Updated: April 19th, 2020.
Hello, this is Elizabeth Ann. 🙍♀️ I'm a cat behavior and fostering specialist. In this article, I'm going to discuss everything you should know about cat adoption.
Let's jump in!
What Sex and Age Group Is Right for You?
You’ve decided you’re ready to adopt a cat—yay 🙌! But now, there are so many questions.
We’re going to tackle the two most common ones I get:
Should I get a male or a female?
Should I get a kitten, adult, or senior?
Remember, the information I’m sharing is based on what’s most common, and also, it’s my opinion from experience.
You may have or know cats where the below doesn’t ring true—there are always exceptions. This is just meant to be a guideline for what you’ll typically find regarding sex and age.
Male or Female?
Studies also tend to back up what I’m saying here. But again, there is no one size fits all. Every cat is individual and different.
Meet any cat you’re considering adopting first to see what their personality is like.
Females have a flair.
There is a reason why calicos are said to have sass and torties have tortitude: Most are female, and female cats are often associated with being the more dramatic of the two sexes.
Even from personal experience, if I measured the attitude of the many cats I’ve fostered, the females have an extra edge to them. Affection is usually on their terms, and even spayed females tend to be a bit moody.
When they want attention, you’ll know it—they demand it vocally or by incessantly rubbing against you. They’re also more likely to change their mind mid-pet and decide they’re over it, possibly following up with a swat.
There are plenty of females who are very sweet and loving, you just have more of a chance for a little attitude with them.
Males are more laidback.
Males tend to be more easygoing and affectionate. As long as they’re neutered, their moods are more stable and don’t tend to sway as much.
The trade-off is that young males have energy that’s off the charts. When it’s time to play, it’s time to play—and you have to play with them to drain their energy so that you can get to enjoy the chill part of them too.
Kittens—Up to 6 months
I love kittens. You love kittens. We all love kittens, but are they a fit for you?
Energy Level: Insanely High - Extremely High
I know this seems like a joke, but this range is just a really honest assessment. When they aren’t sleeping, they’re playing.
Kitten's personalities are somewhat apparent, but they are often skewed because of their energy level and overall kittenness. You won’t know their full personality before a few years of age.
Playtime Requirements: High
Kittens need a lot of playtime, and if you don’t give it to them, they will find it on their own, playing with literally anything they find—like a piece of paper or fuzz.
They are very hungry for attention, and you’ll need to devote more daily time to play than with an adult cat. Make sure you have a variety of toys to keep them occupied, as their attention spans are also very very short.
Sibling kittens love to wrestle and chase each other, which is why it’s often recommended you adopt kittens in pairs. It alleviates the pressure on you, and it gives them a healthy alternative to wrestling and biting your hand.
Ease of Introduction: Easy-Medium
The younger the kitten, the easier intros usually go, but overall, they tend to be the easiest age group to introduce to a home.
You can also expect your younger cats to take to a kitten more quickly than an older cat. Seniors, as we’ll get in to, often like to keep to themselves and prefer more personal space.
Mischievousness: Extremely High
You need to watch kittens because they crawl into and go onto spaces in your home you didn’t even know you had.
Make sure any holes in furniture or walls are fixed before you bring a kitten home, and make very tiny spaces inaccessible.
You also NEED to be aware of what you’re doing, even if only for a second.
Moving clothes from the washer to the dryer? Double-check your kitten isn’t in the dryer.
They are super curious and fast! Don’t leave doors open to the outside, even for 5 seconds. It’s long enough for them to wander out.
Health, Food & Litter Expense: Medium
During the first year of life, kittens need boosters of vaccines, multiple rounds of dewormer and need to be fixed. They also commonly get a kitty cold or have some sort of GI upset—usually diarrhea.
While none of these things break the bank, it’s important to remember that you’ll have a few additional medical expenses with kittens.
Secondary, they eat, drink, pee, and poop like no other. You’ll go through more food and litter, especially up to about 9-10 months.
Juniors—7 months to 2 years
One of the biggest reasons to opt for a junior cat is that the kitten energy fades and you’ll have a better idea of their true personality.
Energy Level: Very High – Medium
They may be past the insane kitten stage, but this age group still has a lot of energy. It’s important you make time for them to improve your bond and work on draining their energy.
Personality: Fluid – Set
Young adulthood is a special time, because younger adults, around 1- 2 years, don’t have a fully matured brain yet. I’ve seen different estimations, but you can expect the brain to be matured by 4-5 years.
