Thinking of Adopting a Cat? Read This First.
By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 January 2014)
The lifespan of a cat will vary based on breed, veterinary care, nutrition, and whether or not the cat is allowed outside. Overall, barring accident or disease, cats tend to live anywhere from 12 to more than 20 years, so it’s important to take a long-range view of your ability to care for a pet.
What to Consider Before Adopting a Cat
Issues to take into account before adopting include time commitment, children, allergies, holiday care, financial resources, and home and furnishings.
Will you be able to make the time required to play with your cat, as well as scoop litter and provide food each day? Young kittens and sociable adult cats should not be left alone for long stretches of time. If members of your household are usually out at work or school all day, it’s a good idea to adopt two cats at once, ideally litter mates that have already spent time together and get along well. Cats don’t need as much attention as dogs, but they can’t be left entirely on their own.
If there are children under the age of 6 in the household, you’ll need to choose a very easy going cat that can tolerate a bit of clumsy handling without lashing out. Maine Coons and Ragdolls are often good options when seeking a laid back cat, but individual cats within these breeds may vary. Ask breeders or shelter personnel about the personality of the cat before adopting, and have the children spend some time with the cat at the breeder’s home or shelter to ensure compatibility.
Some cats produce more allergens than others. If possible, have any household members who are prone to allergies spend time with the cat to be adopted or with another cat of the same breed to gauge their reactions before adopting.
Is there someone reliable who can care for your pet when you go out of town? It’s a good idea to make sure that you have at least one nearby friend, family member, or neighbour who can take care of your cat if you go away or in case of emergency.
Purebred cats are expensive, while shelter cats are relatively cheap to obtain, but you will have to pay for medical care, food, cat litter, and other supplies either way. Spaying or neutering and initial vaccinations will cost at least $100, and probably more. These costs vary from one veterinarian to another.
Food alone will cost approximately $1 per day, though cost varies greatly depending on food quality, the size of the cat, and whether or not you buy in bulk. Cat litter can range from $2-10 each week, depending on the quality and brand.
Home and Furnishings
Before adopting, you’ll have to cat-proof your home to eliminate potential dangers. Additionally, there is the risk that furniture will be scratched, or that the cat may have an accident. Cats can be trained to scratch and eliminate in appropriate places, but this may take some time, particularly if you’re adopting a kitten rather than an adult cat.
How to Choose a Cat
Factors to take into account when choosing a cat for adoption include personality, health and care requirements, and age.
Choosing the right personality for your household is important. A home with young children requires an easy going cat that is unlikely to become aggressive or anxious in response to clumsy handling. Some breeds require more attention, while others are more independent. Some travel better than others, and some are more likely to get along with other pets, particularly dogs.
Researching the temperaments of various cat breeds before adopting is recommended. Your local animal shelter may have contact information for rescue groups devoted to your preferred breed, where you can obtain information on personality and any special needs of purebreds. Making a list of household and lifestyle characteristics can help you choose the best breed for your home. Spending time with the animal at the shelter, pet shop, or breeder’s home can also be useful in making the decision.
Health and Care Requirements
In addition to choosing a cat that appears to be in good health, the potential for medical problems can be decreased by choosing a mixed breed rather than a purebred. Mixed breeds tend to have sturdier constitutions due to a more varied gene pool. While this is not a guarantee of good health, it does decrease the likelihood of health problems, as there are certain medical conditions that are more likely to afflict purebreds than mixed breeds.
Long-haired cats require a greater time commitment than shorthaired cats because they must be groomed regularly to prevent tangles and serious hairball problems. Some longhaired cats require the administration of hairball medication or special hairball prevention foods.
Some elderly people hesitate to adopt a cat because they fear that their pet will outlive them. However, there are many older cats that are in desperate need of homes. They will not live as long, but they tend to be better behaved and don’t require as much training. Because they are more independent and less destructive, older cats are also a good choice for busy adults.
Kittens require a large time commitment. They need to be socialized, litter trained, and taught to use a scratch post. In the interim, there is likely to be some degree of minor household damage. While this will probably not be as extensive as what a new puppy can cause, time still needs to be factored in for cleaning up messes.
Another advantage of adopting an older cat is that if there are problem behaviours such as scratching or biting, you can usually spot them right away so you know what you’re getting into. With young kittens, new bad behaviours may develop over time.
