Adopting a Shelter Cat: What You Need to Know

Remember these important considerations when you decide to adopt a cat from a shelter or rescue.


Cats have to have a rabies shot—it’s the law, even if they never goes outside. They’ll probably have a distemper shot too. After that, it depends on the finances of the shelter or rescue as to what other injections or tests are done.

At the Iroquois County Animal Rescue (Illinois), also known as ICare, cats receive a rabies shot, two distemper shots, are de-wormed twice, are tested for feline leukemia and feline AIDS, are spayed or neutered and receive a microchip, in addition to caring for any illness or injuries they have when they arrive.


Some shelters will give you a certificate to have the cat spayed or neutered at a later date. Others will let you adopt but not take the cat home until the surgery has been done. “In California, it’s state law that pets be spayed or neutered before they leave the shelter so this might happen as early as eight weeks of age or if the age is unknown, when the cat weighs at least two pounds,” says Aimee Gilbreath who works with Found Animals in Los Angeles.

“Spay/neuter is the best answer we have to the problem of pet overpopulation,” says Ruth Steinberger, national founder of Spay First, headquartered in Oklahoma City. Cats can have three litters a year of up to five kittens each.


Microchips are a tiny capsules inserted under a cat’s skin. If a microchipped cat gets out of the house and is taken to a shelter or rescue by a good Samaritan, they’ll scan her to get your contact information. Be sure to keep it up to date, as shelter workers say the biggest problem in returning a cat home again is that the information on the chip is outdated.

Adoption fees

They’re sometimes lower for senior pets. “We want the people who are willing to take an adult cat instead of insisting on a cute baby to have a little extra benefit,” says Margaret Fox, volunteer for ICare. “The cute factor will always get a kitten adopted. The adults need a little extra help.”

An older adult cat might be the best choice if you want a lap cat. Look at a younger kitty for an active playmate for another cat. A kitten won’t be the best match if young children are involved—sharp claws and teeth and little hands won’t be happy together. An older person isn’t a good candidate for a young cat either—a zooming kitten can cause a fall, a scratch can tear fragile skin.

Choosing your cat

The shelter or rescue people know their cats. Follow their advice and then follow your heart. If you have room, get two. An estimated 2.7 million healthy shelter pets remain unadopted each year, yet only about 30 percent of pets in homes come from shelters or rescues, according to The Humane Society of the United States.

Whether a kitten, adult or senior, you’ll know you saved a life by adopting Kitty. Often you’ll be surprised how a cat can save you, too. There will be companionship, laughter, aggravation, and tears—but always love.

Meet the Author: Sandra Murphy

Sandra Murphy writes magazine articles about all kinds of animals, pets or exotics, marine life too, eco-friendly living and weird topics that catch her fancy. In her spare time, she writes fiction, mostly mysteries with a twist. With all the research, her browser history is intriguing to say the least. She lives in St. Louis with two bossy cats and Ozzie, a very tolerant dog.

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