Adopting a cat: Everything to know about shelter adoption

The first question most people ask when they are thinking about adopting a cat is: Where should I get it from? Should I be adopting from a shelter, or a breeder? What are the costs and what do I need to know? This cat guide is here to help.

Before taking in a cat, you should carefully consider whether you are up for the responsibility – and the costs.
Before taking in a cat, you should carefully consider whether you are up for the responsibility – and the costs.  © 123RF / evdoha

Many animal lovers want to own a cat, and want to do a good thing and adopt from a shelter.

The problem, though, is that there is a common misconception that adopting a cat from a shelter will "cost nothing". The reality is much more complicated, and TAG24 is here to set things straight.

A cat shelter is unlikely to provide a cat free of charge to its new owners.

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Why? Well, because cat shelters must be able to finance themselves so that they can continue their operations to help rescue animals.

To survive, cat shelters gather funds primarily through donations, membership fees, sponsorships, volunteer work, and government grants. Additionally, many also gather money by charging adoptions fees, which both helps to raise money for the cat shelter itself and to protect the animals from being resold (we'll get into this later).

These can rack up the monetary cost of adopting a cat.

Whilst you often do need to pay money to adopt from a shelter, the amount is significantly less than buying a cat from a breeder or pet shop, which can cost upwards of $1,000. On top of that, if you adopt a cat, you can rest well at night knowing you've saved a cat from shelter life or possibly being euthanized.

Here is some information on how much it costs to adopt a cat from a shelter, as well as the hidden costs you may want to look out for.

Adopting a cat from a shelter: Costs and tips

Before you get a cat from the shelter, you should get to know each other in a play session.
Before you get a cat from the shelter, you should get to know each other in a play session.  © 123rf / zlikovec

As soon as a cat arrives at a cat shelter or animal welfare organization, a vast assortment of costs arise. Of course, those costs vary depending on the cats' breed, age, health, and even things like size and weight.

If a kitty has successfully found a new owner and home, the shelter will charge a cost to adopt the cat. When asking, "How much does it usually cost to adopt from a shelter?" one must also recognize that the cost will also include the signing of a contract.

In the US, the cost of adopting from a shelter generally varies between $15 and $200, depending on the feline's age and health.

You need to consider, however, that there are additional costs associated with adopting, depending on the cat's history, age, vaccination status, and other factors. Additional costs may include:

  • Necessary veterinary care
  • Mandatory vaccinations
  • Neutering
  • Identity chipping
  • De-worming
  • Possible medicines the cat may require (especially if it is older)
  • Cat food costs
  • Cat carriers or beds

To note: This list is only a short guide, as there may be many other costs incurred through cat ownership. Additionally, the initial adoption fees may vary.

Adopting a cat from a shelter: Fees and contracts

The adoption fee is not entirely intended to pay for the running costs of cat shelters, such as electricity, water, or employee salaries. Instead, the money is also meant to be used to benefit the animals themselves, and improve their care.

For comparison: Neutered and chipped dogs often cost more to adopt from a shelter, often in the realm of $200 to $500. Smaller animals like guinea pigs or rabbits are much cheaper.

It's also worth noting that in most adoption contracts, regulations are made to ensure the welfare of the animal. If you are adopting a cat from a shelter, it is likely that your new feline friend will have some health issues. If the owner doesn't want the cat for any reason, most contracts will stipulate that they must be returned to the shelter to ensure that shelter cats are not resold for profit or to be used as lab animals.

The adoption fee also acts as an insurance against these possible issues.

Adopting a cat from a shelter: Extra costs

When buying cat accessories, it's a good idea to also pay attention to the needs of each breed.
When buying cat accessories, it's a good idea to also pay attention to the needs of each breed.  © 123RF / fabrikacrimea

The list of additional costs above are not the only ones, of course.

If you adopt a cat from a shelter, you are also going to need to buy a number of accessories to ensure the safety and health of your new kitty. Some of these nclude:

  • Litter box
  • Litter
  • Cat tree
  • Scratching boards or poles
  • Food and water bowls
  • Cat food
  • Transport box / carrier
  • Basket
  • Blanket

A carrier is particularly important, as you will need to be able to transport your new cat. Seeing as you adopted it from a cat shelter, you will also likely need to take it to the vet at least a few times. For tips on getting your cat into its box –yes, it can be rather difficult – check out TAG24's guide to getting cats into their boxes.

Adopting a cat from a shelter: Additional information

Before you bring home your new pet, here are some interesting facts and figures about adopting:


  • The American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that approximately 68% of American households include a pet of some kind, whether that be a fish, dog, cat, guinea pig, bird, or something else.

  • According to the same study, cats came in second to dogs in US pet ownership, totalling 45.3 million households between 2021 and 2022 (compared to 69 million households with dogs).

  • Animals in shelters: According to the ASPCA, about 6.3 million animals enter US shelters every year.

  • Difficult to home: Older and sick animals in particular often have a hard time being placed into a forever home. Many have to be put down, which is why it's a good idea to adopt a cat from a shelter, despite the cost and potential challenges.

Adopting a cat from a shelter: How to recognize a good shelter

One trick for recognizing when a cat shelter is good place to adopt from is if its employees take the time to consult and get to know the people looking to adopt their cats.

It's a good idea to make an appointment in advance if you're looking to adopt, so that you don't disturb the shelter's ongoing operations.

Adopting a cat from a shelter: Things to remember

Adopting a cat from a shelter is a good way to make a new best friend.
Adopting a cat from a shelter is a good way to make a new best friend.  © Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

Buying and adopting a cat from a shelter should always be a well considered and careful decision, and not one made spontaneously or recklessly. As mentioned, it will generally cost between $15 and $200, but this is only the first of many costs that a new cat owner will incur.

It may seem odd that cat shelters charge a cost to adopt a cat, but one must understand that these shelters can only operate if they have the funding. If they didn't operate, it would be the end for many cats, and that would be far worse than potential owners being charged a fee to adopt their new feline friend.

One final thing to note is a simple recommendation: If the costs are beginning to rack up, make sure to ask whether the cat has already been vet checked, vaccinated, and neutered before you adopt it. This can greatly lower the expenses that you may have to incur after adoption.

That being said, it's wise to bring any newly adopted animal to the vet just to be safe, and to shower it with lots of love!

Cover photo: 123RF / evdoha

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