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For the last few months, I have been gradually preparing to adopt my very first cat! I've been a fish owner and a partial dog owner before, but have never taken care of a cat on my own before and have been doing a lot of research to make sure that I'm fully ready for cat ownership. There are a few different friends of mine who have let me interact with their cats to decide what kind of cat is right for me, and I've learned a lot about how every cat is different and has a different personality and temperament.

Something I haven't found a lot of good help on yet, however, is how to choose the right cat for me in terms of temperament, and make sure that our personalities are a good fit for each other. I'm a very mild-mannered, quiet person, and feel I would pair best with a calm-tempered and relaxed cat as a companion. I could use some tips on how to get a good feel for a cat's general personality and how they will behave in your home.

What are some good ways to tell a cat's temperament and personality when deciding to adopt? And, as a related question, are there any negative indicators or warning signs I should look for that a cat might not be a good fit in my home?

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  • Our last cat was a Bombay and she was really affectionate and loved to have a fuss made of her Jan 26 at 7:24
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My advice on how to figure out which cat to adopt is pretty much always, "Talk to the people that are currently taking care of them."

In general, they will know which animals are particularly adoptable, and they will definitely want to tell you. But also, they will have a much better idea of what their cats' temperaments might be like than you will be able to observe.

Cats generally just don't act like their normal selves when they're being judged for adoption. They're often being presented in a shelter situation, and that's very stressful for them. But even when they're not, most cats just aren't too comfortable around total strangers that come to look at them. As a result, I think a lot of people don't really have much of an idea what their cat will be like when they take it home, but you can have at least some idea if you just ask.

For what you've stated you're looking for, I have two particular recommendations:

  1. Look at cats being fostered or have a known history. This way, you can really be certain of what the cat's temperament will be like in a stable home. Considering foster cats might be more work though, because they won't be at a central shelter.
  2. Look at mature cats. By "mature" I don't necessarily mean elderly (though if you're willing, adopting an old cat is a kindness because they're often unwanted due to their age), but rather that they are no longer "young." Young cats are usually more energetic than mature cats, but also adults have established personalities. Kittens, on the other hand, may very well change as they mature.
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    @Sciborg IME cat personalities and energy levels seem to stabilize between 2 and 3 years old. Kittens (under 1 year) are still being influenced by the world around them (but it's not always obvious how something will impact them). Teenagers (1-3 years) always have more energy and want to play more. By 3 years, the cat can still learn new things (i.e. may be shy with a stranger, but warm up to that person over time) but the base personality (outgoing/shy, lazy/energetic, eats everything immediately/nibbles at food slowly) is pretty much set. Jan 25 at 16:40
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Unfortunately, this is difficult to predict even for experienced cat owners.

However, adult DSH or mixed breed cats in general are pretty mild-mannered, bordering on lazy and aloof. If they’re not, it usually indicates either a medical problem or past trauma/abuse, and shelter staff will recognize those issues and steer away people who aren’t prepared for them. Kittens will be much more energetic and mischievous, but in a cute way, and adapt faster to a new home; a pair of siblings is often much less work than one kitten because they’ll wear each other out.

Some specific breeds (which you’re not likely to find in a shelter) are known for much more extreme personalities, but if you’re going that route, your breeder or rescue can help select the best fit for your home or, if needed, warn you off. Many won’t accept first-time cat owners anyway due to the likelihood of not understanding what they’re in for.

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  • Excellent advice, thank you. I had heard mixed breeds were generally very mild-mannered and that kittens can adapt faster than older cats. I'm hoping to shoot for that kind of calm breed who will be a good "first cat" for me :)
    – Sciborg
    Jan 24 at 4:07
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    @Sciborg If you’re looking for kittens, I strongly recommend a pair of siblings, which shouldn’t be difficult to find. Good luck, and give us an update once they are settled in!
    – StephenS
    Jan 24 at 17:06
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Some shelters in the US use the ASPCA's "Meet Your Match" program, which tries to scientifically match the right pet to the right owner based on temperament. Cats are coded as "orange" (companionable), "purple" (quiet), or "green" (adventurous), based on an evaluation which tries to filter out the effects of shelter stress.

(This is only for cats, they say kittens are pretty similar before they grow into their adult personalities.)

I have not experienced this personally, but have heard good things about it.

A simplified version.

Human personality questionnaire.

How the program was created.

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    We used this at a dutch shetler I volunteered at. We used to test the cats ten days after they entered the shelter. Sometimes the cats were still getting used to being in the shelter and the cats would score way different then there actual personality. Testing the same cat 2 weeks later could make a world of difference. Jan 25 at 13:23
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In general, you get a cat and it IS a good fit, provided some basic knowledge, care and goodwill. Both cats and humans are quite adaptable.

There are breeds that are known for their temperament peculiarities, but their personal differences still dominate (unlike dogs).

If you are still a fish owner, be sure to prevent the cat from getting in the water by all means possible. Most cats will just use the aquarium as a TV-set, but some will try their best to catch the fish up to and including diving in the water, no matter how well you feed them.

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  • This is true. I had a cat who reached in all the way to his armpit to catch my room mate's fish. I think he caught a few too.
    – user19705
    Jan 25 at 1:00
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Even though it is not specifically stated, the question seems to assume that the cat has at least an age that allows one to understand that.

Taking the cat I adopted as an example, as it was young, around 1 month, there were no concerns I had to consider.

Given that, if you are going to adopt a kitten, then there are probably no temperament concerns whatsoever.

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