This doesn’t mean your cat will stop learning or you won’t be able to curb behaviors down the road, but it will be much more difficult once the brain is fully matured.
Playtime Requirements: High- Medium
Although less demanding than kittens, this group also typically wants more one-on-one time with you.
My guess is because they aren’t as insanely energetic as they were before, they more clearly know that you’re their caretaker and they want to build a stronger bond with you through play.
Ease of Introduction: Medium
It can be 50/50. Try your best to match personalities, but avoid alpha battles. If you clearly have an alpha, get a young adult cat that will be more submissive.
If you already have a young adult, another young adult might be a good fit because they are closely matched in energy.
Be prepared, that sometimes, it doesn’t work. If you can get a young adult to cohabitate and not cause problems, that’s still a win—they don’t have to be best friends.
If the new cat causes dangerous fights—not play fighting, but fights where a cat is close to or getting injured—excessive spraying, or other disturbing behavior, it may not be a good fit.
I say may not, because I’ve seen amazing transformations that took months. Be patient, but never put a cat—or a person—in harm’s way.
Mischievousness: High - Medium
These guys can still get into trouble. They have a lot of energy, but not quite the level of kittens. Don’t leave human food, especially meat or seafood, out unattended.
Health, Food & Litter Expense: Low
Typically, once the first year is behind them, young adults are healthy. While they still require an annual exam and vaccines, you should be past the kinks you have to work out with kittens.
They still eat and use the box a fair amount, but it’s much less than kittens.
Adults—3 to 10 years
Set in their ways, you know what you’re getting with this group. They’re still active enough to be entertaining, but they won’t drive you as crazy as a kitten would.
Energy Level: Medium
Middle-aged cats tend to be much calmer than their younger counterparts.
This is the most appealing age group to adopt on paper because there won’t be surprises with their personality.
Their brain is matured, and they are who they are. Small changes to their behavior are still possible, but it will take patience and persistence.
You can still teach them simple tricks—like high fiving—how to be pleasant in a carrier or how to take medicine, but again, the learning piece will take longer.
Playtime Requirements: Medium
Cats really start to mellow at this age. They’ll still love playing, but you’ll see a drastic drop off in how long they want to do it.
Ease of Introduction: Medium
You need to be a smart matchmaker with this group because again, their personality is set.
The one thing you have going for you is that because cats in this age range are a little more mellow, as long as a cat doesn’t come in and act like it owns the place, you should be okay.
The risk of them not getting along happens more if you adopt a high energy middle-aged cat. Your residents likely won’t accept him unless they are much younger.
Mischievousness: Medium - Low
With this group, they may knock things off the table and drink out of your glass, but you can worry about them much less.
Health, Food & Litter Expense: Low
Same as a young adult, but you’ll spend even less on food and litter!
Seniors—10 to 14 years
While they’re past their prime, there are a lot of traits that are great about seniors. Also, a cat that's 11, 12 and event 13 years old can still be super active, playful, and have a lot of life left.
Energy Level: Medium – Low
Senior cats start to really slow down in this bracket.
Again, their personality is set, but you may notice with them being slightly less active and they may become more affectionate.
Playtime Requirements: Medium - Low
There will be a burst of playtime for some, and others will hang up the towel and prefer to just lay in the sun.
Ease of Introduction: Medium – Low
Because they are so set in their ways, they don’t always like to be around other cats. On the flip side, sometimes, they just don’t care anymore.
Get as much info as you can on the cat’s history. If it’s been a single pet it’s entire life, it will likely not enjoy suddenly having kitty friends. Otherwise, it will probably be okay.
They may test gravity with your water glass, but you don’t have to watch them that closely.
Health, Food & Litter Expense: High - Low
It’s hard to say. Your senior cat could be really expensive, or not any more costly than a middle-aged adult. If health-related issues start to crop up, you’ll need to address those with a possible increase in vet visits, different food, different litter, or even supplements.
There are also plenty of cats in this age group with no issues. Just make sure you aware there could be some extra needs with seniors.
Super Seniors—15+ years
You’ll likely never read about this term—super seniors, also known as geriatric cats—but I feel there is such a difference between what’s categorized as a general senior—10+, and cats that live until beyond average life expectancy, it’s worth breaking it out.
Remember, if you adopt a super senior, you will not have them for a very long time. Make sure you are emotionally okay with that.
Energy Level: Low
Super seniors sleep a lot.
