Why You Should Adopt an Older Cat
Veterinarians share advice on welcoming a senior feline into your family.
While cute kittens tend to draw the gaze of shelter visitors, adult cats are far more likely to be overlooked. And as a result, they face the greatest risk of being euthanized, says Kate Hurley, director of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. Although that's reason alone to scoop one up, these older cats also bring other advantages to the table. They're generally calmer and less likely to cause trouble, says Loukia Agapis, shelter medicine service head at University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine: "You won't have to guess whether they're going to ruin your new shoes or chew on your laptop charger!"
Contrary to the public misconception of shelter cats, they're also not any "lesser" than a feline you'd pick up from a pet store. "These animals are examined by veterinary staff, screened for illness, and given vaccinations and other treatments before they're put up for adoption," says Agapis. "Many times, they're just in a shelter because their families ran into a bit of bad luck and could no longer care for them." That's precisely where you come in. If you're considering adoption, Agapis suggests fostering first: Offer up your place as a weekend escape for one lucky kitty and see how it goes. Once you're fully convinced, follow these steps to add your new furry family member.
Find a Good Shelter
Up first: a Google search to scout out shelters in your area. Once you find a few, identify the ones with the most consistently positive reviews and see if you can track down their annual reports, suggests Agapis: "I like to look at the outcomes of animals in a shelter's care, specifically the Live Release Rate." You'll also want to pick a shelter with an open-adoption or adopters-welcome policy, says Hurley. "These types of facilities will gladly take a cat back if you bring him home and it's not quite a fit." This way, both you and the cat won't need to continue a negative relationship, and there's a greater chance he'll end up in a loving forever home.
Meet Your Match
Before you make even a first visit to a shelter, give some thought to the types of qualities you've enjoyed in cats before. Is your ideal feline active and adventurous, or shy and reserved? Does he love affection or alone time? And does he need to get along with children or other pets? "Some people will walk into a shelter and get swayed by appearance or by a particularly sad sob story and end up choosing a cat that isn't great for them," says Hurley. Rather than making an in-the-moment decision, come prepared knowing what you're searching for. And keep in mind: Adult cats are fully socialized. "You're finding a pet whose vibe already suits yours, and not taking on the job of shaping their personality," says Hurley. "It's like dating, versus raising a child."
The shelter staff and volunteers can offer insight into their cats' personalities and share details about how they behave when the place isn't brimming with visitors. Since the pandemic, some shelters are also offering virtual adoptions, providing videos of potential adoptees walking around their cat condos and exploring various rooms. "This can actually offer a more accurate depiction of their true nature," says Hurley, "as opposed to when the shelter is hustling and bustling." In this case, once you spotted a cat that you were drawn to, you'd just schedule an appointment to collect him curbside.
Prepare for Arrival
Changes of scenery can be jarring to older cats, so it's best to place Whiskers in a small room with his litter box to start and let him move outward and explore the rest of your home at his own pace. This allows for a smoother adjustment and ensures he won't have to wander a seemingly vast distance to relieve himself. "If you already have a cat at home, make sure you have enough litter boxes and food bowls around, so that the cats do not have to compete for these items," says Agapis. If you brought your furry friend home in a carrier from the shelter or you have any other toys or items from his former life, make those a part of his new safe space, too, and aim to feed him the same kind of food he's been eating to ease the transition.
"It could take as long as three weeks or even longer for a shy cat to settle in," says Hurley. "You might notice irregular bowel movements or diarrhea, too, as they adapt to their new surroundings and process the change." It's smart to quickly establish a relationship with a trustworthy vet, as well. The cat will have had the basic shots necessary to stay healthy in the shelter, but may need additional flea control, heart-worm testing, or other preventative treatments depending on where you live and his new lifestyle.