Sunday, January 20, 2013

Finding the Right Kitten

Adopting a kitten is quite an undertaking and absolutely one of the greatest joys imaginable. Nothing brings a smile to your heart and joy to your soul faster than a bouncing ball of fur popping up and rolling over. To be able to share the pure joy of that spirit is one of the most endearing qualities of pet ownership. That bubbly spirit and those inquisitive curious stares bind our hearts to their adorableness and are the foundation to the many years of love and companionship to come.

There is nothing more precious than the round face, those big soft eyes and the whiskers and fluff of a tiny body full of energy.

With all of the chaos that a kitten can bring into your life there will come the responsibility of a life that may live for another 20 years. Those twenty years will be full of love, affection, purring, companionship, but also potential illness, disease, behavioral conditions, moves to other homes, additional members of the family, and some twists and turns in the road of life. To be prepared for all of them at the time of adoption is inconceivable, but to have a plan and basic understanding of the path ahead is the best way to make a solid decision for everyone involved.

Most kittens are adopted. Many of these are from shelters, some from friends with unexpected litters, but a few are purchased from breeders.

There are many breeds of cats. They, like dogs, have breed specific personalities, characteristics and even diseases and medical afflictions. Also, like purebred dogs, there is an over representation of some diseases due to their purebred status. Most veterinarians agree that the ‘muttier’ mixed pets seem to live longer healthier lives and not need veterinary intervention as often. If you decide to purchase a pure bred cat ask the breeder very specific questions based on the research done online, with your veterinarian, and with the breeder.

There are many helpful hints to picking the perfect kitten for your home.

The best place to start is making sure that this addition to your home is what everyone in the household wants. Don’t get a pet as a gift for a child without adult parental approval, and don’t make this decision without a thorough understanding of the ups and downs and costs associated with this lifelong decision. Do you have a safe and appropriate environment for a new kitten? Is there room to run, play, eat and be safe from any other members of the household that might be scary to a new kitten?

Here is the challenging part of adopting a new kitten? With the kaleidoscope of colors playing in front of you how do you know which kitten is right for you?

It is best to decide first what pet will fit best into your life. (see our how to pick the right pet guide).

Once you have decided a kitten is the best fit for you and your family then the task of trying to decide which kitten to choose from arises? If you are adopting from a shelter or rescue ask the adoption center staff to help you. Ask about which kittens are best for you based on the personality qualities you are looking for. Also ask about the kittens and cats that they recommend? Maybe a kitten that is already spayed, neutered, and vetted is a better fit for you than a 6 week old rambunctious baby who still needs multiple vet visits ahead of them?

A good tip for deciding which kitten to choose from a group is to stand back and just observe them for a while, at least 10 to 20 minutes. Observe which kitten is the ring leader, which is the most vocal, the most outgoing, the shy one, the bubbly one, in essence which kitten will be the most like your household, or the most comfortable fit for your environment. We humans each have our own unique personality and the same goes for each feline. If you are looking for a lap cat then pick up each cat or kitten and see if they settle into your arms gently and calmly. If you are looking for calm and reserved then perhaps the kitten that is quietly playing in the corner is a better choice than the kittens climbing the walls?

As a veterinarian I think that for many of my clients debating adopting a kitten I also discuss the advantages of adopting two. They don’t have to be siblings, or even the same age, but having two kittens, or cats, or about the same age or activity level tends to be easier than one. I know this might sounds crazy, but think about how much time you have to spend with your cats. If you want a companion to lie on your lap for much of the day, well then you probably need a cat, an older cat. If you are adopting a kitten to have a fun-loving addition to your already busy life then maybe having a kitten to keep your kitten tired at night so you can sleep, and entertained so they don’t attack your feet with every step you take is a good idea? I see far fewer behavioral problems and frustrated families with two happily co-existing kittens keeping each other company than with the one kitten households. After all, we all need companions don’t we?

After practicing veterinary medicine for many years, and having many cats of my own, I have figured out which kitten works well in my home. I love the sweet cuddliness of a warm purring cat or kitten in my arms. So when it came time to bring a new cat into my home that’s what I looked for. The bright, happy, cat that turned into a puddle of purring when picked up. I also took great time in making sure that the original family members got along with the new family members. It is imperative that every member of the house feel safe, and happy.

If you find a timid reluctant kitten and fall in love, don’t dismay. Kittens, like all other living beings, have the ability to learn and adapt. But there will be a longer, more challenging road ahead. Time, patience, and determination are sometimes all that is needed to turn a shy kitten into a trusting loving member of a new family.

Ask many questions, seek lots of advice, and make a sound decision for a happy long lifetime together.


  1. Great article and a lot of good advice. I like to expand on one thought: the most important word to keep as your "corner stone" for your success with either a kitten or older cat you adopt is "Trust". If you really think about it from their eyes, when looking up at you, how scary is that? When they have that trust in you, you have a friend for life and the bound is immeasurable.

    Robert Biser

  2. Hi Y'all,

    We really miss having a cat. However, when our last cat died we decided not to adopt another. Hubby's doctor had told him some of his allergy problems were severely aggravated by the cat dander.

    Trust is important in any relationship, but especially with animals. A trusting relationship can result in the most amazing animals who anticipate your every need and want.

    BrownDog's Human