7 Things you need to know about adopting a cat

Oct 11, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. ET

Adopting a cat is a wonderful thing to do, both for the cat in question and its new owner. Cats are funny, loving, cuddly creatures that make excellent additions to any household (without a severely allergic person).

However, while cats are low-maintenance pets, the process of adopting one is not as simple as heading to your local shelter and picking one out. That's certainly a big part of it, but it's just as important to prepare yourself and your home so your new feline companion feels welcome. Here's a step-by-step guide to adopting a cat from readying your home to handling the first week with your new cat.

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1. Prepare the homestead

If you've never had a cat before, you want to make sure you've got all the supplies you need for at least the first week with your kitty. The ASPCA has a handy list of the essentials, including food and water supplies, litter, toys and sleeping accessories. I've updated the list to including details that helped me out enormously when I adopted my kittens.

  • A litter box — one that's on the smaller side if you're adopting a kitten. I found it's best to start with an open one without a lid at first, so you can get used to scooping and changing the litter.
  • A bag of litter — if you can, try and find the brand the shelter it came from used.
  • Food and water bowls and the food the cat is used to eating. Again, if it's a kitten, make sure you get bowls on the shallower side.
  • A sturdy, rough-textured scratching post at least 3-feet high.
  • Cat toys — smaller ones that make noise are great. You may also want to get a fishing-line pole toy with feathers on the end so you can play with your cat.
  • A bed lined with a soft, warm blanket or towel. It's good to put an old shirt that smells like you in there, too, so it gets used to your scent.
  • Grooming tools — a soft wire brush and a nail clipper.

2. Kitty-proof your home

Similar to baby-proofing, you want to make sure there's nothing around your house that could hurt your cat if it accidentally ate it. This includes paper, certain plants (leaves), flowers, errant nails or staples and really anything small, sharp and/or pointy.

3. Finding the right shelter

This may sound harder than it actually is, especially if you're not aware of the shelters in your neighborhood. However, if you go on Petfinder, you can type in what type of cat you want (age, sex, breed) and where you're located, and their database will turn up a bunch of reputable options. You can even see pictures of some of their available kitties online. Be sure to call ahead before heading over, though, just to make sure the cat you liked online is still there and/or if they have the sort of cats for which you're looking.

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4. Picking your cat

You may not have an idea of the sort of cat you want before going to look for one and that's totally OK. The most important thing is to be aware of the personality traits you appreciate in an animal and try to look for them when meeting cats at the shelter. Remember, you want to be as gentle and receptive as you can when interacting with a new cat. They may be shy at first, but the right cat will open up to you.

5. Taking it home

Before you leave the shelter, make sure you get official adoption papers and find out if your cat's been microchipped with an identity tag. Many shelters do this when they receive their animals, but if your cat hasn't been tagged, you'll want to take it to a vet soon to have it done. Also, make sure you're aware of which shots your new cat's had and which ones it hasn't, so you can tell your vet.

It's likely your kitty will be anxious on the trip home, especially if it's in a car. The Humane Society says it's best to have it in a sturdy carrying case and not to leave it in the car alone for any period of time, otherwise it may have an accident. Try speaking to your cat in soft tones on the way to calm it.

6. Make one room the cat's

Once home, you'll want to sequester your kitty in one room that's quiet and away from foot traffic. Make sure all the things it'll need are in there: bed, food and water, litter box and some toys. You don't want to play with your cat right away as it'll likely be overwhelmed from the day's events and just want to take it all in or sleep.

7. Introduce everyone slowly

For the first few days, you should bring in family members (including pets) slowly and one at a time. For example, if you have a dog and young children, you don't want them all coming to check out the new cat at the same time. It's also important for them to meet the new cat it in "its" room (the one you've designated), so it feels safe and like it can retreat if necessary.

After a few days, you can leave the door open to your cat's room and see if it wants to venture out. Remember, you don't want to rush your cat — it's not used to the sights and smells of its new home yet and thus will want to figure things out in its own time.

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