Rescue and Adopt a Cat or Kitten

Definition of Cat Adoption

In the domestic cat world, the words “adoption” and “rescue” are used interchangeably to refer to acquiring an abused, abandoned, neglected or otherwise unwanted cat. Though animal shelters and rescue organizations can have many cats in need of rescue, they are not the only option. Cats can also be in need of a new home when their current owners must surrender them because of some sudden change in personal circumstances, such as eviction from a rental residence, onset of a serious medical condition or divorce.

The decision to adopt a cat requires a thought, time commitment, resources and affection by the prospective adoptive parents. Before making a decision, potential owners should think carefully about whether they are really ready to adopt a cat. With time and research, you can decide if adopting a cat is the right choice for you.

Positives and Negatives of Adopting an Abused Cat

Before you Adopt

Abused cats often have unknown backgrounds and may be burdened with emotional, physical and medical scars. Adopting an abused animal takes extra time, patience, gentleness and compassion from its new owner. However, a kind, tolerant person can help an abused cat experience love, happiness, companionship and contentment for the rest of its life.

Positives of Adopting an Abused Cat

Because of the difficulties and challenges that can accompany adopting an animal that has been abused, many people are reluctant to take this journey. However, there can be tremendous benefits to bringing an abused cat into your life and being part of its transformation. First of all, helping a cat in need, and watching it blossom, is usually a remarkably rewarding experience for its new owner. There are few richer and more humbling feelings than knowing that you were able to help an animal that has suffered to enjoy life again. Many people devote themselves to saving abused pets for this reason alone. Abused cats often form extremely strong, deep bonds with their new people. Most have an extraordinary capacity to love and trust again and will settle into a new home with relatively few problems, if they are given the chance. People looking for a feline companion that they can lavish with time and affection, and one whose life they can completely transform from bad to beautiful, may want to look into saving a cat from a shelter or rescue.

Negatives of Adopting an Abused Cat

There is no doubt that abused cats can come with behavioral, physical and/or psychological problems caused by the abuse they have suffered. Because they can’t talk, they can’t tell you what they’ve been through. It can take months for all of their issues to surface. Abused animals can be unpredictable. They can be hurt, scared, distrustful, sometimes aggressive and possessive over their personal space. Because they are frightened, traumatized cats may be more prone to biting and scratching when pushed or cornered. In severe cases, abused cats may have obsessive-compulsive disorders, soil areas in the home outside of the litterbox or be destructive of carpets, draperies and furniture. Many of the behavioral problems seen in abused cats can be treated with behavioral modification techniques and/or daily anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications. Some cats need to be on medication for life, while others can be weaned off the drugs once they settle into their new life and start to make mental and behavioral improvements.

Cats that have been severely abused should only be adopted into certain types of homes. People with noisy households, other pets or young children probably should not adopt a traumatized cat. These cats typically do best in calm, quiet environments where they can be given the space and time they need to heal. Getting these cats used to the world again can take lots of patience and can be frustrating. Unfortunately, many good people do not have the necessary time, households or resources to go down this path. Because these animals have already suffered too much, it is not fair to rescue them from a bad situation only to give up on them if their recovery doesn’t follow a particular preconceived plan.

Adopting a Kitten vs. Adopting a Mature Cat


Many people succumb to the adorable nature of kittens. Healthy kittens usually adjust easily to new environments, especially if they have healthy parents, were well-raised and come to their new homes between 8 and 14 weeks of age. Kittens also tend to blend in better with a household that already has other companion animals, because they will not yet have developed territorial behaviors and will be more interested in playing and socialization than older cats. Since kittens have not had many different life experiences, undesirable behaviors can usually be modified without much trouble. However, owners should not expect to change a kitten’s underlying personality just because it is young. For example, some kittens are extremely cuddly and social and will grow into cuddly, social cats. Other kittens are more reclusive or independent from the start, and they may become adults that are not all that interested in social interactions with people or other pets.

