5 Tips When Adopting a Shelter Cat

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A cat at the shelter, waiting to be adopted.

By Dr. Tracy McFarland, a veterinarian and writer for Pets Best, a pet insurance agency for dogs and cats. 

Adopting a cat or kitten should never be a spur of the moment decision. This is especially true when adopting a shelter kitten or cat, whose medical and social history is often unknown. Before visiting the shelter, please ask yourself some important questions. Here are five tips when looking to adopt a shelter cat or kitten.

1. How much time will you have to devote to your cat or kitten’s needs for food and water, grooming, affection, litter box maintenance and play? Are you financially able to provide what your cat will need in terms of food, litter, grooming supplies and veterinary care?

Cats tend to be less expensive pets than dogs, on average, but cats can become costly if they develop serious medical problems. Consider purchasing pet health insurance while your cat or kitten is healthy before any major health issues occur.

2. Once you’ve considered these questions, you may want to consult your veterinarian for help selecting the right cat or kitten.  A veterinarian can help you decide if a kitten or cat is more appropriate, and explain grooming requirements for longhaired versus shorthaired cats.

3. Visit a veterinarian as soon as you adopt your new friend, preferably on your way home. This is especially important if you already have pets at home. If you will have to delay that first veterinary visit, make sure you keep your new kitty separate from your other pets until he or she can be checked for parasites and infectious disease.

4. So, a kitten or a cat? Kittens are usually very energetic and tend to get into mischief if left to their own devices. They tend to be litterbox trained, but can certainly get underfoot. If you have no other cats or your other cat is elderly, I usually recommend adopting two kittens so they can play together. If you have very young children, I would recommend older kittens, rather than a six to eight week old. If you are a senior, or aren’t home much, consider adopting an adult cat. Adopting a mature cat allows you to know your new pet’s size, demeanor/personality and haircoat length and texture. Adult cats may sleep up to twenty hours a day, and they are likely to be fine with less of your time and attention. There is always a possibility that an adult cat is in the shelter due to a medical or behavior problem, however. If you have dogs or other cats, a kitten may be more adaptable than an adult. Shorthaired cats require much less grooming than most longhairs, but longhairs actually shed less than shorthaired cats.

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5. You’re at the shelter-now what? Most shelters have websites so you can do some research before you arrive. Unless you have significant time to spend and the proper training, you may want to avoid the cat or kitten cowering in the back of the cage or corner of the room. If a kitten or cat hasn’t been well socialized and you haven’t had training to work with this, you may find that a trusting relationship with your new kitty can be hard to build. You should also pay attention to any evidence of physical illness, such as discharge from the eyes or nose, sneezing or coughing, patches of missing fur, poor physical condition, or the third eyelids showing (white membranes in inner corners of the eyes). These felines can still make great pets, you just need to aware and prepared that there may be immediate veterinary costs. Ask if there are any medical records and if there is any information from a previous owner. You are taking a chance when you adopt a kitten or cat from a shelter, but it feels amazing when you change a kitty’s life for the better by giving him or her a “forever” home. Most shelter cats will become excellent, loving companions, if you will give them the time they need to adapt to their new home.

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