How to Find a Cat to Adopt: Where to Adopt a Cat

By Janelle Leeson

Woman on her computer looking to adopt a cat
Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shutterstock
Before choosing which cat to adopt, you’ll consider where to start your cat adoption search. You may be surprised to learn that there are all sorts of ways to find a cat to adopt. For instance, you could visit a shelter or get in touch with a cat rescue, they may have a specific breed being cared for by fosters. You might also search online platforms, including Adopt A Pet or social media.

No matter how you find your adoptable cat, adopting a cat or kitten is a wonderful way to provide a loving home to a deserving animal. This step-by-step cat adoption guide explains how to start your cat adoption search as well as tips for picking the best companion for you and your family.

How to search for a cat to adopt 

1. Determine what sort of cat is right for you

The first step in finding a cat to adopt is determining what characteristics will best fit you or your family. You can start your search by learning about cat care needs at each stage of life, including litter box training, play, and grooming. You may also discover particular cat breeds available for adoption, such as Maine Coon cats, Siamese, and Russian Blues. If you’re interested in a certain cat breed, be sure to research their specific care and temperament, too.

“Many people may think cats are less work than dogs or don’t require as much time or attention,” says Ana Bustilloz, director of communications and marketing at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA). However, cats require plenty of play, socialization, and enrichment for a happy, healthy life.

Kittens: Kittens require a lot of patience and training, such as how to properly use their teeth and claws. If possible, consider adopting two kittens. In fact, some shelters require kittens to go home in pairs. Two or more kittens help each other develop good socialization skills, which is important for avoiding single-kitten syndrome.

Adults: Adult cats often come with a defined temperament. If you’re looking for a cat who has experience with dogs or children, you can set your search filter for an adult cat who fits your lifestyle.

Senior and special needs cats: Senior and special needs cats can be perfect companions for those seeking a calm friend or wanting to make a meaningful impact.. Cats are typically considered seniors around age 10, but many live well into their double digits. Special needs cats may include cats who require daily medications, are deaf, or have lost their sight. Many special needs cats can live full and happy lives with the right caretaker.

2. Perform an online search via reputable sites

Here’s where all your research will be put to good use. Pet adoption websites such as Adopt a Pet streamline the adoption search process for you by scouring local shelters and rescue organizations for cats who align with your specified criteria.

To get the search started, you’ll input some basic information, such as your location or the search radius, the preferred age of your adoptable cat or cats, gender, and, sometimes, your preferred breed.

You can also go directly to your local shelter or rescue organization’s website — most shelters and rescues share adoption profiles on their websites, so you can browse through the cats available for adoption and learn more about their personalities and any special needs.

3. Join social media groups or online forums

While social media groups can be a platform to find cats needing homes, prospective pet parents should exercise caution. The advantage of using social media for cat adoption is that you can gather first-hand insights about the cat from their previous people. Adopting a cat before they’re surrendered to the shelter also saves space for another cat in need.

However, adopting a cat posted on social media isn’t without risk. For instance, the cat may have health or behavior problems that aren’t apparent in photos or videos. When adopting directly from a previous pet parent, you may be without the post-adoption support that many shelters and rescues provide.

4. Search within your network

Let your friends and family know that you’re looking to adopt a cat. They may know of a cat that is looking for a new home, or they may be able to connect you with someone who does. Sharing the profiles of cats who capture your attention is a great way to help cats find good homes, even if you’re not ready to adopt or they’re not quite the right fit for you.

5. Read adoptable pet profiles

Above all (including physical appearance!), potential cat parents should strive to find a cat with a personality and needs that will fit their new home. You’ll learn more about each cat by clicking on the pictures that catch your eye, including the cat’s history, behavior, any special needs, and whether they get along with other animals or children.

If you’re browsing cats posted by the current pet parent or foster on social media groups or online forums, message the caretaker to learn more about the cat’s current living situation, history, and routine.

6. Visit adoptable cats

When visiting shelters, observe the cats’ behaviors, and ask about their history.  For example, ask questions such as: How does the cat behave around other animals or kids? Are there known health issues?

Don’t be shy in telling staff about your ideal cat and what type of environment they’ll be living in. Their goal is to match you with the best possible companion.

Bustilloz adds that whether you are visiting a cat in the shelter or are preparing for a pre-adoption home visit, take note of the cat’s living conditions and the health of any other animals. If you notice that pets in a home or shelter have watery eyes, runny noses, or are sneezing, it’s a sign that they will need additional medical attention once adopted. Until treated by your vet, they should be kept separate from any other pets in your home.

