So, you have decided to adopt a cat. Congratulations! Having a pet is a wonderful experience, and cats can truly enrich your life. Before you adopt, there are a number of very important things to understand to prepare yourself for life with a feline friend.
Do your research
It is very important that you do a lot of research on potential shelters to adopt from before you do so. Each shelter is different than the next, with a different set of rules and regulations in place for how they take care of their adoptable cats. The best way to start your research is to do a Google search for shelters in your area. Set aside a significant amount of time to read through the website for each shelter, so that you can get a sense of what their values are and how they treat their animals.
Secondly, once you have done your research, it is time to visit the shelters in person. This can be a somewhat time-consuming task, but it is a crucial step to adopting the cat that is right for you. When you visit each shelter, take your time walking through the facility to get a good sense of how they operate. It is always a good idea to talk to the shelter volunteers or employees to see what they know about the pets’ health. If they do not know much about each cat, it may signal that they do not do behavior or health testing at that facility. Keep an eye out as well for cats that look sickly or under-nourished. Unless they just arrived at the shelter, the cats that live there should look healthy and well-fed.
Understand that this is a long-term commitment
Cats can live up to 20 years, so it is important that you take that into consideration when making this decision. Taking care of a cat will have a significant impact on your daily life, and that daily life with a cat could be 15-20 years long. This also means that you will incur new expenses over that time period, including vet bills, food, treats, toys, and kitty litter. While cats are relatively easy to take care of, that does not mean that they do not require care. They may be quieter than dogs, but they still need to eat, be groomed and play.
Know what you are looking for
It is very easy to fall in love with the first kitten you see who rubs up against your leg to say hello. Before you make an impulsive decision, make a plan. Take into consideration the type of household you live in. Is it loud or messy? Is there always someone home or it is generally empty of humans? Does it have enough space for a cat to move around, learn and get exercise? Do you have a plan for how to treat it and whose responsibility it is to care for it? While the answers to these questions will not necessarily determine whether you get a cat, it will help you have a better understanding of what you need from a pet, and what you can give to a pet.
For example, if there is not someone always at home during the day, it may be best to adopt an older cat who likely needs less training and is more comfortable exploring the house on its own. The older cat is likely house trained and there is less of a chance of an adult cat getting into trouble while you are gone.
Consider adopting a friend
Cats require a lot of mental stimulation and exercise and if you adopt two cats, they will be able to provide this for each other. Especially if they are litter mates, having the two cats live together will give them the socialization that they need, as well as the ability to teach each other how to get through life.
Choose your vet ahead of time
The last thing you want to happen is for your cat to get sick before you have had a chance to set up a veterinarian. When you adopt a cat, schedule a visit to your new vet within the first couple of weeks for a checkup. The adoption center will give you any medical records that they have when you take your cat home, and you should bring those with you to your first visit. Having regular care for your cat will ensure that they are healthy.
Make sure everyone is prepared
Adding a pet to the family is a big decision, and comes with a lot of responsibilities. If you have young children, it is important to sit down with them to discuss how to handle having a pet. Many children will need lessons on how to be gentle, the importance of regular feeding and cleaning, and patience as the cat gets used to its new home. Older children should be aware of the new responsibility they will have of caring for the cat and making sure it does not get into anything it shouldn’t. This is a big step, and should be treated as such.
Set aside a space just for them
Because cats are both territorial and curious, it is important that you designate a specific, relatively small space for your cat to live in when they first come home. This could be a spare bedroom that does not get a lot of use, a section of the family room that can be easily cordoned off, or any space where they can feel safe while still being able to explore. This will help them ease into the new home, exploring the house piece by piece, without getting overwhelmed. This is very important for the cat’s development, as well as the potential for successful bonding with the new family.
Cats also need a space to get away, and if your new cat comes home in a cat carrier, that might be the perfect place. Set the carrier in a location that is away from the hustle and bustle of your household and drape a towel or blanket over the top of it. Having a quiet, dark place to return to will give your cat a sense of safety they desperately need.
After all, this is a brand new home with brand new people! It will take some time for your new cat to get used to you. When you first bring them home, bring them into the designated safe space and open the door to the carrier. Sit down on the floor and allow the cat to come over to you as they please. Give them as much space as needed, so as not to startle them. Allowing them to make the decision on how much to interact with you will help them feel in control of their surroundings. Depending on the conditions of the shelter that you adopted the cat from, and their past life experience with other families, they could be particularly shy and skittish. It will take some time for you to earn their trust, and that is okay.
It may also take some time for your cat to eat regularly. Stress has a significant impact on their ability or desire to eat, and moving to a new home is incredibly stressful. If you can, try feeding your cat the same food they were eating at the shelter or their foster home. Change their water frequently to help them stay hydrated, and if they do not eat for a few days contact your vet for advice.
Be financially prepared
There are a number of things that you will need to pay for when you are adopting a cat, and it is important to do your research on these items before you do so. Having a set budget in mind will help you understand how much it will cost to care for your cat each month. Understanding how much it costs to care for a cat may also be a warning sign that you might not be ready to adopt just yet. This is a great opportunity to starting putting aside money so that you can be better financially prepared for a new pet.
First of all, when you adopt a cat, you will likely pay an adoption fee. Adoption fees can be as high as $200, depending on where you are adopting from. In rare cases, the cat will be sponsored, which means that someone has paid for all of their adoption fees, and you will not have to pay them if you adopt the cat.
The next most significant cost is a veterinarian. When you first adopt a cat you will need to set up a visit to your vet to ensure that your cat is up to date on all vaccines and medications. If your new cat needs vaccinations, medications or any other type of medical attention, it will cost a good amount of money. You can expect to spend anywhere from $100 to $500 for medical expenses in the first year of owning your cat.
Beyond medical attention, your cat requires a number of items to ensure they have a good quality of life. This includes food and water bowls, a litter box, litter, a cat bed, a cat carrier, toys and a scratching post. These are all necessary items, and all together will likely cost you anywhere from $150 to $600 in the first year. Of course, some of these items will only need to be purchased once, so going forward you will save money.
The biggest financial burden is food and treats. Food can cost anywhere from $100 to $500 in the first year, and treats can get pretty expensive as well. This does not take into account any issues your new cat may have with the food that you purchase, and you could end up spending twice as much money on food as you try to figure out what works best for their digestive system.
Overall, you could be looking at up to $2,000 in expenses for your cat in the first year.
There are also additional costs that you may not have, but are good to be aware of. For example, you may find yourself needing pet sitting services for when you travel or cannot bring your cat with you. If you do not live in an area where pet sitting services are available, you could also have to pay for boarding at a kennel. Commercial boarding could cost you anywhere from $15 to $50 per day.
There are some cats who require professional grooming in order to keep their coats and skin healthy. These visits to the groomer should happen regularly, and could cost you over $300 a year.
Adopting a cat is a very exciting thing to do, and with the right preparation it will be a wonderful experience. Overall, it is important that you do your research, especially on the shelters in your area that you are considering adopting from. If it is possible, try to speak with people who have adopted cats from the same shelter to get a sense of how their cat acclimated to their new home and any advice they may have to share. You can also take advantage of shelters’ social media accounts, where they typically post photos of and information on their adoptable cats. This allows you to get a sense of how involved the shelter employees are, what the process is for adopting cats at that particular shelter, and whether their mission aligns with yours.
When you have decided to adopt, and you feel you are prepared, enjoy the experience! It is so fun to get to meet cats and have the opportunity to spend time with potential feline friends. When you are prepared, it makes the whole process less stressful, and so much more fun.