Contributor: Samantha Bell, Cat Expert for Best Friends Animal Society
Samantha Bell has been working with shelter cats and cat behavior for over 20 years. She spent many years as the Cat Behavior & Enrichment Lead for Best Friends Animal Society and as a national trainer for Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Pawsitive program. Currently, Samantha is the Cat Content Strategist for Best Friends and runs her own cat business at samanthabell.org.
Champion Petfoods is a corporate sponsor of Best Friends Animal Society
Deciding to adopt a cat is a life-changing decision that we hope you’re excited about! But before you do, here are 5 essential things to consider before choosing your feline.
1. Having a pet is a life-changing commitment. What should people consider before adopting a cat?
Before you adopt a cat, the first thing you should do is ensure you’re allowed to have a cat where you live. I’ve seen many heartbroken adopters forced to return their cats because their landlord finds out, their roommate is allergic, or their parents don’t allow it.
Next, think about your lifestyle and what type of cat would fit in best. Are you often busy outside your home? Shelters and rescues often have two adult cats who have grown up together and would be so grateful to go home together. It’s so heartwarming to see a pair of cats who are already friends get to stay together, and while you’re away, they’ll have each other for company and security.
If you’re home often, you’ll have more time for an active kitty or kittens that need a lot of playtime. Some cats can even be trained to walk on a leash or go for stroller rides.
You also may want to consider bringing home a single cat. There are so many cats who are great with people but terrified of other cats. They don’t always make a great first impression on potential adopters if they’re in a shelter surrounded by other cats, but they’ll flourish once they’re in a home with you.
And remember to keep an open mind — you’ll have the best odds of finding a great match by doing so. Don’t get hung up on the color, sex, or age of a cat. Every cat has its own personality, so never discount a cat just because they aren’t male, female, young, a certain color, or fluffy.
If you’re overwhelmed or unable to decide, talk to the staff and volunteers at the shelter about your lifestyle. Let them know if you live with others, including any pets and people or situations you encounter regularly, and let them guide you to the cats that they think would mesh well with your life.
2. What are the benefits of adopting a rescue cat?
There’s a huge need for cat adoptions right now, so please know what an enormous difference you’re making by adopting a cat. Adoption is critical to help cats, as they account for about 70% of shelter pet deaths in the United States. And if we’re going to meet Best Friends Animal Society’s goal to get the entire U.S. to no-kill by 2025, cat adoptions are crucial to making it happen. I encourage cat lovers to adopt their new best friend at a local shelter or rescue.
By adopting a cat, you’re not only saving that particular cat, but you’re also making space for the next cat that comes into a shelter.
3. What should you consider before adopting a kitten?
Because they’re so cute, many people will be tempted to adopt a kitten. It’s hard not to succumb to that level of cuteness, but kittens require an extra level of care.
Kittens are adorable but be aware that they’re more work than an adult cat. Kittens need to be fed more often and use the litter box more often. Single kittens need lots of positive reinforcement training to help them learn that biting and scratching are for toys.
To help, I encourage adopters to open their homes to a pair of kittens. All cats have to bite and scratch — it’s feline instinct. A pair of kittens learn that biting and scratching is something they should do to each other during playtime and not to their humans.
4. What questions should you ask during the adoption process?
You can ask what cat food your new pet is currently eating, what kind of litter they use, and if they’ve found certain toys or scratchers the cat enjoys. Having familiar food, toys, and litter in your home can make your new companion’s transition easier. The shelter should let you know everything they know about your cat’s medical history, but be sure to ask if they don’t.
Keep in mind that many questions might be too difficult for the shelter to answer. For example, you can ask the shelter/rescue if the cat is good with other cats, but unless the shelter staff knows what the cat is like in a home with other cats, this will be tough for them to answer. That’s why it’s so beneficial for rescues and shelters to get cats into foster homes, it means you’ll have better answers about how your cat behaves in a home.
5. What can people do to make their new feline’s transition from a shelter or foster environment to a forever home as smooth as possible?
The most important thing to do is leave your cat alone for the first couple of days. As difficult as that sounds, it will help your cat feel like they have control in their new environment and will help them come out of their shell faster. Don’t worry if they aren’t very hungry or are hiding a lot. These things are very common, and if you give them time and space, they will emerge and show their true personality after a couple of weeks or months in their new home. It’s also a great idea to give your new cat a place to hide that’s not under furniture. Put out a box with a blanket in it or buy a cave-type bed so the cat doesn’t make a habit of hiding under furniture.
It’s important for everyone in the home, especially children, to meet your new cat so you can observe how they interact with them. Every child has their own unique energy, and every pet reacts differently to every child. It is a good idea to introduce your cat to one person at a time, so it isn’t overwhelming for them.
If you can’t commit to adoption, fostering is a great way to help a cat. Cats are much more comfortable in a home environment than in a shelter. As a foster parent, you can be their gateway to finding a great adopter. Virtual meet and greets allow cats to show their true personalities, and fosters can answer important questions potential adopters want to know, like do they get along with other cats/pets/kids.