What do I need to know about adopting a kitten or a cat?

17th Apr, 2023

Written by Anneke Malan – Chairperson National Cat Action Taskforce (NCat), Spokesperson Cats of South Africa (CoSA)

So you’ve seen a plea for kittens or adult cats needing homes, and you’ve opened your heart and mind to the idea of adopting one of them. You’re even considering offering a home to more than one so they’ll keep one another company. You feel the stirrings of excitement but also of anxiety.

What if your hubby/partner/children aren’t happy about your decision? Or if the cats and dogs you’re already sharing your home with don’t accept the new cat(s) or kitten(s)?

Kitten or adult cat?

The first decision you need to make is whether to adopt a kitten or an adult cat. Each of these options have definite advantages and disadvantages. If you possibly can, consider adopting an adult from a shelter, as they aren’t most people’s first choice. They may wait in vain in a shelter for months or even years for that special person to come and adopt them, and that person may never come. Even more needy are black adult cats, who are frequently disregarded when new pets are chosen.

The advantages of adopting an adult cat are that they’ve already developed their personality, so you’ll know exactly what to expect from them. They’re also a lot calmer and may thus adapt more easily to life as an indoor cat. The disadvantage is that it’s a little more complicated to socialise them to a new home and especially to other animals. Provided certain processes are followed, however (see below), adult cats can be adopted with great success.

The advantages of adopting a kitten are, of course, that a kitten will easily adapt to almost any circumstances and will provide you with endless hours of entertainment simply by being a kitten. Kittens are extremely energetic and busy, however, and this could become a little tiring if you value a calm home. They also need to be kept indoors for the first several months, so watching windows and doors needs to become a daily responsibility. It’s a good idea to adopt at least two kittens, as they’ll keep one another company and entertain you with their exuberant antics.

Whom to adopt from?

Once you’ve decided what would be the best fit for you, I would recommend that you contact welfare organisations or groups in your area and adopt through them. If possible, don’t buy a pet from a breeder. So many hundreds of amazing kittens and cats that aren’t pure-bred end up not finding homes and either become strays or get put down. If you’d very much like to adopt a certain breed, you’ll often find a look-alike at one of the shelters. Alternatively, you could contact one of the breed societies or clubs to ask whether they have any non-purebred kittens available, or adult cats that have to be rehomed for some reason.

How to pick your very own feline companion

All welfare groups will encourage you to spend as much time as you need with the kittens and/or cats that are up for adoption, so that you can make sure which one (or two!) really speaks to you. It’s not wise to choose a cat or kitten for someone else: that person may not bond with the feline in the same way you did.

Once you’ve chosen your special little cat, the shelter will explain the adoption procedure to you. Ideally, one of their members should visit your home before you take the cat or kitten home to ensure that your home is cat-friendly. Or they may bring it to your home and do a home check at the same time.

Different groups and shelters have different adoption procedures, but most of them will include the first vaccination and deworming, the ID microchip, as well as the spay or neuter (at a much reduced fee) in your package.

Preparing your home for your new kitten or cat

Fast-forward to a week later. You’ve brought your nearest and dearest around, you’ve passed the home check, and your new baby will be arriving soon! Prepare one room in your house in which to confine him or her initially. This is very important for your new pet’s safety, and also to give them a chance to get to know their new surroundings. Choose a room that you’ll be using often – perhaps your bedroom or your study. Prepare a snuggly bed or cat cave, bowls for food and water, some safe toys, and a litter box – the latter some distance away from the food bowls. If you have a “jungle gym” that you can place in front of a window, even better! It would also be a good idea to sprinkle some soothing valerian powder (sold under the trade name Happy Cat) around the room. And for good measure, set up one or more Feliway diffusers (obtainable from your vet) in one or more rooms to keep both the new and the “old” pet(s) calm.

See below how to introduce your new kitten or cat to your other pets.


Once your kitten arrives, the key phrase is “slowly and gradually”. When you’re at home, ideally keep the kitten confined to some kind of carrier or crate in a corner of whichever room you’re in, to give existing pets a chance to discover the kitten without feeling threatened by him or her. When you’re not at home, keep the kitten confined to the secure room mentioned above (with a radio and a warm or lukewarm hot-water bottle for comfort).

Don’t be surprised if your older cats react to the kitten with great hostility at first. They’ll sometimes hiss and spit at her or him for several weeks. They may even be terrified of what they see as a very unsettling apparition. Don’t scold your “old” cats for this kind of behaviour. They need extra love to reassure them that you’re not replacing them in your home and in your affections. Practically ignore the kitten in the older cats’ presence, but touch all of them often in order to transfer their smells to one another. Giving the older cats all your attention will also help the kitten understand that he or she should defer to them.

