toys are usually best. Some of the most common types include crinkle balls, teaser wands, and stuffed kickers. It is also a good idea to prepare your home for the onslaught of sharp new claws with the addition of scratchers, trees, or posts. Attractant sprays or sachets of catnip can be used on these pieces to help call your cat's attention to them.

As you become more familiar with your cat's personality, you can start to accumulate more intricate toys. Puzzles and treat toys are a great option for keeping your kitty's mind and body active. Electronic toys are also a fantastic option, as they allow your cat to remain active and interested, but also let you choose the level of involvement you want - that is to say, some electronic toys can be switched between "Set and Forget" and "Full Control."

Finding a Vet

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If you don't already have one, finding the right veterinarian before you adopt a cat might make things a little easier. Depending on where you decide to adopt, the shelter operators might already have a very good vet on hand. If not, they might be able to recommend some good options in your area. The benefit of this is that your cat or kitten will likely already have an existing record on the vet's files, and will likely have established a relationship with your new pet. Going to the vet is rarely pleasant, but a familiar atmosphere might make things a little easier.

If you are starting from scratch, it is still possible to locate a good, quality veterinarian on your own. Doing your research is the best way to find a vet. Asking people you know or searching for reviews online are great ways to start your search. Once you have narrowed down some options, give your choices a call and ask some key questions like, "What sort of services do you offer," "How does your practice handle emergency situations," and, "What are your payment options?" Although the answers to these questions matter quite a bit, how the staff responds should also have an impact on whether or not you choose to pursue the practice. The relationship you have with your cat's new vet should last for quite a long time, so a caring, friendly staff is essential.

When you have narrowed your choices further, don't hesitate to set up a tour of your vet's office. Although it may seem a little awkward, this step can make or break your final decision. Compile a list of additional questions for the staff and vet, and watch out for a few very important things. Is the facility - both waiting room and exam rooms - clean and tidy? How is the waiting room handled - for example, are there separate areas for cats and dogs? Is the staff calm and compassionate? How do the respond to difficult patients?

These are just some of the things to look out for when finding a good vet. For more information, check out The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) website. It offers a ton of handy tips for locating a great doctor.

Medical Care

Depending on where you adopt a cat, medical requirements will vary. For kittens, most shelters and rescues will provide at least a first round of kitten shots, a spay or neuter, as well as any other necessary medication that the kitten might need. Every shelter/rescue has its own policy regarding any further medical needs; however, many places will expect you to provide any remaining inoculations.


If you are not adopting through a rescue, the medical responsibility will be entirely up to you. There are two categories of vaccinations: core and non-core. The core category consists of shots that are recommended for all kittens, and cover diseases that are regarded as especially dangerous or are common no matter where you live. Non-core vaccinations may not be recommended for all kittens, and are usually only prescribed to those who are particularly at risk of infection. Risk factors that are considered can include your location, if your cat lives indoors or out, or if you have a multi-cat household.

Though it can vary depending on your vet, kitten shots typically follow a schedule that looks like this:

Core Vaccinations

  • 6-8 Weeks: Feline calicivirus, feline distemper, feline rhinotracheitis (FVRCP)
  • 10-12 Weeks: FVRCP booster
  • 12-16 Weeks: Rabies
  • 14-16 Weeks: Final FVRCP booster

Non-Core Vaccinations

  • 6-8 Weeks: Chlamydia
  • 8-12 Weeks: Feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

At around the age of one, kittens require a booster shot for all core and some non-core vaccines. After that, boosters are given every one to three years.

If you plan on adopting an adult cat, the rules for vaccinations are typically the same. Most rescues and shelters will provide all required vaccinations prior to adopting out. However, that is not always the case, so just be sure to double check their policies before you take your new friend home. For adult cats that have already been vaccinated, core boosters will generally be required every one to three years. As for non-core shots, speak with your vet to see what may be required for your location and your cat's lifestyle.

Spaying and Neutering

As with vaccines, many rescues will not adopt a kitten out without first performing a spay or neuter. If your rescue doesn't, or if you're adopting a "found" kitten, it is very important that you schedule this procedure to help curb overpopulation.

Although it is possible to spay or neuter a kitten as young as six weeks of age, the youngest most vets will perform this procedure is around eight weeks - though, this will vary depending upon your vet's personal policies. Size is also a factor, and many veterinarians will not "fix" a kitten until he weighs two pounds or more.

Cats that have already reached sexual maturity - around four to ten months depending on breed and lifestyle - can be "fixed" at any time. However, it is important to remember a few things before you head into this procedure. First, adult felines may require a little more care than their kitten counterparts, such as a battery of blood tests to establish proper health, and extra attention to ensure satisfactory healing. And second, females who is actively in heat will need to get through it prior to their surgery so as to prevent any sort of complication. During this time, be sure to keep her safe, inside, and far away from open doors.

Cat Personality Types

Like people, each cat has his own unique personality that includes specific likes and dislikes, play styles, sleeping and eating preferences, even sense of humor. Finding the right cat to fit your home is massively important, so it's a good idea to speak with your chosen shelter or rescue to help you find the right cat for you. One good way to discover your new friend's personality is to actually spend time with him. Although it will depend a lot on your shelter's policies, you may have the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with a handful of kitties. This, however, may not be an option. Instead, you might be escorted to a more open area, which will allow you to hang out with a group of adoptable cats. This could actually be beneficial, as it will allow you to see a variety of personalities in action, and will also help you to recognize whether your favored feline works well with other animals.

