How to Adopt a Cat: Crucial Tips from an Expert

Updated December 16, 2021
Beautiful little cat lies on a green sofa

Whether you've had cats all your life or are bringing home your first feline pet, it helps to review a few cat adoption tips to make the transition smoother for everyone. Find out how and where to choose a cat that will fit in with your family.

Why Adopt a Cat?

Like many potential pet owners, you're probably already wondering, "Where can I find free kittens for adoption near me, and is adopting the right thing for me to do?" The harsh reality is that animal shelters are often full of pets looking for a good home. Adopting one of these cats or kittens can be an extremely rewarding experience and provide you with years of furry companionship. Susan Daffron, cat adoption advocate and author of Happy Tabby: Develop a Great Relationship with Your Adopted Cat or Kitten, states, "Staggering numbers of cats are euthanized in shelters every year, and when you adopt a cat, you not only save a life you do a good deed for your community." There are several other reasons you may want to consider adopting.

Cat lying on cage in shelter
  • Owning a cat improves your heart health, boosts mental health, and reduces loneliness.
  • Adopting is more economical than purchasing a cat, as most shelters take care of spay/neuter, microchipping, Felv/FIV testing, and vaccines. Some may even provide you with food or supplies.
  • Rescues and shelters have many cats to choose from, so you can pick the right fit based on age, temperament, size, coat type, and energy level.

The Cat Adoption Process

If you're thinking about adoption, you may wonder what to expect from the process. Each organization has different guidelines, but in general, you can anticipate these steps.

  • Search available cats. Either go directly to your shelter (some require an appointment, so contact them to ask about their specific policy) or use an online platform to browse available cats. Read each of their bios and review their stats to make sure they fit your requirements. Most shelters indicate if cats are good with dogs, good with kids, have special needs, etc. See if you immediately connect with any of them.
  • Schedule a meet-and-greet. Next, you'll want to meet your prospective new pet. If you've found an available cat online, reach out to the organization and request to schedule a meet and greet. If you're already at the shelter, you can let a staff member know which cats you're interested in, and they'll likely allow you to interact. This is typically done in a private room where you two can become acquainted. Play with, pet, and watch them to see if you connect. Keep in mind that cats can be a little timid in unfamiliar environments, so this is just a taste of their personality and not necessarily how this cat will act in their new home. Meet as many cats and as many times as you need before settling on your new pet.
  • Fill out an adoption application. If you've decided this cat is "the one," you'll need to fill out an adoption application. The organization may ask you questions about your housing situation, other pets in the house, and your experience with cats, among other potential topics. Daffron mentions, "When you adopt a cat from a shelter, they will probably ask you questions about your home life to make sure you and the cat are compatible. Some cats aren't good with small children or are afraid of dogs, for example. Be very honest about your lifestyle and the type of personality you are looking for in a cat. The goal is for the adoption to work out well for everyone." Some rescues also require a home visit or personal references.
  • Pay adoption fee. Nearly all shelters require an adoption fee. This fee helps cover the cost of care (food, medical exam, vaccines, surgery, etc.) for your kitty and enables the rescue to continue saving lives.
  • Preparations. Depending on your level of preparedness, you can bring your cat home right away or may request to pick them up at a later date. If you don't already have your home kitten-proofed or have a litterbox set up, you may need a day or two to do so. Bringing a cat home without a safe, quiet place for them to adjust can make the transition stressful, so don't hesitate to ask the staff if you can come back the next day when everything is ready.
  • Bring kitty home. Finally, it's time to bring your new cat home. Slowly ease them into the environment. Be patient, as this adjustment and bonding may take some time. Soon enough, you'll both feel right at home.
Adopted kitten taking his first steps out of a pet carrier to his new family and home

How Much Does It Cost to Adopt a Cat?

Adoption costs for cats vary based on the shelter or rescue organization. They can be anywhere from $20 to upwards of $300 or more. This vast range is dependent on the individual organization's donations, grants, or fundraising. The age or breed of the cat may also affect the adoption fee. Older cats typically have lower adoption rates because they are generally more challenging to place than young kittens.

How to Find Discounted Adoptions

If you're looking to save some money on adoption fees, you may want to hold off until the shelter has a special or sale. A few of these dates to look out for are the following.

