11 Expert Tips for Adopting a Cat

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If you've been thinking about adding a fuzzy little friend to your household, there's more to consider than whether to name it Pearl or Pickles, or Zoroaster or Apollinaris, like Mark Twain named two of his many cats. So if you're planning on celebrating June's Adopt a Cat Month quite literally, here are 11 tips straight from the pros. Mull them over, then head to your local shelter!

1. BE CHOOSY ABOUT THE SHELTER YOU ADOPT FROM.

A family pets a grey striped cat at an animal shelter.
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According to Gail Buchwald, vice president of the adoption center at the ASPCA in New York City, assessing shelters in person is a must. "I think it's a great idea for a prospective adopter to go to the shelter and check it out, get a visual. If they see animals that don't look healthy, they should ask some questions," she told WebMD. Furthermore, talk to shelter employees to get an idea of what they know about the animals' health and behavior. Shelters that don't do behavior assessments or disease testing aren't able to give you the appropriate information to make a match that truly works for you and for your prospective pet.

2. KNOW THAT YOU'RE IN THIS FOR THE LONG HAUL.

A cat is sleeping on its owner's lap.
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Cats are long-term roommates, so make sure you're ready for the commitment. According to Gwen Sparling, the owner of Camp Kitty boarding facility in Atlanta, over the course of a cat's 15- to 20-year lifetime, a pet owner will spend approximately $1000 annually on vet care, food, treats, toys, kitty litter, and more. "There is this general thinking that cats are no-fuss pets, which couldn't be further from the truth," Sparling told Mother Nature Network.

3. SHELTER CATS ARE GREAT OPTIONS.

A black kitten peeks out from behind the bars of a shelter cage.
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There's a misconception that animals in shelters have physical or behavioral issues; most of the time, that's not the case. "Animals primarily end up in our care because of challenges and transitions that exist in the lives of the people responsible for their care," Michael Keiley, director of adoption centers and programs at Boston's Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told Country Living. Often animals can end up in shelters when their humans move, lose a job, or have to focus on non-pet-related stressors—and that's not a reflection on the cats who now need a new home.

4. ASSESS YOUR NEEDS BEFORE YOU GO IN.

A cat snuggling with a young blonde child while she reads.
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"The goal is for the adoption to work out well for everyone," Susan Daffron, the author of Happy Tabby: Develop a Great Relationship with Your Adopted Cat or Kitten, told LovetoKnow.com. Before you fall in love with the first cute face you see at the shelter, make sure you know exactly what you and your family need in a pet. Do you have small children? Are you away from home a lot? Do you have other pets? None of those things preclude you from adopting a shelter cat, but they definitely help set parameters about the personality and type of cat that would be ideal for you and your family.

5. CONSIDER MULTIPLE CATS.

A black cat and a grey cat snuggle together in a wicker basket.
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If you're going to jump in, do it with both feet, right? But there's a method to this madness—according to the American Humane Society, cats provide each other with exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction that humans just can't quite match. And if you're at work or otherwise occupied during the day, having the companionship can be extra important to your cat(s).

6. PREP A SPECIAL PLACE FOR YOUR NEW FAMILY MEMBER.

Three grey and black kittens lounging on a piece of carpeted cat furniture.
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Cats are territorial, so entering a new space is stressful for them. Before you go to the shelter, create a special spot in your home to make kitty feel more comfortable when it arrives, writes Sara Kent, the former director of shelter outreach for Petfinder. A quiet spot stocked with a litter box, toys, food, and water will help—let your cat get familiar with the sights and sounds of the room on its own time.

7. VET A VET AHEAD OF TIME.

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Before you choose a cat, choose a vet by getting referrals from people you trust. The American Humane Society recommends making an appointment for an overall check-up within the first few days of the adoption. Be sure to take the vet any medical records provided by the shelter.

8. BOND THE RIGHT WAY.

A young girl in a blue shirt nuzzles a grey kitten.
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You will, of course, want to spend some time bonding with your cat. But how you do so depends on what stage of life the cat is in, Samantha Bell DiGenova, the cat behavior and enrichment lead at Best Friends Los Angeles, told Bustle. "When bonding with kittens, you want to handle them, hold them, let them look at you and see your face," she said. "You want to have as much contact with them visually and tactually as you can so that they grow up understanding that's how they should interact with people."

On the other hand, adult cats require their space. "If you adopt a cat that's four months or older, let them make the decisions. If you … allow the cat to come to you when they want affection, and let them show you that they want to interact, the bond you create will be so much stronger."

9. INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR OTHER CATS.

An adult cat touches noses with a grey, fluffy kitten with a background of fallen autumn leaves.
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But do it the right way. According to cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, just letting two cats "work it out" is not the best way to get your felines to be friendly. Instead, he wrote on his website, keep your cats separated by a door, but let them sniff each other under the door. Feed them both on their respective sides of the door so they get positive associations with each other. And eventually, swap bedding between your two pets so they get familiar with each other's scents. After a period of familiarization—which can sometimes last weeks—any hissing and growling should subside, and they'll be able to interact without fighting. (Have a dog? You can find some tips for that scenario here.)

10. CONSIDER PET INSURANCE.

A vet is holding a stethoscope up to a small brown kitten.
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Even if your cat is the picture of health when you first adopt, you never know what medical issues could arise down the road. As with human insurance, veterinarian Tracy McFarland wrote that it's a good idea to purchase pet insurance while your ball of fluff is totally healthy. It could eventually save you a bundle and make sure your cat is around for a long time.

11. HAVE PATIENCE.

A broken pot and soil on the ground with an innocent-looking cat sitting next to it.
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Renowned cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat, reminds new owners to have patience with their new pets. From remembering the location of the kitty litter box to interacting with your family, it takes them some time to learn the ropes. Have patience as they are learning, and you'll be rewarded with a relationship that lasts for years to come.

