June is Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month, but did you know this celebratory month is timed (in part) for a very specific reason? Kitten season! Over the last 16-plus years working with animal rescue groups and shelters big and small, this is probably simultaneously one of the biggest and cutest issues I’ve encountered. Seriously, imagine Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and you’re pretty much there.
What is kitten season?
While this occurs to varying degrees across the U.S., kitten season is the time of year when neighborhood cats all begin to give birth. In the cooler regions, this usually begins in spring and goes through the summer. In some warmer states, it can seem like it lasts all year. The point? Shelters and rescue groups get flooded with kittens — lots of them — putting even more strain on the resources available. According to the ASPCA, 3.2 million cats are surrendered to animal shelters each year, and yet only 1.6 million cats are adopted, leaving a whopping million-plus without a home.
We are now at the height of kitten season in many areas — meaning there are lots of adoptable cats in need of a home. Whether your heart sings for a tiny tornado of kittenhood or, like me, has a special love for seniors, right now is a great time to adopt a cat. (Find out what Dr. Christie Long suggests everyone know before adopting a shelter cat.)
Are you ready to adopt a cat or kitten?
Of course, bringing home a new cat is a big decision and needs to be thought through. Adoption can be a 20-plus-year commitment, and every shelter and rescue group wants to help you make sure you’re ready. So today we’ll explore some of the things to know before adopting a kitten so you can make the best decision for you and your household.
Be ready for the cost of kitten care
Cats are a constant investment — one that pays dividends in love and affection, but an investment nonetheless. From litter to food to toys to vet visits, you’ll want to make sure you have a monthly budget for your cat’s needs. The last thing you need is a medical emergency and no medical fund to cover costs.
- In their youth, you may have more costs, such as vaccinations, checkups, additional toys to keep kittens entertained and burn off all that baby energy, kitten diets, socialization classes, perhaps a leash and harness (if you’re so inclined) and spaying/neutering. (Please read this before you consider declawing your cat.)
- Throughout their middle life, hopefully you mostly have wellness checks and vaccinations, dental cleanings, some rotating toys to keep kitty’s brain active and basic grooming to invest in.
- In later life, your cat will need additional health screenings (usually increasing from once a year to twice a year as long as everything checks out fine). She may also need some additional support.
Research shows the average cost of a cat the first year is slightly over $1,000 with an approximate $700 investment each subsequent year of the cat’s life. All costs depend upon the area you live in, whether or not you carry medical insurance for your cat or have medical emergencies, and the veterinarian you choose. Doing some research on local prices of everything from a good-quality cat food to routine and emergency care can help you have a reasonable idea of how much a cat will truly cost you each year.
Consider the mental needs of your new kitten
When you’re thinking about adopting a new cat, consider what kind would do best in your home. Every cat or kitten will need companionship, love, food, water, medical care, training and mental stimulation. However, the last three on the list will vary quite a bit from one cat to another.
- Kittens are a lot of work: It will be up to you to teach them their manners while keeping them entertained. No matter what their final temperament, kittens have a lot of energy to burn off and won’t be familiar with the do’s and don’ts of the typical household. You’ll have to teach them or they’ll find other less-desirable ways to dispel that energy. Many rescue groups require adopting two kittens to help teach each other all of this if you don’t already have a resident cat.
- Adult and senior cats need challenges and mental engagement too: Adult and senior cats are more seasoned and may already know their manners, but will always benefit from brainteasers and challenges as well. (Check out these tips for keeping kitty entertained and out of trouble.)
Are you ready for the time commitment?
Even though they don’t require the daily walks and constant attention of a dog, a cat still has needs, and thinking of them as low-maintenance doesn’t work to either of your benefits. Think about it — while you go out into the world and have lots of things to keep you engaged, your cat likely only as you. This means their needs like grooming, training, feeding and play need to come from you — or they will happily start their exercise program at 3 a.m. or suddenly pick a new “better” spot to pee and poop. If you want to train your cat not to be on countertops or limit scratching to certain areas of the house (like a scratching post or pad), you’ll need to carve out the time and attention for kitty training and mental stimulation.
Is your whole family on board?
Are there already pets at home? Is your living space large enough to accommodate another pet? Is Fido ready to share his living quarters? Asking yourself how your resident cats and dogs will handle the addition is an important pre-adoption step. Too often, a kitten or other new critter is brought into the home with the best of intentions — only to terrorize the existing four-legged residents.
If you already have an older cat, a new kitten can stir up the dynamics quite a bit. Check out a few tips on getting the two acquainted. If you’re already finding problems with the two, here are some tricks you might want to try.
What about those first few days?
With your new family member ready to come home, you’ll want to slowly get her used to the new surroundings. If you’ve never parented a cat before, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. Like their big-cat relatives, domestic house cats are territorial. They like to be in control of their space. A new environment can leave them a bit anxious, and it may take weeks for them to get used to it.
Let Kitty explore rooms one at a time (by blocking off her access to other areas). When she first gets in, let Kitty naturally come out of her carrier and join you in a single room for a few days. Preferably where you plan to keep the litter box for the long haul. Don’t force this and don’t give her too big a space initially. If she scurries off and hides, that’s OK. She’ll just need some time before she’s trusting and comfortable in the environment. Pro tip: If Kitty hides, try sitting in the room and reading a book aloud. This will help her get used to the sound of your voice and feel more comfortable.
Settling in: The first few weeks
Definitely get your new cat or kitten in to see your vet within the first couple of weeks and bring any immunization/medical records you received when adopting her. (To find out what exactly happens at a wellness check, click here.)
Your new cat will probably be ready to explore the entire house. Monitor her and provide plenty of toys for her and you to bond over.
A new pet is always exciting for the whole family. If you have the space, the resources and the love to give, consider adopting one of the 3.2 million sheltered cats.