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There are a number of factors to consider when getting a cat:
Before you even begin to seek answers to these questions, it is important that you reflect if now is indeed the right time to even get a cat.
Welcoming a playful kitten or a cuddly cat into your home can be both an exciting and rewarding experience. There is nothing quite like engaging with an inquisitive pussycat or settling back on the sofa with a furry feline curled up on your lap.
But is now the best time for both you and that prospective cat? What aspects of your home environment and lifestyle should you reflect upon before taking on such a responsibility?
Bear in mind that many cats can live up to 13 years of age, with some reaching up to 20 years old, so in as much as it is possible, you need to take into consideration your long-term plans and prospects before bringing home a new kitty.
Here’s a little appreciated fact: While dogs dote on their owners, cats savour their space. For a cat, their home environment is more important than the human they share it with. It may be a hard fact to swallow, but many a cat would prefer to wish you a fond farewell as you move on to your new home than to go along with you for the ride, if their home environment is one they find to be enriching and have become accustomed to.
So while cats may be easier to accommodate than a dog, with perhaps fewer requirements, like a private garden, the house location and its surroundings are perhaps even more pertinent to a cat than it would be to a dog. If you are a frequent mover or thinking of moving any time soon, then perhaps now is not the best time to take on a kitty.
Do you own the property or is it rented accommodation? If the latter, you may find it easier to get permission from the property owner for a cat than for a dog, but you will still need to ask some essential questions. Will you be allowed to install a cat flap, and if not then by what means will your cat be able to gain access to the great outdoors and get back in again? And while your cat may be smaller than your average dog, with more slender claws, it will still tend to shed fur and have an even greater desire to use those tiny claws to scratch and knead at surfaces such as carpets and upholstery.
Cats are also natural hunters, so you may find some unwanted gifts brought into your home, both dead and alive. Don’t expect your cat to assume a vegan lifestyle, even if that is a standard you have set for the rest of your household!
Is your home situated near to a main road or busy intersection? Unless you are considering keeping your cat locked in (see below for more information on: ‘Having an Indoor vs an Outdoor Cat’), you may want to rethink getting a pussycat just yet. A 2006 report estimated that up to 230,000 cats were killed each year on UK roads alone, and there is no indication that figure has gone down in the intervening years. In the USA that number is even higher, estimated at 5.4 million cats killed on the roads in a single year. Renting or owning a property near to a main road is playing lottery with your cat’s life, so to what extent are you prepared to safeguard your pet’s welfare by limiting its ability to gain access to these dangerous areas?
Cats are the second most popular pet in the UK (beaten only by dogs) as well as in the world (beaten only by fish!), so you may think it wonderful that your street has so many cats residing on it. More feline friends for your new addition, surely! Sadly, your cat won’t see it that way. Cats are extremely territorial, and chances are one will have already staked out your backyard as part of its territory. An over abundance of cats can lead to territorial disputes, with the ensuing noisy yowls and pungent smell of cat spray. All this can get quite annoying for you and be distressing to your cat, who simply wants to make her own little (territorial) mark on the world.
Finally, who will your cat be sharing her home with? Do you have children or other pets? Your desire for a pussycat will need to be balanced with their needs and requirements, especially if you live with someone who suffers from allergies. In fact, allergic reactions to cats are twice as common as reactions to dogs, and it’s usually not down to the cat’s fur but to proteins in their dander, saliva, and urine.
Cats may not necessarily be as sociable as dogs, seeking constant interaction and need for distraction, but they do need attention, be it through petting, play, or merely a lap to settle on. After all, what purpose is there in having a pet if you are not going to engage with it? So how much time do you or your family have to offer your pet cat?
Not only will your cat require some basic interaction but you will also need to find time to feed it, clean out the litter tray, and groom it. While the latter can be maintained on a weekly basis, both feeding and cleaning your cat’s ablution area should be a daily task.
While training your cat is not as vital as it is for a dog, it can certainly help build a stronger bond between you and your animal, and so this too would be time worth spent together.
No cat comes for free, and the initial outlay that you will have to purchase a kitten or a cat will be nothing compared to the ongoing costs of maintaining your feline friend over the course of its life.
Even before you bring the pussy home, you will have needed to obtain a number of pet-friendly items: A quick-release collar with a tag and bell, bowls for food and water, a litter box for kitty to toilet in, along with a litter scoop, a cat carrier, and ideally a scratch pad or post, unless you’re happy for your carpets and upholstery to receive some unwanted attention.
