Cats and dogs are always coming in to animal shelters, but Becky Krueger of the Animal Protective Association says this is really the big time of year for cats. “We’re approaching the time where we really see an influx of kittens,” says Krueger, director of education and public relations for the shelter. “We call it ‘kitty season;’ it’s industry-wide.” So if you’re considering a kitten or adult cat, this might be the best time to get your pick of the litter.
But how can you make sure your kitty makes a smooth transition into your home? First, think about what kind of pet will fit into your family’s lifestyle, says Linda Campbell, shelter behavior manager at Humane Society of Missouri. “Even cats, which are considered low-maintenance, require interaction every day. If potential owners think they just need food and water, they will be surprised, because cats do like attention.” She adds that kittens require a lot more supervision and attention than adult cats. “Left to their own devices, kittens will climb curtains and knock things over,” she says. “They can be time-intensive because they haven’t learned household manners yet.” Additionally, long-haired cats might require brushing once per day, but those with shorter coats can get by with once per week, Campbell notes.
Personality is another attribute to take into account. With kittens, this might be a wild card because it will change as they grow, but for adult cats, it’s usually easy to tell their moods. “When you come in, you can get a lot of information from the adoption counselors who work with them every day: what they like or don’t like and how they play,” Campbell says. Krueger adds that at the APA, approximately 75 percent of the cats are owner surrenders, so they tend to have a lot of background for potential new owners. She also notes that with the nonprofit’s ‘pick-your-price’ campaign, owners can decide how much they want to pay for their new cat. “A lot of people don’t realize that a free kitten in the newspaper is going to cost them several hundred dollars in vaccinations, getting the feline leukemia test, spay/neuter—everything that’s included if you go to the shelter.”
There are also things that need to be done at home before you introduce the new cat, our experts say. Dr. Debra Horwitz of Veterinary Behavior Consultations suggests preparing a ‘safe spot’ that contains everything the cat needs, which will help it get used to the new surroundings. This can be a bedroom or other secure place and should include a litter box, food and water, scratching post, places to hide and toys. “It takes a while for them to explore the environment, so they need this safe haven where they can rest, eliminate and eat,” she says. When you first bring the cat home, don’t overwhelm it right away, she suggests. “When we get a new pet, we know we’re bringing them home and will give them a great environment and love them, but for them it’s a brand new experience. Patience is important, and they need time to get used to their new surroundings.”
Horwitz adds that most cats like toys that are light and easy to move, but that don’t have small parts that could be ingested. “Cats love to play, especially kittens, and one of the things people love most about them is watching them play, because they’re very agile and they jump and twist and turn.” A scratching post is another vital piece of equipment for cats that have not been declawed. “When animals exhibit a behavior we don’t like, the first reaction is often to say, Stop doing that. But really the better thing to say is: I know you need to do this, why don’t you do it here? If you see them scratching on furniture, you can take them to the scratching post, play with them there and let them know this is where it’s OK to do this kind of thing.”
Once they’re settled into your home, cats can be a relatively low-maintenance companion pet. “I have four cats; they’re like potato chips,” Campbell jokes. “They get along with the dogs and fit into our house, and they love to curl up with me. And they keep themselves entertained— setting up a bird feeder outside your window is like kitty TV.”