You’re adopting a cat! Congratulations. You haven’t even met your new pet yet, but you’re already imagining a future filled with purrs, lap-sitting and catnip-fueled play sessions. We’ve consulted with experts to help you avoid 10 common mistakes
1. Adopting a very young kitten.
“Just because a baby cat can eat solid food by 3 weeks or so does not mean she’s mature enough to be adopted,” says Amy Shojai, who’s based in the Dallas area and is certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). “The longer a kitten stays with siblings and mom-cat, the more cat lessons can be learned such as bite and claw inhibition, cat social skills and feline language.” To avoid having to teach feline etiquette yourself, Shojai recommends not taking a kitten home until she’s 12 to 14 weeks old.
2. Choosing based on looks.
“People tend to choose based on appearance — I’ve always had calicos, I only/don’t like black cats, etc. — rather than choosing based on who the cat is,” says Steve Dale, a Chicago-based pet journalist.
Shojai concurs. “We’re all guilty of being impressed by beauty,” she says. “But for those interested in the look of a particular breed, it’s vital you learn what to expect from those looks and inherited c’attitudes. Persians require hours of grooming. Abyssinian cats will swing from your drapes. The bald Sphynx may leave oily stains from his skin on the sofa. Talk to breeders to get the lowdown before adopting.”
3. Not optimizing the meet-and-greet.
“It may take several visits before you meet ‘the one,’” says Layla Morgan-Wilde, a New York-based holistic cat behaviorist, cat-lifestyle writer and shelter volunteer. “Move slowly, talk softly, don’t stare (cats perceive it as aggressive). Keep a soft gaze and slow blink instead.
“Park your expectations at the door,” Morgan-Wilde continues. “You may want a young, female tabby, but a senior male may steal your heart. The ideal cat may be the one hiding in the corner not clowning for your attention.”
Dale reminds adopters, “When you visit a cat in a shelter you’re just getting a snapshot. You might meet a cat you like in a big open room with lots of other cats and he just sits in your lap, but you might not know that he spent the last 5 hours playing and now just wants to rest.” He stresses the importance of talking to adoption counselors to get a bigger picture of the cat’s day-to-day personality.
4. Jumping in too soon.
Consider your motivations. Are you suffering from St. Kitty Syndrome, as Shojai calls it?
“We forget how (recently departed) Saint Kitty clawed the furniture and peed on the bedspread and our memory selectively replays the most wonderful loving times we shared,” she says. “When you adopt too early and try to compare, the new cat can suffer in the comparison.”
You might be ready to adopt again right away, or you might benefit from some distance. “Just be sure that the new cat is his/her own “purr-son” and is cherished for their unique qualities.”
5. Choosing a playmate for a cat that doesn’t want one.
“Some people believe that the cat mourning the loss of a kitty friend will be helped by a new friend. That could happen, but cats need time to grieve, too,” says Shojai.
Also, don’t make the mistake of assuming a singleton cat feels lonely when you’re out. “Your cat may be perfectly happy having your exclusive attention,” says Shojai. “Cats typically snooze up to 16 hours a day and adjust their sleep schedule to your workday, so they actually may not be missing the interaction when you’re gone.”
Of course, it’s another story if your cat truly appreciates the company of others or your home is currently catless and you have the space and resources for more than one.
“It’s best to adopt two at once, if possible,” says Dorian Wagner, the Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based founder of CatLadyBox. “This way they have a friend to keep them company and keep them entertained and active. Plus, this gets a second kitty adopted, saving another life. Win-win!”
6. Not being prepared at home.
“Cats need specific things in their world to feel at home,” notes Rita Reimers, a Charlotte, N.C.-based cat behavior expert for Catster magazine. “Tall cat trees to climb, scratching posts, cozy cubbyholes to sleep and fun toys are all essential for your cat’s physical and emotional health.”
Think about where your cat is coming from, too. “Imagine going from (the small quarters of a shelter) to the space that you are living in,” says Shawn Simons, headmistress at Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats, which socializes rescue cats found on the streets of Los Angeles. “Do not encourage them to create a clubhouse under your bed or couch where you’ll have to crawl on your belly for the next 15 years to reach them.”
She suggests blocking off those spaces with cardboard and gaffers tape before kitty comes home. “Remember to make sure they have options that you do approve of,” she adds. “We love CattyStacks, as these inexpensive versatile blocks make great cubbies for the cats but are easily accessible by the humans.”
7. Still not being prepared at home.
Choose a safe space for your cat to hang out — a small bedroom or bathroom with all the needed cat supplies — suggests Morgan-Wilde. You can increase his home access as he or she grows more comfortable. In the meantime, do some cat-proofing. “Do a room-by-room safety check,” she adds. Are windows and doors secure? Are there any holes or openings to the basement, walls or attic? Any hazardous substances or toxic plants? The worst possible scenario is to bring a cat home and let him loose. Cats can find the tiniest places to hide.”
8. Rushing cat introductions.
That safe space you created also comes in handy for cats entering a home that already has a resident cat.
“Your new cat needs time to adjust to his new home and to bond with you,” says Reimers. “Putting him in with existing pets will scare your new cat and may make him take even longer to trust you.”
Be patient. “I suggest keeping the new cat in his own room for at least a week and letting them smell each other under the door,” comments Wagner. “After that, introduce them slowly with supervised short visits. Let everyone have his or her safe place to go back to. When things are going smoothly, slowly up the time spent together until the whole house is integrated full time. And always make sure that each kitty feels like they are loved and getting attention from you, not just the new guy.”
9. Letting them set the schedule.
“Don’t get up,” says Simons. “If you cat is an early riser and you give in, you will forever be doing a 5 a.m. feeding shift. You will need to go through a few tough nights, but stay strong and when you are sleeping in on a Sunday morning you will be thankful that you did.”
10. Skipping the vet.
“Your new cat needs to be seen by a veterinarian to ensure he is healthy to begin with and that he remains a healthy, happy cat,” says Reimers. “Your cat may need to be updated on shots, given parasite treatments and he needs a clean bill of health before he begins his new life with you.”
For the best possible care, Dale suggests visiting a practice certified by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which requires vets meet and continue to maintain 900 standards. Also look for a cat-friendly practice certified by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).
Morgan-Wilde adds, “Ask for recommendations from friends and determine what is important to you — a feline-only practice (less stressful), a holistic approach, driving distance, house calls or a mobile option. Visit their clinics, interview by phone and search for reviews online.”
Any other tips you’d recommend?