The downside of meeting your cat in a public place is that all of the strangeness of a new environment may make him a little shy. But never fear! Many organizations place their cats in foster homes, making their foster parents an excellent source for information. If the kitty you have your eye on seems a little stand-offish, just ask his foster parents how he behaves at home. Chances are he is a very different feline in the comfort of his own home!

Picking Between a Cat and a Kitten

It can be difficult to make the choice between a teensy, tiny ball of adorable and a fabulous full grown fur ball, but there are plenty of things to take into consideration before making that all important decision. For instance, how much time do you have to invest in shaping your new friend's behavior? How much space do you have? Do you have the patience to train a kitten, or would you prefer a cat that is already established in the ways of the world? If you've answered all of these questions and you're still not sure, consider the following:


When people decide to adopt a cat, many of them veer toward kittens. There is certainly a logic to this. Not only are they fantastically adorable, they are also small lumps of clay that can be molded into marvelous adult cats that perfectly suit the adopter's household. Although that point is definitely an advantage, kittens do come with their own potential issues. For instance, given that they are new to the world, they likely haven't learned to mind their manners yet, so they will require a good deal of training. It is also important to note that some rescues will not adopt out a single kitten if you do not already have a pet in the household - so if you only have space for one, you will have to take that into consideration.

Most rescues will have already started - or even completed - the process of litter box training, but you will have to continue or reinforce this education in your own home. You will also have to teach your new little one how to play properly - for instance, not allowing him to attack hands or nibble at toes - and will also need to show him what is and is not appropriate in your household, like climbing on counters or stealing food off the kitchen table. Addtionally, you will need to have a lot of time to play with your new kitten, as at this point, he is a tiny ball of energy that, if not properly engaged, can create a lot of havoc and damage in your house.


Adult cats have the benefit of advanced knowledge. Although you will still have to show him the rules of your house, the chances of him misbehaving or getting into trouble are slightly reduced by his advanced years and prior training. Another upside of adopting an adult cat is that you know exactly what you are getting in terms of temperament and personality. As I mentioned in the "Cat Personality Types" section above, the atmosphere of a shelter might somewhat change his demeanor; however, once you have spent a little time with your older feline, you will get to see the full range of his personality, and there will be fewer surprises over time. On the downside, older cats may require more extensive care regarding their health. Furthermore, undesirable traits or habits are harder - though not impossible - to break, so training and patience will be necessary.

When deciding between a kitten and cat, there really is no wrong answer. Like people, each feline has his own personality, and each and every one of them has the potential to be a marvelous addition to your household.

How to Adapt Your Cat to His New Home

After you have gotten your home ready, your healthcare plan established, and your new little pal all picked out, it's time to bring your cat home. There are occasions when the transition is exceedingly easy. A lot of animals are grateful to be in a new, loving household and will blend in as if they have always been there. Many cats, though, will find this change frightening, so it's important to help your new friend transition into his home slowly and easily.

After you adopt a cat, it's a good idea to pick a comfortable room in your home to let him explore. This room should act as a sort of "safe zone," a place where he can get accustomed to the new smells and sounds of your house. There should not be any other pets in the "safe zone," nor should there be a lot of human traffic. In this room, you should set up a litter box, food and water bowls, scratching posts, a comfy spot for sleeping, access to sunlight, and a few new toys. Once you bring your new cat home, take him directly to his bedroom, close the door, and open up his crate. At this point, don't try to coax him away from the crate, just let him come out in his own time. It may take a while before he feels comfortable enough to explore - just let things happen naturally.

When he does come out, resist the urge to grab him and hug him. I know it's hard! But he needs this time to give his new space a once over and establish in his mind that this is a safe space for him to be. In a short while, he will likely come and investigate you, and this is the time for some gentle petting and softly-spoken conversation. This is an excellent period to bond with your new buddy, so some careful scratches and slow swings of his toy are definitely in order!

Eventually, your cat will feel more at home in this space. The whole process may take a couple of days to get through, so don't rush it. When kitty is acting more comfortable, and doesn't try to run or hide in his crate anymore, you can now go ahead and open up the door of his "safe zone" - though, do leave both the door to the room and the door to his crate open, in case he starts to feel overwhelmed. The process that you went through in the first few days may continue, just on a much larger scale. Be calm, be gentle, and let your new cat get his bearings in his own time and in his own way. It won't be long before he becomes the head of your household!

Pet Introductions

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If you already have a few pets in your home, slow introductions are important. Some shelters and rescues encourage pet introductions prior to cat adoptions. This is usually accomplished by bringing your pet into the facility, where you will be placed into a safe, comfortable room and allowed to slowly introduce your pets to their prospective new roommate. This option is not always available, so just be sure to ask your rescue about their policies and procedures.

If your shelter does not have an introduction program, then this process will have to begin after you adopt a cat. It can be somewhat intimidating at first, but with a little time, care, and patience, it can easily be accomplished. If you follow the plan outlined above in the "How to adapt your cat to his new home" section, then there's a very good chance that your pets will have already begun the greeting under the door of the "safe zone" room. If so, then great! Scent is exceedingly important for all animals, but may play a large role in communication and bonding for cats. That said, if your new kitty gets a whiff of his fellow house dwellers before actually seeing them, he might feel a little more at ease when they come face to face.

