Free Emotional Intelligence Course

Helpguide / Harvard Collaboration

Reprinted with permission for personal or non-profit use. Visit to see the article with links to related articles.  © All rights reserved.

This material is for information and support; not a substitute for professional advice.

Choosing the Right Cat

How to Find the Perfect Feline Friend

Choosing the Right Cat

So, you’ve decided to get a cat. Congratulations—research shows that people with pets are happier, healthier and more adjusted than those without. Get ready for a new relationship that will give you years of love and companionship.

Cat behavioral traits do not vary as widely as those of dogs, even though each cat is definitely an individual—just ask anyone who has a feline companion or two. Ultimately, looks and personality are usually the deciding factors when selecting a particular cat. Learn about the different types of cats and discover which will be your perfect pet.

Is a cat right for you?

Before you choose a cat, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions.

Do you have other pets in your household?

When your household already contains other pets, especially a dog, carefully consider whether a cat will be a welcome addition. While some dogs get along well with a cat, others may not. Even other cats may not be thrilled about sharing their space and your attention—although it’s likely they will eventually bond. Introducing any new animal to a preexisting dynamic takes time, patience, and finesse.

A cat is a long-term commitment

When you adopt a cat, keep in mind that you’ll be making a commitment that will last the lifetime of the cat—perhaps 10, 15, or 20 years.

How to choose the perfect cat

After you’ve decided to bring a cat into your life, the next step is to figure out what kind of cat you want. There are 39 types of purebred cats recognized by the Cat Fancier’s Association, as well as a myriad of mixed-breed cats. There are a few factors to consider in your decision process for choosing a cat. Age, size, breed, appearance and personality can all play in to your individual preferences.

The differences between different breeds

Different breeds have specific characteristics, appearances, and needs. For example, Persians are more lovey-dovey lap cats, but require regular grooming to keep their long hair from matting. Siamese cats tend to be vocal, but are more standoffish. Main coons are big, relaxed cats that will follow you around, but don’t like to be babied. Still, any housecat, even the more aloof breeds, will crave and appreciate your love and attention—when they want it.

Kitten or mature cat?

While a kitten may be adorable, they do require a lot of work. Kittens need to be litter-box trained, and can often be very needy and energetic. Their tiny size also is a consideration, especially if there are any rambunctious children or other pets living in your household.

On the other hand, older cats may be set in their ways, and have personalities that developed in conjunction with their last owner. Cats are very adaptable, however, and most will adjust very quickly to new environments and people.

Adopting a kitten versus a mature cat
Trait Kitten Mature Adult Cat

Physical fortitude

Delicate. More easily injured or harmed.

Sturdier. Better able to escape danger.

Energy level

Very active, mischievous.

More relaxed, less likely to get into trouble.

Time and attention

More time required to train and feed.

Already trained. Feeding schedule easier.

Safety problems

Less aware of its surroundings. May get under foot.

More aware of its surroundings. Able to avoid problems.

Adopting a kitten versus a mature cat
Physical fortitude

Kitten: Delicate. More easily injured or harmed.

Mature Cat: Sturdier. Better able to escape danger.

Energy level

Kitten: Very active, mischievous

Mature Cat: More relaxed, less likely to get into trouble.

Time and attention

Kitten: More time required to train and feed.

Mature Cat: Already trained. Feeding schedule easier.

Safety problems

Kitten: Less aware of its surroundings. May get under foot.

Mature Cat: More aware of its surroundings. Able to avoid problems.

Shorthaired cat or longhaired cat?

When choosing between a shorthaired cat and one with long hair, think about the practical considerations. Although all cats need to be brushed regularly—and most actually enjoy it—frequent grooming of longhaired cats is a necessity to keep them mat free. If you don’t have time or an interest in daily grooming of a cat, you may prefer a short-haired variety. If you like the look of a long-haired cat, make sure that you are prepared for the care and upkeep it will require.

Purebred or mixed breed?

Cat fanciers who enjoy participating in cat shows and organized feline activities may prefer purebreds. But for those that are looking for a stay-at-home companion, a cat is usually selected based on appearance and personality, whether it is purebred or not. Mixed breed cats are far more common than the purebreds, and are considerably less expensive to obtain.

Where to find the right cat

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, where do you find the cat of your dreams? Purebred cats can be purchased from breeders and at some pet shops, or adopted from a rescue group. Sometimes you may even find a purebred cat at an animal shelter. Mixed breeds cats (and sometimes kittens) are abundant at shelters and rescue groups. The experience you’ll have when visiting each of the sources for your new cat will vary greatly.

Caution: Animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society of the United States recommend that you avoid buying a kitten from a pet shop or online store

Many of these retailers get their cats, dogs, or other animals from breeders that care improperly for the animals. Over-breeding and overcrowding often lead to health and development problems in their pets. Responsible breeders want to meet their buyers in person to ensure that there is a good fit between the owner and the pet.

