If you find yourself with a cat-shaped hole in your heart lately, you're far from alone. Adoption rates skyrocketed through March and April at many animal shelters, as people across the country prepared to shelter in place and wanted a furry face to cuddle through the uncertainty. On Petfinder.com, for example, adoption inquiries jumped 122 percent between March 15 and April 15, compared to the previous four weeks. Foster applications are up too, as people suddenly found themselves with lots more time at home and plenty of anxiety-fueled hugs to give.
Depending on where you live, that may mean your own adoption journey could take a little longer. Smaller shelters in particular may get overwhelmed as they process more applications than usual, while doing their due diligence to screen potential pet owners and safely introduce them to their new family members. But that's good news too, because it gives you time to get your home ready for its newest arrival. Here's what you need to check off your list before welcoming a pet into your household.
Compile a list of agencies
If you're like many pet lovers, you may already have a few of your local adoption agencies bookmarked for midnight scrolling. But if not, compile a list of a few handfuls nearby. Look for reputable organizations that are registered as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and do a little background research on their website, social media, and any local media to make sure you're working with someone who treats their animals well and sources them ethically. Websites like PetFinder and Adopt-a-Pet can help you find pets at shelters and rescue organizations near you.
Keep an open mind
Before you go to look at potential cat pals, sit down with all members of your household to talk about the decision. Even if you live with roommates or plan to take care of her entirely yourself, everyone has to be on board with bringing an animal into the home. Setting expectations early — including feeding, cleanup, and playtime schedules — can help prevent conflict later. Then, brace yourself for a barrage of adorable faces as you begin your prowl.
"There is a cat that's right for every lifestyle — so ask yourself what kind of lifestyle you can provide to the cat and then find the cat who fits best," advises cat adoption advocate Hannah Shaw, the Kitten Lady. Active kittens need equally engaged owners, who can give them the stimulation they need, not to mention good feline citizen training. Senior cats, on the other hand, do better in a quiet environment with lots of calm cuddles. Older animals may have more medical needs too, so have a frank look at your budget before you adopt one. But Shaw also suggests letting fate have a hand in finding your feline soulmate. "Go with an open mind and let your heart match you with your future best friend," she says.
Get the goods you need
Before you bring home a cat, get your place ready for its arrival. In addition to food and litter (more on that later), you'll need to create a happy, safe environment for your new furry friend. Put away precarious tchotchkes — cats love to knock things off ledges. Look for exposed wires, poisonous plants, or unsecured furniture that could injure a curious kitty if they topple it. Equip your space with at least one scratching post and a cat tree for climbing, especially if you don't want to find a kitten on top of your kitchen cabinets. You'll also want to get them cat toys to keep them occupied, or DIY it for a fun weekend project.
Also make sure you get a veterinarian lined up. The shelter or rescue organization may already have a relationship with one, or be able to make a recommendation.
Pick the right food and feeding setup
Look for wide, shallow feeding bowls that won't disturb their highly sensitive whiskers at meal time, advises Lambert Wang, co-founder of Cat Person. And because cats are obligate carnivores, meat is the name of the game. "Feed your new friend a high-quality diet that has high amounts of animal protein, moderate amounts of fat, and a limited amount of carbohydrates," Wang says. While dry food can be more convenient, wet food helps your cat get enough water, since cats often prefer to play with water over actually drinking it. A mix of protein flavors and formats will give their diet a little variety, as well as cultivate a more varied palate in kittens, in particular. Besides, you wouldn't want to eat the same thing every day. Neither will they.
Get used to scooping litter
Cats can be picky about their litter box style and location, so it might take a little trial and error to find one they like. Place it in a quiet, low-traffic area of your home so they can potty in peace. You may also want to choose a covered or partially covered style so you don't end up with litter all over the place when they bury their mess. Wang advises scooping it at least daily, to keep your pet's toilet clean and cut down on that smell. Cats sometimes do their business outside of their box if they don't like their litter, its style or location, or if they're feeling stressed out or unhappy. Scooping it regularly will eliminate at least one of those factors, so set a schedule and stick to it.
Set them up for success
When you first bring your cat home, give them time and space to get used to their new digs. "Especially true for kittens and timider adult cats, it is important to help them transition into a new environment by giving them a dedicated area to relax and adjust to their new surroundings," Wang says. That goes double if you have other cats or dogs in the home. Set up a spare room or a corner of the bathroom with their litter box, food and water, and some of those toys, and then let them come to you. Most cats will get curious after a few days, but it can take some time for them to warm up.
And even though cats have the reputation of being aloof, don't forget daily playtime, Wang says. An afternoon game of chase that squeaker will help them maintain a healthy weight, stay mentally sharp, and best of all, help form the bond that children's movies are made of.
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