Cat Introductions

If you are introducing your new kitty to other household cats, it is important to allow for plenty of boundaries. When your new friend has become comfortable in his safe room and "made it his own," this area should remain open to him. However, once he is established and feeling comfortable, you will want to let him enter into the domain of his fellow felines, while allowing them to enter his space. Give them another day of separation - that is, letting your existing kitties hang out in the "safe zone," while your new kitty gets to roam freely. After a day or so passes, go ahead and prop open the doors - just enough to enable them to see each other. This process lets both parties become familiar with those all-important new smells without causing the undue stress of just throwing them all in together, then allows them to gradually become familiar with the sights and sounds of each other.

It is important to remember, though, that this whole process can take time. Cats like their routines and appreciate personal space, so to further help the process, it is essential that all of the members of your household are well supplied for - that there are plenty of litter boxes, food and water stations, sleeping spots, etc. - and that there are safe, comfortable places for each cat to run to should they find themselves needing time alone or a place to hide. Also be sure to give all of your kitties an equal amount of time, attention, and affection. Eventually, the household will likely regain its balance. If it doesn't, though, then it is important to seek out the help or advice of your veterinarian or a professional behaviorist.

Dog Introductions

Despite the popular myth, cats and dogs can get along splendidly. However, it doesn't always happen right off the bat. Dogs are excitable and cats are pointy, so when it comes time to introduce your big, loveable mutt to your tiny new feline, it is essential that you take things slowly. As with cat introductions, it is a great idea to allow your pets to greet each other under the door of the "safe zone." Again, the sense of smell is hugely important to both species, so let them sniff it up! If the whole "under the door" thing doesn't work or isn't an option, you can also create a scent introduction by periodically switching up your pets' beds, toys, or towels - letting your cat bat around a plushy dog toy, and allowing your dog to roll around on your cat's comfy new bed.

When you're attempting to introduce a dog to a cat, desensitization is a grand idea. Letting your dog know that the cat is there, but teaching him that this furry little creature is nothing for him to worry about, is the principle behind this method. To start, after your new kitty has gotten used to his safe area, open up the door, but replace it with a baby gate. Bring your dog to the gate, let him sniff through the wall, then distract him with a toy or a treat. The first few times you do this, your dog will probably be hard to distract, and your cat might hiss and go all poofy. That is all perfectly normal. Just keep at it. In many cases, both parties will lose interest in each other.

Although the desensitization method can work wonders, for some, it may not be enough to quell the nervousness - or excitement - of meeting a new family member. If that is the case, you may be required to take the time to do a bit of clicker training with your dog, or, in more extreme cases, you will want to invest in some professional training.

Other Pet Introductions

Although cats and dogs are some of the most common pets around, maybe you have some other type of animal sharing your home - a ferret, perhaps? Maybe a hamster or a goldfish? In the case of caged or or tank-dwelling critters, introductions may not be necessary. Instead, you will need to do a bit of training - for instance, teaching your new feline to stay away from habitats, stay off of counters, or resist the urge to dip his paws into tanks or between bars. If your other pet takes trips outside of his enclosure, then the slow method of introduction is absolutely essential. It is important to remember, though, that your cat's natural instinct to hunt and kill may kick in with some creatures - rodents and rabbits, for example - so it might be a wise idea to keep them separated at all times. If your bunny needs a jaunt around the house, just be sure to keep your kitty nice and comfy in his bedroom in the meantime.

The Costs of Adopting and Owning a Cat

When you decide to adopt a cat, you will find that there are several costs associated with the process. These costs include the actual price of the adoption, as well as other expenses connected with your cat's first few years of life, and any on-going outlays. These may initially seem expensive; however, unless there is an illness or any special health concerns, these costs will decline and mellow into the common day-to-day expenses you would expect. It is important to note that pricing can and will vary, from location to location, rescue to rescue, and vet to vet. The prices provided here are averages, so be sure to check in with your specific facilities to get a precise and accurate price list.

Cat Adoption Fees

As I mentioned above, adoption fees can vary quite a bit between rescues, so be sure to double check before you decide to adopt. Furthermore, prices tend to differ between kittens and mature cats, and may also be different if you decide to adopt a special needs cat or a bonded pair. Finally, there may be bargain prices associated with specific times of the year - for instance, there might be a discount applied to cats adopted during "kitten season," or when the amount of adoptable animals outnumbers available space in the shelter. It is important to note that the fees applied to adoptions are not so much a "sale price." These fees are used to cover the cost of upkeep prior to adoption, and frequently reflect any medical care your cat might have received - such as vaccinations, deworming, and spaying or neutering.

As I said before, the fees below are just a general average, and the best way to get an accurate idea of your costs is to check directly with your chosen shelter or rescue. Also note that these fees only apply to US-based rescues and shelters. Average fees vary depending upon your country, and may change dramatically if you are choosing to adopt from abroad.

Fee Ranges

  • Kitten: $0 - $200
  • Adult Cat: $0 - $100
  • Kitten Pairs: $0 - $150
  • Adult Pairs: $0 - $130

Post-Adoption Costs

Most shelters and rescues give at least the first round of vaccinations for kittens, or the full suite of shots for adult cats, as well as spaying or neutering services, and any other medical care that your new kitty will have needed during his time in their facilities. If you choose to adopt a cat from a "zero adoption fee" facility, you will be responsible for the full price of vaccines, surgical procedures, and medications. As with adoption fees, these prices will vary significantly depending on your state and provider, and are based on US averages.

