What First-Time Cat Owners Should Know Before Adopting
You’ve always loved meeting and playing with cats—so much so that now you’re wondering whether it’s time to adopt one yourself and being a first time cat owner. There’s plenty to mull over: cost, your lifestyle, choosing a veterinarian, and whether you should think about getting two cats rather than one.
Besides buying all the essential supplies, here’s some first-time cat owner advice from Brett Kruger, the feline team manager at shelter Indyhumane, on how to make sure you're ready to take on the responsibility of cat caretaker.
Costs for a First Time Cat Owner
Adoption fees aside, you’ll want to make sure you can afford the things on the first-time cat owner checklist. You’ll have plenty to buy when you bring your cat home—toys, litter boxes, scratchers, cat trees, and food bowls. And then there are the recurring costs: food, vet visits, and potential fees if you rent your house.
Resourceful parents can spend as little as $50 per month on their cats, Kruger says. But that varies, depending on where in the country you live. And it doesn’t include the big-ticket vet visits, such as invasive surgeries or treatment for chronic conditions.
Costs also depend on your cat’s age. Kittens need several rounds of vaccines, and older cats can need extra blood work. Kruger says owners can look into clinics or nonprofits as cheaper health care options, but a vet still might be necessary for some ailments.
Plus, cats will be a decade-plus investment. On average, indoor cats live around 15 years, but Kruger says some are now living closer to 17 or 18 years. “You have to be prepared for that commitment,” she says.
Lifestyle Considerations for First Time Cat Owners
Owners should consider whether they’re willing to adjust their daily lives before living with a cat for the first time. People may think they live laid-back lives, but having children in the house, for instance, can stress out a new cat.
“It’s alway good to really think about your family’s activity level and how that’s going to affect the animal,” Kruger says.
Cats also crave routine, she says, so people should ask themselves if they’re willing to take part in that routine, which might include being woken up at 6 a.m. each day.
With that in mind, potential cat moms and dads should find a cat with a personality that will fit in their new home.
Maybe Consider Getting Two Cats
If you’re planning on becoming a first-time kitten owner, get two, Kruger says. They don’t have to be from the same litter, but a pair of the relative same age will do.
While everybody wants to be a cat, humans aren’t always equipped to teach kittens how to play and use the litter box. Humans using their hands to play with kittens can inadvertently teach them that it’s OK for them to bite and swat.
By themselves, cats can develop single-kitten syndrome, which may include biting and clawing problems. A buddy helps teach both cats how to properly use their teeth and claws, Kruger says. “They basically teach each other how to be good cats,” she says.
It’s easy to adopt two kittens or cats. Shelters often keep pairs together, and they’re adopted out together if they get along.
Find a Veterinarian
When finding a vet, which you’ll need right away, Kruger suggests finding one that has either separate waiting rooms for dogs and cats or one with a single large waiting room with enough space for both.
Find a cat-friendly clinic that’s particularly in tune with how to reduce the stress some cats feel when they visit the vet. Look for one with certification such as from the American Association of Feline Practitioners or Fear Free. You’ll also want to find a vet who advocates positive reinforcement as a training philosophy and one who will recommend nonsurgical solutions to any concerns you might have about scratching. (While declawing used to be commonplace, research has shown the procedure to be detrimental to cats, hurting their joints and causing behavioral issues.)
First Few Days at Home
When you bring your cat or kitten home, be prepared and be patient. The cat will probably be upset and stressed from the move. Kruger says new parents should have food and water ready along with a litter box, cat tree, and scratcher. (See: 7 Essential Supplies to Get Before You Adopt a Cat.)
Start by introducing the cat to a smaller room or area of the house, blocking off any nook or cranny the cat might flee to. (Bathrooms are good for kittens, Kruger says.)
When you arrive home, set down the cat carrier and open the door. The cat may not leave right away, but Kruger says it’s best to leave her alone and let her move at her own speed. “Be very patient,” she says.
As the days go by, the cat can see more and more of the house, but Kruger says some cats may take a week or two in “base camp” before exploring further.
With thoughtful, careful consideration about adopting your new cat, you’ll be setting yourself up for years of happy companionship.