Setting Your Intentions for Adopting a Cat

So you’ve done your homework about what it’s like to have a cat, and you’re ready to make the commitment to adopt a cat of your own. Congrats! This is a super exciting time.

In this article, we outline a series of 8 questions to guide you in setting goals and intentions for the adoption process, so you can be clear from the start about what you want your cat journey to look like. This clarity will make the process of finding the right cat for you easier and less overwhelming.

Cat standing inside a cabinet over stacked dinner plates, looking out innocently

Two Things First Before You Begin Your Search for a Cat

After you’ve determined that you’re ready for a cat, there are two things you need to do before you go out and start meeting adoptable kittens or cats. Doing them first will give you the flexibility to make a quick decision about a cat if you need to.

Of course, you also shouldn’t rush a decision – there are more adoptable cats out there than there are people to adopt them.

Okay, so what are these two things?

1. Get your home ready for a cat

This means cat-proofing your home and getting the new cat essentials in place so that you’re truly ready to bring a cat home.

Doing this ahead of time will set you up for a smooth beginning with your cat. Change is stressful for cats. Those first days and weeks are important to get right so that your cat adjusts well to your home and begins to form a healthy bond with you.

2. Set some goals and intentions for choosing a cat

The rest of this article is a series of questions that will help you do just that. It can be really helpful to think through ahead of time what you’re looking for in a cat.

8 Guiding Questions to Help You Set Intentions for Adopting a Cat

1. Should I get a kitten or an adult cat?

There are pros and cons for each. Knowing ahead of time will help narrow down your candidate pool when you arrive at the shelter. You may also decide that either is fine for you, and you want to base your choice more on the connection you make with a cat, rather than the cat’s age.

Pros and cons of starting with a kitten

Kittens are impossibly adorable, and starting with one means that you get to be a bigger part of how your cat grows up. Sometimes this can mean an especially close bond – that was certainly the case for my cats who came to me as tiny 1-week-old fuzzballs.

On the other hand, kittens are A LOT of work. And there’s more to learn in the beginning because their needs and behaviors change as they progress toward adulthood. They can also be destructive, so your damage control efforts could be pretty intense.

Last, it can be difficult to tell what a kitten’s personality and temperament will be like when they grow up. But part of this will be determined by the environment, socialization, and nurturance you provide.

Pros and cons of starting with an adult cat

Everyone loves kittens, and shelter adoption rates are significantly higher for kittens than for adult cats. But a lot of people underestimate both the amount of work a kitten can be, and the advantages of adopting an adult cat instead of a kitten.

In addition to being less work than a kitten, adult cats are usually already litter-trained and less likely to climb your curtains and window screens. You also know what you’re getting in terms of temperament and personality when you adopt an adult cat.

Last, adopting an adult cat from a shelter is truly an act of good because adults are much less likely to be adopted than kittens. And those who aren’t chosen fast enough risk being euthanized at many shelters. So by adopting an adult cat, you may well be saving its life.

2. Should I get one or two cats?

I’ve adopted cats three times in my adult life so far. The first time, it was one (teen) cat, the next time it was a sibling pair of kittens, and the third time, I intended to adopt two but ended up with three kitten siblings – the ones I have now.

Based on these experiences, when someone asks me whether they should get one or two cats, I always recommend adopting a bonded pair.

Why a bonded pair is a great way to go

In my opinion, a bonded pair of kittens enhances all of the wonderful things about having one cat. This includes:

  • the snuggle factor
  • the cuteness factor
  • and the amusement factor

I really love seeing moments like when they’re curled up with their cheeks pressed against one another, or their hilarious antics when they’re play-fighting or chasing each other. Another bonus is that because they play together, groom each other, and snuggle together, they don’t rely on you as much for exercise, stimulation, and affection. But that doesn’t mean they will be less interested in doing those things with you when they have the chance.

For me, the only disadvantages to having a bonded pair vs only one cat are:

  • the litter box gets dirty (and stinky) faster, and
  • overall cost of cat ownership is unavoidably higher – more food, more litter, more vet bills

Pros and cons of a single cat

A solo cat is the way many people go. And this is definitely the way you should too if you don’t have room in your budget for more than one. Or if you want to have a cat while keeping related chores to a bare minimum. A cat will do just fine as the only cat in your home.

It will always be an option to add another cat later, but this does come with its own challenges and often requires care in order to do it successfully. Cats are territorial by nature and some tolerate sudden cohabitation with another cat much better than others. One way to approach this is to adopt an adult cat that is already known to tolerate being with other cats very well.

