Adopting a Cat: Things to Consider
Congratulations on your decision to bring home a new family member! There’s an incredible variety of cats who need homes, from 8-week-old kittens to seniors, from shy cats to attention seekers, and so much more. As you decide which cat(s) to add to your family, we recommend you consider the following factors.
How much time and experience do you have?
- Kittens are adorable! They also require much more time, effort and training than adult cats. They need more supervision — as they can easily get into things and injure themselves in your home. And kittens’ personalities are still developing, and time will tell how their personalities form — including how affectionate, social or active they’ll be.
- Adult cats’ personalities are often more clear, so you can choose one who will be a good fit for you and your household.
- If you have a lot of experience with cats, consider one who’s been in the shelter longer and may have special considerations, such as behavioral or medical. You may be just the star adopter!
Do you have children?
- Some cats are shy, fearful or skittish. Others can be very reactive and engage in defensive behaviors in response to overstimulation. We recommend that cats who display these behaviors find their homes with families who do not have children under the age of 12.
- Though kittens are cute and playful, they are not always good matches for households with young children. Kittens are fragile physically and need very consistent, gentle handling. They can develop serious behavior problems if not raised with consistency and care by all members of the household.
- Even with older children, when everyone in the home knows how to approach cats gently and recognize their limits, such as avoiding loud/startling noises, cats will be their happiest — and make their family happiest.
Do you have a dog?
- If you have a cat-friendly dog, you will want a kitten, a confident adult cat or an adult cat who has a history of peacefully living with a dog.
- Avoid very fearful cats and those who are physically unable to defend themselves (e.g., declawed cats, three-legged cats, etc.), unless you have a very small and docile dog.
- Make sure you have the time and space to introduce the two gradually and supervise them together. This process can take weeks or even months.
- You should also be willing to make practical changes to your environment as needed, such as blocking your dog’s access to the litter box and installing safety gates.
Do you have other cats?
- You and your cats will be happier if you match temperaments and stay within the same age group when adopting a second cat. If you have a playful, active cat at home, your new cat will need to be able to put up with and maybe even enjoy that level of energy. And if the cat you already have at home is older and calm, don’t bring home a hyper kitten!
- No matter who you decide to adopt, integrating a new cat into your home will take time. The cats will need to be separated for weeks or even months, and the introduction will need to be gradual. Cats are territorial animals and often take weeks or months to adjust to sharing their space with another cat.
What size is your home?
- If you have a small apartment, consider whether you should adopt a less active cat (usually an older cat), or if you can devote enough time to play to keep your cat engaged and healthy.
- If you have a very large home, an overly fearful cat may find it overwhelming and spend much of their time hiding. Introducing a shy cat in this home would require giving him one room to get comfortable with in the beginning, and then slowly expanding the amount of space he has access to.
How often are you home?
- All cats require daily attention, from feeding to affection to playtime, but some cats need more throughout the day than others. If your cat doesn’t get the attention he needs, this can lead to behavior problems such as biting, scratching and eliminating outside the litter box.
- If you’re gone for much of the day, an older and/or independent cat is going to be much happier in your home — which means that you’ll end up much happier too.
- Another option is to adopt two cats instead of one, so they can keep each other company, and keep each other engaged through playtime and companionship. An excellent option is to adopt cats who have come into the shelter as a pair and have a history of getting along well. Or you could adopt one cat and then come back a month or two later, after your cat has settled in, and adopt a suitable companion.
Do you have people over often?
- If you like to regularly host guests at your home, you should look to adopt an outgoing or independent cat — one who will enjoy the extra attention or happily ignore it.
- A shy cat who is subjected to frequent social gatherings will likely hide and find his home to be very stressful.
How much grooming are you willing to do?
- Longhaired cats require much more grooming care. While a shorthaired cat can often groom himself sufficiently, a longhaired one will need brushed anywhere from daily to a minimum of twice per week.
What kind of personality are you looking for?
- Take a few minutes to think about what you see when you imagine having your perfect cat in your home. Is he playful and energetic? Does he sit on your lap while you watch TV? Is she mischievous or is she calm? Then read the notes on the personalities of the cats available for adoption, and talk to the adoption counselor. While cats’ personalities can really bloom once they leave the shelter and get into a home, the best indicator of who they are is how they behave in our care at San Diego Humane Society.
- Note that not every behavior will translate to your home exactly: While a high-energy cat in a shelter is likely to be high-energy in a home too, a shy cat in a shelter may really open up and come out of his shell in a patient and loving home.
Are you considering allowing your cat to go outside?
- Unless you are specifically seeking a cat who does not adapt well to living in a home and is being adopted as a cat for your barn or warehouse, we highly advise against letting your cat outside unsupervised.
- Indoor cats live longer, as they are less likely to pick up a fatal disease like FIV (Feline Immune-deficiency Virus) and FeLV (Feline Leukemia), be hit by a car, be attacked by a coyote or come across other environmental dangers.
- Additionally, cats are a primary cause of death for local wildlife species, including endangered and at-risk species. San Diego County is one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world, and we preserve a part of what makes our community special by keeping our wild animals safe.
- You can still allow your cat to enjoy the outdoors by installing cat-proof fencing in your yard or on a patio, or by harness-training a young or highly trainable cat.