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How to Adopt a Cat: Bring Home the Fuzz Ball That’s Just Right For You

Updated on September 25, 2013

Should You Adopt a Cat?

Before you adopt a cat you should assess your lifestyle. You should have sufficient income to provide for the cat's food, accessories, toys, and regular and emergency vet visits. You should have a place to board your cat should you need to go out of town. You don't have to have someone at home with your cat around the clock, but he should also not be left alone for prolonged periods either.

You should have the right temperament for the breed of your choice. No one in your family should have an allergy that will be aggravated by cat dander. Your children and other companion animals should be trained to behave in a way so as not to endanger the cat. You should be prepared for shed hair, surfaces (and possibly flesh) clawed and sprayed, sudden noises and pouncings and the reality that somewhere in your house you'll have to keep an odoriferous cat box.

Adult or Kitten?

Kittens are pretty much the gold standard for cuteness, and it's truly delightful watching them grow up, getting acquainted with their environment, hopping and pouncing. And while there is much to recommend adopting a kitten, don't rule out adult cats. They are as a rule more sedate and have outgrown the crazy, rambunctious stage. Generally it's easier to ascertain any health or behavioral patterns or problems with adults than it is with kittens, especially if the previous owner is known. And it is well to point out that adult cats are as a rule less popular candidates for adoption: all kittens at a shelter stand an excellent chance at getting a home, whereas many adult cats are euthanized. An adult cat might show you more appreciation and affection than a kitten would.

Photos of Popular Breeds in United States

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Maine CoonRagdoll Siamese Persian Savannah MunchkinSphynx Exotic Abyssinian
Maine Coon
Maine Coon | Source
Ragdoll | Source
Siamese | Source
Persian | Source
Savannah | Source
Munchkin | Source
Sphynx | Source
Exotic | Source
Abyssinian | Source

Which Breed?

If you decide to adopt through a shelter or the classified ads, you’ll mostly find mixed-breed cats available. If you’re looking for a purebred cat that you want in turn to breed and take to official cat shows, then go to a respected breeder.

According to Dr. Bruce Fogle, specific breeds tend to display certain behavioral characteristics. For instance, Persians and other non-Oriental cats are as a rule sedate while Siamese and other Oriental cats are more active.

Consider other practicalities: if your house is furnished and carpeted all in white, you might think twice about getting a long-haired black cat.

Top 10 Most Popular Cat Breeds

Which one is your Favorite Breed?

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Where to Get a Cat

Public opinion is turned ever so slowly against pet stores that actually sell cats and dogs, because such stores are usually supplied by breeders who, in an unregulated and unethical manner, use females as essentially baby-making machines. Do not, however, confuse this kind of pet store with those who facilitate adoptions from local shelters and rescues and may have cats living on the premises. Still, life in a pet store is far from pleasant, especially considering the cramped conditions and all the humans rapping their fingers on the cages. The best way to tell one type of pet store from another is that shelter or rescue animals are clearly identified as such with cards on their cages, and the person doing the adopting will pay only an adoption fees and for vaccinations and spaying or neutering. An animal that is for sale will have extra charges on top of these.

Many people will look for a cat at a shelter, be it public or private, “kill” or “no-kill.” In a kill shelter animals will be tended to for a few days to up to a few weeks. If no one’s adopted the animal by the allotted time, he’s euthanized. In no-kill shelters the animal is tended to for as long as it takes for him to get adopted, but such shelters often take in only healthy animals who’ve had all their shots and are under a certain age. Old animals have very little chance in such a situation.

This is not to say you absolutely must adopt from kill shelters. Don’t let your heart push you into adopting a cat that is not the right fit for you. Plus you don’t have to pick a cat at the first place you visit. Look around, get a feel for what kind of cat you want. And whatever you do, make sure and inspect the shelter and the immediate environment where the cat’s been living, and try to observe the cat somewhere away from the caging area.

Pet rescues are an excellent place to find cats, and the people who volunteer their time, homes and money to help these animals are a dedicated lot. Rescues ideally involve a thorough screening process, so as to insure that the cat goes to the right home. You might find this process to be too strict, but it's understandable when you consider how many people out there consider animals to be a disposable commodity—put to sleep, abandoned, given away, or returned to the rescue when the animal gets old or sick or loses his cuteness or bites or scratches some undisciplined child for pulling his tail.

You can look for cats through either print or online classified ads, but exercise caution. If the owner charges a high fee for the cat he'd better be able to prove the cat is a purebred—otherwise he's probably just an unethical breeder who's in it for the money. “Kittens Free to a Good Home” is always a tempting offer, but whether the cats are free or available for a nominal or high price, you should make sure and see everything you can about the cat's origins—the home, the litter mates, the parents, the breeding registration and vet records. If the owner balks at this, then he's probably hiding something.

Of course, you can also adopt a cat from a neighbor or friend, or if you're really adventurous, welcome home a stray, but in those cases, especially with the stray, it is vitally important that you get the cat to a vet first before the cat is exposed to other animals or humans in your household. You don't want to bring home a diseased cat.

What to Look Out For

Assuming you've now agreed that living with a cat is right for you and have decided on what breed and age cat to pick, you need to inspect the cats you are mulling over carefully. Look for external parasites, such as an abundance of fleas or even ticks. Check the condition of the fur, if it is matted, dirty, greasy or even missing in spots. See if the skin is flaky and scaly. If the belly is bloated or distended it's a good chance the cat has worms, as is, needless to say, the presence of worms in the anus.

Be wary of cats that limp or otherwise have difficulty walking, are malformed, malnourished, or are small for their age, that have too many toes, overt, unhealed injuries, bent tails, protruding ribs, abscesses, overbites, underbites, bad or missing teeth or any sort of discharge from any orifice. You also might want to pass on any cat that is violent, overly skittish, antisocial or, conversely, that is unnaturally lethargic and listless. See how the cat acts around other cats and how he behaves when something interesting, like a leaf or bit of yarn, is passed back and forth within his reach.


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