During this time, don’t suddenly change your habits. For example, don’t kick your older cat out of your bedroom so that the kitten can sleep with you. It’s important to disrupt older cats as little as possible.

After a few weeks the older cats should realise that the kitten is there to stay. Their curiosity will also get the better of them, and they may realise that it wouldn’t be so bad to have a pal.

Only allow your kitten to move around freely with existing pets once you’re very sure they’ve all accepted each other.

If you have small children, it’s very important that you ensure the kitten’s safety and that it must also be given enough time to sleep – which means up to 20 hours a day. Take care that your toddler treats the kitten with love, care and respect. This will ensure that a strong, healthy bond develops between them. Perhaps you could try to apply the following two “rules”:

1) The child may hold the kitten only when the child is sitting still, not when she or he is walking or running.

2) The child learns to release the kitten as soon as he or she begins to wriggle.

Keep your kitten indoors for several months before allowing them to begin exploring the outside world. Then start introducing them to the garden, an hour or so at a time, under supervision. Teach your kitten which window to use to get into and out of the house by physically guiding them in and out of the window several times. When they’re completely settled in, ensure that you always keep this window ajar. Alternatively, have a pet door installed in one of your outside doors.

Now all that remains is for you to enjoy your new kitten!


You’ve taken the leap of kindness and adopted a new adult cat. Firstly, thank you and bless you!

At the beginning

To ensure that the adoption goes well, keep your new cat strictly indoors for at least two weeks – preferably a month. This is essential for their safety. Begin by confining him or her to the special room you prepared for them as explained above. Remember to keep windows tightly closed – cats can, and will, escape through the smallest crack! During this time, don’t let them come into contact with your existing pets at all. Negative first impressions can be difficult or even impossible to correct later.

Spend as much time with the new arrival as you can without neglecting your other pets. After several days, slowly introduce your new cat to the rest of your house. Don’t let them come into contact with your other pets yet, however, until they’ve become used to all the smells, sights and sounds of their new home.

Go slowly – very slowly

When introducing a new cat to existing cats, the biggest mistake one can make is rushing things. Begin by exposing the “old” cat to the smell of the “new” cat by rubbing a piece of cloth over the new cat and letting the old cat smell it. Then rub another piece of cloth over the old cat and let the new cat smell it. Subsequently apply both smells to the same cloth and present it to both the old and the new cat. Keep doing this until neither of them react to it. Lastly, add your smell to the piece of cloth – push it into your T-shirt and keep it there for a while.

The next step is mixing a teaspoon of used litter with the other cat’s litter.

When the new cat has settled down a little, allow the old and the new cat to see one another for short periods. Try to ensure that this happens through a barrier of glass or mesh. (Installing a mesh door in the room the new cat is in or in a passage is an inexpensive yet effective method. This allows the cats to get used to each other without feeling threatened.) If possible, sprinkle Happy Cat (a herbal product containing valerian) on both sides of the barrier. This will ensure that the cats associate a blissful, calming experience with one another. Then give both cats treats in full view of one another, to ensure more pleasant conditioning. (Make sure they’re hungry beforehand.)

Later, apply “timesharing” overnight. Keep one cat in the room and let the other one out in the rest of the house, and swap them around the following night. Allow them to see each other through the barrier of glass or mesh for gradually longer periods until they settle down completely.

At last, after several weeks, remove the barrier – and try to remain calm yourself!

Introducing your new cat to your dogs

If you have dogs, introduce them one by one to the newcomer after the initial settling-in period described above. Keep boisterous dogs on a leash at first. Make sure that you’re present when the animals first meet as well as for the first several weeks thereafter, until you’re completely sure they’ve accepted each other.

If you’ve been planning a holiday, it’s a great plan to put the old and new cats in a cattery together. Do this before bringing the new cat home. Cats tend to accept one another much more easily on neutral ground.

Remember to explain the situation to the cattery owner, though, so that they can keep an eye on your pets. Then, when you take all your cats home, keep the new one indoors as described above. You could then allow the “old” cats to visit the new cat several hours a day.

Introducing your new cat to the great outdoors

After several weeks, start introducing your new cat to the garden, in the way described above under “Introducing your new kitten”.

Lastly, I wholeheartedly recommend that you watch the inimitable Jackson Galaxy. My thanks also to Dr Quixi Sonntag for her valuable contributions.

Congratulations! You’ve just become one of the millions of hugely privileged people called cat “owners”. I can guarantee that, whether you’ve adopted a kitten or a cat, this will be the beginning of a new love story for you. But don’t be fooled, no cat is ever owned. If treated with the love, care and respect they deserve, however, they’ll accept you completely and tacitly agree to spend the rest of their lives with you. I hope you’ll feel suitably honoured!

(First published at www.iamcat.blog.)

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