Healthy, happy kittens are extremely active and need lots of daily attention to mature into well-mannered adults. Growing kittens have razor-sharp teeth and piercing claws that can easily damage draperies, screen doors, furniture and flesh. Owners should be prepared to spend many hours every day with their new kitty. They should also be sure that their household can accommodate a small spitfire or tiny Tasmanian devil!

Adult Cats

Mature cats usually aren’t as active as playful kittens and typically can entertain themselves for hours at a time without being too destructive. However, while they may not need as much hands-on attention as young kittens, adult cats still require plenty of interesting toys and activities, and lots of time with their owners, to keep them happy and fit and to prevent. Older cats may not blend easily into a home with young children or other established household pets; this depends largely on the animals’ respective temperaments, genders and backgrounds. Mature cats can come with some emotional baggage from past experiences with people or animals, but this does not necessarily mean that they make poor adoption candidates. Many adult cats, especially those adopted from shelters or rescues, are begging for a new home and are extremely appreciative of the chance to have a better life. Like kittens, they can form deep and lasting bonds with their new human companions.

Adopting the Right Cat For You

Things to Consider

Acquiring a cat is a big commitment of time and resources. Cats come in many shapes and sizes, with widely diverse temperaments, personalities and needs. Once you’ve decided to bring a feline into your life, the next step is to find the right cat. Take time to identify the traits and characteristics that will fit best with your household and lifestyle. Consider the other people and animals in your family, as well as your living environment, so that you can find the best feline friend possible.

Do Some Research

Rarely is the best choice made spontaneously at a shelter or pet store. A good place to start is by researching the different breeds of domestic cats. The internet, purebred cat registries and breed clubs are wonderful resources for descriptions of cat breed types and temperaments. The Parent Club for each breed usually has its own website, which often has breeder referrals organized by state. Most responsible breeders will welcome emails, calls and questions. Once you narrow down the breed or breeds of interest, you will be in a better position to move forward with your search, whether for a purebred or a mixed-breed companion.

Temperament Testing

It can be tough to predict what an animal’s personality will really be like, and whether or not it will fit into your lifestyle. The individual cat’s behavior at the first meeting can be used as a guideline. It’s important to spend time with any cat before deciding to bring it home. Take time to pet and hold it, play with it and see how it interacts with people. Is it playful? Is it overly shy or annoyingly pushy? Does it like to be handled and held? Does it seem secure or timid? Most cats need time to get used to new people and situations. If you can, discuss the particular animal’s temperament with its breeder.

Cats that come right up to you, purr and want to be held or petted will generally continue to be sociable, cuddly companions in their new homes. Cats that are uninterested in people may not be especially social early-on, but they may warm up once they settle into their new homes. Cats that are overly pushy may become dominant or aggressive. Cats that are extremely fearful and distrustful will need a lot of special attention, patience and gentleness to bond deeply with their new owners. If you are looking for an immediate warm and fuzzy relationship with your new cat, adopt one that is friendly and open when you first meet it. If you are fond of a particular cat but it seems aloof, consider taking a chance on it anyway. With a bit of time, kindness and love, that animal may become your closest friend. If you don’t have a lot of time and patience, or if your household is busy, noisy and filled with children or other pets, you probably shouldn’t get a cat that is afraid of people and other animals.

Household Environment

Think about your household living environment, including your yard. Will you let your cat outside? If you rent, does your lease permit indoor pets? Are there other animals in the household? If so, how will you introduce the new cat to the existing cats or dogs? Some dogs have an inherently high prey drive and may not be well-suited to households with cats. Are any of your human family members allergic to cats? Does the area where you live have problems with fleas, ticks or other external or internal parasites? Do you travel frequently? If so, how will you care for your cat when you are out of town?

Financial Comitment

Do you have the financial resources to care for a cat for the next 10 to 20 years? This requires more than simply providing food, water and shelter. Can you pay steep veterinary bills if your pet has a medical emergency or requires long-term medical attention? Purebred cats from reputable breeders can cost $1,000 or more. Animal shelters and rescues usually charge adoption fees as well.

