Kittens are cute, but, like all babies, they require time, effort, and patience. Besides, the cute little fuzzball stage lasts only a few short weeks out of a lifetime of more than a decade. For many people, a grown-up cat is a better choice. Many, many young adult cats need homes, and a mature, healthy cat of 5, 6, 7 years or even older can be a wise and wonderful companion for years to come. With good care, cats commonly live well into their teens. Besides, the depth of love and friendship matters more than length of life.
Adult cats are often available for adoption for reasons that have nothing to do with the cat. Her owner might have died or become unable to care for her. Perhaps a change in the owner's life or job leaves no time for the cat. Sometimes a cat doesn't get along with another pet in the home. Cats who are displaced for reasons like these make fine companions and usually fit easily into a new home.
When cats do have behavioral problems, they're often due to lack of training or veterinary care or to abuse, rather than to any inherent problem in the cat. Training takes time, consistency, and patience (see Using Positive Reinforcement to Train Your Cat), and if no one invests those elements in the cat, he won't know what's expected of him. Fortunately, with proper care and training, most “uneducated” cats blossom into loving, well-behaved companions.
Some people just dump their problem cats or drop them off with rescuers or shelters without providing any information. Many of these cats will do fine in the right situation, but others require experienced handling to overcome behavioral problems they've developed, and some will never be good pets. If you feel uneasy about a cat's behavior, walk away. You won't help the cat or yourself by adopting the wrong cat out of pity. Take your time, and ask questions. Here are some to get you started:
- What do you know about this cat's background?
- Why is this cat looking for a new home?
- Has he threatened, bitten, or clawed anyone?
- Is he friendly with people, other cats, and dogs?
- Does he use a litter box reliably?
- What health tests and vaccinations has he had?
- Has he been wormed? When, and for what kinds of worms?
- Does he appear to be healthy now?
- Has he been exposed to any contagious diseases that you know of?
- Has he shown any sign of behavioral problems?
- Does he have any problem with any particular type of person (men, women, children)?
- Do you offer any post-adoption help?
If there's no record of the cat's veterinary care, be cautious, especially if you already have a cat. A cat who has lacked proper care might carry diseases or parasites that can be passed to your resident cats or even to people (see Vaccinating Your Cat Against Infectious Diseases). A trip to the vet will cost some money but might save your cat's life. If the veterinarian finds signs of disease or parasites, ask her advice for safe cleanup, and don't forget to clean yourself and your clothing, including your shoes, before you handle other animals.
Spend some time with the cat you're considering. Hold her and see how she reacts—she should enjoy being held and petted. If she doesn't relax after a few minutes, or if she acts nervous, hisses or growls, or runs away, she'll probably need a lot of time and patience. Many cats overcome these behaviors in the right environment, but some never do. If you want to try with a problem cat (see Preventing Unwanted Behaviors in Your Cat), be sure everyone in your household is committed to the rehabilitation process.