Medical Care Costs

Vaccines and General Care

  • First Year: $110 - $600
  • Successive Years: $110 - $600

Spaying or Neutering*

  • Spay: $50 - $400
  • Neuter: $30 - $200

*Note that the procedures performed at the lower end of the spaying/neutering prices are usually done by specialized clinics, mobile vets, and shelters. Though the price is a significant drop, in many cases, the quality is not. Due to a lower overhead and discounts provided by the surgeons, there is a little more wiggle room. Just be sure to check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and read reviews before you make your decision on the clinic you select - this also applies to private practices.

Flea and Tick Prevention*

  • First Year: $20 - $200
  • Successive Years: $20 - $200

*This service may not be necessary, and will depend upon your location and your cat's lifestyle. Speak with your vet about this.


Food and Treats*

  • Food: $120 - $500, per year
  • Treats: $10 - $100, per year
  • Bowls: $0 - $150, as needed

*These prices are per year, and can vary depending on your cat's particular age, physical activity, and health needs. Cats with specific illnesses or health concerns may require prescription medication, which can alter the average price significantly. As for the bowls, this price range reflects the difference between using bowls you already have at home, all the way to fancy electronic feeders and water fountains.

Litter and Litter Box

  • Litter: $70 - $150 per year
  • Box: $15 - 300*, as needed

*Per cat, per year. As a general rule, there should be one box per cat, plus one extra.

Crate and/or Carrier

  • Crate: $25 - $100, as needed
  • Carrier: $10 - $50, as needed


  • Toys: $0 - Unlimited, as needed
  • Bedding: $0 - $100, as needed
  • Scratching Posts: $10 - $300, as needed
  • Cat Trees: $25 - $200, as needed
Unexpected Costs

From time to time, things will pop up that you hadn't anticipated. There might also be things that you did anticipate, but may not have realized you needed until after you adopted a particular type of cat - for instance, grooming for a long-haired feline. Many of these expenses will not be on-going; however, it is a wise idea to set aside a small amount each month to create a "just in case" savings. For medical incidentals, you can also look into pet insurance, which will help with the costs of both accidents and essentials.


  • Nail Trimming: $10 -$15, per visit
  • Bathing, Ear Cleaning, and Brushing: $20 - $30, per visit
  • Shaping, Paw Scissoring, Sanitary Trim: $20 - $45, per visit

Emergency Care

  • Emergency Room Visit: $250 - $1500*

*Please note that these prices can vary widely from location to location, and will also depend on what services need to be rendered. It is also important to know that many emergency pet clinics require upfront payment.

Pet Sitters or Boarding

  • Daytime Pet Sitters: $20 - $40 per day
  • Overnight Pet Sitters: $75 - $85 per night
  • Kennel or Cattery Boarding: $15 - $20 per night
  • Cat Hotel: $40+ per night

How to Pick the Right Cat

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When you start looking at adoptable cats, you might find yourself falling in love with the big eyes, fluffy tails, and smoodgy little faces - and who can blame you... cats are adorable! But to fit into your household, it is going to take more than an endearing countenance. So before you go making any drastic steps - like bringing a cat home - you'll want to step back, take a breath and asses a few things.

Personality Traits

In addition to general adorableness, you're going to want to take a moment and get to know your favorite feline's personality. Like people, each cat has his own character, so it's a wise idea to spend a little one-on-one time before you make any decisions. In many cases, cat rescues will allow you to have a meet-and-greet session with their adoptable cats. Sometimes you will be able to hang out in a comfortable space, away from crates and other cats. Other times, because of limited space, your introduction might only be in a small room with the crate door open. Either way, take advantage of this opportunity to see how your cat responds to his environment. Is he curious about what is going on in the room? Is he interested in you or other people? Does he want to pester or play with any other cats in the room? If he isn't the shy sort, how does he react to petting? Is he all about toys? Is he mellow? High-strung? Easily excited?

In many cases, you will be able to tell a lot about a kitty just by spending a half hour in his company. Unfortunately, though, because the adoption setting might be a little stressful, you may not really get a good feel for your cat's personality. In this case, an otherwise playful or sweet-spirited cat might feel compelled to curl up in a corner or hiss at anyone who comes near. If that's the case, speaking to your cat's foster family or an adoption organizer will be a tremendous help. Ask this person what your chosen cat is like at home, if he's simply afraid of the current setting or just takes a little time to warm up, and how he prefers to bond with his people. More often than not, you will find that what you see happening in this current scenario is very different from daily life.

Finally, you may value certain attributes more than others. If you want a lap cat, ask your rescue coordinator for a feline who displays calm, quiet, affectionate qualities. If you are a more active, outgoing sort, see if there are any kitties with playful, clever, or rambunctious tendencies.

Lifestyle and Household

How you live and who you live with will have an impact on any cat you bring home. So in order to ensure a lifetime of happiness with your new feline, take a moment to think about what is going on in your life, and select a cat that fits into that way of living.

The best way to make sure you are adopting a cat who will suit your situation is to speak with your shelter's representative. Ask what they know about your cat's circumstances up to this point. See if they can give you any details regarding the cat's preferences. Ask if your cat has had any exposure to other animals, elderly individuals, small children or teenagers. If he has, how did he react to them? If you spend a good deal of time away from home, either for work or travel, ask how he reacts when left alone.

Although most rescues and shelters will discourage outdoor living - unless, of course, you adopt a working cat - it is a good idea to also ask whether or not your chosen feline has spent a lot of time outdoors. You may not be planning to ever let him roam, but if he is used to going outside, he might be inclined to "dart" at open entries, so if your home has a lot of traffic, you will have to make plans for that. If you actually want to take your kitty out on adventures, also ask how he reacts to carrying cases, car rides, or supervised walks on leashes.