While those are potentially one-off costs, there are also the ongoing expenses – food, litter, toys, pet insurance, grooming, and veterinary care. The latter will include one-off costs, such as for neutering your cat, but there are also annual costs, such as annual boosters, veterinary check-ups, and other medical bills as your cat grows with age.
While cats are easier to accommodate than dogs when it comes to your work commitments, should you need to be away for an extended period, such as a holiday, you will need someone to take care of your cat, be it a cattery or even just someone popping in on a daily basis to replenish food and water, as well as to clean out the litter.
Finally, cats are for life – not only for yours but for theirs, as well – so it is worth paying some small thought as to whom might look after your pet should they happen to outlive you or should your circumstances unintentionally change.
Having given it due consideration and balanced your heart with your head, you’ve now decided to move forward to get a cat.
By having reflected thoroughly on your decision, you’ve already shown yourself as ready to be a caring and responsible owner.
But now the question remains: What type of cat would best suit your circumstances?
The idea of a cute kitten chasing after a piece of string or pouncing out from behind the settee is undeniably appealing, but some serious thought need be given about the additional responsibilities and time required in fostering a kitten as opposed to a juvenile or adult cat.
Kittens will need to be trained to use a litter tray, and until such training has been put into effect there will no doubt be accidents that will need to be cleaned up. Also, kittens should be fed up to four times a day, as opposed to older cats that need only be fed twice or, indeed, free-fed. For a kitten, therefore, it requires that someone responsible should be at home during the day.
The time that kittens should remain in the home and not be allowed outside would be longer than for juvenile or adult cats, who would need only remain inside for as long as it takes them to settle in and feel secure in their new environment. Again, this opens up a greater chance for house soiling and for potential damage to carpets and upholstery as the kitten goes through teething and begins to knead with its claws. Such actions should never be prevented but should only be redirected to appropriate items such as scratch pads and toys.
For juvenile and adult cats, training needs may vary depending on their personal history as well as their age. Senior cats may begin to suffer from cognitive dysfunction or urinary tract problems that can also lead to inappropriate toileting. But in the main, you should find juvenile and adult cats to have already been toilet-trained and be more quick to settle into their new home than a kitten. And if they came from a shelter, then their gratitude at being given a new lease on life can be seen as an added bonus!
Finally, it is worth considering other members of the household and how that might impact on the welfare of the kitten. If there are young children in the home, especially under the age of two or three years old, it may be inappropriate to introduce a kitten into that environment. Not only will a kitten find it harder to escape the attentions of a curious toddler, but more than likely you will have your hands already full with other forms of toilet training and regular feeding!
© Disoniador / courtesy of Pixabay.com
While inbreeding in cats has not (yet) led to the degree of hereditary issues and ailments as in dogs, it is worth researching what genetic conditions a particular breed is predisposed to before acquiring such a cat. The most common issue, as in dogs, is that of brachycephalia, or the foreshortening of the cat’s muzzle, creating a flat or squashed facial appearance. This can lead not only to breathing difficulties but also to chronic vomiting, respiratory infections, and aspiration pneumonia. Affected breeds include the British Shorthair, Exotic Shorthair, and the Persian cat, amongst others.
Some inherited disorders arise by chance or through inbreeding, as is the case with the greater risk of deafness in white-coated cats. Welfare becomes a primary concern when the breed itself is based on an inherent defect, as is the case with aforementioned brachycephalic breeds. Another example would be the Scottish Fold, whose distinctive folded ears are a result of a genetic mutation that affects the development of ear cartilage, but can also affect the development of cartilage in the bones, which can lead to painful arthritis. Mixed breed cats will be less likely to suffer from genetic ailments than pure breeds, and if such a condition were to arise it would be most likely ameliorated by the healthy genes of the other parent.
It’s not only the genetic health of the cat breed that you should consider when deciding what cat to get but also its behavioural characteristics, as you would want these to match your lifestyle and what you have to offer in terms of a home environment. Behaviours around affection, energy and activity level, and aggression are not equal across all breeds, let alone individual cats, and it would be worth prioritising these over looks when seeking the kitty of your dreams.
Some breeds are innately more laid back than others, while some breeds will treat your home and furniture as one giant agility course. Ironically, sometimes it is the larger breeds that can be the laziest, so if you’re in a tiny apartment, getting a smaller breed of cat is not always the best idea! The Ragdoll and the Russian Blue are two examples of breeds that tend to be less active than the average breed, while Abyssinian and Siamese cats tend to be more lively and active.
