Tips & Tricks: 5 Tips for Adopting a Shelter Cat

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5 Tips for Adopting a Shelter Cat

By Dr. Tracy McFarland, a veterinarian and writer for Pets Best, a pet insurance company 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.

Here are five tips for people who are considering adopting a shelter cat or kitten:

  1. Consider a Cat’s Basic Needs

Determine whether you can devote enough time to a cat or kitten’s needs for food and water, grooming, affection, litter box maintenance and play. It is also important to determine whether you are financially able to provide what a 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.

  1. Consult a Veterinarian

Once you’ve considered these questions, you may want to consult your veterinarian for help with selecting the right cat or kitten for your home and lifestyle. A veterinarian can help you decide if a kitten or a cat is more appropriate. Veterinarians can also explain details such as grooming requirements for long-haired versus short-haired cats.

  1. Weigh Cat Versus Kitten

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 litter box trained, but they can certainly get underfoot. If you have no other cats, or if 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 6- to 8-week-old. If you are a senior, or if you aren’t home much, consider adopting an adult cat. Adopting a mature cat allows you to know your new pet’s size, demeanor, coat length and texture. Adult cats may sleep up to 20 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 behavioral problem. If you have dogs or other cats, a kitten may be more adaptable than an adult. Short-haired cats require much less grooming than most long-haired breeds, but long-haired cats actually shed less than those with short hair.


  1. Choose Carefully

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 with white membranes in the inner corners of the eyes. These felines can still make great pets, but please be aware 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 give them the time they need to adapt to their new home.

  1. Schedule a Check-Up

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 have to delay that first veterinary visit, make sure you keep your new kitty separate from other pets until he or she can be checked for parasites and infectious disease.

For more information about Pets Best, visit


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24 thoughts on “Tips & Tricks: 5 Tips for Adopting a Shelter Cat

    • Marc-André says:

      Exactly. As much as I love for everyone to take home their lil friend I do see it too often that people take one home without thinking everything through and before you know it poor cat goes back :(. At least in London this happens a lot ~~~ our second cat was returned three times to the charity before she got to us! Poor thing was slightly traumatised when we first got her – spent 2 days under the bed and another 2 days not wanting to leave our side and suckling us like we were it’s mummy :s

      • fozziemum says:

        Exactly..we are sharing a kittie here on blogs and Fb etc that has had 7 fosters in such a short time..heart breaking..and of course makes for big problem getting settled..i would have more than four fact we did have six..and mores dogs and even more sheep,but at 52 and 55 hubby and I need to be realistic..when our darlings go we are opening a retirement home for old animals that nobody wants..they may not have long left but their time will be lavish 🙂 and we will not be leaving animals behind of we fall off our perch 🙂

  1. Moongazer says:

    All but my current group of cats have been rescues. I usually want to take them all home 🙁
    My Poppy chose me, almost tearing at the crate to get to me as we paused to look. The lady unlocked the door and as I crouched down, Poppy just leapt into my arms. There was no way I could have chosen another. She even chose her own name. She sat looking at us as we tried different names out, but she just sat still – listening but unmoved until I suggested Poppy, when she meowed and started purring.
    But she didnt like men. And had obviously had a rough time at christmas, for as soon as we got the decorations out she disappeared under the table. We had to put her litter tray and food near her there as she didnt come out again until everything was packed away again. It wasnt until her third xmas with us that she realised she would be safe despite all the tinsel and she spent that year and the remaining 8 we had with her as a full member of the family.
    It breaks my heart when cats go unloved or are abused. Animal cruelty in general should incur much harsher penalties in my opinion. But there’s just something about cats that turns me into a lioness, if you know what I mean.

  2. franhunne4u says:

    May I for once add a blogpost (that is not even mine):
    That is a North Californian blogger who helps to rescue cats from a kill shelter (something that is not known in Germany, our shelters can only euthanasize with a severe medical condition to justify it). This post is about a 10 year old cat who cannot live with others, but loves humans to bits. He urgently needs a new home. Has had to move places for several times during the last 6 weeks. A ten year old cat! My heart is heavy thinking how the little pal must feel.

  3. aquicksmile says:

    All my cats have been rescued cats and I haven’t regretted a single day with any of them. I live in England and the potential home and owner are carefully checked before you are allowed to have any animal. They choose you, you don’t choose them. I think this makes you take the decision very seriously. Sound advice.

  4. Sara Atkinson, Yorkshire Cat Rescue says:

    I think it would have been good to add another point:

    “listen to what the shelter staff have to say – they will know the cat better than anyone else and can be honest about the cat, its background and its behaviour etc”.

    A good rescue centre will match the cat/kitten to the new owner and the new owner’s household and ensure that where possible the cat goes to a home that is wholly suitable, not just the first person who sees it.

    But otherwise a good article.

  5. Moongazer says:

    Hi, i’d like to add some disturbing news here that I have been hearing about recently regarding the RSPCA in the uk. A little background….animal lovers have known for many years now that while the RSPCA are very hig profile, and provide free microchipping etc, they have been known on too many occassions to leave animals ..esp horses and ponies in deplorable conditions with barely any food, overgrown hooves and splashing around in badly waterlogged fields with no shelter. That went on for months in my local area until after several rscpa inspectors refused a rescue a local horse owner ended up ‘stealing’ one poor pony, getting it seen by a vet and farrier and taking it on themselves. I dont believe the original owner ever made a complaint. But the complaints against the RSPCA were many. They should have legally rescued that poor little shetland up to its knees in muudy water everday!!
    But locally, here in my own city the RSPCA are acting the opposite way. A woman without her own transport owned a cat who had a sore eye. She was to see the vet on the monday when her daughter could drive them both. But on the friday, an RSPCA officer called due to a complaint made by a neighbour who had seen the cat’s eye without even asking her neighbour what was wrong. The RSPCS took the cat and had been put to sleep by the monday and the poor owner is now being landed with legal expenses on top of having her cat legally murdered. She loved her cat. He was 10 and she was getting him to the vet as soon as she was able. The RSPCA gave her no chance to see him, no chance to sort his eye problem herself, or to even hold him as he passed.
    There are schemes for people with financial difficulties in the uk. The PDSA do a fantastic one. And many vets will negotiate payment if you have genuine problems…..not all…but some. The poor woman is destraught. Just what did she do wrong?
    I think the RSPCA have been so busy raising their huge amounts of money they have forgotten what they’re their for. To protect against cruelty to animals. They could take and put down a well loved family pet but they refused point blank to remove a pony with food the neighbours gave it, overgrown hooves and nowhere dry for 4 months????
    I have not supported them for many years.
    But the small shelters, run by people who give their own homes to animals, work every hour to make them well, neutet them, socialise and train them and rehome them to the best people possible…..they get my support and money every time. Even if its only a few tins of cat food a week.
    If the RSPCA stopped spending out on looking good and just did their work right…..more people would respect them!!
    Sorry, just had to rant xx

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