What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

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To the layman, the difference between pigeons and doves has something to with color, maybe. Or location. Or general appeal (doves usually get much better press than pigeons do). But what’s the actual, scientific difference between doves and pigeons?

As it turns out, there isn’t one. Paul Sweet, the collection manager for the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the difference is more linguistic than taxonomic.

“The word dove is a word that came into English from the more Nordic languages, whereas pigeon came into English from French,” Sweet tells Mental Floss.

Both dove and pigeon refer to the 308 species of birds from the Columbidae family, Sweet says. There’s no difference between a pigeon and a dove in scientific nomenclature, but colloquial English tends to categorize them by size. Something called a dove is generally smaller than something called a pigeon, but that’s not always the case. A common pigeon, for example, is called both a rock dove and a rock pigeon.

“People just have their own classification for what makes them different,” Sweet says. “So in the Pacific, for example, the big ones might get called pigeons and the smaller ones might be called doves, but they’re actually more closely related to each other than they are to other things in, say, South America, that are called pigeons and doves.”

The difference boils down to linguistic traditions, so feel free to tell people you’re releasing pigeons at your wedding or that you’re feeding doves in the park. Scientifically speaking, you’ll be correct either way.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

8 Hair-Raising Facts About Black Cats

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No member of catkind is more maligned than the black cat. At best, they're bemoaned as lackluster photography subjects; at worst, they're seen as harbingers of really bad luck. But there's a lot to love about these furballs, as evidenced by the holidays in their honor—the ASPCA celebrates Black Cat Appreciation Day annually on August 17 and, across the pond, October 27 is National Black Cat Day—and the facts below.

1. IN SOME CULTURES, BLACK CATS ARE GOOD LUCK.

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They may have a less-than-stellar reputation in some areas of the world, but there are plenty of places where black cats aren’t bad luck at all. If you’re a single woman in Japan, owning a black cat is said to increase your number of suitors; if you’re in Germany and one crosses your path from right to left, good things are on the horizon.

2. THEY'RE A SAILOR'S BEST FRIEND.

Not only were cats welcome aboard British vessels to hunt mice, but sailors generally thought a black cat in particular would bring good luck and ensure a safe return home. A few of these kitties have been enshrined in maritime history, like Tiddles, who traveled more than 30,000 miles during his time with the Royal Navy. (His favorite pastime was playing with the capstan’s bell-rope.)

3. THERE IS NO ONE BLACK CAT BREED.

The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) recognizes 22 different breeds that can have solid black coats—including the Norwegian Forest Cat, Japanese Bobtail, and Scottish Fold—but the Bombay breed is what most people picture: a copper-eyed, all-black shorthair. The resemblance to a "black panther" (more on those animals in a bit) is no coincidence. In the 1950s, a woman named Nikki Horner was so enamored with how panthers looked that she bred what we now refer to as the Bombay.

4. BLACK CATS ARE AS EASILY ADOPTED AS CATS OF OTHER COLORS.

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It’s common to think that black cats in shelters are the last in line to find their forever homes, but a recent survey from the ASPCA suggests otherwise. Although euthanasia numbers for black cats were some of the highest, their total number of adoptions was the highest of any hue as well. The vet who conducted the study argues that there may just simply be more black cats than other colors.

5. THEIR COATS CAN "RUST."

A black cat’s color all boils down to a genetic quirk. There are three variants of the black fur gene (solid black, brown, and cinnamon), and the hue works in conjunction with the pattern. If a cat has a solid black hue, but also the dominant tabby stripe gene, heavy exposure to the sun can make the eumelanin pigment in its fur break down to reveal its once-invisible stripes (another potential cause: nutritional deficiency). What was once a black cat is now a rusty brown cat.

6. THE GENE THAT CAUSES BLACK FUR MIGHT MAKE THESE FELINES RESISTANT TO DISEASE.

Even though their coloring is what gives them a bad reputation, these felines may be getting the last laugh after all. The mutation that causes a cat’s fur to be black is in the same genetic family as genes known to give humans resistance to diseases like HIV. Some scientists think the color of these cats may have less to do with camouflage and more to do with disease resistance. They’re hoping that as more cat genomes are mapped, we may get a step closer to curing HIV.

7. YOU CAN VISIT A CAT CAFE DEVOTED TO BLACK CATS.

Step through the doors of Nekobiyaka in Himeji, Japan and get ready for your wildest cat lady dreams to come true. Black cats are the stars of this café and visitors are invited to pet (but not pick up) these lithe felines. Each of Nekobiyaka’s identical-looking black cats wears a different colored bandana to resolve any catastrophic mix-ups.

8. THEY'RE DIFFICULT TO PHOTOGRAPH—BUT IT CAN BE DONE.

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The modern-day conundrum black cat owners face isn’t bad luck, but bad lighting. In a world filled with people sharing photos of their pets on Instagram, black cats can end up looking like a dark blob in photos. One photographer’s advice? Minimalist backgrounds, so your subject can stand out, and angling them towards natural light sources (but keep them out of bright sunlight!). If you're snapping pics on your iPhone, tap on your cat's face, then use the sun icon to brighten up the photo.

BONUS: BLACK PANTHERS HAVE SPOTS.

Technically, there is no such thing as a black panther—it’s a term used for any big black cat. What we call black panthers are in fact jaguars or leopards and yes, they have spots, too. Their hair shafts produce too much melanin thanks to a mutation in their agouti genes, which are responsible for distributing pigment in an animal’s fur. Look carefully and you can see a panther’s spots as the sunlight hits them in just the right way.

This article originally ran in 2016.

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