Source: Humane Society of the United States 


Breeders are the best place to find a purebred cat, including “exotic” domestic cats—such as the Bengal or Serengeti. Responsible breeders will encourage you to visit their facilities—often a home—to meet and interact with their cats. Reputable breeders want to make sure that their animals are a good match with the people purchasing them and that they will be living in a healthy, loving environment.

  • Advantages: You’ll often get to meet the parents of the kitten. Health guarantees, instructions for care, and follow-up advice on training and behavior problems are usually offered to you.
  • Disadvantages: Costly, but less so than pet shops. If animals are confined to cages, conditions are unsanitary, and many different breeds are produced, the breeder may not be reputable.

Rescue organizations

Rescue organizations literally rescue “homeless” cats and kittens. Although some rescues have facilities where the animals are housed, most do not. Instead, until “forever homes” can be found, the cats and kittens live in foster homes, at boarding facilities or veterinary offices. In these places the animals are screened and observed for health problems and problematic behaviors.

Rescues hold adoption events in parks or parking lots, usually on weekends, to give the public opportunities to meet available cats and kittens. Some rescues post photos and descriptions of their animals online, so you can see the cats before you contact the organization. Many rescues are careful about where pets are placed, so a rigorous screening process may be involved.

  • Advantages: Health and behavior of cats/kittens is screened. After observing the cat, the rescue may know of a cat’s particular likes, dislikes and problem behaviors. Adoption fees (donations) vary from nominal to costly.
  • Disadvantages: A rigorous screening process of the prospective adoptee and an adoption agreement or contract may be required.

Animal shelters

Animal shelters are funded and operated by a city, county, or private organizations (usually nonprofit). They are a wonderful place to find an adult cat, and often have kittens as well. Visiting an animal shelter can be depressing, with so many cats kept in less than ideal conditions and confined in cages resting side by side.

Hang around the cat cages and notice the different personalities of the cats and their reactions to you—although they may be more passive and less social because of the shelter environment. When a particular cat appeals to you, ask an adoption counselor to assist you. As you spend time with a cat or kitten, notice if they are comfortable being held and stroked.

  • Advantages: Nominal adoption fees. Spaying/neutering and vaccinations included. Volunteers often assess cat’s behavior and friendliness, and may be available to assist you if problems arise after adoption.
  • Disadvantages: No health guarantees, although existing serious problems may be diagnosed. Unknown history of cat/kitten’s previous care and treatment.

Settling in with your new cat or kitten

  • Before bringing your new cat home, purchase all of the items you’ll need to provide the best care and comfort for her.
  • Have a cat carrier ready to take your new cat home in—a cat should never ride loose in a car.
  • It may help to prepare a small area (a closet or bathroom) where your cat can stay for the first few days until he feels more comfortable. Leave water, food, a litter box and some toys, and let him adjust on his own time.
  • If you are concerned about the cat scratching up your furniture, invest in a good scratching post—it can be a couch’s best friend!
  • Meet with family members to agree upon who will be responsible for which aspects of the cat’s care and how the transition period will be handled.
  • Find a good veterinarian. Get references from other pet owners.
  • Take your new pet to the vet as soon as possible for an examination, as well as to establish a relationship with the vet, which will be ongoing. Discovering any existing or serious health problems as quickly as possible gives you options. Sadly—and although it is rare—there might be instances when a pet’s health is so seriously compromised that keeping it would be beyond your capabilities. It’s best to know before you get too attached.
  • Understand that everyone in your household, including the pet, will need a little time to get to know each other and adjust to new elements in their lives.
  • Some experts believe it’s best to keep housecats safely indoors from the time you bring them home and that they’ll never miss going outside.
  • Notice ways in which your life is enriched by your new cat’s presence, and start enjoying a wonderful new relationship with your pet.

Related Articles

The Therapeutic Benefits of Pets

The Therapeutic Benefits of Pets – Caring for a pet is a responsibility, but it can also make you happier and healthier, both mentally and physically.

Play, Creativity and Lifelong Learning

Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning – Play matters for both kids and adults. It helps us be more inventive, smart, happy, flexible, and resilient.

Boosting Emotional Health

Improving Emotional Health – Strong emotional health is tied to your physical health and lifestyle. Learn how to boost your overall physical and mental well-being.

Resources & References

Rescue organizations and resources for finding cats

  • Pet Adoption – Offers a database of several hundred thousand adoptable pets plus a resource library, connections to shelters and resource groups, classified ads, and local volunteer opportunities. (
  • Find an Animal Shelter in the US – Clickable map/index with animal shelters in all 50 states.
  • Adopting from an Animal Shelter – Comprehensive article about adoption, with resources to reputable agencies and shelters. (The Humane Society of America)
  • Worldwide Shelter Directory – Gives international rescue and shelter listing searchable by country. (Hugs for Homeless Animals)

Authors: Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, PhD. Last updated: July 2013

© All rights reserved. This reprint is for information only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. is an ad-free non-profit resource for supporting better mental health and lifestyle choices for adults and children.