Breed Specifics

Although there is nothing as loveable as a "mutt," some people do prefer specific breeds, and most shelters/rescues understand this. The benefit of adopting a cat of a certain breed is both an appearance that is unique to that style of cat, and a set of personality traits that are often associated with it. If you plan to adopt a cat from a shelter, the chances of finding a specific breed is pretty rare. However, there are many rescues that are dedicated to individual breeds. Thankfully, these rescues will not only be able to help you find your perfect kitty, they will also be able to educate you on how the breed behaves, special issues that may need to be addressed - such as unique grooming specifics - and any unusual things that you need to keep an eye on.

Cat Adoption Checklist

When you go to adopt a cat, there are a whole lot of things to keep in mind. So to make the entire process easier, we've put together this handy little checklist. You can read through it below, or you can download the printable version here.

Research local rescues or shelters
Read up on the cat(s) you would like to visit in your chosen facility
Follow your rescue/shelter's adoption guidelines (e.g. fill in questionnaires, prepare for home/background checks, etc.)
Set up a meet-and-greet with your chosen felines
Find the right vet
    □ Ask friends
    □ Ask for recommendations from rescue/shelter
    □ Research online (reviews, BBB ratings, etc.)
    □ Call veterinarians to ask essential questions (e.g. "What services do you offer?")
    □ Do an office tour
Set up vaccination schedule (speak with your shelter/rescue to see what is needed)
Set up spaying/neutering date (if your shelter/rescue has not already done this)
Research and stock up on food and treats for age, health, and lifestyle
    □ Food and treats
    □ Food and water bowls
    □ Crate and/or Carrier
    □ Bedding (optional)
    □ Toys
Scratcher and/or Cat Tree
Set up a "safe zone" room for your new arrival (stock with food/water, litter, bedding, toys, etc.)
Create an introduction plan with other pets or house members
Start an emergency fund for unexpected expenses

The Cat Adoption Process

How to Adopt a Cat - Sixth Image

All right, so you've gone through the checklist - you have a great food in mind, a "safe zone" set up and in place, and you have a spectacular vet ready and waiting. Now it's time to adopt a cat! But before you do, it's a good idea to have a clear grasp on a few key points. For example, what is the difference between a rescue and shelter, and which is better to adopt from? What is the adoption process like for each? What is the process of adopting a "found" kitten or cat? Confused? No worries! This section will give you all of the details you need before you strike out on your mission to find the perfect cat for you!

Cat Rescue vs Cat Shelter

So at this point, you might be wondering what the difference really is between a cat rescue and a cat shelter. Both help, heal, and adopt out cats, right? Well, that's all true, but there are a few fundamental differences.


Shelters are facilities that help to rescue homeless pets from off of the streets and out of bad situations, but also frequently take in surrendered animals. These facilities are kennel-like settings that house numerous animals - though, some shelters are now beginning to implement fantastic foster systems. Shelters are sometimes, though not always, funded by government programs, and may also receive further financial assistance through community donations. Many shelters have staff and dedicated veterinarians on hand to help with healthcare, maintenance, and adoptions, while they may also employ volunteers to assist with socializing and day-to-day care.

Because space is incredibly limited for shelters, many do unfortunately have euthanasia policies in place. However, an increasing number of facilities are implementing a "no kill" policy - meaning that if an animal is healthy and not a threat to the community, it will be kept until a suitable home is found. Furthermore, as I mentioned, because many shelters are adopting the foster home programs that have worked so well for rescues, the lack of space has become slightly less of a problem - though, fosters are always needed.

There are numerous pros and cons to consider before you adopt a cat from a shelter. On the upside, one-on-one interaction might be a little easier, as many facilities offer play and introduction rooms, or at least kennels where you can see your cat in person. Because most shelters have an on-staff vet, major health problems, vaccinations, and spay or neuter surgeries will have likely been handled well before adoption. Finally, adoption times and requirements are often less stringent - though, you will want to check your local shelter's policies before you decide to adopt.

On the downside, however, getting to know your new kitty and his history might be complicated. Turn around times in shelters can be quite short, so although the employees and volunteers may be able to give you their initial reactions, they might not be able to provide the full scope of your chosen cat's personality, quirks, etc. They may also be unable to provide any medical history beyond what they have personally provided. Finally, because the kennel setting can be stressful for cats - the confinement, people traipsing in and out, the sounds and smells of strange animals - it may be difficult to discover your chosen cat's true demeanor, and it can be easy to overlook a perfectly marvelous feline simply because the setting is causing him to clam up.


Unlike shelters, cat rescues are mostly run by volunteers, and depend on donations provided by their community and the generosity of their fosters. These charitable organizations offer temporary housing for animals who have been abused, neglected, or lost, and do also occasionally take in surrendered pets when space is available.

Although some rescues are contained within a dedicated space, in most instances, they function through a network of foster homes. In general, fosters are thoroughly screened to ensure that they are capable of providing a good short-term home, and have a fantastic track record of caring for animals in various stages of life.

As with shelters, adopting from a cat rescue comes with both upsides and downsides. One of the positive aspects of using a rescue is that your cats will have had a lot of exposure - to people, other animals, etc. - and will be better socialized because of it. Next, picking your kitty based on personality will be infinitely easier at a rescue, as your cat's foster family will likely know all about his history, and how he behaves now that he's spending time in a proper home.

