When looking for the purr-fect feline to adopt into your family, it’s important to choose a cat that will be a good fit for your home, your family, and your needs.
No two cats are the same, but there are some general trends in breed, age, and personality that can help you get a better fit and make sure you can give your cat a forever home.
Follow these three simple steps to choose the best cat for you and your household.
The first trait to consider when choosing your cat is the cat’s age. Often, new cat owners default to getting a kitten, presuming that this is the best way to mold the cat’s personality.
However, this is rarely the case, since it is difficult to predict how a cat will grow up and what personality traits it will develop.
Adult cats are more predictable, allowing a potential owner to get a preview of the cat’s behavior and personality before bringing the cat home.
If you are considering getting a kitten, keep in mind that kittens can require a great deal of work. Before about 4-5 weeks of age, kittens need to be bottle fed every few hours, stimulated to poop and pee, and kept warm at all times because their body temperatures aren’t yet stable.
As such, they are exceptionally time intensive (think about the same as a newborn baby) and require careful, attentive care.
By about 6 weeks of age, kittens start eating wet and dry cat food, but are still learning how to control their bladders and bowls and can make a big mess.
They’re also still too small to get spayed or neutered until 8 weeks at the earliest, and are very prone to upper respiratory infections and other diseases, which usually means that they have to be kept away from other cats.
After about 2 months, kittens become much easier to manage, though their personalities are still developing and they can still destroy furniture and cause messes in your house.
As cute as tiny kittens can be, make sure that you are fully prepared to deal with the great responsibility and time commitment of caring for a kitten before you bring one home.
Adult cats, which are usually defined as 6 months and older, are easier to manage. They instinctively understand how to us a litter box, and can be left alone for large portions of the day without supervision.
They can eat wet or dry food, and are usually more low maintenance. One of the largest benefits of choosing an adult cat is that their personalities are fairly set, meaning that you can fully explore the cat’s personality before taking it home.
Adult cats have developed distinctive behaviors towards kids, other animals, and humans in general, and these behaviors are much easier to see in cats older than about 6 months.
Since a cat’s lifespan can be up to about 15-20 years, getting a cat that is already a few years old can save you the hassle of raising kittens while still providing a companion for many years.
Lastly, if you are feeling generous, consider adopting a senior cat. Seniors, defined as 7 years old and more, are often the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized in shelters because they are so rarely considered.
Some people drop cats off at shelters when they get too old because they are unable to pay medical costs, or just want to make room for another cute kitten.
These cats, who have often lived full lives as part of someone’s family often find themselves abandoned, confused, and alone towards the end of their lives, and taking in senior cats can be one of the most rewarding pet experiences.
Be award, however, that senior cats can require more medical attention and expenditures, and won’t be part of your family for as long as other cats might.
Sometimes seniors require a little extra help with day-to-day activities as well, but their capacity for love and cuddles is completely undiminished.
Breed is truly the least important quality for a cat, but there are some traits to keep in mind as you search for your new feline friend.
If you live in an inner city in a small apartment, choosing a large Maine Coon cat, which can grow up to 4 feet long, isn’t wise and can be very unfair to the cat, who will live its life in a very confining space.
Similarly, if you live in the desert and are getting an outdoor cat, try to find one with shorter fur so it isn’t constantly overheating in your climate.
The breed of a cat will never determine its individual personality or behavior traits, so choosing a cat that feels right to you is more important, but be aware of the environment in which you will be expecting that cat to thrive.
There is an exception to this rule; if you or someone in your house is allergic to cats, you might consider one of the more hypoallergenic breeds.
Getting a hypoallergenic cat doesn’t guarantee that you won’t still have a reaction, but it can reduce the severity of allergic reactions. In general, cats with less hair, like the Sphynx and Rex breeds, will generally cause fewer allergic reactions.
Also, many people with mild cat allergies find Maine Coons, Bengals, Siberians, and Javanese/Balinese cats are less likely to trigger allergies, though they are all generally larger cats.
All of these breeds are rarer, however, and some are illegal in parts of the world due to their impact on native species and situations surrounding their breeding.
When in doubt, the Russian Blue is a more common, partially hypoallergenic option that can alleviate milder allergy concerns without having to seek out a specific breeder and study your local laws.
By far and away, the most important factor to consider when choosing your cat is the cat’s personality. Take some time to consider what you need from the cat.
Are you expecting the cat to stay outdoors in the winter and hunt mice? Does the cat need to be friendly and patient towards children? Must the cat get with other cats, dogs, or other pets in your household? Are you looking for a cuddly cat or a more self-sufficient feline?
All of these questions will help you understand what to look for in a cat’s personality to make sure you get the right pet for you.
Once you are aware of the traits you need in a cat, take some time to look at your options. Cat behaviors are broadly sorted into three categories; feral, semi-feral, and domesticated. Feral cats are wild and untouchable.
They don’t let humans get close enough to pet them, and will attack a human that gets too close. However, they provide excellent rodent and pest control and often eat less food than other cats because they are hunting for some of their meals. Semi-ferals are cats who have lived in the wild, but will occasionally allow a human close enough to pet them or hold them.
These cats can swing either into being domesticated if given love and attention, or into being feral if they are mistreated, but they generally maintain a more wary, on-edge demeanor.
Like feral cats, semi-feral cats are best left outside as pest control, but can provide a little bit of companionship, particularly on farms or larger properties where they have room to get away when they need their space.
Lastly, domesticated cats are fully friendly towards humans, and are best for indoor pets. There is still a wide range of personalities that may be found among domesticated cats, but these are generally cats you could trust to be around children without causing injury.
Once you know what type of behavior you need from your cat, take the time to spend quality time with any cat you are considering before taking one home.
Remember that cats are often stressed in pet store and shelter environments, so the personality you observe while at the store or shelter may not be exactly the same as what you will see at home; often cats become more relaxed and friendly when removed from a large multi-animal environment.
Ask one of the staff members to tell you about the cat’s behavior toward other people, other cats, and dogs. See if you can get some time alone with the cat in a room separate from the rest of the store or shelter.
Inquire about the cat’s past medical history, and make sure you are aware of all current and previously existing conditions before you take the cat home, and make sure your cat is fixed so you don’t unexpectedly end up with a litter of kittens. Get as much background as you can, so you can make an informed decision.
Adopt, don’t shop
Whenever possible, adopt cats from humane societies, animal shelters, and other rescue organizations. 70% of cats that arrive in shelters are euthanized due to lack of space and demand, mostly adult and senior cats who are far less coveted than adorable kittens.
Owning a cat can cost more than $1,000 per year between food and veterinary care; many cats are brought to shelters and humane societies when their cuteness as kittens gives way to the expense of owning an adult cat.
Make sure that you are able to care for a cat before you get one, and try to adopt rather than shopping at a pet store. Any cat that you can adopt and give a forever home is one more life that can be saved by the shelter.
And ALWAYS spay and neuter your pets so you aren’t contributing to the overpopulation problem!