how long does it take to adopt a cat

How Long Does It Take To Adopt A Cat?

Adopting a cat can take hours, weeks, or months, depending on various factors including, where you adopt your cat, the type of cat you want, the specifics of the cat you are looking for, and the adoption process. 

We have put together a quick guide to help you to know what to expect from the cat adoption process including:

  • The different waiting periods for cat adoptions.
  • How a cat’s breed can influence your wait time.
  • How specific characteristics of a cat can influence your wait time.
  • How the adoption process can impact your wait time.

Where Are You Adopting Your Cat?

You can adopt a cat from city animal service units, local animal shelters, and animal rescue organizations.

City Animal Service Units

Adoption Fees and Wait Times

City animal service units are small local organizations often located inside the animal control building or the local sheriff’s office. City animal service units usually have lower cost adoption fees and have a faster adoption process.


When adopting a cat from a city animal service unit, the adoption process may be faster, but animals often have not received medical care or been temperament evaluated. In short, these cats may be a little rough around the edges, but they are in dire need of adoption.

Local Animal Shelters

Adoption Fees and Wait Times

Local animal shelters are local non-profit organizations that depend heavily on volunteer assistance to keep the shelter running. Local animal shelters have reasonable adoption fees, and the length of their adoption process can vary considerably.


When adopting from local animal shelters, the adoption process can be quite fast (same day), or you may need to wait for a couple of days to a few weeks. Cats from the local animal shelter often have their immediate medical issues tended to and have been temperament evaluated.

Animal Rescue Organizations

Adoption Fees and Wait Times

Animal rescue organizations are non-profit organizations that tend to focus on a specific niche within the rescue community. For example, a rescue group may focus on senior cats or Siamese cats. Animal rescue organizations often have higher adoption fees and longer adoption processes.


When adopting from animal rescue organizations, the adoption process can be lengthy and adoption fees high. The benefit of adopting at animal rescue organizations is that their cats have received medical care, been screened for temperament, and have often spent time living in foster care.

What Type of Cat Are You Looking To Adopt?

Another consideration that plays a big part in your adoption wait time is the type of cat you are looking to adopt.

For example, if you want to adopt a Devon Rex, you face a long wait time because rexes rarely come up for adoption.

If you are looking for a specific cat breed and face a long wait time, consider adopting a mixed breed with qualities of the cat breed you want. Shelters are overflowing with mixed breed cats looking for homes, and you could take your new companion home the same day!

The Individual Cat You Are Looking For

If you are looking for specific qualities in your new cat, those qualities can also impact how long you must wait before a cat meeting your needs is available. The longer your list of requirements for your new cat, the longer you may have to wait.

If you do have an extensive list of “wants” for your new cat, but you do not want to wait too long before a cat becomes available, try narrowing down your list. What qualities are your “must-haves” and what qualities can you do without?

For example, your list of qualities may include:

  • Short hair
  • Litterbox trained
  • Three-months old
  • Female
  • Siamese mix

You may need a short hair cat due to allergy issues.

You may need a female cat because you have a female that only gets along with other females.

You may need a litterbox-trained cat because you are renting property.

However, age and breed mix may be preferences that are a little more flexible.

You do not have to compromise your wants, but more specific adoption criteria often mean a longer wait to bring a new cat home!

The Adoption Process

Every adoption agency has a unique protocol for adoption, so there is incredible diversity in how long the process takes.

City Animal Service Units

Adopting a cat from city animal service units usually adheres to a version of the following protocol –

  • Visit the facility (taking your valid government ID) to choose a cat.
  • Spend time at the shelter interacting with the cat you choose.
  • Sign an adoption contract.
  • Pay the adoption fee.
  • Take your new cat home (almost always on the same day.)

Local Animal Shelters

Adopting a cat from a local animal shelter usually adheres to a version of the following protocol –

  • Visit the shelter (taking your valid government ID) to choose a cat.
  • Spend time at the shelter interacting with the cat you choose.
  • Fill out an adoption application.
  • Undergo an interview by shelter staff.


  • Pay adoption fee
  • Take your new cat home.


  • Wait for shelter staff to perform a home and reference check.
  • Get approved.
  • Pay your adoption fee.
  • Bring your new cat home.

When an adoption requires a home check or reference check, it can take hours or days to get things lined up. Volunteer staff will work as quickly as possible to process your adoption, but limited availability can cause delays.

Animal Rescue Organizations

Animal rescue organizations often have unique adoption processes that include lengthy applications, multiple “meet and greets,” and a home and reference check. Their adoption process is like the following

  • Browse the rescue organization’s website to find a cat that piques your interest.
  • Apply for the cat you want to adopt. (Some organizations require application fees to ensure applicants are serious.)
  • Wait for a reply from your application while the rescue contacts your references.
  • Undergo a home evaluation to ensure your home is a safe place for your new cat.
  • Arrange to meet the cat you applied to adopt.
  • Meet the cat at a foster’s location of choice. Spend time getting to know your potential new pet.
  • If approved for adoption and the foster agrees that you would make a good home, sign an adoption contract.
  • Once you have signed your adoption contract, the foster may allow you to bring your cat home on the day of your visit.
  • If you do not bring your cat home on the day of your visit, the rescue will coordinate with you and the foster to arrange for a day for homecoming!

People often complain about long wait times and high adoption fees when adopting with animal rescues, but there is a good reason for both.

Adoption fees are higher because rescues fully vet their animals before adoption. Wait times are higher because rescues put so much time and money into preparing their animals for adoption!


Adoption waiting periods vary greatly, and both longer and shorter wait times come with drawbacks and benefits.

Ultimately, though, the length of time an adoption takes should not impact your decision to adopt.

If you find the right cat for you, do what it takes to make that cat part of your family, even if that means waiting for two weeks for a home check!

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