Because your cat's foster will have a lot of information on hand, you are also more likely to have access to any necessary health information and records - plus, like shelters, most rescues offer at least a first round of vaccinations and a spay/neuter prior to adoption. Finally, because the adoption process can be a bit more involved, you may get to interact with or visit with your new cat multiple times prior to the final steps, which can help you to be sure that you're making the right decision. This regular visitation may also make the transition from home-to-home a little easier on the feline.

There are relatively few downsides to adopting a cat from a rescue; however, there are a few things to keep in mind. To begin, as was mentioned above, the adoption process can be quite involved, and may take several weeks to complete. Though there are some very good reasons for this - ensuring their cats go to good homes, allowing the adopter plenty of time to get ready - the lag can be frustrating for folks who just want to get their new friend home and start bonding. Another downside is that although some rescues will take their cats to "adoption centers" in pet stores and at local events, introductions outside of these locations can be a complicated affair.

Adopt From a Shelter or a Recue: Which is Better?
So that leaves the question... should you adopt a cat from a shelter or a rescue? The decision really is up to you. There are plenty of pros and cons for each, but either way... so long as you educate yourself, research your chosen facilities, and spend plenty of time preparing, your chances of making the right decision for you are quite high!

Shelter Adoption Process

Before we begin, I want to stress the fact that each shelter is different. The point of this section is to give you a general overview of average practices; however, rules can vary depending upon your state, your county, and even the facility itself. Before attempting to adopt a cat from any shelter, please check their website or give them a call to see exactly how they operate. The process might go like this:

Choose Your Cat

This step involves wandering around the cage areas, having some limited interactions, and speaking with staff about the kitties that catch your interest. Although staff may not have a lot of history, it is always a good idea to ask them what information they do have - in some cases, as when a cat has been housed for a while or if it has been surrendered to the shelter - the staff member will be able to provide important details.

When you have finally decided on a cat or two, you can ask to spend a little time together. In many cases, the shelter will have a dedicated introduction room solely for this purpose. Linger for a while in this area, as the more time your cat has to warm up to you, the more likely you'll get to know his personality. Once you have spent a decent stretch in this space, and have decided on who you want to take home with you, ask a shelter staff member to walk you through the next steps.

Fill Out an Application

Across the board, whether you adopt a cat from a shelter or rescue, you will be asked to fill out an application. In the case of a shelter, the application may not be quite as detailed; however, most will ask for pertinent information to ensure you are well prepared to care for a new pet. These applications will typically ask you to provide proof of residence and age, current pet ownership (as well as proof of current pets' vaccinations), and information about your living situation (roommates, children, owning or renting, etc).

Interview With an Adoption Coordinator

This step does not always take place; however, many shelters will ask you to sit down for a few minutes with their resident adoption coordinator. They will ask some basic questions - for example: Have you ever owned a cat before? How much time do you spend at home? - and will also give you some handy tips for caring for your new feline.

Waiting Period

Like the interview, this step may or may not take place, and you will have to speak with your shelter to see if they implement this practice. In most cases, the waiting period is around 24-48, and is used to give you time to think about your decision to adopt a cat. Making the decision to do so can be extremely exciting, but after going through all of the steps above, some adopters find that their enthusiasm has waned somewhat. If that's the case, you will have plenty of time to let the shelter know that you will be unable to adopt. If that's not the case, then you will have a little bit of time to get your new cat's home ready for him!

Sign a Contract

Before you can take your new little buddy home, you may be required to sign an adoption contract. This contract will ask that you ensure the cat is taken care of, well fed, vaccinated, etc. for the remainder of his life. Often, it also asks that if you cannot care for your cat for whatever reason, you let the shelter know. Finally, it may provide information on adoption and veterinary fees associated with this transaction, and will ask that you accept them.

Final Steps

After you've chosen your companion, all of the paperwork is done, and you've had your "cooling off" period, you're now on the last steps. At this point, you'll have to pay all required fees, get your kitty bundled up, and the pair of you can then head on home.

Rescue Adoption Process

As with shelters, each rescue has its own process for cat adoptions, so be certain to check with your chosen facility prior to making any decisions. That said, many cat rescue adoptions go something like this:

Choose a Cat

In some cases, you will be able to see adoptable cats live and in person, as many rescues host adoption events at pet stores and other locations. This may not always be the case, though, so it's a good idea to regularly check your rescue's website. A lot of the time, rescues post listings of adoptable kitties either directly on their website, or through web portals like Adopt-A-Pet or PetFinder.

Whether you see a potential new pal in person or through a website, take the time to speak with a rescue coordinator or foster parent to ask for pertinent details about your chosen felines. Because rescues often spend a good deal of time with their cats, they will likely be able to give you all sorts of information about your cat's personality, behaviors, habits, and preferences. Of course, they will also be able to tell you a lot about his history and medical needs. Don't be afraid to ask, as this information is essential when deciding whether or not you and your household are capable of caring for this particular cat.

Fill Out the Paperwork

Each rescue has it's own policy regarding applications and questionnaires, so this step may happen either before or after your kitty meet-up. The paperwork for a cat rescue is quite similar to what you would see from a shelter: Verifications of age and residence, current pet ownership status, current living arrangements, and so on. Although the basics are typically the same, you might also be asked some more detailed questions, like the activity level of your household, how much time you are able to commit to things like pet grooming and exercise, whether you intend to keep your cat indoors or out, and how much time you personally spend outside of the home. Don't let these questions alarm you - they are definitely not there to preclude you from adopting a cat. Instead, they are there to help guide you to your perfect companion, and to ensure that their kitties are given healthy, stable homes.

