If you’ve been thinking about adding a fuzzy little friend to your household, there’s more to consider than whether to name it Pearl or Pickles, or Zoroaster or Apollinaris, like Mark Twain named two of his many cats. So if you’re planning on celebrating June’s Adopt a Cat Month quite literally, here are 11 tips straight from the pros. Mull them over, then head to your local shelter!
1. BE CHOOSY ABOUT THE SHELTER YOU ADOPT FROM
According to Gail Buchwald, vice president of the adoption center at the ASPCA in New York City, assessing shelters in person is a must. “I think it’s a great idea for a prospective adopter to go to the shelter and check it out, get a visual. If they see animals that don’t look healthy, they should ask some questions,” she told WebMD.
Furthermore, talk to shelter employees to get an idea of what they know about the animals’ health and behavior. Shelters that don’t do behavior assessments or disease testing aren’t able to give you the appropriate information to make a match that truly works for you and for your prospective pet.
2. KNOW THAT YOU’RE IN THIS FOR THE LONG HAUL
Cats are long-term roommates, so make sure you’re ready for the commitment. According to Gwen Sparling, the owner of Camp Kitty boarding facility in Atlanta, over the course of a cat’s 15- to 20-year lifetime, a pet owner will spend approximately $1000 annually on vet care, food, treats, toys, kitty litter, and more. “There is this general thinking that cats are no-fuss pets, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Sparling told Mother Nature Network.
3. SHELTER CATS ARE GREAT OPTIONS.
There’s a misconception that animals in shelters have physical or behavioral issues; most of the time, that’s not the case. “Animals primarily end up in our care because of challenges and transitions that exist in the lives of the people responsible for their care,” Michael Keiley, director of adoption centers and programs at Boston’s Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told Country Living. Often animals can end up in shelters when their humans move, lose a job, or have to focus on non-pet-related stressors—and that’s not a reflection on the cats who now need a new home.
4. ASSESS YOUR NEEDS BEFORE YOU GO IN
“The goal is for the adoption to work out well for everyone,” Susan Daffron, the author of Happy Tabby: Develop a Great Relationship with Your Adopted Cat or Kitten. Before you fall in love with the first cute face you see at the shelter, make sure you know exactly what you and your family need in a pet.
Do you have small children? Are you away from home a lot? Do you have other pets? None of those things preclude you from adopting a shelter cat, but they definitely help set parameters about the personality and type of cat that would be ideal for you and your family.
5. CONSIDER MULTIPLE CATS
If you’re going to jump in, do it with both feet, right? But there’s a method to this madness—according to the American Humane Society, cats provide each other with exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction that humans just can’t quite match. And if you’re at work or otherwise occupied during the day, having the companionship can be extra important to your cat(s).
6. PREP A SPECIAL PLACE FOR YOUR NEW FAMILY MEMBER
Cats are territorial, so entering a new space is stressful for them. Before you go to the shelter, create a special spot in your home to make kitty feel more comfortable when it arrives, writes Sara Kent, the former director of shelter outreach for Petfinder. A quiet spot stocked with a litter box, toys, food, and water will help—let your cat get familiar with the sights and sounds of the room on its own time.
7. VET A VET AHEAD OF TIME
Before you choose a cat, choose a vet by getting referrals from people you trust. The American Humane Society recommends making an appointment for an overall check-up within the first few days of the adoption. Be sure to take the vet any medical records provided by the shelter.
8. BOND THE RIGHT WAY
You will, of course, want to spend some time bonding with your cat. But how you do so depends on what stage of life the cat is in, Samantha Bell DiGenova, the cat behavior and enrichment lead at Best Friends Los Angeles, told Bustle. “When bonding with kittens, you want to handle them, hold them, let them look at you and see your face,” she said. “You want to have as much contact with them visually and tactually as you can so that they grow up understanding that’s how they should interact with people.”
On the other hand, adult cats require their space. “If you adopt a cat that’s four months or older, let them make the decisions. If you … allow the cat to come to you when they want affection, and let them show you that they want to interact, the bond you create will be so much stronger.”
9. INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR OTHER CATS
But do it the right way. According to cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, just letting two cats “work it out” is not the best way to get your felines to be friendly. Instead, he wrote on his website, keep your cats separated by a door, but let them sniff each other under the door. Feed them both on their respective sides of the door so they get positive associations with each other.
And eventually, swap bedding between your two pets so they get familiar with each other’s scents. After a period of familiarization—which can sometimes last weeks—any hissing and growling should subside, and they’ll be able to interact without fighting. (Have a dog? You can find some tips for that scenario here.)
10. CONSIDER PET INSURANCE
Even if your cat is the picture of health when you first adopt, you never know what medical issues could arise down the road. As with human insurance, veterinarian Tracy McFarland wrote that it’s a good idea to purchase pet insurance while your ball of fluff is totally healthy. It could eventually save you a bundle and make sure your cat is around for a long time.
11. HAVE PATIENCE
Renowned cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat, reminds new owners to have patience with their new pets. From remembering the location of the kitty litter box to interacting with your family, it takes them some time to learn the ropes. Have patience as they are learning, and you’ll be rewarded with a relationship that lasts for years to come.