What to Consider Before Adopting Your First Cat

If you're thinking about committing to a cat, there are many questions. A cat's age, gender, breed, background, overall health, and condition of need are all important considerations. This tutorial helps you understand some of the initial decisions to be made. Adopting a cat even for your first time should be a lifetime commitment, so it is important to do your homework ahead of time.

  • 01 of 04


    Profile view of a cat

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    Think seriously about the commitment you'll be making in taking on a cat, as it is much like entering into a marriage. Cats are sentient beings, and a cat deserves to be seen as your family member. Bringing a cat into your home will be a lifelong responsibility requiring you to provide healthy food, safety, love, companionship, and veterinary care both in good times and in bad.

    However, if you've wanted a cat for some time and think the time is right, there are some planning and preference questions to ask both yourself and the other members of the household. You all will need to share the commitment since the cat will view you all as active members of its family.

  • 02 of 04

    Your Cat's Age

    Cat sitting in open cage in animal shelter
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    Thinking about a cat for the first time means considering age in its full range. Although they are extremely cute, attending to kittens can be like caring for puppies. Kittens will knead pillows as they would their mother's belly when nursing. This may start some clawing of upholstery and even leather furniture. 

    Kittens, like puppies, benefit from having a litter of mates for playing, cuddling, and for providing interesting games even when no humans are home. So if you want a kitten, it might be best to have two that can socialize as siblings. Young kittens don't always get full training from mom on using the litter box, but two cats together can sometimes help to influence each other in this regard. 

    If the person who is going to mainly relate to the cat is a child, they are bound to sometimes get a scratch from a kitten who is not yet socialized. The young person may not be mature enough to understand these normal learning stages in any cat. 

    If the main person is to be an adult or a senior, a more mature cat may match with that person better. A cat that is used to quiet napping on the TV or other warm heat source or one that is happy being petted in someone's lap may be the better choice. 

  • 03 of 04

    Choosing a Rescue Cat

    Two cats in cages

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    When searching for a first cat, your first stop should be the humane shelters and cat rescue organizations. These groups have large numbers of beautiful, adoptable cats and kittens. If you are dead set on a cat of a specific breed, there are many breed rescue organizations to explore. There is no downside to adopting a rescued cat instead of one from a more expensive breeder.

    Usually, the shelter has already attended to the spay and neuter, the initial shots, and a veterinary clearance exam. If the cat's original location left it with any medical challenges due to neglect, these have usually already begun to be addressed by the shelter. You may get to play a final role in nursing your rescue back to full health, creating an initial bond between you both.

    When picking a cat of any age, try to let the cat pick you as well. Spend some quiet time on the floor, giving the cat some other options in the room; if they choose you over others, that's a good sign. If multiple kittens are being considered at once, sit quietly and see which one comes to you.

    If the cat you like at first doesn't notice you or ignores you it may not be a good match or the cat may not be ready to be a pet. The ones who hide in the corner with fear can be the best cats of all as they are thoughtful, sensitive individuals.

    If you choose the cat in the corner, be ready to commit a few weeks to show them that they are safe without crowding them. Once they get used to you, they will be extremely loyal. Remember, you have no idea what any animal has been through so far in life, but like us, cats usually want to be safe with a loving family.

  • 04 of 04

    Additional Cats

    Two cats sitting on cat tree looking out window
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    We are social animals, so it seems natural to us that our cats would enjoy socialization, too. With few exceptions, though, the adult wild and domestic cats lead mostly solitary lives. They can be happy in groups, but they don’t automatically seek companionship with other cats the same way dogs do. Before you decide to add a second cat to your home, ask yourself if your cat needs a friend and if you are prepared to meet the needs of multiple cats.

    There are two important factors to consider before adopting a second cat: your current cat's age and personality. An older cat’s worst nightmare is having a young, energetic, and insatiable "playmate" as a companion, but the young or middle-aged cat may be more receptive to the presence of a kitten or even another adult cat.

    In considering your original cat’s personality, your shy cat could be overwhelmed by a bossy cat, and your bossy house cat may be likely to bully a shy newcomer. It is possible to successfully introduce cats. Sometimes adding a cat to the family is unavoidable. If you’re getting married, for example, and if you both have cats, then the merger is a must.

    If you’re adopting your first cat and you think you’d prefer to get a pair, the best approach is to adopt two kittens from the same litter or to adopt an already bonded pair of adults.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.