Animal shelters across the country are filled with stray, mistreated and abandoned cats that are in desperate need of a loving family. Cats are often considered low-maintenance pets, but don’t be fooled! All pets need a lot of care and attention, and before adopting a cat, you need to make sure you are going to be in it for the long haul.

Lifestyle factors. 
The last thing we veterinarians want is for cats to end up back in the shelters. So before adding a furry member to your family, carefully consider these factors: 

  • Cats can live 15 to 20 years or more, so you should be prepared for the food, medication and veterinary costs over this time. I strongly suggest that you acquire a pet health insurance policy to reduce any unexpected medical expenses.
  • Cats aren’t allowed in some rental properties.
  • Long periods of being left alone aren’t ideal for cats and can lead to behavioral problems.
  • Depending on your foreseeable plans for work, travel and children, cats may not fit into your lifestyle.
  • Existing pets may not tolerate having a new cat in the household, so it’s imperative to speak to your vet or animal behaviorist about whether your pet will cope with the addition.
  • You’ll need space for litter boxes, feeding areas, elevated rest areas, scratching posts and interactive toys. You can even think about installing an outdoor cat enclosure if your home accommodates this.

If you have thoroughly considered these factors and are ready to take the plunge, it’s time to begin the process of choosing the right cat for you. This decision should never be rushed. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

A kitten or an adult cat? 
Kittens, while completely adorable, are a lot of work. They crave attention and need to be played with and entertained. Kittens are messy and mischievous, so make sure your home is kitten-proofed and be prepared for lots of cleaning. Kittens also need help with toilet training, but it’s typically easier than training a puppy. 

Adult cats are usually calmer and more independent, but they can have pre-existing behavioral and medical issues, so it’s important that you discuss these factors with the shelter and are fully aware of any extra commitments. Although adopting a cat with health problems can be challenging, it’s also rewarding to give these cats a second chance at a wonderful life.

Do you have children? 
Kittens that grow up with children usually become cats that are tolerant of a child’s behavior. However, very young children are often a little rough with small kittens, so extra supervision is needed. 

Although adult cats are more resilient, not all are comfortable around children, so make sure you carefully select a cat with the right temperament to cope in a home with kids. It’s a good idea to take your children to the shelter to interact with the cats. The staff will be able to help you find a cat that is suitable. 

At home, make sure your cat has plenty of hiding places and kid-free zones to escape to if it needs some peace and quiet.

Do you have other pets? 
Not all cats get along with other cats, and introducing a new cat to an existing one can be a long process with no guarantee of success. It’s a similar situation with dogs too. If you have a pet at home that will tolerate a new cat, make sure you choose a cat that will be tolerant too.

What’s the cat’s personality like?
Just like people, cats come with different personality traits. Some are adventurous, highly curious and full of confidence, while others are shy, lazy and even anxious. Spend time with the cats at the shelter and choose one that checks the right boxes for you.

How much grooming is needed?
Cats with long fur require far more grooming than those with a shorter coat. Keep in mind that cats shed their fur — the more fur they have, the more you’ll find in your home. Some cats are close to hairless and may be more suitable for people with allergies.

Should you adopt more than one cat?
Reducing boredom and increasing physical activity are important for cats’ overall health and well-being, and having multiple cats at home can help accomplish these goals. Kittens do very well in pairs — they will be great companions and keep each other entertained, which is something to consider if they are going to be left alone for long periods. Sometimes you can adopt two bonded adult cats, which is a great option if you are not keen on kittens.

Don’t rush your decision. 
The best advice I can offer as an emergency veterinarian is to never make an impulsive decision when adopting a cat. If you take your time and choose your cat carefully, you will find your perfect companion. A vet, animal behaviorist or experienced shelter staffer will be able to guide you in the right direction.

Do you have a rescue cat? Tell us about your feline companion in the Comments. 

Ashley Kish