Personality: Set - Fluid
You can still teach this group simple tricks if you want, but trying to make any big changes can be stressful for them. It’s best to just let them be who they are and do what you need to do to make them happy.
Some cats do suffer from dementia, so if your cat starts acting odd or unpredictable, it could be that, or it could be a health problem. Have them checked by a vet to rule out anything serious.
Playtime Requirements: Low
Maybe they’ll bat around a toy every now and then, but I would not expect a ton of play from this group.
Ease of Introduction: High - Low
Some super senior cats simply don’t care, and this group is very easy to introduce because they’ll automatically keep to themselves.
On the other end, the same as a senior, if a cat has lived by itself for all its life, it will be extremely hard to introduce a super senior to other cats. See if you can get a history to make sure you aren’t causing a super senior unnecessary stress.
They’re too busy sleeping to get into trouble.
Health, Food & Litter Expense: High - Low
The same as a senior, you can have a super senior with no health issues. You may not see anything wrong with a super senior until it’s time for them to end their journey.
However, you could have one with some pretty significant problems. Kidney disease, GI issues, thyroid problems, cancer, and arthritis can hit at this age.
Make sure you consider what that looks like for you mentally, emotionally, and financially. Also, you will have to say good-bye sooner than later. Prepare yourself for this, because it is a reality.
There are super seniors that end up in shelters and rescues. Many times, it’s because their owner died or for health-related reasons.
If you choose to save a super senior, you may not have them for a long time, but they will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on your heart.
Things such as past neglect or abuse, chronic illnesses—like kidney disease, FIV or feline leukemia—can drastically affect the info I provided. A young adult cat that has been abused make the act more like a senior and has the body of an older cat because of the stress he’s been through.
A kitten with feline leukemia may not make it to late adulthood, which accelerates the stages for her. If you choose to adopt a cat with any sort of special needs, please research their condition and make sure you’re prepared.
I highly recommend looking around social media for cats with similar conditions. Talk to their owners and ask questions—especially on Reddit. You’d be surprised how supportive and honestly most people are, and it can help you make an educated decision.
Don’t know what you’ll need? We’ll take you through your to-do list to make sure you have everything ready when you take your fur baby home.
Dry Food, Wet Food & Treats
I recommend adopters have dry food, wet food, and treats on hand at all times. I prefer a balance of the three because they all have benefits:
Dry cat food can be eaten at any time; wet cat food provides hydration, and treats are simply great to use to bond with your cat, train, or simply reward for good behavior.
Please consult with your vet about nutrition and diet to make sure you’re providing your kitty with everything he or she needs to thrive. Some owners only give wet food to their cats, and you may choose to do that too.
A good first step is to ask the rescue, foster, or current owner what the cat is currently eating. Start with that food and then consider switching after you’ve been to the vet and know your cat better.
Good rules to follow:
Protein is very important, so look for food with protein as the first ingredient.
Meat by-products are organs and things that may be unappealing to read on a label, but they are no different than what your cat would eat if they were hunting. Don’t freak out if you see them on a label.
Limit corn and grains because cats would not eat these things in the wild.
Treats are treats, they should be given sparingly, so you can be less strict with their ingredients.
Most cats prefer drinking out of a free-flowing water fountain. The movement and sound entice the cat to drink more, plus, it’s typically cooler, cleaner, and fresher.
Do your research and find a fountain that’s highly rated by other users. Make sure filters are easy to find and replace. If you really aren’t sure, you can get a very inexpensive one to start, and then graduate to a larger, nicer one after your cat is settled.
Metal and glass are great because they tend to grow fewer bacteria. If you get a plastic one, make sure it's high quality, BPA-Free, and food-grade. Regardless of the type you get, make sure you clean the bowls frequently.
Cats are very sensitive to bacteria, and if they smell it on their bowl, they might not want to eat out of it.
Find out if there’s anything your cat does or doesn’t like by asking the rescue/foster/person you’re getting the cat from. Here are a few types:
Clumping clay is the most well-known, most common, and most liked by cats of all ages.
Non-clumping clay is similar to clay but doesn’t clump.
Pine pellets work best with a sifting litter box. Solid waste should be removed daily. Urine turns the pellets into dust, which can be sifted and trashed as needed.
Clumping wood litter works similarly to clay but some owners feel it has better odor control.
Crystals are one of the more expensive types. They typically don’t clump but are known to have excellent odor control.
