When it comes to choosing a cat to adopt from a shelter, most people prefer kittens over older cats. Kittens have an obvious appeal. They are fun and cute and you will be blessed with the maximum amount of time to spend with your new kitty, as she grows from a baby to old age. But many people don’t realize that there are benefits to adopting an older cat as well. Adopting a kitten vs an older cat is a very personal decision and one that you should not make until you’ve considered the pros and cons of each one.
Making the choice to adopt a kitten is a big one. It’s kind of like adopting a baby. For the first months of a cat’s life, they are very vulnerable and require a lot of supervision. Kittens have endless energy. They need lots and lots of playtime, which is one of the reasons why if you are considering adopting a kitten, it is actually best to adopt two together. Young cats need training and socialization and the best way to do this is to provide them with a companion. If you adopt just one kitten and then leave her alone while you go to work, you’re training her to either be antisocial and withdrawn or possibly overly clingy and anxious from not getting enough attention.
There’s a general rule when leaving kittens alone – you can leave them alone for as many hours as they are months old. So a two-month-old kitten can be left alone for only 2 hours. But, if you have two kittens together, you can double that. So two together could be left alone for up to 4 hours. (In a kitten-proof, warm and comfortable area.)
**2 months is the youngest age that kittens should be adopted. Kittens under 8 weeks of age cannot regulate their own body temperatures yet and so still need to be with their mothers and littermates.
Another reason kittens should be adopted in pairs is so that they have an appropriate outlet for their naturally rough play. Young cats MUST play. It’s built into their genetic code. And the way that young cats play is different from the way that human children play. They play-bite, kick, scratch, and chase each other like little tornados. It’s normal and healthy. But it’s difficult for a kitten to emulate this behavior with a human. They could easily hurt someone, especially very young children. There are certainly lots of ways that humans can and should play with young cats, but the rougher play aspect is not one of them. For this, they really need a feline buddy. And what’s better than just one kitten, anyway? Two kittens!
Things to consider before adopting a kitten
Kittens are still developing, and so picking them out is a little bit of a gamble. You may be able to catch glimpses of their future personalities but you won’t be able to tell what they will really be like until they fully mature. So if you have a preference (say you would like a cat that enjoys being held and sitting on laps) it may be better to adopt an older cat.
More time and energy required
Even with two kittens to entertain each other, they are still a considerable time and energy commitment. It will be important to form a bond with your new kittens, so you should spend as much time with them as possible. Kittens that are 2 – 4 months old have three times as much energy as adult cats, and so will get into all kinds of messy situations. Teach them boundaries, and help them explore their environment in as safe a manner as possible.
Will need to kitten-proof home
Just like with a baby crawling around the house, you will need to safety-proof your home for kittens. Put away anything precarious or breakable, cover electrical outlets, keep toilet lids and dryer doors closed, tie up window blind cords (they are a strangulation threat), put away choking hazards like rubber bands and hair ties, etc. Just look carefully around each room that your kitten has access to and make a judgement call. If you think it might be dangerous, it probably is.
Again, just like with a newborn baby, getting a kitten may very likely result in a loss of sleep for a while. Cats are naturally more active at night than during the day, and since everything is amplified with a kitten, so too may be the nighttime disturbances. If you want cats to get on your sleep schedule, you will need to make sure that they are getting enough activity during the day to tire them out by bedtime. It will take some time and patience to achieve this. Having two kittens will help, especially if you encourage play more during daylight hours. Adopting one kitten and leaving it alone for most of the day will just about guarantee that you wind up with an overactive kitty in the middle of the night.
Kittens have claws
If you think you want a cat without claws, kittens are definitely not for you. Cats should never be declawed, as it is traumatic, harmful, and unnecessary. (See my article, Humane Alternative to Declawing a Cat to read more about this.) However, there are plenty of older cats in shelters that have already been declawed by previous owners, and these cats need loving homes too. If having a declawed cat is important to you, opt for a previously owned declawed cat from a shelter. It’s the best solution for everyone.
When deciding which cat or kitten to adopt from an animal shelter, there are many wonderful reasons to choose an older cat. Depending on your age, living situation, personality, and schedule, an older cat might actually be the way to go.
Benefits of adopting an older cat
With cats that have fully matured into adulthood, you will be able to get a much better understanding of their personality before deciding if the two of you are a good fit. The shelter will let you spend time with the cats in an open area so that you can get to know one another. Do you want a docile cat that likes being held? Would you prefer a cat that marches to the beat of her own drum? Spending time with the older cats in the shelter allows you to choose the one that suits you best.
Older cats are more in need of adoption
There will always be plenty of people who want to adopt kittens, so they usually have no trouble finding homes. Older cats, however, often get overlooked and can wind up spending their whole lives in crowded shelters. Animal shelters do the best they can to care for these cats but it’s not the same as finding a loving forever home.
You’re saving a life
Although there are many no-kill animal shelters, space is limited. When you adopt an older cat, it makes room for another cat to be taken in. The stray and abandoned cats that aren’t lucky enough to get a spot in a no-kill shelter will likely end up being euthanized in an open-admission shelter or left out in the streets to die more slowly and painfully.
Older cats don’t require as much time and energy as kittens
If you have a very busy work schedule or aren’t home a lot, an older cat will be a better choice than a kitten. Older cats can be left alone during the day, while kittens need more supervision. Kittens are also a handful so if you are elderly or not physically able to keep up with them, a calmer cat who has reached full maturity would be more suitable.
Better choice if you have very young children
This is another reason why selecting an older cat after getting to know his personality is a good idea. Not all cats like young children. I have a friend with two cats and a two-year-old. One of the cats is completely fine with the child but the other cat (who has some anxiety issues) hides from him and gets really upset when he’s around. If you have young children, bring them with you to the shelter when deciding which cat to adopt. Choosing a more docile and easy-going older cat that doesn’t mind toddler antics will be a better idea than rolling the dice with a kitten, who could grow up to have a personality that clashes with tiny tots.
Depending on the age of the cat you are thinking of adopting, money might factor into the equation. Many elderly cats wind up in shelters through no fault of their own. Often time their owners pass away or move to a place that doesn’t allow cats. Whatever circumstances led to them being there, shelter cats of advanced age are desperately in need of a loving home. Adopting one of these old-timers would be a wonderful and beautiful thing, but keep in mind that if you go this route there could be unforeseen costs.
Cats are considered to be senior citizens as early as 7 or 8 years of age. Their bodies start to slow down and they are more susceptible to disease. If you choose to adopt a senior cat, be prepared for possible costly vet visits. When my baby Bela was in her last couple years of life, she developed some teeth and kidney problems. I had to take her into the vet quite often and the bills were NOT cheap. It was well worth the money to spend as much time with her as I possibly could, but it did put a strain on my bank account. So if you’re thinking about adopting a senior cat, I applaud and encourage you. Just make sure you have some money set aside for health emergencies.
Cat or Kitten?
Rather than make an impulse decision, ask yourself these questions before deciding which kitty will become a new member of your family:
- Do I want one cat or two?
- Is it important for me to know what the cat’s developed personality will be like?
- Do I have the time and energy to take care of an energetic kitten or two kittens?
- Am I able to make my home kitten-safe?
- Do I want a cat that has already been declawed by a previous owner?
- Am I financially secure enough to care for a senior cat who might need more vet care?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be well on your way to figuring out which cat will be the best fit for your home, family, and lifestyle. Talk with the people that work at the animal shelter you’re thinking of adopting from. They know the cats well and will be able to answer any additional questions you have.