How can you find the right shelter cat for you?

Choosing which cat to adopt goes far beyond swooning over the first adorable kitten you find. It’s important to consider your lifestyle and preferences when choosing a cat. For example, do you want a kitten or an adult cat? Do you have any breed preferences? Do you want a cat who is high-energy or low-energy?

Even when you’ve found the perfect cat with all the personality traits you’re looking for, it’s important to think about whether you can commit to the financial and emotional responsibility of caring for a cat for their lifetime.

What factors should I consider when choosing a cat to adopt?

Before adopting a cat, ask yourself the following questions:

Is my living situation suitable for a cat? 

If you don’t own a home, does your landlord allow pets, and if so, how many? Can your cat have access to a majority of the living space?

Does caring for a cat mesh with my current social life, vacation plans, and career? 

If you’ll be gone for more than a day, can you hire pet care or ask a friend to care for your cat?

Is everyone in my household on board with adopting a cat? 

Everyone from your dog to your kiddos should be prepared and amenable to a new furry friend.

Do you have the time to socialize and play with your cat?

Cats require daily play. If you’re planning to adopt a kitten, socialization is crucial to raising a well-rounded adult cat.

Do you have the financial means to care for a cat?

The cost of having a cat is estimated to range from $961 to $2,487 a year based on a 15-year lifespan. Costs can increase if your cat develops any medical conditions requiring a special diet or lifelong medications. Factor in the cost of pet care if you plan to travel, and don’t forget about cozy beds, toys, and cat furniture for play, climbing, and rest.

If you’ve said no or not right not to any of the above questions, you can still help cats in need by fostering or volunteering at your local rescue or shelter.

What are the benefits of adopting a cat?

Cats make wonderful companions, and there are many reasons to adopt a cat. Here are a few top reasons why choosing to adopt a cat from a rescue, shelter, or foster organization can be a great fit:

  • Save a life. Every year, thousands of cats are euthanized in shelters because they cannot find homes. By adopting a cat, you are saving a life and giving them a second chance at happiness.
  • Ease the strain on overcrowded shelters. Shelters are often overcrowded and understaffed. By adopting a cat, you are helping to make room for more cats in need.
  • Bring home a spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped cat. Many shelter cats come spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped, saving you money and trips to the vet.

Enjoy the company of a loving and loyal companion. Despite common feline misconnections, cats are social animals who bond deeply with their human companions.

What is the difference between a cat rescue and a shelter?

While both rescues and shelters provide essential care, shelter, and food to animals in need, the main difference between cat rescues and shelters is that shelters are often government-run while rescues are private non-profit organizations.

Cat rescues are typically private, smaller 501(c)(3) organizations that operate out of networks of foster homes. They may focus on specific breeds of cats or cases, such as cats with special needs or cats who have been rescued from abusive situations.

Shelters, on the other hand, are usually run by city or county governments or animal welfare organizations, such as the SPCA or humane society. They have physical locations where they house a variety of animals, including cats. Most of the animals in shelters are lost or stray pets or relinquishments.

However, the best pet adoption organization for you may depend on the type of pet you are looking for. For instance, if you’re looking for a specific breed of cat or a cat with special needs, adopting a cat rescue may be a good option. Shelters may have a wider variety of cats available for adoption, matching you with a cat who is a good fit for your lifestyle and needs.

Are cats in shelters healthy?

Shelters have strict protocols in place to keep their animals healthy, including cleaning practices, adequate medical care, and methods for handling pets, Bustilloz says. Staff and volunteers are typically trained on how to stay safe and identify any signs of illness in animals.

But not all shelters are created equal. When visiting the shelter or a foster parents’ home, Bustilloz recommends assessing the environment and health of any other animals. “Is the shelter clean? Do the animals look sick or are they sneezing with runny eyes? Is the staff knowledgeable and caring? These are good indicators that their caretakers are managing their health effectively,” she says.

If you’re concerned about the health of a particular cat, ask the shelter staff about the cat’s medical history and any vaccinations or other treatments they’ve received.

Janelle Leeson is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer. Her work has been featured in magazines such as Inside Your Dog’s Mind, Inside Your Cat’s Mind, and Paw Print, as well online at Insider Reviews, NBC Select, Shop Today, PetMD, and Daily Paws. She has two adventure cats, a flock of urban chickens, and a soon-to-be-husband who doesn’t mind housing the occasional foster cat — or five.

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