Picking A Shelter Cat

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How do you choose the perfect kitten? If you’re a first-time cat chooser or if you have a family with small children for whom the cat will be their first pet, this article is for you.

The very first and best place to start looking is your local shelter. Shelters almost always have great kittens and cats. They even have purebreds on occasion, so if you are looking for a specific breed, starting at a shelter isn’t a bad idea.

Make sure the shelter is clean, and odor-free (unless, of course, someone has JUST used a litterbox), and cats are not all caged. Some cats don’t get along with others and need to be caged for their own protection and the protection of the other cats. (And some cats are caged and isolated because of medical treatment.) But most cats can learn to live in a colony and the shelter should provide uncaged space for them. And be on the alert for sneezing and runny eyes, or incessant scratching of the ears in any of the cats, and that fur is full, especially on the ears and around the face. The cat you pick may seem perfectly healthy, but upper respiratory infections and ear mites can spread quickly and “your” cat may just not be exhibiting symptoms yet.

Although the shelter is a stressful place for cats and most of their personalities improve when they get home and feel secure, generally speaking with shelter cats, what you see is what you get. So if this is your first cat or you have young children, look carefully and judge wisely. Don’t base your decision primarily on the cat’s looks.

And be aware that if you have children under 6 years of age, the shelter may not let you adopt a young kitten. But that’s not a bad thing. Adult cats make great pets. They can adapt to new families and situations given a little time and patience. And they appreciate being given a forever home. If he’s a sweetie in the shelter, he’ll be a sweetie at home, once he gets used to it. With an adult cat, you know the size, fur type, personality and habits of the cat. You don’t have to wait for the cat to develop them.

Choose a cat that wants to go home with you – a cat that comes to you, lets you pet it, purrs, plays, and seems happy. If you are used to having cats and have the patience to work with a shy or ill cat, that’s wonderful! However, if this is your very first cat and/or you have young children, choose the cat that fits your family or your lifestyle while it’s at the shelter. Oh, and don’t wear perfume or cologne when going to pick out your new cat. Cats have very sensitive noses and your scent may affect how the cat interacts with you.

If you do have experience with cats and have the time and patience to work with a very shy or frightened cat, or you are told the cat has a particular ailment, ask the shelter staff what will be required to care for the cat to make it a good pet. (Please read the article on socializing feral cats in this issue before considering taking home a skittish or fearful kitten.)

Ask about the cat’s appetite and what food the shelter feeds. (Start the cat out on that food when you get it home. If you decide to change its food, do it gradually.)

Then once you get your little furball home, just give him a safe space, food, toys, a litterbox and lots of love. You’ll have a good friend for a long, long time.