Copyright 1995, Sarah Hartwell

One of the most common questions asked by owners who have lost a cat (due to death or disappearance) is when to get a new cat to replace it. There are no hard and fast rules about whether or when to adopt another cat, but there are some common sense guidelines.

The new cat will not be a replacement. It will be an individual with its own personality. If you hope to replace a cat with one exactly like it, you will probably be disappointed. Even if the cat resembles your previous cat, it will have its own likes and dislikes.

When getting a 'replacement' cat, you are not devaluing your previous cat. If you enjoyed feline companionship before, there is no reason you shouldn't enjoy feline companionship with a different cat. Your new cat may be a memorial to your previous cat, it may commemorate a previous cat, but it will have a character all its own.

Should I get another cat at all?

This depends partly on you and partly on the environment. If the previous pet was poisoned, run over or went missing, possibly stolen, you may decide it is unfair to put another cat at risk as well as risking another heartache if the new cat suffers the same fate. It may be possible to reduce or eliminate the risks by adopting on an indoor-only cat or fencing in the garden to provide a safe outdoor environment.

An elderly owner may feel that there is the risk of a new cat outliving them. Perhaps an older cat would be more suitable in this situation, or there are the alternatives of long-term fostering of a cat from a shelter (the shelter will reclaim the cat should the fosterer become ill, hospitalized or sadly, die) or of sponsoring a cat at a cat shelter and visiting it.

Some owners also feel that they will never be ready to have another cat due to their grief over the previous one. Although time will never completely erase the sadness of loss, it normally dulls the pain and many people decide, after months or years, that they miss feline company after all. Equally, you decide that you are saving the life of an unwanted cat.

When should I get a new cat?

If the previous cat died of an infectious disease, the vet may advise you not to adopt another cat for a given period of time to reduce the risk of it contracting the same disease from germs left in the house by the former pet. Most viruses don't survive for long in the environment or are 'killed' by disinfectant. Your vet, or cat care books, will be able to advise you how long a particular germ can persist in the house and what steps you can take to eradicate it.

For most people there are no hard and fast rules - it is a case of ‘when you feel ready to adopt another cat’. Some people adopt a new cat within hours of losing a previous pet, some need time to come to terms with their loss before they feel ready to give their love to another cat. Some altruistic people do not think of their own grief but think of the cats which need homes and in spite of their own heartache they adopt another cat very soon because the cat needs caring home.

Why should I get another cat?

Aside from the fact that available cats generally outnumber available homes, many people simply miss feline company.

The new cat will never replace a previous one. It may resemble it, but it will have a personality all of its own. This is most pronounced in mixed breed cats, but even with purebreds whose personalities are more easily generalised, some individuals are more outgoing or confident than others. Owners who seek to ‘replace’ their previous pet are frequently disappointed. It is better to ‘commemorate’ or ‘remember’ a previous cat by adopting another one fully cognisant that it will be an individual with a character all of its own. Just as every human is unique and cannot be replaced, every cat is unique.

Some people prefer to adopt a cat which resembles the previous one. An equal number of people adopt one which looks completely dissimilar so that they are not uncomfortably reminded of the former pet. Many simply do not mind what the cat looks like as long as it is good company! It is a matter of personal preference.

Most people adopt another cat to fill the gap left by a previous one - a feline companion to give and receive love and to provide company and enjoyment. This is a well-adjusted attitude. Some provide a caring home for an unwanted cat to save it from possible euthanasia which is a very generous attitude. There are other valid reasons though. Not all cats are pets - in some situations the previous cat was a working cat, perhaps one that was not particularly friendly to humans; in this case it should be replaced by a cat with a similar disposition.

Sometimes it is not so much the owner who misses the cat, but a surviving pet which misses its feline companion so intensely that a replacement is sought. In such cases, the surviving pet and a new companion with a suitable personality must be introduced carefully to ensure that they do provide each other with company.