Paper litter is said to be highly absorbent, biodegradable, and is soft. It’s often used for kittens learning to use the box. Compared to other types, it’s not as effective with odor control.
Corn and wheat litters are available, and owners like their biodegrade traits, but please use them with caution. Corn and wheat are ingredients that can cause GI upset in cats, so keep an eye on how frequently they clean their paws after using the bathroom. If it’s a lot, you may want to use another type.
A few other things to know: senior cats often prefer clay or a soft crystal; long-haired cats need a very clean box; and kittens have a tendency to eat a lot of litter when training, which is why paper is often recommended when they are teeny tinies.
Litter Box & Scopper
You want to get a litter box that makes sense for the size and age of your cat, plus a scooper so you don’t have to touch any mess.
Look for a sturdy scooper because it will need to withstand a lot of wear and tear—and pee and poop.
What to consider when choosing a box:
A basic litter pan is fine, but many adults prefer larger boxes, so look for ones labeled large or XL.
Although most people like covered boxes, many cats will tolerate it, but prefer them uncovered.
Seniors want to easily turn completely around. I recommend investing in a senior litter box which is very large and sits extremely low to the ground. You may also choose to make your own with a large plastic tote.
Sifting litter boxes require less actual scooping, which is a better fit for some owners.
Most pans are made of plastic, but you can get a stainless steel one, which doesn’t absorb odors.
There are also incredible self-cleaning boxes. They come with a higher price tag, but do some research and see if you feel they’re worth the investment.
You can select one and see how your cat responds, or even get two or three different types and see which one your cat uses the most.
Bed & Blanket
Most cats like to have a designated area to rest, like a cat bed. Get just a basic soft bed to start.
As you learn more about your cat, you can get a different type of bed, some are more enclosed while others have a thermal component to keep them warm.
Cats LOVE blankets, often kneading them for comfort. The plusher the better! I recommend putting it at the bottom of your bed, on one section of the couch, or even in their cat bed.
This is an absolute must. Cats instinctively scratch things to remove the dead parts of their nails.
Your cat could like to scratch vertically, horizontally, or both directions, so get a horizontal and vertical scratcher to give your cat choices.
The corrugated box type seems to be the most irresistible, but feel free to try a few types to see what your cat likes.
Cats are all different and like different things, which is why I recommend getting a few types of inexpensive toys to start until you get a feel for what they like:
Streamer toys—have a string and sometimes something attached to the end—fury mice, balls, cat toys with feathers, cat toys with catnip and kickers—for them to hold and rabbit kick.
Try playing with your cat using all of these types of toys, see what they respond to and you can upgrade with nicer items. You can always sprinkle catnip on a toy to entice them to use it.
Litter Disposal System—Optional
There are litter disposal systems that you put clumps and solid waste into and it will prevent the room from getting stinky. When the bag is full, you simply put it in your trash.
Most litter tracks outside of the box. Litter mats are made to catch most of the mess so it doesn’t end up on the floor.
There are some cats that tend to play with the water. It's a good idea to have a waterproof fountain mat to make sure the water doesn't damage your floor.
You don’t need to start off with a tower, but most cats love them. It’s important to consider if you want one with carpet, what size, and where you’ll put it.
Ones without carpet don’t hold onto dirt, but on the flip side, cats love the feel of the carpet.
Make sure your tower is the appropriate size for your cats before you buy, especially because many of the lower-priced towers are made for smaller-sized cats. Multiple levels and cubby holes will be most appreciated by your new kitty.
Getting a cat is super exciting but there are a few things to consider first.
Usually, males and females behave very differently. Females tend to be more dramatic and moody. Males are more laidback, affectionate and calm.
The age of the cat you are about to adopt is also very important. Their behavior changes throughout the years.
Before adopting a cat, make sure to ask—the shelter, rescue, or individual—questions about their behavior, preferences and general health.
If you're getting a kitten, make sure you kitten-proof your home.
You should also know that if you're getting a cat that's already 15+ years old—even though there's a cat that lived 31 years—she'll not be around for too long so be emotionally prepared for that.
That being said, senior and geriatric cats are very lovable and getting one would definitely leave a positive mark in your life.
We've written an article about the different life stages of a cat that's very informative and might help make a better choice.
Remember that you have to also be financially ready to deal with all the expenses. You'll have to buy different items such as a litter box, cat litter, scratches, a cat fountain, bowls, food, visits to the vet, etc.
Article by Elizabeth Ann 🙋♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist