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Adopting a Senior Cat – Guide & Considerations

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By Nicole Cosgrove

old calico cat lying on the couch

Cats make great companions for the home and family. You don’t need to walk them like you do a dog, but if you get the right cat, it can be attentive, loving, and fun. Adopting a cat, rather than buying one from a breeder, means offering a loving home to a cat that might otherwise be overlooked and may even be euthanized in the future. And while most people think of kittens when they consider getting a new cat, senior cats still have plenty of love and affection to give, and may actually be a better option for you and your family, depending on your circumstances.

Below are 13 things to consider when adopting a senior cat, including some of the benefits of choosing a senior over a kitten and the things you need to think of when bringing the cat home for the first time.

What to Expect When Adopting a Senior Cat?

1. An Adult Becomes a Senior At 10 Years of Age

There are no specific, set timelines for the aging of a cat, and some shelters and adoption centers might have different ideas of what is considered a senior cat. Generally, though, a kitten becomes a cat at 12 months of age and is thought of as a senior cat at 10 years of age. However, bear in mind that shelters might not know exactly how old a cat is and have to make a best guess by looking at the teeth and general condition of a cat.

old calico cat
Image Credit: Sonja-Kalee, Pixabay

2. You Will Have Less Time with Your New Companion

Cats can live 20 years, or even longer, and when you get a kitten, you should prepare for keeping the cat for at least 20 years. When you get a senior cat, you won’t get this much time with your companion, so you do need to be prepared for the fact that you might only have 5 years, or potentially even fewer, with your new pet.

3. Senior Cats Tend to Be Less Energetic

While kittens love to explore, charge around, and enjoy nothing more than chasing toy mice around the living room with their owners, senior cats tend to be less energetic. They will spend most of the day sleeping. For some people, a senior cat is an ideal choice. For example, senior cats make good companions for senior owners because they will spend time on their lap and do not need to be given physical playtime.

black ragdoll cat
Image Credit: Ivan Yohan, Shutterstock

4. Seniors Are Usually Less Trouble

Kittens are cute and adorable, but they also need training, regular exercise and playtime, and they may need to learn what is considered acceptable behavior while being trained to avoid unacceptable behavior. Having any cat requires a degree of commitment, but kittens usually require a lot more attention than senior cats.

5. You Will Have a Better Idea of What You’re Getting

Senior cats have also developed their own personality. They will know what they like and don’t like, and the shelter should be able to give you some idea of whether a cat is loving and enjoys spending time with people, or whether it prefers the solitude of the spare room. It is worth noting that cats can react and act differently according to circumstances, but with a senior cat, you should be able to get some idea of its attributes and characteristics.

Cat laying on owner's chest
Image Credit: Maliflower73, Shutterstock

6. Senior Cats Are Not as Popular as Kittens

If you’re adopting a cat because you want to provide one with a loving home and get it out of the shelter, consider that kittens are very popular. Most shelters have waiting lists of people waiting for kittens, while senior and even adult cats are overlooked. Some can end up spending years in a shelter without being given the benefit of a loving and caring forever home.

7. Adoption Usually Costs Around $200–$300

Adoption fees vary from shelter to shelter and region to region, but most centers have an adoption fee of between $200 and $300. You may be able to find some rescue centers that have lower adoption fees, and some may have higher, but expect to pay up to $300 in most cases.

cat being adopted
Image Credit: Anika Moritz, Shutterstock

8. Some Shelters Might Offer Reduced Adoption Fees for Senior Cats

Adoption fees cover everything from feeding and homing the animal to veterinary care. Kittens cost the most for a shelter to care for because they not only require more attention but they are usually spayed or neutered before they leave and they will need regular worming and flea treatments. And because senior cats can be overlooked for long periods of time, some shelters offer a reduced adoption fee for old cats. In fact, some offer free adoption for cats over a certain age or that they have had in the shelter for a long time.

9. Prepare an Area Before Bringing the Cat Home

You should meet the cat you intend to adopt at least once before you bring it home, and ideally twice. When you are ready to adopt and the paperwork is signed, before you bring the cat home, prepare a feline-friendly and safe space for your new cat. Provide a bed, food and water bowls, a litter tray, and some toys, and make sure the area is in a relatively quiet spot in the home. The cat space should be ready for your new cat to walk into as soon as it gets out of the basket.

cat lying in its bed with toy
Image Credit: Nataliya Derkach, Shutterstock

10. Give Them Some Space

While your new cat will appreciate being given a second chance at a loving home, being moved from the shelter to a new home can be a very stressful and difficult experience. It can take some cats time to settle in and during this settling-in period, they can be anxious and withdrawn. It is exciting to have a new addition to the home but be prepared to give your new companion a little space and plenty of time.

11. Hand Feed for a Few Weeks

When you get a new cat, you need to develop a strong bond between the two of you, and there are plenty of ways to do this. Talk to them whenever you see them and hand-feed them for the first few weeks. You can obviously put the food in a bowl, but hold the bowl out. The cat will recognize you as being the provider and a bond will start to form.

man holding the bowl while feeding his cat
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

12. Make Introductions Gradually

This is especially important if you have children or other pets, but make sure you introduce your new resident to other family members slowly and calmly. Don’t throw the new cat in a room with the dog and leave them to it. Introduce them slowly, even just for a few minutes at a time, and always allow your cat an easy escape route and somewhere safe to hide.

13. Register with a Local Vet

Hopefully, your senior cat will live a long and healthy life, but you will need to take them to a vet at some time. And if you aren’t registered with a vet, it can be difficult to find one when needed, especially in an emergency. Register with your existing vet, if you have other pets, or find one that is local and register with them within the first week of bringing your cat home. Your vet will be an invaluable resource and able to help with a host of potential problems that you might face.

vet holding a senior cat
Image Credit: Alice Rodnova, Shutterstock


Cats make excellent companions for people of all ages and families of all types and sizes. Adopting a cat means giving an abandoned cat a second chance and adopting a senior cat means taking one that might otherwise be stuck in the shelter for several months. Senior cats may not live with you as long as kittens but they can be easier to care for, calmer, and have already developed their own character.

Featured Image Credit: Stiva Urban, Shutterstock

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