What To Know Before Taking In A Stray Cat

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If you've been noticing an adorable kitten wandering around your neighborhood, you may be tempted to pet them, talk to them, and even put out a little dish of food for them. But if you're thinking about adopting a stray cat, there's more to it than just opening your door and letting them inside. Any time you welcome a new pet into your life is a major moment, and it needs some thoughtful preparation, according to experts. In addition to picking up practical things like supplies, it's also crucial to make sure that they're healthy and feel safe with you.

But first, you should make sure that you're not accidentally grabbing someone's lost or collarless pet. "If you find a stray cat, it’s important to first make sure they don’t have a previous owner," Dr. Amanda Landis-Hana, DVM, a veterinarian and senior manager of veterinary outreach at PetSmart Charities, tells Bustle. "Once you’ve gained enough trust to hold the cat, take a look to see if it has a collar," she says. "If no collar is present, it’s still recommended that you take the cat to get scanned for a microchip as cats can sometimes rip their collars off."

Here's what you should know before adopting a stray cat, according to experts.

1. Prepare Hiding Spots

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If you've ever spent time with a cat, you know that they love tiny spaces. Whether it's an empty cardboard box or a spot between two pillows, a cat will wriggle their way into the opening. Besides being super cute, having safe hiding spots for your new kitty is important for making them feel safe. "In addition to cat-proofing your home, plan to have a few quiet places for your new pet to 'hide' as it adjusts to its new environment," Landis-Hana says. "All cats need their own little hideouts, but former strays especially, as they’re so used to having all the space they want."

2. Have Them Checked Out By A Vet

If you're adopting a cat that's spent some time without a proper home and care, you probably have no idea what their medical history is or whether they have any current health issues. "As soon as you’ve decided to take a cat in," Landis-Hana says, "for the wellbeing of all involved, schedule a veterinary appointment." The vet will be able to check for parasites like ear mites and fleas, which often affect cats who have been living without a home. Plus, if your new fur baby is suffering from a more serious illness, the sooner you get treatment for them, the better.

3. Make Sure They're Spayed Or Neutered

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If you're bringing a stray cat to live with you, you might expect to keep it indoors all the time. But chances are, you'll let them make the transition slowly by letting them spend some time outdoors too. Before you take in a stray cat, have a vet check whether they're spayed or neutered, Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian, and consultant for DogLab, tells Bustle. "The last thing you want to do is adopt a cat and then find out she is expecting kittens," she says. Even if you welcome in a cat who has the ability to impregnate others, the responsible cat owner thing to do is to make sure that they won't leave unwanted litters behind.

4. Round Up All Supplies

Of course, once you become a cat parent, you'll have to make sure that you have all of their necessities on hand. The top priorities are a litter box and food, Ochoa says, so grab those from the store before you welcome in the fur baby. "The first thing your cat is going to want to do when they get home is to use the bathroom," she says, so make sure that you have everything set up in a spot where they can have easy access to it. There are plenty of fun things to buy too, like toys, treats, and a collar, but food and litter cannot wait, so be sure to get those.

5. Prepare Other Pets

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If you already have a cat or if you're also a dog parent, be sure to prepare them before bringing another animal to live in your home. If your current pet is very skittish around other animals, take some time to have animal playdates to get them used to it, or even work with a certified trainer if you'd like some extra guidance. But it's also important to make sure that your new pet is good with other animals, Ochoa says. "If you have other cats or dogs make sure your new cat is good with other animals," she says. "Most shelters will test new cats out with other animals to see if they get along."

6. Budget For Their Expenses

It's easy to want to help an adorable cat who needs a home, but it's crucial to make sure that it's really a possibility for you when it comes to logistics. "Taking on a new pet is basically like a new child — they can be really expensive," Dr. Geoff DeWire, DVM, a practicing veterinarian and veterinarian-in-chief for PrettyLitter, tells Bustle. "Make sure to asses you budget so you can dedicate the time and money your new fur baby deserves," he says. This could include anything from food to kitty litter to unexpected medical expenses, so just make sure that you're prepared.

7. Consider Pet Insurance

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"If you choose to adopt an older cat, it may be beneficial to invest in pet insurance, but this is something you need to consider for your budget," DeWire says. "It can make it easier financially to provide routine care and protects you from big (and small) unexpected expenses," he says, "but policies can be confusing so really know exactly what it covers." Make sure to read any fine print, and think about adding on options like dental care or travel insurance, depending on your pet's needs and your lifestyle. For a stray cat, pre-existing conditions might be very relevant, so do some digging into how the provider handles that.

8. Be Patient With Them

If you're adopting a cat, chances are you're very excited to have them as part of your family. But it's important to keep in mind that for them, this could be a scary time of transition. Even if they're glad to have food, a place to sleep, and the love you can offer them, they might be very scared. "Know that easing a new cat into your family will take time," Landis-Hanna says. "It is going to be a challenging process so patience is key. Allow the cat to get close to you on its own terms and give it lots of love."

9. Be Ready For Some Challenges

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"Cats may have behaviors that will take some adjusting or retraining so ensure you have the resources to do that if you choose to move forward with a cat who comes from a challenging background," Landis-Hanna says. While all cats need love and deserve a safe home environment, not every cat is a good match for every family. "Some cats are suitable for homes with children or elderly people and others aren’t," she says. "Be mindful of that so you don’t bring a pet into a home environment that ultimately will not work out." If you find that you're having some problems integrating your new fur baby into your life, look to your vet or even a cat behavioralist for advice that's specific to your lifestyle.

If you're welcoming a stray cat into your home, all of the planning can sometimes get overwhelming. But make sure that you take some time and truly enjoy the love that a new pet can bring too.