Shelters are humane and less of a hassle.
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While it's hard to resist the allure of their unbearably cute window displays, chain pet stores are always a dice roll at best. "There are pet stores that sell good pets, but it's hard to tell who is or isn't selling a good product," says Dr. Chan. For instance many pet stores acquire their pets from out-of-state breeders, making it difficult, or impossible, for customers to verify the lineage of the cat they're purchasing. And so you may inadvertently adopt one with congenital problems due to inbreeding, which may not be detected until after the purchase has been made. Similarly, buying a pet online presents many of the same issues.

Chan says that the safest and also most humane option is to adopt a rescue animal from a shelter. In addition to giving a homeless cat or kitten a much-needed home, Chan points out another advantage of adopting from shelters and rescues: "Rescue organizations really try to help you out if your cat or kitten gets sick, so sometimes they'll help cover the first couple doses of medications. Shelters can have a similar policy."

If you're looking to get your hands on a specific breed of cat, the best option is buying directly from the breeder. Fortunately, there are some reputable websites, such as TICA.org, that provide directories of registered breeders, as well as ones like PetFinder.com that provide databases of cats awaiting adoption in shelters and rescues.