In the United States, approximately 6.3 million companion animals enter shelters each year. Of that number, roughly 3 million are cats. Yet, many people remain misinformed about shelter cats, and nearly half a million are euthanized each year. One of the very best – and most rewarding – ways to help these cats is to foster or adopt them.

Preparing Your Home

Before you bring your cat home, make sure you have these items:

  • Food and water bowls
  • High-quality food. It’s best to feed your cat the same food they received at the shelter, then gradually transition to a new food by mixing it with the shelter food for several days after bringing your cat home. Gradually increase the new food and decrease the shelter food to ensure a smooth transition. 
  • Every cat is different, but most prefer an uncovered litter box. Covered litter boxes trap smells and can be a turnoff for clean kitties. Allow the litter box to be in an accessible and quiet place. We recommend two litter boxes per cat. Most cats prefer a more fine-grained litter, 2-3 inches deep.
  • Scratching posts/strips/perches, cat toys, beds, condos, and brushes
  • Breakaway collar with ID and your information

Addressing Medical Needs

  • Make sure that your new feline family member is tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. Some shelters will run these tests, or you can ask your veterinarian. This is especially important in multi-cat homes to keep all your feline family members safe. Keep in mind that some recent studies show that cats with FIV can safely share homes with non-FIV cats, as long as they live peacefully. 
  • Ensure that your cat is up-to-date on all necessary immunizations. Ask the shelter for the cat’s medical paperwork. 
  • Make sure your cat was microchipped before adoption or get them microchipped at your family veterinarian’s office or community microchip clinic; make sure to register the chip with your information and to keep your contact information updated.
  • Schedule a veterinary examination before introducing your cat to the rest of the family. Your vet will be able to perform a comprehensive exam, so your new cat is off to their best start.
  • Plan to bring your cat for a medical checkup and lab work annually; twice annually for senior kitties.

Creating a Safe Space

The transition from a shelter to a home will often be very stressful for cats. You’re introducing them to a whole new environment with different noises and smells. 

  • Plan on creating a safe space for your new cat where they have a room to themselves with plenty of hiding spaces. This should be a space away from other animals in your house with no chance of under doorway meetings.
  • Allow your cat to explore this new isolated environment at their own pace. Sit with your new cat for a minimum of one hour per day, but don’t force interaction with them if they’re hesitant. Instead, try building trust through interactive toys or staying near them (but not touching) while they eat. 

Typically, it takes several days to several weeks for a cat to fully adjust to their new environment. By allowing your cat to explore their new home slowly while providing a designated safe space to retreat, you’ll decrease the stressors they experience with the transition.

Introducing Family Members

Cats are highly territorial creatures, and by creating a space for your new cat that’s separate from the rest of your household, you can help mitigate the likelihood of problems. 

  • Allow your new cat(s) a period of separation from the rest of your animal family. This will allow the cat to establish their safe territory and adjust to your home on their terms. 
  • If your new cat seems to be adjusting well (regularly eating, drinking water, engaging in play), it’s time to introduce their smell to your other animal family members. Cats rub their cheeks on surfaces to mark their territory with pheromones located in their cheeks. Rub a small towel against your new cat’s cheek and allow your other animal family members to smell your new cat’s scent. This will enable them to “meet” your new cat in a low-stakes setting. If you are introducing two cats, swap their litter boxes. 

Next, you can allow your new cat and animal family members to smell each other by placing them on either side of a closed door. If introducing two cats, you can move their food bowls closer and closer to this closed door, until they are eating on either side of it.

After a few days, you can introduce your new cat through a baby gate or cracked door, but always be sure that you’re not forcing the meeting. Allow your new cat the freedom to retreat into their safe hiding place if they become stressed or territorial during the initial face-to-face introduction. When introducing your resident dog to your new cat, it can be a good idea to crate your dog for preliminary introductions, allowing the cat to approach at their own comfort.

Finally, when you’re ready to allow your new cat and other animals to meet, do so one at a time under careful supervision. Your new feline should always have the option to safely retreat into hiding; never force engagement among your animal pack.

Remember, pet introductions will always take time. Be patient with your new cat and your animal family members by allowing them to set the pace of the openings. By taking your time with the introduction process, you can help increase the likelihood of establishing a harmonious household. 

A common myth is that cats are primarily surrendered to shelters for behavioral reasons. Often, guardians bring their cats to shelters because they can no longer care for the cat due to financial hardship, relocation, or the onset of allergies. Shelter cats make excellent companion animals and can be a great addition to your life. Animal Rescue Corps is proud to rescue many cats, and we know firsthand what incredible friends they make. ARC does not directly adopt out the animals we rescue. Instead, we transfer animals to our trusted placement partners located throughout the United States.

Click here to see our full list of placement partners and thank you for choosing adoption!