How to Adopt a Cat: Step-By-Step Guide

Woman holding cat, while cat gently eats from child's hand

You’ve decided to adopt a cat and give a deserving pet a forever home. This is cause for celebration and the beginning of a wonderful, lifetime friendship. 

Now it’s time to learn how to adopt a cat so you can find your perfect feline match and get ready to welcome them into your family.

Finding a Cat to Adopt

One of the first considerations when adopting a cat is deciding where to adopt a cat.  

Whether your goal is to find rescue cats to consider, or adopting a kitten, a good way to start is with an online search.

By searching online, you can discover local shelters you can visit to find the best place to adopt a cat or to find a kitten to adopt. Some search terms you can try include:  

  • Where can I adopt a cat 
  • Cats to rescue near me 
  • Places to adopt a cat near me 
  • Where can I adopt a kitten 
  • Adopt a kitten near me

An online search can also put you in touch with, a searchable, online database that gives you access to more than 14,000 animal shelters and rescue organizations. In addition to information on local cats and kittens who are waiting for forever homes, on you can also:  

How to Adopt a Stray Cat

Unlike adopting a cat from a rescue or shelter, where they likely have had the benefit of at least some socialization, the process of adopting a feral cat, or free-roaming cat, is one in which the cat is more likely to adopt you (as opposed to the other way around). In other words, it involves an often-lengthy period during which the cat decides to trust you to feed it and may (or may not) eventually choose to become a resident in your home.

While some former free-roaming cats eventually make the transition to becoming home and family cats, many others never completely adapt to the full-time housecat lifestyle. If you see a cat frequenting the area around your home, remember that because you see them outdoors doesn’t mean that they are abandoned or otherwise “stray.” They may simply be a neighborhood family cat who spends time outdoors as well as indoors. Before you start planning to bring them into your family, check for a microchip to make sure they are not a member of someone else’s family.

If the cat is not microchipped, and doesn’t appear to have a permanent home elsewhere, they might be a “community cat” that is free roaming and cared for by one or more neighbors in your community. While community cats are not necessarily good candidates for adoption, many people develop bonds with these feline community members by providing them with food, water and shelter. To help humanely control community cat populations, rescue groups and veterinary organizations now advocate the humane practice of trap-neuter-release (TNR). If you have started caring for a free-roaming cat that has made your neighborhood their home and you are concerned about cat population control, ask your veterinarian or local animal shelter how you can help provide TNR support for your new friend. 

Preparing for Cat Adoption

Before you add a new cat to your family, it’s important to be prepared for the changes this addition will bring, as well as the new family member you’ll be welcoming. offers a helpful adoption checklist featuring questions to ask when adopting a cat. In addition to the question, “Should I adopt a cat?”, these questions can help prospective adopters more fully consider: 

  • Whether everyone in the family (including other pets) will be receptive to a new pet 
  • Whether the home itself is appropriate for the pet you’d like to adopt 
  • Whether the family’s schedule and level of commitment will allow for proper care of a new pet 
  • Whether your home will be a healthy, happy, welcoming, and most important, FOREVER home for a new pet

The adoption checklist also covers costs to anticipate, the time commitment involved, and supplies you’ll want to have on hand before you bring your cat home. To help your new cat settle into your home, you’ll also want to think ahead to anticipate how they might react to their new environment, and ways you can help them adjust to their new home and family, such as:  

  • Offer your cat a safe place to hunker down and figure out their new space. 
  • Provide the same diet your cat was eating at their shelter or foster home for a week or two. 
  • Cat-proof your home before you welcome your new cat inside.

Steps like these may seem small, but when it’s time for your new cat to come home, they can make a big difference in their comfort, and subsequently, their adjustment.

The Cat Adoption Process

For any quality cat rescue group or shelter, prospective adopters begin the process by filling out an application. This part of the process helps adoption programs better understand the commitment of potential adopters and what type of cat will best align with their home and family. It can also help identify potential red flags when adopting a cat. In addition, it helps adopters gain a better sense of the type of cat that might thrive as a member of their family.

How Long Will it Take to Get a Response?

Once you’ve submitted an adoption application and have made an inquiry about a specific cat, the response time will vary depending on the procedures and workload of the adoption group. Some groups are quick with adoption screenings and responses, while others may be shorter on volunteers, and, therefore, longer on response times.

Rest assured that for every pet rescue and shelter, the goal is to find loving, forever homes for pets, so they want to respond to you. While you are waiting for a response, try channeling your excitement into preparing to welcome a new cat into your home.

What Does an Adoption Fee Cover?

Adoption fee amounts also vary widely by groups, usually ranging from no fee to several hundred dollars. The different adoption fees charged by the more than 14,000 shelters and rescue groups represented on generally cover the pets’ medical care as they await a forever home, as well as costs for items, such as food and transportation.

Adoption fees are usually combined with donations and fundraiser proceeds to cover costs for all pets in the program.  

Bringing Your New Cat Home

Your application has been approved, you’ve found your perfect feline match… and now your new family member is coming home! It’s an exciting time for everyone in the family, and for your new cat it might be a bit overwhelming, at least initially.

During this transition, it’s important to give your new cat time and space to adjust to their new surroundings and family members, especially if the family includes other pets.

Make sure your cat has a quiet place (preferably a perch with a good view where they can feel secure) so they can retreat and rest when needed. Also, place their food dishes so they can feel safe while eating, and position litter boxes in a spot that affords some privacy.

If you are considering allowing your cat to go outdoors, remember that unlike their wild ancestors, today’s cats can be perfectly happy as indoor cats. Plus, they are safer than cats that live outdoors. In fact, the expected lifespan of indoor cats is five times longer than outdoor cats, which is a very good reason for your cat to be an indoor companion.

Post-Adoption Support

While your cat is adjusting to their new home, there may be some challenges along the way, especially in terms of introducing your new cat to another pet, socialization or training (or perhaps retraining). 

If you encounter an issue or have a question and need support, remember that help is available. Contact your veterinarian, rescue group or shelter for advice. If they don’t have the answer, they should be able to put you in touch with a qualified cat behaviorist.

More Than a Cat—a Forever Friend

By following the cat adoption process and working with a quality shelter or rescue group, you can find a cat that will thrive in your home and enhance your life. Plus, you’ll be giving a deserving pet the best gift you can give: the gift of a forever family.

Learn more about adopting cats with Petfinder.