Should I adopt an older cat?
Spoiler alert: I’m not going to make you read to the end of this blog post for an answer. YES! A resounding yes! The joys of bringing an older cat into your home are so numerous they often outweigh the delights (and challenges) of a new kitten.
According to the ASPCA, 3.2 million cats find their way into animal shelters every year. Some – about 90,000 or so, are happily reunited with their owners, and 1.6 million lucky cats are adopted. But that leaves 860,000 unlucky cats who end up being euthanized. Every. Single. Year. When you adopt an older cat, you are truly saving a life.
The data scientists at Priceonomics analyzed adoption data from Petfinder.com and learned that more than 80% of kittens get adopted. Meanwhile, only 60% of adult cats (defined as over 18 months old) find their way into a loving home. When you next find yourself at the shelter, keep this little factoid in the back of your mind.
First let’s dispel a few myths about senior cats
Myth #1: Older cats have expensive health issues
Just like humans, cats do begin to experience age-related changes as they get older. Some physical changes can begin to show up between seven and 10 years of age, and most begin to show signs of aging by 12.
But age is not a disease, as my beloved vet used to remind me. Aging is a natural process and the conditions that can affect older cats can often be controlled. The key to keeping a senior cat healthy and enjoying a high quality of life (and to keep vet bills under control) seems simple: keep health risks to a minimum, detect and treat disease early, and do what you can to maintain the health of body systems.
There are things you, as a loving owner, can do to ensure as long and healthy a life as is possible for your cat. Observe your cat closely so that you can recognize changes and address them with your veterinarian as quickly as possible. Feed (but don’t overfeed) a high-quality diet. Brush your cat’s coat daily to keep the skin healthy, and brush your cat’s teeth daily to prevent dental disease. Minimize the environmental stressors that can be hard on cats of any age, if possible.
And remember that young cats can have health problems too (and can be hard on the wallet in other ways: how many things did your last new kitten destroy?). If you are concerned about unexpected veterinary bills, consider purchasing pet health insurance, which can minimize vet-bill surprises.
Myth #2: Adopt an older cat and you’ll be inheriting someone else’s problem
There are many reasons that pets end up in a shelter and few, if any, are their fault. People move, people die, people change jobs and have babies, and the cat is often the victim of circumstance. Do not assume that any cat in the shelter is anything but the best friend you’ll ever have.
Myth #3: Adopt an older cat and you’ll be saying goodbye far too soon
I always say that loving a cat is a contract with grief. No matter how young they are when you get them, they never live long enough. If all goes as planned, you will most certainly outlive them and thus live through the loss of them.
There are no guarantees that any pet, young or old, will live as long as you would like them to. The only guarantee you get when adopting a senior cat is that you gave them a second chance at life and love. That is going to have to be enough.
The benefits of an older cat
Oh the charms of a kitten are self-evident. But the quiet appeal of an older cat is also unmistakable when you know what you’re looking for. Here are just a few of the benefits of adopting an older cat.
An older cat will be litter trained
When you get an older cat, you get a cat that’s been around the block a few times and knows what’s expected when it comes to toileting. Unlike a kitten who may need to be litter trained, an older cat is likely well-versed in the ways of a litter box and there will be few, if any, accidents.
If you end up adopting a stray who has never seen a litter box, chances are you’ll have little trouble training her to use one. Older cats have longer attention spans than kittens, and usually catch on very quickly.
What you see is what you get
A kitten is an adorable, still unformed, ball of fluff. A kitten will go through many changes as he grows into adulthood over the course of a year or more. A kitten’s personality will continue to evolve and you won’t know whether the adult cat the kitten becomes will be the kind of companion you had in mind. The beauty of an older cat is that his personality is already established and you know up front who you will be bringing home. Were you looking for a lazy nap companion? A playful, toy-loving “hunter”? An extrovert who loves people? An adult cat is who he is.
A good shelter or foster family will be able to share details about an older cat’s personality: her likes and dislikes, quirks, and routines, and you can decide, based on this information, whether the two of you are going to be a good match.
An older cat is better with children
It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? You’d think you’d want a young cat to entertain your young children. But you’d be wrong. Kittens are easily picked up by children, but also easily dropped or squeezed too hard in a “hug.” Baby anythings are fragile and kittens can get seriously hurt by even well-meaning kids. Older cats, on the other hand, might enjoy the attentions of young children. They may be used to being petted (unlike a squirmy kitten), and a little savvier about finding an escape route before getting stepped on or loved on a bit too much.
Older cats are less trouble
When you see an adorable kitten at the shelter, you get amnesia. You forget about the last kitten you had and how exhausting it was. You forget about the broken things the kitten knocked off the shelf, and the draperies that got ruined, and the little meows that kept you up for nights on end. You forget how you had to kitten-proof the house, and how often you had to go hunting for the missing kitten who’d gotten herself stuck somewhere she shouldn’t have been the first place.
Bringing an adult cat into your home is a bit like bringing an adult human into the home, as compared to a human toddler. You’d feel pretty confident that the adult human wouldn’t poop on the rug, or get stuck behind the bookshelf, or knock your favorite ceramic knickknack off the end table, right?
Note that senior cats generally require less supervision than a kitten and also less stimulation. Older cats are independent and can often be happily left home for a good portion of the day. A curious and energetic kitten, on the other hand, often demands a lot of attention and exercise, and needs you around to help keep them safe.
And the best reason of all…an older cat needs you as much you need him or her
Think about all the reasons an older cat might end up in the shelter. Perhaps his human owner who once loved him very much ended up in a nursing home, or passed away. Maybe his overwhelmed family gave him up when a new baby came along. Perhaps a person in the family developed allergies. Or maybe his family moved away and thoughtlessly left him behind to fend for himself.
Whatever fate befell her, it was through no fault of her own that she ended up in a shelter. And she’s there, bewildered by the strangeness and noise, not knowing what to expect next.
And why are you at the shelter? What has happened in your life to make you think you need the loving companionship of a cat at this very moment? Ask yourself if those needs could be best met by an older cat, and if so, how amazing it is that you were both there, at the very same moment in the same shelter, just waiting for each other.
 “Pet Statistics.” ASPCA, www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics.
 “What Kinds of Pets Get Adopted?” Priceonomics, priceonomics.com/what-kinds-of-pets-get-adopted/.
 “The Special Needs of the Senior Cat.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 25 July 2018, www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/special-needs-senior-cat.