Interview With a Rescuer

Just like the questionnaire, many people worry that the interview is put into place as a roadblock, which is simply not the case. This step is an opportunity for both you and the rescue group to ask questions. You may be asked to elaborate on some of your questionnaire answers, or to tell the rescuer a bit more about you and your family. This is also your opportunity to get to know the rescue better, and to find out all of those important details about your new kitty. Again, don't be shy to take this time to get to know as much as you can - after all, you are committing to caring for this animal for the rest of its life... be sure that the two of you are a perfect match!

Meet Your Cat

One of the downsides of adopting from a rescue is that you may not be quite as free to interact with your potential new companion as you would be in the open space of a shelter - after all, rescues are mostly run by volunteers who have jobs, families, and lives that require just as much attention and love as their foster felines. However, as rescues are eager to find wonderful homes for their fuzzy wards, they will often work with you to arrange a meeting. As I mentioned earlier, this step may or may not take place before filling out an eligibility application or questionnaire, so be sure to find out how your chosen rescue operates as soon as possible.

Meetings can be held in a variety of places, including pet shops, adoption events, and other rescue-approved locations. During this meeting, you will get the opportunity to spend some time with your chosen feline, and will also have the chance to introduce him to other household members - though, it is important to check with your rescue's policies regarding animal "meet-and-greets" before arriving with your other pets. As with the initial contact and interview phases, ask a lot of questions - be them new or old. Now is the time, so don't be afraid to speak up!

Background Check and Home Visit

When you decide to adopt a cat through a rescue, the background check and home visit steps can seem the most daunting, but just know that they are put in place for a good reason. Although these two practices may initially seem a bit intrusive, they are only there to help the rescue group feel secure in letting their little ones move on to their new homes. After all, a lot of work and love goes into saving, housing, and caring for these creatures, and having a pet returned or end up in a bad situation is heartbreaking. To combat this, many rescues will ask prospective adopters to submit to background checks that look for any animal-related crimes, and may also require character references from people like co-workers or neighbors.

As far as home checks go, the whole process is fairly straightforward. A rescue coordinator will simply come to see your current living situation, ask questions about where your new cat will spend the majority of his time, and interact with any other pets or family members that reside in your home. This is a great opportunity for you to ask your rescue coordinator for any suggestions or tips. So if you are uncertain about anything, take this time to ask!

Background and home checks are quite common; however, not all rescue groups perform these steps, and some may ask for one and not the other. As with everything else, research your chosen rescue's policies at any time before or during the adoption process. In most cases, the rescue group will provide this information after you first contact them; however, if they do not, then don't hesitate to ask for it!

Bringing the Adoption to a Close

Now that you've found your new little pal, filled out all of the paperwork, and aced your interviews and checks, it's time to... fill out more paperwork. Oh my! But no worries, this one will be a lot faster and simpler. Just as with shelters, rescues ask that you read and sign a contract that outlines what is expected of you post-adoption. This is also the time when you will pay for any fees, so be sure to ask what forms of payment the rescue accepts before you arrive.

Assuming that your cat has already been spayed or neutered, has all of his shots, and is squared away with any other medical issues, you will likely be able to take him home. Some rescues, though, may give you a "cooling off" period, or may let you take an extra day or two simply to get your home ready. Either way, they will usually let you know about this last step well in advance.

Adopting a Stray Cat or Kitten

How to Adopt a Cat Seventh Image

Although adopting a cat through a shelter or rescue is a fabulous thing, there are times when you end up "accidentally" adopting a cat. I know, this sounds like a ridiculous statement, but considering how many strays are roaming the streets, it is not uncommon for people to find a wandering cat and decide to give it a home. But what are the steps that you should take to adopt a stray cat?

Step One: Making Sure Your Stray Isn't Just Lost

The first step to take is to ensure that your stray is, in fact, a stray. To do this, simply bring him in to any veterinary clinic to have him checked for a microchip. Microchips - or small, implanted devices that provide information about the owner - are becoming quite common for cat owners, so it doesn't hurt to start here - especially as this process is quick, easy to perform, and done free of charge.

When a microchip is found, one of two things will happen. If the chip is registered to a specific owner, the company that manufactured said chip will contact the owners and let them know that their cat was found. If it was unregistered, the company may be able to provide information on the "implanter of record," which can be a veterinary office, rescue group, or animal control facility. Once they provide you with this information, you can do a bit of sleuthing by calling the implanter directly to see if they still have the owners' records.

Of course, not everyone microchips their pets. If your friendly little stray doesn't have one, you can always go the old-fashioned route and paste up posters - or, go the less old-fashioned route of pasting up virtual "posters" in community forums or social media groups. Just be sure to identify any unique features - interesting color pattern, funny idiosyncrasies, etc. - and keep them to yourself, just so you have some "screener" questions if someone calls.

Step Two: Setting Up a Temporary Shelter

If your found cat is not microchipped and you are waiting to see if someone claims him - say, one to three weeks - then you'll want to give him a comfortable place to hang out while the two of you wait. The area should be in a more secluded section of your house, like a spare room or bathroom, or a climate-controlled basement or garage. These locations should be cut off from any other household pets. Although this may sound a little mean, at this point you have no idea what your new friend's medical history is, and giving him his own personal space simply ensures that your existing pets remain free of any unknown illnesses. As an extra precaution, it's a good idea to have disinfectant wipes or spray outside the door of this sanctuary, just to keep your hands and feet from spreading any contagions throughout the rest of your house.

