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The essentials

  • Choose the right rescue organization — Many rescue organizations will spay,  neuter, and vaccinate your adopted cat before you take them home.
  • Create a “safe room” for your new cat — Cats take an average of 2-3 weeks to acclimate to their environment and will need a safe space to retreat when they get overwhelmed.
  • Be patient when introducing your new cat to other pets  — Cats are territorial by nature, so go slow when it comes to introducing your new cat to another furry friend.

Welcoming a new cat into your home is exciting, but it also comes with a lot of unknowns — especially if it’s your first time adopting or owning a cat. The process can be incredibly rewarding, allowing you to make a difference in the life of a cat in need.

While cats don’t need daily walks and visits to the park the way dogs do, they still need regular care, attention, and exercise. Read on to learn more about the cat adoption process, considerations before getting a cat, and helpful resources that are available to you when you adopt a cat.

Considerations before adopting a cat

If you’re looking to bring a new furry friend into your home, there are a handful of things you’ll want to consider before you pursue adoption — such as:

  • Lifestyle. Is your lifestyle busy, or are you a homebody? If you spend a lot of time traveling, you may find having a cat difficult. If you do decide to still get a cat, plan ahead and establish care options to step in while you’re out of town.
  • Children. If you have young children, it’s important to teach them how to approach, stroke, and handle cats; encouraging kind treatment from the start.
  • Finances. Many humane societies will offer to fix your cat before you take them home. However, if they don’t, you’ll need to factor in the cost of the adoption fee, regular vet appointments, and dental care; as many cats are prone to dental issues.
  • Time commitment. While cats and dogs have different needs, they can be just as much of a time commitment as dogs. Be sure to check your schedule to verify that you have plenty of time for attention and play.
  • Developmental stage. Kittens are cute and playful, but they also demand a lot of attention, stimulation, and training. Adopting an adult or senior can be easier, however, as a mature cat won’t need as much attention.  Knowing the differences between kitten vs. cat will help you to choose the best furry friend for your current (and future) seasons of life.
  • Other pets. Cats usually prefer having their territory, so if you have other pets in the household, they will need the time and space to adjust. Plan ahead about how you’ll provide this for them, and create an introduction plan for other furry family members in your home.
  • Home size. Do you have enough space for your newly adopted cat to play and get exercise? If you live in a small apartment, you’ll want to consider where stuff like the litter box will live, and exactly how much space your cat will want to roam.
  • Indoor vs. outdoor living. Before you adopt, consider if you’ll be raising your cat to be an indoor or outdoor cat. Remember: Even if you plan for them to be an outdoor cat, they’ll need to stay indoors for a few weeks to get acclimated to their new territory, feel safe, and become familiar with their new home.

Now that you’ve given some thought to the various lifestyle factors to consider when adopting a cat, it’s time to figure out which type of cat makes the right cat for your household.

Selecting the right cat

Adoptive pet parents have many options when it comes to selecting a cat. As a result, many feel overwhelmed by the process.

Like any other major life decision, however, doing a process of elimination can help you reach a decision a little easier. Here are a few factors to consider when you select a cat:


Some people may want to take home a fluffy kitten, whereas others may have their heart set on adopting the oldest cat in the shelter. Shelters usually have a range of age options, so if the age of a cat matters to you, you’ll have plenty of choices.


Before adopting a cat, it’s important to conduct breed research and determine which breed is best for your lifestyle. For example: Some cat breeds are better suited for an apartment (e.g. ragdolls and Persians) while others may enjoy being an outdoor cat better.


Like dogs, different cat breeds have unique characteristics, personalities, and temperaments. Some breeds are very affectionate and like to snuggle, while others are more aloof or reserved. Knowing what type of temperament your breed of choice has ahead of time can make the transition to cat ownership smoother.


Younger cats or kittens tend to have fewer health issues than older cats. Older cats tend to have more health or dental issues, so you’ll want to be prepared for additional vet expenses, particularly if you’re adopting a senior cat.

👉 We do want to note: Cats of any age can have health issues. Establishing your new pet with a veterinarian as soon as possible is always best. Your vet can help ensure they’re up to date on their vaccinations, and can diagnose any health issues or extra care they might need.  


Cats do not vary as much in size as dogs might, so this is usually less of a concern for some. However, if you’re living somewhere where there may be animal restrictions or pet deposits based on size, it’s an important factor to consider. We recommend researching average breed sizes, incorporating this consideration into your breed selection process.

Choosing the right rescue

Scouting out the right rescue is an important part of the cat adoption process. You’ll want to pick your place based on its proximity to you, your budget, and its overall quality. We recommend reviewing rescues to see what other pet parents had to say about their animal care and selection experience.

👉 Depending on the organization, you may be able to view the animals on a rescue’s website before visiting them in person, which can help you narrow down some options to find available cats.

