Plenty of people adopted a dog during the pandemic, and maybe you thought about that, too, but then something stopped you. A dog requires walks in the rain and the cold and lots of training. Plus, some bark constantly. Can you train your pooch to not be that dog? Here’s a thought—a cat doesn’t have those same issues but can bring you just as much love and companionship. We talked to Jackson Galaxy, cat-behavior and wellness expert, for his top tips on everything you need to know about bringing a cat into your life…

Where should I find a cat? Millions of animals die in shelters every year, so I always strongly encourage people to adopt cats from shelters and rescue groups. In doing so, you will be dealing with experts who can best answer any questions you have about bringing a cat into your home. That said, adopting from friends or acquaintances whose cats are having kittens is OK, too. 

It’s best to stay away from Craigslist and similar marketplaces because they’re full of scammers. I support the model, “Adopt, don’t shop.” 

Is adoption right for me? I always encourage people to be honest about where they are physically, psychologically and financially. Adoption is a lifetime commitment. You are bringing home a new family member who is going to have needs for years to come. If you may need to relocate in the near future or are in a vulnerable financial situation, now may not be the right time.  

The next thing to consider is the ­other humans and animals in your home. If you have a 16-year-old cat or a 97-year-old parent at home and are thinking of bringing home a rambunctious kitten, my answer would be, “You may do better to adopt an older cat.” 

The life expectancy of an outdoor cat is exponentially shorter than that of an indoor cat, so I recommend keeping cats inside but enriching their lives in other ways, such as playing with them, feeding them a raw diet, building shelves that allow them to explore and placing furniture so they can see out windows. 

Basics of Adoption

If you adopt from a shelter or rescue, up-front costs for spaying/neutering, a thorough veterinary check and a first round of vaccinations often are taken care of for you before you bring the cat home. Otherwise, these costs vary widely depending on where you live. After that, the ASPCA puts the average annual cost for your new family member at about $800, which includes food, veterinary care, litter, toys, etc.

How do I select a cat to adopt? Typically, my advice would be to make a few shelter visits so you can walk around and interact with the animals—but these days a lot of shelters have been offering only virtual tours in which you go online to see if there’s a cat you’re interested in. If you get a good vibe, talk to the staff to see if you can meet the cat in person. 

When it comes to which cat is right for you, your primary goal should be to match the energy level of your home to the cat’s energy level. If it’s a very busy household with small children and other animals, try to match that energy with a younger, more active animal. (Kittens always do better with other kittens, by the way, so I recommend that you take two). If you’re gone for long periods during the day, you probably want to go the opposite way and look for an older animal that is more settled in its ways. Speaking of which, getting senior cats out of shelters is always a huge need, and believe me, you will know gratitude and unconditional love in a big way when you bring home a senior animal. Cats live about 14 years, on average, but plenty live well into their 20s, so don’t assume that you have only a short time with a senior rescue. 

In terms of the cat’s gender, I’m not a true believer in steering your choice toward male or female. Most cats are spayed/neutered at an early age, so there isn’t much difference in personality between the genders.

From a breed standpoint, it’s possible to make certain generalizations about how personalities are linked to breeds, but I’m usually reluctant to do so because such rules of thumb have too many exceptions. 

Instead of getting caught up in breeds and aesthetics, I believe that the cat will pick you. If you walk into a shelter thinking, I want a long-haired white cat, what happens when you meet a short-haired orange cat and fall in love? Keep an open mind. You’ll know when you’ve found your cat.

Should I foster instead? If you feel moved to help but can’t make the long-term commitment of adoption, fostering is a godsend to shelters and the animals stuck in them—a cat with a broken leg in need of rehab…a newborn litter of kittens that have to be bottle-fed…a traumatized street cat who must learn to trust humans before anyone will adopt it. You’ll need a bit of training—which now is widely offered online. Then the coordinator will work with you and your schedule to match you with a cat (or cats) that works best with your situation—for example, if you can foster only for a week, let the coordinator know and he/she will find someone to take over at the end of that week.

If you’re a first-time foster caregiver, the organization often will provide you with basic supplies to get you started as well as emotional support when you need it.