As for the financial commitment required, older cats may suffer medical problems sooner, but kittens require an expensive series of vaccinations and booster shots, as well as spaying or neutering. Obtaining pet insurance to cover unexpected medical costs is advisable for both kittens and adult cats.
There is little overall difference between male and female cats in terms of personality or behaviour once they have been neutered and spayed. However, unneutered males have a tendency to roam and spray, and their penchant for getting into fights dramatically increases the likelihood of serious injuries and exorbitant veterinary bills. As such, neutering is very important for health and safety.
Supplies Required for a New Kitten or Cat
If you have resident cats, you may already have some of the required equipment, but because cats are territorial, each cat will need his own food bowl and litter box.
Ideally, you should have a carrier for each cat in case you have an emergency and need to transport all of them at once. Cats that normally get along well may fight when under stress and confined to a small space. The carrier should be made of metal or thick plastic, easy to clean, and equipped with a towel or blanket (bringing a spare towel is a good idea in case the cat has an accident).
Food and Water Bowls
Each pet in a household should have his own food and water bowls. As most cats prefer running water to still water, investing in a cat water fountain can make your new kitty happy.
Stock up on wet and dry food that meets the nutritional requirements of your new cat or kitten.
Each cat in a household should have his own litter box. Most experts say that there should be a box for each cat plus one spare to prevent problems.
Most cats prefer an unscented, fine-grained litter (with a very small gravel). Cats hate perfumes and will usually avoid perfumed cat litter.
All cats should have their own beds, as many cats prefer not to share and need to feel that they have a space to call their own. Choose a cat bed that can go in the washing machine for easy cleaning.
Collar with ID Tag
Identification is essential in case the new arrival gets lost outside or is mistaken for a stray and adopted by someone else. The collar should fit snugly, but there should be room to insert at least one finger between the collar and neck. Tattooing is also a good idea.
Every cat needs something to scratch. You can purchase a sisal (twine-wrapped) post from most pet stores, or find a piece of wood with bark and mount it on a wooden base. If the post is wobbly or falls over, the cat may never use it again, so make sure that it’s secure.
Toys enable cats to get exercise and practice hunting behaviours without killing small animals. They don’t necessarily need to be store-bought – most cats are perfectly happy chasing a piece of string dragged around by their owners.
This is a must for long-haired cats, who will suffer from hairballs otherwise. Short-haired cats often enjoy being groomed as well, even if they don’t need the extra help. A flea comb is also good to have on hand just in case.
Should You Adopt One Cat or Two?
Is it better to adopt a single cat or kitten, or get a pair to keep one another company? It depends on your lifestyle and the characteristics of potential adoptees.
Contrary to popular belief, most cats are actually very sociable. Adopting two or more cats or kittens is better if:
- There are many hours of the day or night when no one will be home – a single cat on his own may be very lonely in this situation.
- There are two or more kittens available from a litter – adopting littermates together is ideal as they’re more inclined to get along well than unrelated strangers.
- Two shelter cats have established a strong friendship bond – it’s always good to keep such friendships intact whenever possible.
Adopting a single cat or kitten is fine if:
- Someone is home most of the time to provide attention and companionship.
- An adult cat does not get along with other cats and needs to be an only cat.
What Does It Cost to Own a Cat?
According to ASPCA statistics provided by the Animal Assistance League, cat ownership costs around $400-$700 per year. Specifically, cat food costs $150-$200 per year, cat litter $100-$200, and routine veterinary visits $175 each on average (compared to $219 for dogs).
Statistics provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association indicate that the total costs of veterinary care per year on average are $81 for each cat and $200 for each dog in a given household (the most likely reason why these annual totals are lower than costs per visit is that many pets go for a year or more at a time without veterinary care, either because they’re healthy or because their owners can’t afford it).
The total cost of cat ownership doesn’t include extras such as treats, cat furniture, and other special items. In 1995 alone, American cat owners spent $100 million on cat treats, and more than 50% buy Christmas gifts for their cats (Animal Assistance League).
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- KnowYourCat.info. (2008). “First Considerations.”
- Neville, P., & Bessant, C. (1997). The Perfect Kitten: How to Raise a Problem-Free Cat. Octopus Publishing Group, Ltd.
- PetPlace.com. (n.d.). “Are You Ready for a Cat?”