Our favorite rescue organizations

Name About Location(s)
ASPCA A trusted animal welfare organization that offers pet rehoming services. Nationwide; offers search-by-ZIP code for individual locations
The Shelter Pet Project A joint partnership between the Humane Society and Maddie’s Fund. Focuses on pet adoption education Nationwide; offers search-by-ZIP code for individual locations
Adopt a Pet An organization supporting those with adoption and re-homing services Nationwide; offers search-by-ZIP code for individual locations
Pet Finder A nationwide pet search and adoption service Nationwide; offers search-by-ZIP code for individual locations

While some adoption organizations allow you to use a filter on their website to search for specific breeds, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find a certain breed at a shelter.

Some cat breeds, like Savannah cats, aren’t likely to be found in rescues just because of their rarity and relative newness.

👉 If you’re looking to adopt a specific breed, you may want to consider buying from a breeder. 

Preparing to bring your new cat home

Bringing your new cat home for the first time is an exciting process, but it can also be somewhat nerve-wracking. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you and your new cat are set up for success from the start.

Cat-proof your home

If you’ve never owned a cat, you’ll quickly learn that they teach you not to leave things lying out.

As you cat-proof, be sure to secure or put away breakable items. Cats love to jump on counters, explore, and climb — so they’ll likely be able to reach places you wouldn’t expect.

🚨 Keep a close eye on harmful household things like electric cords or consumables that kittens might chew on. 

👉 Having a variety of interesting kitten-safe toys for your kitten to play with will help prevent them from getting into trouble. Cat-safe toys like mouse toys, feathers, jingle balls, and crinkle balls are all great ways to enrich your cat’s life and entice their instinct to play and pretend hunt. 

Create a safe place so your new cat can acclimate

Creating a safe room or space is one of the best things you can do for a new cat, especially if you have other pets or people in your household. If they get overwhelmed, they’ll be able to go to the “safe room” and acclimate at their own pace.  Here’s how you can set up your kitty’s new safe room.

Choose a small room — Ideally, your cat’s “safe room” will be a small space, preferably with a door. A bathroom, large closet, or smaller guest room are typical choices.

Identify any hiding places — Cats can squeeze into all kinds of small spaces. Block off tight spaces behind or under furniture to keep your cat’s room safe.

Check the safe room for any potential dangers — Make sure there are no cleaning chemicals, electrical cords, tie-up pull cords on blinds, or toxic houseplants or flowers.

Add cat necessities — There should be a litter box, food and water dishes, something soft to snuggle up in, a scratcher, and a variety of toys in your safe room before you use it. It seems like a lot — but these things will help your cat acclimate quickly.

Separate the litter box from the food area — Cats don’t typically like to eat close to the area where they pee and poop, so consider placing the litter box and food dishes at opposite ends of the room to minimize stress.

Gather the necessary supplies

Planning ahead and purchasing the basic supplies for their new cat or kitten is a great way to kick off your time together.

  • Food and water. Before you bring your feline friend home, make sure they have adequate food and water at the ready. It’s best to consult your family veterinarian for guidance on your kitten or cat’s dietary needs, as they can offer tailored medical advice for your cat’s specific needs.
  • Litter. Choose a vet-recommended cat litter that is anti-clumping/clay-based, as other types can pose a risk if ingested. Plus, these formulas often produce less dust, reducing strain on your kitten’s respiratory system. Pelleted litter is one of the best choices out there for your cat, although there are other safe natural options.
  • Collars and leashes. Cat collars should be safety collars that will self-release if a cat gets stuck. If you plan on taking your cat outside to let them roam on a leash, it’s important that you also get a cat harness. A cat’s neck is delicate and a collar should never be used for walking on a leash. The best harnesses look like little vests and should be secured in place with multiple velcro straps or buckles.

Get set up with the vet

One of the first steps in getting a new furry friend is to make sure they’re set up with a good veterinarian. If you have other pets and already have an established vet, you can usually take your new pal and start the process —but if not, you’ll want to search for a local vet with good reviews.

👉 While this step can take time, it’s vitally important. Routine veterinary care helps make sure your pet remains healthy well into their senior years. 

The first visit is especially important for adopted cats, as their known medical history may be incomplete. Vets will conduct a thorough physical exam: checking your cat’s eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and more, establishing what their unique baseline looks like.

After this, they’ll proactively address any risks or conditions your pet is dealing with, setting them up for a lifetime of health.

How to introduce your cat to other pets

Cats and kittens can be territorial animals, and generally take time to warm up to other animals.

Introducing a cat to a dog

Introducing your new cat to a dog in the home is a delicate procedure. This is where a cat’s “safe room” really comes in handy, allowing the cat to have a safe place after the interaction.

Keep the pets separate at first — It’s best to keep your cat separate from your dog for the first 3-4 days in your home. The safe room comes in handy during this time. The goal here is to allow the pets to get used to each other’s presence without face-to-face contact. Even if they can’t see each other, they can hear and smell each other.

Feed them on opposite sides of a closed door — This helps your dog and cat get further used to each other’s presence with a safety barricade between them. It also associates the other animal’s presence with pleasant things, such as food. With each feeding, move their food bowls a little closer to the closed door. Continue this process until each pet can eat calmly right next to the door.