Once you have reflected on these issues, you should be in good shape to find a cat that will fit well with you and your family. Remember, adopting a cat is not a short-term decision. Many cats live well into their late teenage years, and prospective owners should make sure they are committed to their companions for the long haul.

Special Notes

Households that have other companion animals, and/or children, have special needs when bringing in a new pet. If the children and other pets are young, the best choice may be to adopt a kitten or adolescent cat. If the kids or other animals are older, adopting a more mature cat should work out just as well as getting a kitten.

Evaluating a Shelter before Adopting a Cat

Things to Consider

Most shelters have their animal’s best interests at heart. Still, carefully evaluating a facility before adopting a cat can greatly improve the chances of taking home a happy, healthy new friend. Not all shelters are created equally. Some shelters can’t or don’t stay on top of medical and sanitary conditions. Here are some things to consider.

Foster Care

The adoption services offered by shelters vary widely. Some shelters allow potential owners to take the cat home for a few days to see if the fit is right; others only allow private visits at the shelter. Some facilities don’t offer either of those options and expect adopters to take a cat home without first spending any quality time with it. That is not a desirable way to select a family companion. Most shelters offer spay or neuter coupons if the cat is too young to be altered by the time of adoption. Some ask that the animal be brought back to their facility to be spayed or neutered at an appropriate age. Some shelters only allow adoption after the animal has been microchipped, while others leave this option up to the new owners.


A good shelter should be clean and tidy. Adoptable animals should be uniformly healthy. The shelter should provide potential owners with all the information they can concerning the cat’s known history, health and vaccination status. You should be permitted to walk through the facility with guidance and determine whether your next best friend is there. A red flag should go up if shelter personnel won’t let you walk through their premises and observe the healthy animals in their day-to-day living environment. Certainly, sick animals should be kept in a separate area that is inaccessible to visitors and isolated from the general population. It’s a good idea to change clothes and wash hands thoroughly after leaving an animal shelter.

If you are allowed to take a walk-through, consider the condition of the animals. Do they look healthy and in good weight, with shiny coats and moist noses, or are they skinny and dull? Are they alert and responsive or do they cower and tremble? Are the animals in well-spaced or overcrowded conditions? Are their litter boxes and kennels clean or dirty? Does the place smell fairly fresh, or does it have the overpowering odor of feces and urine? Are the water bowls full and fresh? Of course, no shelter is always able to maintain a spotless or odorless atmosphere, but the animals should all be well-fed, have free access to clean water and have adequate bedding.

Health of Other Animals

If you see cats (or dogs) with weepy eyes, runny noses, sneezes and coughs, tell the shelter manager and consider adopting from a different facility. Many upper respiratory tract infections are highly contagious between animals. If the animals act lethargic, depressed and unresponsive, go somewhere else. If shelter workers won’t answer your questions about the animal’s known background, temperament and health history, go somewhere else. Adoptable shelter animals should have some type of written medical history, such as vaccination status, veterinary examination results and approximate age. If the shelter doesn’t bother to vaccinate its cats, keep at least basic medical histories and provide spay and neuter information to prospective owners, find another shelter. Shelters that won’t let you return the cat if the adoption doesn’t work out should probably be avoided as well. Adoption facilities that are focused on placing animals in good homes will try to work with people to rehome the pet if the adoption is unsuccessful, for whatever reason.

Special Notes

It is hard to walk away from animals living in squalid conditions. However, it is better to adopt cats from well-run shelters that are truly concerned about and able to care for the health and welfare of their residents. Responsible shelters will only thrive with financial and political support from the people and communities that they serve, and their animals are as every bit as deserving of finding their forever homes as animals in poorly-funded or poorly-managed facilities. Hopefully, over time, less-than-optimal shelters will change their ways or shut their doors.

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