  • April 30 - On National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, many shelters have special pricing or even free kitten and cat adoptions.
  • October - If you're looking for a black cat, October can be a good month to do so, as shelters often have discounts for adopting cats with this coloring. On the other hand, some rescues will not adopt out black cats before or on Halloween.
  • November - November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, so many adoption establishments offer discounted fees when adopting older cats throughout the month or on a designated weekend.
  • Any holiday - It's not unusual for shelters to have specials for Memorial Day, Labor Day, Black Friday, or any other national holidays. These can be great opportunities to adopt a pet and get any supplies you might need at discounted prices. Follow your local shelter on social media or keep an eye on the classified ads to learn about upcoming events.

Tips for Choosing an Animal Shelter or Rescue Group

As founder of the National Association of Pet Rescue Professionals, Daffron is expertly qualified to offer advice on how to find a reputable shelter. She suggests owners use these tips when evaluating them.

Child Pets a Black and White Cat with Yellow Eyes
  • Go with your instincts: She cautions, "If a place feels wrong to you, odds are good that it's poorly managed. Animals pick up on human emotions. If the humans running the place are miserable, the critters know. You'll know, too."
  • Watch for "cage crazy" animals: "Some humane societies keep animals for literally years in small cages," Daffron states. "If you see animals lunging against the cage and snarling, odds are good the shelter/rescue isn't doing any behavior testing at all. Ask about their techniques."
  • Avoid poor conditions: "A clean shelter is a good shelter. A filthy shelter is often a sign of things gone very wrong. In fact, filthy conditions can indicate a situation that is really an animal hoarder using a 'shelter' as a way to collect more animals. Contact the Humane Society of the United States if you see animals in dirty, inhumane conditions," she advises.

Addressing Pet Adoption Concerns

According to Daffron, "Most people seem to worry that either there is something 'wrong' with the cat or kitten, or that there is something wrong with the Humane Society or rescue group itself." She explains, "The reality is that most cats at shelters are there through no fault of their own. The return-to-owner statistics for cats is abysmal, so many cats arrive at shelters as strays. Generally, cats at shelters aren't mean or sick in any way. Their only 'crime' is that they are unwanted and unlucky."

If you're concerned about the health of an adopted cat, Daffron provides reassurance. She reports, "Most shelters either offer a free visit to a local veterinarian or have an in-house vet who does a health check on all the animals. Shelters also routinely vaccinate every animal they receive for common illnesses. Cats may come in with treatable maladies like ear mites, but odds are good that the cats either will be in treatment and on the mend or completely healthy by the time you meet them."

Adopting a Kitten Versus Adult Cat

Many prospective owners struggle with the choice between a young kitten and adult cat. Adjustment to a new environment, level of care, and ability to bond with you are common considerations. Daffron offers advice on this question, stating, "It may be easier to bond with a kitten, since her personality is still forming. However, with an adult cat, you can more easily evaluate her temperament. You'll know from the outset if the cat is shy and aloof, or outgoing and friendly. Plus, kittens require a lot more supervision and time to keep them out of trouble. Kittens are incredibly adorable, but they get into everything!"

Man playing with her newly adopted kittens at home

That said, if you are on the hunt for a kitten, you shouldn't have too much trouble. "A tremendous number of kittens are available from shelters," Daffron explains. "In fact, every year, shelters brace themselves for the onset of 'kitten season' in the spring. The reproductive rate of cats is 30 times that of humans, and one cat and her offspring can result in about 200 kittens in a year. That's a lot of kittens, so it's easy to see why shelters are overflowing."

Cat Adoption Versus Buying From a Breeder

When asked how adopting a cat from a shelter differs from buying a cat from a breeder, Daffron explains that there are a few contrasts. "Unless you plan to get into cat showing, there's rarely a good reason to buy a cat from a breeder. Most people want a cat simply for companionship, not to show. Shelter cats are always 'fixed' so you also do your part to lower the pet overpopulation problem and lower the costs associated with impounding and sheltering cats." If you're looking for a purebred cat, consider looking to breed-specific rescues like Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue.

Kitten and Cat Adoption Tips from an Expert

There are several places to find adoptable pets, including local organizations and national online platforms like Petfinder. By following these pointers provided by adoption expert, Susan Daffron, you can set yourself and your new cat up for success. Discover more tips through Happy Tabby.

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How to Adopt a Cat: Crucial Tips from an Expert