This private suite should be set up with all of the basics: A cozy blanket or towel, litter box and litter, food and water bowls. If you don't already have these items on hand, not to worry! For the time being, recycled or dollar store bowls are great for this temporary abode. As for litter, there are plenty of pre-filled and disposable litter boxes on the market, which are inexpensive and convenient for the current situation.

Step Three: Settling In

After a little time has passed, if you haven't found the owner, you can start to feel pretty secure about getting your new cat all settled in. The first thing that you will want to do is get him to the vet. Outdoor cats, unfortunately, are more vulnerable to a variety of diseases, such as FIV/FeLV, as well as environmental issues like ticks or fleas. Depending on where you live, your vet might follow up on negative tests with inoculations or oral medications for these conditions. If your stray kitty tests positive, you will be given information on all of your options, including medications and care choices. You also have the opportunity to get a microchip implanted - and if you do opt for this, just be sure to register as soon as possible!

After you get all of his medical needs tended to, you can now pick up all of his more permanent accessories - that is, a proper bowl setup, a genuine litter box, etc. If you already have pets, you'll also want to take the time to get them properly introduce.

Other Things to Consider

The three steps above apply to just about any situation. However, if you find an injured or sick cat, your first step should always be to take him directly to a vet or emergency animal clinic. If you find a very young kitten, and have verified that his mother is not nearby, you may want to contact a vet, rescue, or shelter for advice on the best ways to care for him.

Adopting a Special Needs Cat

If you have the time and resources available to you, you just might want to adopt a cat with special needs. These cats may have physical issues like blindness, deafness, or missing limbs; they may have certain medical issues like FIV or heart conditions; they may be geriatric or premature; or they may display specific behavioral issues. Regardless of what makes them special needs, they all require lots of love, care, and attention. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked in shelters, but if you are capable of caring for them, the experience of owning a special needs cat can be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding.

Should you make the choice to save a cat with limitations, you can either ask a representative of your local shelter or chosen rescue, or you can seek out rescue groups that specifically cater to special felines. As with any other cat adoption, you will have to go through all of the same procedures we outlined above. During the process, it's a good idea to ask your adoption coordinator about the details of your chosen cat's condition, expenses that you will need to budget for, and schedules that you will need to adhere to.

The questionnaire might be a little different for a special needs cat, and may include questions regarding your experience with special needs animals, how you will handle vet bills, and if your home is or can be set up to make it accessible to your cat. Home visits will also vary somewhat, in that the coordinator will likely be looking for things that can affect the quality of life for your new kitty - for instance, if the cat is blind, the coordinator might look over the layout of your home, and suggest some changes if necessary.

What to Do if the Adoption Doesn't Work Out

Although rescues and shelters work hard to find the best fit for every home, some cat adoptions just don't work out. This is always a sad occurrence, but it is important to keep a few things in mind. For starters, because your home and its family members are all so strange, it can take a while for a new cat to get acclimated to his surroundings. Don't jump the gun on this one - felines are sensitive creatures, and many of them just need time, patience, and maybe a little bit of work.

Sometimes people will return a pet due to unforeseen "behavioral" issues. Often, these issues are not actually behavioral at all. For example, if your new cat is avoiding the litter box or urinating in inappropriate spots, it could, in fact, be a medical problem or a simple case of not knowing the layout of his new home. Some complaints are behavioral, but are possible to remedy if the right steps are taken. For instance, if your new cat is not getting along with the felines already living in your home, providing extra space like cat trees or perches, changing feeding schedules, and offering individual play times may help alleviate any tension. You might also want to consider training with an animal behaviorist who specializes in cats.

If you have given the situation every possible attempt at success and things still aren't working out, there are a few steps you need to take. First, take a breath and do not give in to the temptation to simply abandon the cat. This might seem like an "easy" solution, but it can result in some unfortunate consequences for the animal. Instead, start by reading your adoption contract. There is often a clause in each contract that states that if, for any reason, your adoption simply isn't working, you must return the cat to the original rescue or shelter. Although you might feel embarrassed bringing him back, by doing so, you allow him the opportunity to find a home that is better suited to him. Of course, just dropping him off is a bad idea, as there may not be anyone nearby to take him in. Instead, call or E-mail your adoption coordinator, explain the situation, and schedule an appointment.

Prior to adoption, it's a good idea to look a little deeper into your rescue's policies. Though this is not true for all, many rescues offer a "trial period" that allows the cat and his new humans time to get accustomed to each other. If for some reason things are not working out, you can bring your cat back and receive a refund of most or all of your adoption fees.


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If you have chosen to adopt a cat or two, thank you! There are so many homeless and needy felines in this world, and it is a beautiful thing to know that at least some of them will be given warm, loving, safe homes. The process can seem overwhelming, but I can assure you that no matter what curves and bumps you find on the road to adoption, the destination is well worth the trouble!

US-Based Cat Shelters and Rescues

This is a snappy little list of US-based cat rescues and shelters. This list is by no means exhaustive and is ever-expanding, so if you run or work for a rescue or shelter, please send me an E-mail here to be included!





















Special thanks to all of the talented photographers who loaned their work to this page! All image attributions can be found: Here.

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