What First-Time Cat Owners Need to Know Before Adopting
By Sam Jones
Fri, Jul 29, 2022 at 8:08AM

What First-Time Cat Owners Need to Know Before Adopting

Coming back home to a pet is one of the most heartwarming feelings ever! Your cat will welcome you with displays of affection and, if you’re lucky, will want to play and cuddle. You will feel loved, wanted, and blessed. If the thought of becoming a first-time cat owner has been on your mind for a while, then perhaps it’s time to go from thought to action and bring a new furry friend into your home! However, adopting a cat is not necessarily as easy as it might seem. You need to make a proper plan and think about a bunch of things before bringing a cat into your home. 

Five important things that you need to know before adopting a cat are as follows:

Indoor or Outdoor?

Many folks adopting a cat wonder whether they should keep their new pet indoors all the time. Some cat experts claim that cats prefer to be indoors and whilst this may be true for some cats, it comes down to the individual cat and your preference. Are you prepared to deal with the increased risks that letting your cat have time outdoors will undoubtedly bring? Some cats may prefer being limited to a safe space within a home rather than roaming around outside. An indoor-only lifestyle will help them feel especially safe and secure and is going to preserve their health and wellbeing. Many cat owners keep their pets indoors because roaming outside exposes them to diseases and health issues. On top of those risks, there is a danger that an encounter with other animals can be dangerous, and then there’s the very real chance of injury or death from traffic. It’s because of these factors that I prefer to keep my pets, especially my kittens, confined within the safe space of the home. Until they grow beyond the age of six months, they are not allowed out at all!


Veterinary Care Is A Must!

You can't ignore the fact that you’re going to need to fund veterinary care for your kitty. Even before you bring a pet home, think about consulting a well-regarded local vet. You might be able to ask them some general questions about the likely annual cost of veterinary care for your future cat. You might also ask about necessary vaccinations and how you can prevent common health issues or infections. Knowing this in advance will give you a fair idea of what is expected of you as a cat parent. After adopting a cat, your first visit to the vet with your new furry family member should be within the first few weeks. A detailed examination of your cat will give you a fair idea of any health conditions, and hopefully a clean bill of health, as well as making sure that your cat has had all the necessary initial vaccinations. Depending on exactly how old your cat is on the first visit to a vet, they are likely to suggest that you consider spaying and neutering surgery for your new feline friend. Obviously, there is a cost to this and many rescue shelters will have spayed a cat before allowing you to adopt, but if not, this is a very normal procedure and most domestic cats do have it done. It means your cat won’t be a kitten mom or pop, but it also means that the chances of developing a whole series of diseases are greatly reduced. Plus, of course, all pet parents should be carefully considering whether it’s a sensible choice to let their pet have their own kittens. For most domestic pets the right answer will be no.


Shopping for Kitty

Well, this is going to be a crucial and fun part of the adoption and rehoming of a cat or kitten! You need to add your cat’s food to your regular shopping list as the first thing, but there are also a lot of other essentials and optional fun stuff. When choosing the right food, you’ll want to do some thorough research on the types of food your cat should be eating and the ingredients that should or shouldn't be a part of your cat’s diet. (Ask your vet at that first consult.) Always choose a reputable brand of food that will ensure they get all the required nutrients in their daily meals. 

Food packaging comes with all the required details of nutritional value and feeding instructions, so following these for amounts and the timing of feeding will keep your cat healthy (and at a healthy weight) and make your life easier. Apart from appropriate food, cats require a fresh and clean supply of drinking water, even though they get a lot of their need for water from their food. Your cat might not look like they drink much, but they do need enough water available throughout the day to stay hydrated. This is especially true during warmer weather. If you decide to feed your cat dry food then the need to supply water is more important since there is less moisture in kibble than in wet food.

So, whilst it’s fine to simply have a small saucer or bowl of water out for your cat (replenish it at least once a day with fresh) it may well make sense to try a cat water fountain that will have a permanently fresh stream of water. Maybe add that to the shopping list. There are a few other things that are essential. Even if your cat goes outdoors you’ll probably need a litter tray and cat litter. You might also want to buy a bed for your cat, a scratching post (or your furniture will pay the price…), and some toys for her to play with. Some people push the boat out and buy all sorts of cat furniture and other fun things for your cat. Feel free, but a lot of those things aren’t needed. Cats don’t cost as much as dogs to look after, but you do need to budget for the things they will need (and that you decide to treat them too!).


All Cats Can Be Meesy

If you’ve always been picky about a clean and tidy home, you might be in for a surprise when you adopt a cat. Having a cat in the house means there’s a good chance of them creating a mess all over the place. Whilst a kitten may poop or pee outside a litter box for a while, you will get past this with training and time, but many cats create a little bit of mayhem around the house even when adults. This could be knocking things over, jumping up with muddy feet on sofas, scratching furniture, or chewing carpets. Again, they may not be as destructive as dogs, but some cats can sure make a mess! For some of these habits to be less of an issue, your cat can be trained. As your cat grows up and learns to live with you, it should learn how to behave and act, mostly just from the gentle direction from you. Nothing too rigorous is needed, just the setting of some basic boundaries. Your efforts will soon bear fruit, and you will hopefully be able to limit any behavior that could cause a mess. Your cat is also going to need to learn where to poop and pee. Otherwise, you’re going to be finding that kind of mess all over the place too. Have a good litter box for your cat. Help your cat do its business only inside that box and not anywhere else, simply by reinforcing that behavior. Though it's a potentially difficult process and requires forming a habit, you and your cat will almost certainly work it out together. Cats are clean when it comes to toilet habits so they will almost always naturally fall into using a litter tray.


Settling In

What we’ve covered so far is part of the process of your new adopted cat settling in, both for your cat but also for you. Nonetheless, it’s worth knowing in advance that it’s going to take a little while for a cat to get used to a new home. Kittens tend to be quicker at adapting to a new home and might seem fine after just a few hours (and might just be tearing around the place!), but older cats who might have had a tougher start in life may require more time. Your aim is to make a safe secure area for your new arrival to settle in without too many new noises, smells, or people.

Most experts suggest that you have a small area of your home sectioned off to start with and that you keep your newly adopted cat in this small area for a day or two. You should have your new litter tray and food bowls in this area so it’s self-contained. Slowly let your cat explore a wider area of your home over a few days until they have discovered the whole layout at their own pace. If you have another pet in your home, especially a dog, introduce them very slowly, bringing them up to the confined space where your cat is, and doing so very calmly and slowly. This will give your cat a chance to see any other pets whilst in their safe area rather than being thrown together. In the first few hours and days, spend time just hanging out with your cat. If they want to be petted or cuddled then do so, but if they want to be left alone, just give them time. If you can, try playing with them with a few chasing toys (a teaser wand, piece of string, or ball of paper will do). Don’t rush it - your new cat will be fine and will adjust and settle.


Final Thoughts

Adopting a cat is a huge step! Especially if you’re a first-time cat owner. It will hopefully be a long and beautiful relationship as the life expectancy of cats means your cat will be with you for a good long time. Of course, they tend to build attachments with their owners and stay with them forever. So, what are you waiting for? Go to that shelter home you have been thinking about for so long and bring your favorite cat home!


About the Author

Sam Jones is a feline expert focusing on cat behavior, cat health, and cat care. She has lived with cats her entire life and has been writing about cats for as long as she can remember. She is currently a senior contributing editor at We Love Cats and Kittens.

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