In some cases, the cat is to provide company for a remaining pet. Often, the surviving pet will accept a newcomer (it may take a while) but sometimes it won't. This is because it misses the company of a particular individual rather than missing company per se. You should also ensure that neither the surviving cat nor the newcomer pose health risks to each other (FeLV, FIV etc) and, ideally, both should be vaccinated.

Where should I get a new cat?

This depends on what sort of cat you want. For a non-pedigree cat the best place is a shelter or rescue group. For some of the cats you may be a lifeline as thousands of unwanted cats are put to sleep each year. Sometimes a cat will find you. Before taking on a stray, try to find out whether it already has an owner e.g. microchip, via notice-boards, via a rescue shelter's lost and found register, via lost and found section of a newspaper.

If you want a pedigree cat you can locate a breeder through the advertisement section of most cat magazines or by going to a breed information stand at a cat show. Another source of pedigree cats are pedigree rescue societies. Just as many mixed-breed cats lose their homes, pedigree cats may also lose their homes for various reasons. These cats may be older, some may show signs of wear and tear and they may not have their pedigree papers available, but if you mainly plan to have the cat as a pet, a breed rescue society is an excellent place to go.

Your vet may know of cats or kittens needing homes. Most vets handle stray cats and kittens which are never claimed; they usually pass these on to a shelter, but inevitably some must be destroyed if there is no-one able to take them. Many people adopt a pet straight from the vet clinic or through a notice on the vet clinic notice-board.

Sometimes a friend or colleague may have kittens needing homes. Uncontrolled breeding is to be discouraged because of over-population, but genuine accidents do occur (they may even be fostering kittens on behalf of a shelter). A friend or colleague may have to rehome a cat because of changed circumstances - you should be able to get information on the cat's character and habits. If money exchanges hands, make sure they write a receipt and note their name and address, just in case.

Other sources should be treated more cautiously. Advertisements for in shop windows or on the roadside for example - are these being bred for profit or is the owner simply not responsible enough to have their cat spayed? Farms sometimes have kittens available, but you must be careful to check the kitten’s health as diseases spread easily in uncontrolled breeding colonies; also the kitten may be poorly socialised if it has been born to farmyard cats. Farm kittens may be poorly socialised.

While there are some excellent pet shops which take great care of their kittens and who carefully vet prospective owners, there are still far too many which sell ill or underage kittens to anyone who has the money, regardless of whether that person is a cat lover or someone who plans to use the kitten for training fighting dogs. Even if the pet shop itself is excellent, it may still be providing an outlet for kitten farms or blacklisted breeders. Only buy a kitten from a pet shop if you are certain of the shop’s level of care and you have been unable to find a suitable cat or kitten from a shelter, breeder, vet clinic or other reputable source.

Always regard pet shops (or worse, market stalls) with caution. They rarely sell adult cats, usually only kittens. No reputable breeder sells or gives kittens to pet shops so ‘pedigree’ kittens offered for sale may be from breeders struck off of official breeder lists or even supposedly ‘banned’ from breeding. The pedigree papers supplied by such a breeder may be fraudulent and the kitten will probably be unregistrable and, therefore, cannot compete in breed classes at cat shows. Some kitten-mill kittens may be fraudulently registered as being the progeny of a renegade breeder's own cats. Kitten-mill kittens may be unhealthy or poorly socialised due to their poor start in life or because their mother has been weakened by over-breeding.

In some instances a pedigree cat or kitten sold through a pet shop has turned out to be a stolen pet - the pet shop may or may not be aware of this, but nevertheless it causes great heartache for the previous owner of that cat and the legitimate owner may take legal action to reclaim their stolen property. Many pet shop kittens come from kitten farms or from owners who allow their cats to breed simply so they can sell the kittens. Kittens from different sources may be mixed together, increasing the risk of infection.

Finally you may be offered, via ‘a contact’ a cat or kitten ‘rescued from a laboratory’. Your response depends on your own views on the matter of animal experimentation, but you must be warned that, in the eyes of the law, you are knowingly handling stolen goods. In addition, the cat may have been bred to deliberately exhibit certain health problems or defects. In this case, your actions depend entirely on your personal code of ethics.



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