Adopting a cat is not unlike adopting a child, except that it’s an entirely different process. However, it is a huge responsibility, and you have to know a ton of facts about it, so let’s get right to it.
First, are you sure you want a cat?
I’m going to put on my Overbearing Dad pants (and do a public shirt tuck) for this one: Think long and hard about whether or not you want a cat. It’s a lot of responsibility. Do you have the money? The time? Are you willing to pay for emergency vet visits and a ton of food? Are you willing to change your schedule to fit the needs of a living thing? What will you do if you go out of town? What will you do if you die in a car accident? I’ve seen the way you drive!
Adopting an animal is a huge commitment, and not just for the short-term. Cats can live up to twenty years, so unless you’re ready to say "I will take care of this cat for up to twenty years," don’t adopt a cat.
Prepare your home
Cats need a lot of accessories. Designer bags, for example, and diamond earrings. Plus, basic stuff for living, like bowls, a litter box, a bed, a scratching post, maybe a cat condo, some toys, and a scale model of Bag End from Lord of the Rings.
While you can safely get some things in advance – a litter box, a bed, a few toys, and a carrier – you might want to hold off on things like food and litter. The shelter you’re adopting from will probably want you to use the same food and litter for a while in order to make the transition as easy as possible for the cats. Discuss this with the shelter staff.
As far as the things you can get, focus on making your cat as comfortable as possible. The first few days will be pretty harrowing for them, so buy or create a safe space for them. Cats love small places – a covered bed, their carrier – that is mostly surrounded by walls or other barriers. (For example, my cats love hiding under the bed with all of our storage containers and luggage. It’s like a little obstacle course / cave system for them.) You can make one easy by getting a box and putting a blanket at the bottom, or buy a covered bed from your local Amazon.
You should also get a scratching post. If you don’t get one, your cat will scratch at your walls, your door frames, your furniture, and your clothing. There are a bunch of different kinds, and you may have to experiment a bit to see what your cat enjoys.
Take a look around your house. A lot of cats like height. They will climb to the highest point in the room that they can find. If they can’t make it to the highest point, they may grow anxious. Do your best to clear high spaces of dangerous or breakable items. You’d be surprised where you may find your kitties.
Do you have other family members, roommates, or non-human inhabitants? Make sure you talk to them about your new cat and the rules for interacting with them. Non-human inhabitants may be a bit more difficult – both dogs and cats can feel threatened when you introduce a new cat, and if you don’t introduce them carefully, you may end up with a very tense household. Discuss how to introduce your new cat to other animals with the shelter staff.
Now, find your cat
My girlfriend Chloe and I had been talking about getting a cat for months. We casually cruised adoption center websites and the Manhattan cat cafes (chock full of adoptable cats), but it wasn’t until we saw Duke and Baby Bono at our local pet store that we truly fell in love. They fit the bill of what we were looking for: two cats who were already bonded (while not siblings, Duke and Baby Bono were fostered together after being rescued), who would keep each company while Chloe and I were at work, and were affectionate and playful.
It’s important to think about the kind of cat (or cats) you’re looking for and what kind of cat personality would best match your own. For instance, do you want a cat that’s gregarious and playful or more reserved? Do you want a cat that’s fine being on their own or needs constant human attention? (Want to get an idea for all of the different kinds of cat personalities? Take a look at ASPCA’s "Feline-ality" test.)
Ultimately, you’ll have to rely on your local shelter to supply you with information about a cat’s personality that they’ve observed. It can be hard to get a judge of a cat’s personality in just a few minutes, especially when they’re in a cage and you’re a big scary stranger. Your local shelter will most likely take a look at your lifestyle and help match you with a cat suited for you.
Bring your new cat to their forever home
When you bring your cat home for the first time, there’s a good chance she’ll be a bit skittish. Basically: she’s terrified of you and her new surroundings. While you may have just brought her to your bathroom, it looks like a horror movie cabin to her. You and your housemates are the zombies coming to eat her brains.
So there a few things you can do to help your new cat feel more comfortable:
Restrict their space. Don’t just let your new cat roam the entire house. It’s too much for them to handle! Instead, let them become acclimated to one room – something small, like a bathroom or laundry room – and fill it with the essentials.
Don’t force yourself on them. Sit down on the floor and let them come to you when they feel comfortable. If you try to pet them, they’ll probably freak out and hide.
Give them time. Your new cat may not eat or drink if you’re in the room for the first few days. Instead, they’ll be at the very back of their carrier, wondering what they did to deserve this fresh hell. Don’t worry – they’ll get over it eventually. Just give them time to adjust.
But not too much time. If your cat doesn’t eat for a few days, obviously call a vet.
Within the first week, you should set up an appointment with a veterinarian and get your cat’s first wellness visit. Bring any paperwork that the shelter provided, such as immunization and spay/neuter surgery records.
You should also look into pet insurance for your new feline friend, especially if they’re still a young cat or kitten. Pet insurance is cheapest when you buy it early in a cat’s life, and considering how many opportunities your curious cat has to get sick or hurt itself, it’s a good idea to pick it up sooner rather than later.
Enjoy the next twenty or so years
Over the next week, your new cat will begin to feel more comfortable in their environment and start to explore. Once they feel confident and are okay with your presence, you can start introducing them to the rest of the house. While you don’t have to follow them from room to room, make sure that they aren’t getting into trouble or getting hurt.
And that’s pretty much it! From here on out, it’s smooth sailing, with absolutely nothing else to worry about! Ha ha just kidding. But you can worry about all that stuff later. For now, enjoy your new cat, and feel proud that you provided a safe and loving home for your adopted feline friend.
Image: Mr. T in DC