Introduce face-to-face meetings — Once your pets can eat their food calmly right next to the door, it’s time to conduct meet and greets in a common area of the house. Keep your dog on a leash, and let the cat approach and go as he wishes. Make sure to give your dog commands to “sit” and “stay” as you go, and reward them with treats for calm behavior. If either pet demonstrates aggression, calmly redirect them and return your cat to its safe room.

Repeat sessions — Repeat these sessions as part of a daily routine until the interactions become pleasant and relaxed. If the cat attempts to leave the room, allow it to do so, and do not let the dog chase it.

Allow pets to be loose together — When both animals appear to get along, it’s time to let them interact off-leash. If tension erupts, go back to the earlier introduction steps and repeat the process. Make sure your new cat continues to have access to a dog-proof safe room at all times.

🚨 Be sure to never use either animal’s sanctuary area as a place of meeting, and do not restrain either pet in your arms. Either misstep could lead to injuries for both you and your pet pal.

Introducing a cat to a cat

Once a cat is fully comfortable in their “safe room,” it’s time to start introducing them to other household cats. Here’s how to start:

  • Scent swapping — Start by gradually introducing the scent of the other cat to each cat (without actually physically meeting). Begin scent swapping by taking one piece of each cat’s bedding (e.g. — a single blanket) and placing it in one of the other cat’s beds. This allows them to get used to each other without the stress of a physical meeting.
  • Allow exploration of each cat’s area  If both cats are calm after scent swapping, allow each cat to explore the other cat’s area. For example, the resident cat could be briefly confined to the owner’s bedroom for the evening, which would allow the new cat to inspect the resident cat’s area of the home — and vice versa.
  • Allow visual contact  Letting cats see each other should only happen through a physical barrier. You can do this by holding a door slightly ajar with each cat on either side, through a mesh barrier like a screen, or by using a child’s stair gate or pet crate. Pick one, and allow cats to sniff each other through the barrier.

👉 If either cat exhibits signs of aggressive behavior like hissing or swatting, separate them — but don’t punish them. Repeat the process of visual contact a few times until the cats are calm.

  • Supervised physical contact — Once both cats respond well to visual contact, the next step is to remove the barrier and let the cats mingle. You can do this over a feeding time when there is food as a positive element. The goal is to make sure cats are comfortable in each other’s presence, however, they don’t need to interact. If the cat’s interaction is negative, go back a step.
  • Free unsupervised access — If both cats appear to be comfortable with supervised physical contact, allow for short bouts (3-5 minutes) of unsupervised time. Cats should still have their areas or pet-safe spaces to retreat to if necessary. However, if the interactions remain positive, you can slowly combine areas.

Pay attention to both cat’s reactions to reintroducing the bedding. If either actively avoids it or even hisses, remember to go at your cat’s speed and take things at a slower pace. Also, be sure each cat has their own food and water bowls to avoid competition.

Settling in with your new cat

Most cats will adjust to their new home on their own within 1-3 weeks. However, there are some things you can do to help them settle in and bond quickly. Our tip? Give them extra attention for the first few days at home. Play with them, pet them, and allow them to walk up to you and interact with you. All these things will help them learn that you’re “safe” to trust.

Adopting a cat is an exciting adventure, offering prospective paw-rents the chance to give a shelter animal a new life. Whether you’re adopting a cat or a kitten, there are some basic considerations and guidelines you’ll want to follow to make sure your furry friend has a calm transition home. You can always turn to your local veterinarian or the resources at betterpet if you need support on your cat parent journey

Frequently asked questions

What is the 3 3 3 rule for cats?

Cats take some time to get used to their new environment and new routines. The “3 3 3 Rule” or “Rule of Three” helps pet parents gauge the time it might take for their cat to fully acclimate to his home — a process that typically occurs in threes. For example — your cat might take three days, three weeks, and three months to acclimate

What to avoid when adopting a cat?

One of the biggest things to avoid when adopting a new cat is making sudden changes in its environment such as to its food, litter, or water. While kittens tend to adapt to change faster, adult cats find change stressful, especially when entering a new home. It’s best to introduce changes gradually after the settling-in period is over.

Is it a good idea to adopt a cat?

It’s always good to adopt rather than buy from a breeder. Each year, approximately 530,000 cats are euthanized in kill shelters. Adopting a cat is a chance to give an animal a new life and have a very rewarding experience by giving an animal a furever home.

What is the best cat age to adopt?

The best age to adopt a cat ultimately depends on your lifestyle and the commitment you’re looking to take on as a pet owner. Kittens have a lot of energy, whereas a senior cat may be a better fit for a slower-paced household.

What are the red flags when adopting a cat?

Some red flags when adopting a cat from an animal shelter would be if they have a poor track record of adoption or repeat instances of adoption returns. While this doesn’t mean that they are “bad,” you might want to ask why they have this in their history.

If you’re adopting from a breeder, a private party, or a foster home, beware of people who have multiple litters of cats at once or who don’t allow you to see where the adoptable cats are kept as this could indicate the cats aren’t being kept in a good condition or may have health issues.