Adopting an Older Cat

  • By:

    Dr. Edele Grey
    Dr. Edele Grey

    Author: Dr. Edele Grey

    Dr. Edele Grey is a veterinary surgeon with seven years of experience. She professionally works mostly with horses but has treated pets of all sizes including terrapins, llamas, and others. Dr. Grey graduated with honors from the University College Dublin, Ireland, has completed further education in Equine Sports Medicine. In her free time, she enjoys writing about pet ownership and educating people about veterinary care of animals and preventing disease.

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  • Updated on: 07/16/2020

It’s said that cats will always land on their feet, but occasionally they may need a helping hand in finding their purrfect forever home. You know you want to increase your family size by one furry feline, now you just have to find one. Adopting a pet is incredibly rewarding, particularly if you adopt an older cat.

@freepic.diller / Freepik

What age is best to Adopt a Cat?

The dilemma now: choosing a kitten (less than 1-year-old) or adult (1-year-old or older) cat to enrich your home? Kittens are cute, bundles of mayhem, and full of energy, similar to human babies; they have no “off-switch”. With demanding little balls of fur, kittens require frequent feeding and training and will require neutering as they mature. Adopting a kitten plays a significant role in the development of their personalities and social skills, which is quite the responsibility.
On the other hand, adult cats are self-reliant, are already litter-trained and likely, neutered too. Older cats are also generally better behaved than most kittens. Their personalities have already been formed. When you spend time with an adult cat before adopting, you can see if you’re both suited to a life together, with no surprises down the road. Older cats also transition to a new home better than many kittens.

Is it better to adopt an Older Cat?

Adult cats are almost always easier to integrate into your life and home than kittens, which may come as a surprise to many people. An older cat can adapt to any new home situation; small children, adults-only homes, etc. Some can even transition to living with other pets very well.

Adult cats are less messy than kittens who will often play in their litter tray or food and they don’t need help grooming (unless long-haired or impaired in some way). Kittens can be quite destructive, chewing on furniture when teething and climbing the curtains in play. However, older cats prefer to snooze and tend not to be as destructive despite what some of the YouTube videos would have us believe.

Another great advantage of adopting an adult cat over a kitten is that they are less likely to break when in contact with young children. Wriggly kittens are delicate and can be hurt if they fall or are stepped on accidentally; they are also more likely to scratch or bite a small child in frustration than an older cat. Older cats enjoy being petted, are sturdier, and are very adept at escaping a situation they don’t want to be part of without hurting anyone (except perhaps our feelings when our adoring love is rejected).

What Cats have the toughest time getting adopted?

@DariuszSankowski / Pixabay

Kittens and young adults are generally the first to be adopted into forever homes from shelters leaving behind the aged/elderly cats or those with special needs. Strangely, black cats also find it difficult to be adopted, possibly related to the many superstitions surrounding these majestic felines.

Elderly cats likely find it challenging to find adoptive homes due to age and increasing ailments that come with aging. Some require daily medications or assistance grooming and maintaining their hygiene. With these health problems, these elderly cats may cost more and have a shorter life span, but they are usually the sweetest, most affectionate ones. These older cats are often given up by previous families due to the death of an owner, divorce or change in circumstances that mean they can’t provide the life this cat deserves. This may be their last chance at finding a happy home for their twilight years.

Cats with special needs also struggle to find new families. Affected pets may be blind, deaf or amputees who may require special attention or medications in some situations. These cats may require some adaptations to their living situation (e.g., indoor only) but make up for any of these with their abundance of affection and love to their new adoptive parents.

How do I get my older cat used to their new home and make them comfortable?

@Yerlin Matu

Patience is key! Any environmental change can be difficult for cats of any age, including kittens. When you introduce your cat to their new home, ensure you’ve provided water and food bowls, a quiet space for hiding and a scratching post and toys for play when they’re settled in. Their litter tray should be placed away from traffic and food areas. Ideally, you should give your cat a selection of spots to choose where to sleep with at least one being elevated so they can watch what’s happening. If possible, provide your new housemate with a room just for them to help them feel secure.

Cat’s are incredibly reliant on their sense of smell and this helps when your new fur-baby is settling into their new home. You can use this to your advantage by giving an item of your clothing/cat bed to the shelter for a few days before you take your cat home. This allows the scent of their surroundings to impregnate the fabric and make them feel more comfortable when moving into their new home. Synthetic feline facial pheromones are also available in sprays or plug-in diffusers which can help reassure your new feline and reduce their stress levels while settling into their new home.

When you bring your cat home, allow them to leave the travel carrier in their own time. If you have other pets, then it’s best to keep them separate until your new furry family member is feeling more confident and settled in their new surroundings. Cats are typically cautious by nature and may need some encouragement to understand that their new home is safe; you can give a treat or two to develop the bond of trust between you both or encourage them with an interactive toy. Again, the most important thing to remember is patience!

How long does it take for a Cat to get used to their new home?

Similar to humans, all cats are different and thus, the length of time needed varies. Most cats will have accepted their new home and surroundings in approximately 2 weeks or so while others may take a month or more. If your new cat will be both indoor and outdoor, then you should keep them confined within their new home for at least 2 weeks before trying to introduce them to their new outdoors. They need to be confident in the security of their home before exploring outdoors.

How will my Cat let me know if they’re stressed?

@Mateo Saenz O’Mara / Freeimages

Despite being predatorial animals, cats are very susceptible to stress; as solitary, independent animals they can hide signs of stress very well. Moving home, your new feline friend will be suffering from some degree of stress which may be severe. Here are some common signs of stress in cats which can be both physical and behavioral:

  • Tummy upsets with vomiting or diarrhea
  • Bald patches or skin sores due to over-grooming
  • Loss of appetite or even increased appetite
  • Eating abnormal items such as wool (called pica)
  • Increased sleeping or appearing lethargic
  • Weight loss or gain in short spaces of time
  • Difficulty urinating or frequently attempting to urinate
  • Going to the toilet outside the litter tray including pooping in shoes or peeing on the bed
  • Destroying furniture, scratching or biting and being aggressive toward people or other pets
  • Spraying urine on furniture or walls
  • Increased hiding behaviors
  • Vocalizing more than usual

Simply looking at your cats face can help you to ascertain if they’re stressed. A chilled out and happy kitty will have their ears pointing forward while relaxed and their whiskers will be relaxed against their face. Their eyes will be closed or semi-closed with small pupils. A stressed cat will have flattened ears out to the side of the head with wide eyes and large pupils. Their whiskers will be rigid and pointing forward. Stressed cats may hide, try to climb up onto high furniture or flatten themselves against the floor. Stressed cats are generally unwilling to be held or touched.

Now we know what to watch out for, how can we help protect our feline side-kick from these stresses. Moving home is a major one that cannot be avoided when you adopt a new cat, but by following the tips above, you can help manage your cat’s environment to minimize stress. If you’ve tried all of the tips above, you may need to take your kitty to see your veterinarian for some advice and to ensure there is no physical illness causing any of these signs or even exacerbating your cat’s stress levels.

Finally…

Older cats have a tough time finding their forever homes, particularly when they have what some people consider to be extra difficulties. Despite this, if you do open your home to an older cat you won’t regret it! Full of love, these older cats often seem almost grateful to you for giving them their best chance at a happy life while still keeping all those kitty-specific quirks that make for excellent online videos…after all, there’s a reason the internet was made for cats.

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