Adopting a cat: A planning guide

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Playing. Pouncing. Playful curiosity. There are so many reasons to love cats, and each furry friend has his or her unique quirks. But there are a few guidelines that apply to most all felines. We’ve compiled the essential ones here. The rest is for you to discover!

Kitty cat checklist

  • A cat carrier* 
  • A cat collar and ID tag 
  • A cat box 
  • Kitty litter 
  • Litter scooper
  • A cat food bowl and water bowl
  • Cat food
  • Cat treats and catnip
  • A cat bed and/or cat tower
  • A scratching post or board
  • Cat toys
  • A brush for grooming

*Bring this with you when you pick up your cat to take her home for the first time. 

Bringing your cat home

Pick a good time. Aim to bring your cat home for the first time at the start of a weekend, and try to avoid times that are packed with activity, so you can spend time with her. Arrange for your cat not to be fed close to when you will pick her up to help prevent carsickness on the ride home. 

Allow time for adjustment. Typically cats feel most comfortable in familiar environments, and they tend to be averse to change. Arriving at a new home might be a little overwhelming for your new kitty. Allow her to explore, supervised, one room at a time. 

Litter box

It’s worth taking the time to put some thought into your cat’s litter box setup. Your cat will be happier and so will you. 

Acclimating. When you first bring your cat home, make sure she knows where the litter box is. Remove the lid (if your box has one), and gently place her on top of the litter. If she was an outdoor cat, she might not be accustomed to a litter box, so be patient. 

Litter box. Choose a box that’s the right size for your cat or cats. If you have multiple cats, pick a larger size or set up several boxes. Lidded boxes with flap doors are ideal for containing odors and litter. 

Litter. The classic litter box struggle is with odor. If you’re determined to win this battle, try Arm & Hammer Fresh Home Clump & Seal Cat Litter for a seven-day odor-free home, guaranteed. 

Litter scooper. The must-have accessory is a litter scooper. For added convenience and cleanliness, pick one that comes with its own holder. 

Helpful litter accessories. Other useful items include litter box liners that make changing litter a snap, litter deodorizer, a litter mat  to minimize tracking, and stain- and odor-remover spray. Want to lock down litter odor even after you’ve scooped the box? Consider getting a cat litter disposal system. 

Indoor vs. outdoor 

Although there has been debate about indoor versus outdoor living for cats, increasingly, animal professionals and organizations are recommending that cats be kept indoors, mostly for their own health and safety.  

Indoor considerations. On average, indoor cats live about 12 years, but some can live to be 20. Despite assumptions, indoor cats are not destined to be lazy and overweight, especially if you take steps to prevent it.  

  • A stimulating environment. Prevent boredom by alternating cat toys. Provide and replace scratchers as they wear out. And make time for daily play to help your cat get exercise and express her natural hunting instincts. 
  • Cat towers. Most cats enjoy having a special place to perch and survey their environment. Some towers come with multiple levels, built-in scratchers and dangling toys. 

Outdoor considerations. Cats that roam freely outside have an average life expectancy of less than five years. Cars, dogs, pesticides, simply getting lost and other factors threaten the health and safety of outdoor cats. If you decide to let your cat go outside, take these steps to improve her chances of a long, happy life: 

  • Identification. Make sure she’s wearing an ID tag on a safety collar that quickly releases if it gets stuck on something like a branch. Microchipping is also essential, in the event that kitty loses her collar.  
  • Disease prevention. Routine vaccinations are crucial, but remember that not all cats are protected by immunizations against potentially fatal diseases like Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (FeLV). The only sure way to protect cats is to prevent exposure to FIV and FeLV-infected cats. 

Health & behavior 

Schedule an exam. Take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as possible for an exam. Remember to bring all immunization information that came with your cat. 

Brushing. Help reduce hairballs by brushing your cat daily and for several minutes if she has long hair. You can also help keep your cat healthier and cut down on expensive teeth cleanings by brushing her teeth daily with a special cat toothbrush and toothpaste. 

Scratching. Cats scratch things out of instinct; it’s their way of removing old sheaths from their claws as well as marking their territory. The easy way to protect your furniture from this fate is to provide an approved area where she can satisfy her need to scratch. Scratchers come in a variety of materials, with carpet and cardboard being the most common. If your feline doesn’t respond to one type, try another. Sprinkling dried catnip on a scratcher usually gets them excited about scratching. 

Additional preparation

Make a cat-care plan. Have your whole family agree on a cat-care plan in advance, so all the important details are taken care of (feeding and litter box responsibilities, playtime and brushing, where your cat can sit and other training issues).

Remember existing pets. Make sure any other pets you already have at home are vaccinated before introducing a new pet. Keep a new and existing kitty separate for several days, but allow them to play with each other through the space under a door. 

Cat-proof your home. It’s true that cats are extremely curious. Help protect your favorite feline by moving plants, chemicals and breakables to safe places. The ASPCA provides a good list of toxic and non-toxic plants. 

Kitten considerations. If you adopt a kitten, be sure you know how to provide for their special needs.

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