The disadvantages to having only one cat are that it will be more dependent on you for play, exercise, nurturing, and affection. You may have to be a bit more proactive about boredom prevention.

3. If I want two, should I get them both at once?

Yes (see previous section). As long as you can afford it, if you plan on having two cats, getting a bonded pair at the same time is recommended. This usually means siblings or a mama/child pair.

Does gender combination matter?

4. What if I want to do the most good possible when I adopt?

In addition to wanting a cat in their life, many people want to make sure they are adopting in a way that contributes to solving the enormous problem of overpopulation of stray cats.

In the United States alone, an estimated 3.4 million cats enter shelters each year. Some get reunited with their families, while the vast majority become available for adoption.

But 1.4 million of them are not chosen for adoption in time, and are euthanized (killed) instead to make room for more rescued animals. What’s worse, 80% of those euthanized cats are healthy or have very treatable illnesses.

If you want to do the most good, you should adopt from a local shelter or rescue agency. If you want to maximize the good you’re doing, consider getting a “less-adoptable” cat that has a high likelihood of euthanasia due to not being chosen by anyone. If you qualify, you could even go the foster-to-adopt route like I did.

5. Where Should I Get a Cat?

When it comes time to find a cat, you’ve got several options for places to adopt from. As you’re aware from the previous section, I highly encourage anyone to adopt from their local shelter, rescue agency, or local community adoption events. Ask the internet to tell you about “local animal shelter near me” or “animal adoption events near me.”

Other options include neighbors and friends with kittens, pet stores, and breeders. If you do choose a store or breeder, be sure to research how ethical their operation is before you go there to meet any available kittens or cats.

6. What should I look for in a cat’s personality?

You might consider the types of characteristics you’d like in a cat. For example, high-energy, super-friendly, laid-back, shy, quiet vs talkative, long-haired vs short-haired, etc.

You can also keep in mind that cats that are shy or seem withdrawn are much less likely to be adopted and therefore much more likely to be euthanized. And it’s natural for cats to be withdrawn in a shelter because it’s a very stressful environment to be in. So don’t be too quick to dismiss the ones that aren’t hopping right up to greet you.

But I would say don’t put too much pressure on yourself to know what kind of personality you want in a cat. When you’re at the shelter and meet some cats, the connection you feel with them may be the most important thing that draws you toward certain cats and not others.

Once you’ve got one or a few cats you’re interested in, ask to spend some time with them outside of the cage if possible, so that you can see what it’s like to be with the cat when they’re free to approach you on their terms.

7. Should I keep my cat indoors-only?

Yes, probably. There are quite a lot of reasons to keep a cat as an indoor-only pet, starting with the fact that cats that go outside regularly have significantly shorter lives and require more trips to the vet.

You might wonder at first why I’m suggesting you make a decision on this question before you get your cat. But it’s important because if you adopt a cat that is already very used to going outside, it could create some challenges if all of a sudden it was kept only indoors. So if you’re adopting an adult cat, it will be worth knowing whether it was previously kept as an indoor cat or not.

If you intend for your cat to be an indoor-only cat, then cat-proofing and creating cat-friendly spaces in your home become even bigger priorities. It’s easy to set up your home so that you never have to feel guilty about not letting your cat go outside, even if you have a small apartment.

8. How can I Avoid Having to Return the Cat to the Shelter?

It’s worth repeating – you need to know what you’re signing up for before you go out and get a cat. So please do your research. That means familiarizing yourself with the downsides of having a cat, the time it takes to care for a cat, and the monthly budget required for a cat.

You need to be committed and really be sure you’re ready to get a cat at this time in your life. It’s stressful for a cat to be moved to a new setting, and even more stressful to be returned to the shelter. And it will be stressful for you if you get one when you’re not really ready for one.

Use our What to Ask When Adopting a Kitten or Cat guide when you go out to meet available cats. This will help you make sure you know as much as you can about a cat before deciding to adopt. And it will help you avoid adopting a cat that isn’t a good fit for you.

Last, one of the more common reasons cats are returned to the shelter after adoption is what adopters report as “problematic behaviors.” A lot of these behaviors can be solved or prevented through learning about cat behavior and training, proper acclimation of the new cat in the first days and weeks, and consultation with a veterinarian or cat behaviorist.

Last Meows

We hope this guide helps you in your process of finding a wonderful cat, and the right one for you. By asking yourself the questions we’ve outlined here, you are more likely to have a smooth and successful experience when it’s time to go out and find a cat to bring home.

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The information provided here is not meant to replace professional guidance from your own veterinarian or cat behavior specialist.

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