10 Steps for Choosing the Right Shelter Cat for You

The decision to get a shelter cat is exciting but it can also seem overwhelming. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you’ll be providing a forever home, but you may also be concerned with how to pick the right cat. Being impulsive when it comes to choosing a shelter cat may work out but to increase the chances of being the right home for the right cat, my recommendation is to be well-prepared. Here are my 10 tips.

1. Should You Get a Kitten or Adult Cat?

There are advantages to both but it’s important to look at the time you can take for training. A kitten will require more supervision and training. The house will may also need to be kitten-proofed as an inquisitive young kitten will want to explore just about everything. If you’re hoping for a cat with a certain temperament, then an adult cat may be the best choice.

2. Evaluate Your Home Environment

What is your family life like? Is it chaotic and busy or relaxed and calm? If your family life is very busy, think about whether you’d have time for the addition of a cat. Do you have children in the home? What are their expectations? If your children are very young, a kitten may not be the best choice because they are easily injured. Do you live alone and spend little time at home? Consider adopting two cats so they can keep each other company. You may find a pair of cats at the shelter who are already bonded.

3. Think About the Relationship You Want

cat snuggling person
Before going to the shelter, take time to think about what type of relationship you want with a cat. Are you looking for a cuddly lap cat who is quiet, or an active cat who will keep you on your toes? If you choose a long-haired cat will you have the time to do daily brushing? Are you looking for a cat who will sleep in bed with you or one who keeps a distance? To prevent disappointment for both you and your new cat, think about your relationship expectations.

4. Do You Already Have Pets at Home?

cat meeting dog
Be mindful of the furry family you already have. If you currently have a cat at home, try to match complementary personalities when choosing a second cat and be prepared to do a gradual introduction. If you have a dog at home, try to choose a shelter cat who has previous (and positive) experience with dogs.

5. Talk with Shelter Personnel

They can help you narrow down your search for the right cat. Don’t take offense at questions they ask because they’re intended to ensure a good match.

6. Do a Walk-Through and Look at the Cats Before Settling on One

shelter cat
Trust me, it can be so easy to fall in the love with the very first cat you see, but take a moment and do a general walk-through. That way, you may find a couple of cats with whom you’d like to spend more time. If you just stop at the first cage, you may miss that amazing feline love of your life in the last cage on the other end of the room.

7. Spend One-on-One Time

Once you see a cat who touches your heart, spend some one-on-one time together. Most shelters have “get acquainted” rooms where you spend quiet time. This is the time to see how you both react to each other. Are you able to pet the cat? Does the cat like being held? How does the cat respond when you extend your hand? Remember, the cat may be frightened and the personality you see at the moment may not reflect how the cat will be in a home environment without all the shelter stress. What matters now is whether you feel a connection. Let the cat come to you. Take the time needed for the cat to feel secure enough to come toward you, even just a few steps. 

8. Coming Home

cat with scratching post

Photo by Paweł Adamczak on Unsplash

Have a room set up for the newest feline family member. This room should have a litter box, scratching post, toys, feeding station, and places to hide. Even though you know you’re providing a wonderful new home for the cat, it may take time for the newcomer to get familiar. Coming from the shelter environment to a totally unfamiliar place can be overwhelming. Provide one room so the cat can get comfortable with the new smells, sights and sounds. Don’t ask your new cat to get to know an entire new home or apartment all at once.

9. Get to Know Each Other

cat snuggling with person

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

If your new cat is timid or overwhelmed, let him get to know you before you introduce other family members. Let the cat set the pace of how much interaction he wants. Trust-building is important and it happens by letting your new cat take the initiative. If he’s scared, provide some hiding places for him by scattering open paper bags or boxes in the room. This way, he can feel somewhat invisible which will lower his stress level. Trust-building may take time or you may have adopted a cat who is ready to investigate his new home the moment you walk in the door. What’s important is that you let the cat set the pace.

10. Be Patient and Ask for Help if Needed

If you adopted an adult cat, keep in mind that he comes with a history. It may take him a little time to shake off his past or his stress from shelter life. Don’t expect your new cat to be the perfect feline companion 24 hours after coming home. If you have questions or concerns, stay in touch with the shelter because in most cases, the personnel are more familiar with the cat and can help guide you through any early rough patches. 
Be patient, train with love and continue to build his trust. The time you spend now to help him feel secure, safe and loved, will pay off as you watch your newest family member blossom.

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