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How To Choose a Cat From the Shelter


Shelter cats, waiting for a home

Observe the cat in its environment.Is it lively and friendly, or huddling in a corner?

Franny Syufy
Choosing a cat from a shelter will benefit both of you. You'll receive unconditional gratitude,love and companionship, and the cat will be given a reprieve from death. A real win-win situation!
Difficulty: Hard
Time Required: 60 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Take a quick look at all of the cats first. Observe their activities and attitudes. Are they sleeping, playing, or hunched in a corner?
  2. Go back through the row of cages once more, and try to waken the sleeping cats to observe their alertness and general appearance.
  3. Select half a dozen or so cats and kittens to examine more thoroughly. If they are caged, ask the attendant if they can be released to you, one by one, for a physical examination.
  4. While holding a kitten, examine its eyes. They should be clear and bright with no evidence of running or discharge, which could be a sign of illness.
  5. Check the kitten's nose. It should be clean and slightly moist, with no discharge.
  6. Listen to the cat for any signs of congestion, coughing or sneezing, which can be an indication of Bordatella (kennel cough).
  7. Look in its ears. Extremely dirty ears can be signs of ear mites, which can be difficult to eradicate, and can spread to your other cats at home.
  8. Its fur should be clean and shiny, with no evidence of fleas.
  9. Observe the cat's actions while you hold it. Is it squirming and clawing to be put down, or relaxed and purring? Is it listless and still or interested and playful?
  10. Give this cat back to the attendant and wash your hands before handling another one. Bring moist towlettes along with you for this purpose. Many shelters also now have antiseptic cleaning solution dispensers hanging on walls near the caged areas.
  11. Go through steps four through ten with the remaining five cats, until you have narrowed the selection to two cats.
  12. Put the two remaining cats on the floor and observe their actions. Are they playing together? Dangle a string or shake a set of car keys? Does one cat seem more interested than the other?
  13. If by now, one of the cats hasn't already chosen you, you might seriously consider adopting both of them. They can be good companions to each other when moving to a new home. Lucky you, and lucky cats!


  1. Bring a cat carrier with you for bringing your cat home. The last thing you want is a scared cat running around loose underfoot in your car.
  2. If the cages are not marked with 'reasons for surrender,' ask the attendant. A cat who has been given up for fighting, biting, or spraying the walls may not be a good candidate, particularly if this is your first cat.
  3. Seriously consider adopting an older cat. They usually have already been trained to live in a household with humans, and sadly, most of them will be overlooked in favor of the cute kittens.
  4. If you have other cats at home, make a trip to the vet your first visit before putting the cats together, to avoid spreading disease to your existing cats.
  5. The difficulty level is rated "hard," because it is hard to turn your back on the cats you can't adopt. Just remember that you're saving one or more lives, and let their future devotion be your reward. You might also want to consider volunteering at your local shelter, which brings its own rewards.

What You Need

  • Moist towlettes
  • Cat carrier
  • Towel or small blanket
  • Small toys
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