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A new owner's guide to adopting a cat.

Last Updated: March 3, 2021

Adopting a pet is exciting, but it takes some preparation. Discover our best tips for making your new friend feel purr-fectly comfortable in our guide to cat adoption!

Welcoming a new cat into your home is a momentous occasion and the start of a rewarding pet relationship. Although cats won't require regular walking like dogs do or cleaning of cages or tanks like smaller animals, they do need daily care and attention. You'll also be committing yourself to regular health care that includes basic immunizations and checkups to provide your feline friend with a happy and healthy life. Know what to expect when adopting a cat and you'll be ready for a memorable and positive experience.

Lead image by Carolyn Lagattuta

Cat or kitten?

Consider whether you prefer to adopt a kitten or a cat. Of course, kittens are cute and playful, but they also demand a lot of attention, stimulation, and training. Adopting a full-grown cat can be easier because a mature cat won't need as much attention. Senior cats can be a positive addition to a household, but be aware that older cats often like a quiet environment without lots of noise and commotion. Senior cats may also have health issues that require regular vet visits.

Preparing for a cat

Prepare your home ahead of time before bringing a new cat home. Purchase all of the essentials, such as a litter box, kitty litter, food and water bowls, cat food, a scratching post, and toys. Cats like shallow bowls that won't irritate their whiskers, and the cat food you select should be high in protein with a moderate amount of fat and fewer carbohydrates. It's also important to have a veterinarian lined up to begin ongoing health care for your cat.

Introducing your cat to the household

When you first bring your cat home, minimize your cat's space so it's less overwhelmed. You might confine your cat to one or two rooms for the first week or so, placing everything your cat will need in this space. Spend time with your cat to get acquainted. It can take a few weeks for a cat to fully adjust to a new home. If you have other animals, realize that the introduction of a new pet will require adjustments from the other pets. Animals naturally determine which one is dominant, so supervise the pets as they're getting to know each other. Keep a dog on a leash at first to control it so it doesn't overwhelm or show aggression to the cat. Cats tend to accept each other without much drama, especially if they are spayed or neutered. Don't forget to give your other animals extra love and attention during this time so none of them feel slighted.

Typical cat behavior

Cats have some typical behaviors that you'll notice quickly. Purring is a sign of happiness and contentment in most situations. The only time to be concerned about purring is if it happens excessively, which might be a sign of injury or illness. Cats groom themselves a lot, possibly up to half of the time. Watch your cat to learn their typical grooming habits so you will notice if anything changes. Cats also like to knead with their front paws. Keep your cat's nails trimmed to minimize damage to surfaces from kneading. You'll probably notice that your cat is an excellent climber; cats often like to jump or climb to high surfaces where they can sit and watch the room undisturbed. Scratching is a way for cats to mark territory and keep their claws clean. If scratching becomes destructive, redirect your cat to a scratching post and cover other spots with double-sided tape or aluminum foil.

Feeding and daily care

During the first six months of life, kittens need to eat three meals each day. Between the ages of six and 12 months, feed a cat twice each day. Adult cats will often settle into a pattern of eating one or two times a day. Dry food is acceptable for cats as long as it has balanced nutrients and you store it correctly so it stays fresh. Cats that eat dry food only need lots of fresh water available at all times. If you feed your cat wet food, watch for overeating. If you notice your cat gaining too much weight, try providing a combination of dry and wet food. Aside from feeding, make sure your cat has a clean litter box every day, a comfortable place to sleep, and daily snuggles.

Cat exercise and play

Play with your cat when the cat is naturally active, keeping the play sessions short. Ideally, you should play with your cat for two or three sessions of about ten minutes each day. Your cat will let you know when it's done playing; it will probably just walk away from you. Shining a laser pointer around the room is a great way to get a cat moving. Puzzle toys with hidden food treats often keep a cat entertained. Wand toys are also great tools to help a human and a cat to interact and play together.

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