There has been a growing trend toward new hybrid breeds of cats with distinctive markings that give them the appearance of a wild animal. These include the Bengal, Savannah, and Serengeti cats. A note of caution should be given here, for while both beautiful and striking, these cats tend to be extremely active and may not be suited to small home environments. They also tend to be more feisty and independently minded than other breeds. Finally, there is a welfare issue to consider when purchasing such a cat from a breeder. It generally takes four generations to breed a sufficiently docile cat from any one of these breeds, and many will have come with fertility issues along the way. Hence, in order to breed that beautiful cat there will most likely have been a long line of predecessors not so fortunate to be able to find a loving home.
Whether you decide on a pure breed or mixed breed of cat, invariably you will need to decide on whether to get one with a short or long-haired coat. Remember, all cats need to be groomed regularly, but this is certainly the case for long-haired cats, whose coats can quickly become matted, making them prone to parasites and infections. If you are looking for a low maintenance cat, then you may find a short-haired cat that little bit easier to manage.
There is no absolute right or wrong answer here, but one that will come down to your own personal preference. Please remember, though, that responsible pet ownership does mean getting your pet neutered, and while castrating a male cat tends to be more straightforward and less costly, that is not necessarily the case for female cats. Keyhole spaying, while a little more costly than traditional spaying, is becoming increasingly popular owing to it being minimally invasive and providing a quicker recovery time for the cat.
When it comes to differences between the sexes, male cats tend to be larger and more affectionate than their female counterparts, though of course this generalisation may be rendered moot when taking into account an individual cat’s upbringing as well as traits inherited from its parents. A male cat that was not sufficiently socialised with humans at an early age will likely be more wary than the average female, and a kitten that is the offspring of a timid male cat will most likely inherit that nervous trait from its parent.
Equally it should be considered that male cats are more likely to urine mark in the house. This is especially true of intact males, but neutering may not completely resolve the issue, as roughly ten percent of neutered males will continue to mark even after they have been castrated.
Intact cats, especially males, will tend to be less tolerant of others, be it in the home or around their territory, which can lead to further spraying and the potential for fights and injury. The urge to wander will also be greater, not only for males but also for females when they are in season. Getting your cat neutered will lead to a calmer, safer pet.
There are many risks associated with keeping a cat that has access to the outdoors. As mentioned earlier, road traffic accidents account for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of pet cats each year in the UK alone. But it’s not only cars that pose a danger to our beloved feline companions. Other animals, including dogs, foxes, and even other cats can maim and even kill a cat.
But keeping a cat indoors is not only about mitigating risk. There are some benefits, too. Just as your cat can’t be injured in a dispute with another cat or hunted by wildlife, so too can it not create a fight with a neighbouring pussycat nor bring home its prey! In fact, it is for the latter reason – the threat cats supposedly pose to native wildlife species – that has resulted in a number of towns in Australia introducing cat curfews, which bar owners from allowing their cats to go out on the prowl at night.
The flip side of all this is that you are more likely to end up with an incredibly bored and frustrated cat, which is why if you are deciding on an indoor-only style of living for your cat that you select both a breed and individual that is better suited to such a laid-back existence, happy to watch the world go by rather than to engage with it. It would not be good for either you or the cat were you to bring home a lively and curious kitty only to keep it sequestered indoors. The result will be a cat that will be constantly pining to be let out, displaying signs of stress and anxiety, and at the risk of becoming overweight.
Nor should you consider rehoming a cat that has previously been allowed outdoors, if you are planning to make it an indoor cat. The lure of the outdoors and all its prior experiences will be too much for a cat to be then confined to an interior space.
Of course, in every decision one needs to balance both the rewards and the risks to our pets, and having already outlined the risks, it is worth now considering what are the rewards for allowing our cat the freedom to explore its world.
Firstly, it allows the cat to use its natural, instinctive behaviour, such as prowling and hunting. Secondly, it engages the senses, providing it with much needed physical and mental stimulation. We would argue that these benefits far outweigh the very real risks that exist out there, especially for an active cat that would otherwise be quite literally climbing the walls (or curtains) if made a prisoner inside its own home.
There are also ways to reduce some of the risks of giving your cat access to the great outdoors. For instance, you could try to ensure that your property doesn’t have easy access to the front of the house that may lead directly to the road. Having a garden at the back with enough bushes to provide light, shade, and shelter can keep your cat from wandering too far, especially if you incorporate plants whose scent cats crave, such as catnip, lemongrass, peppermint, and valerian root.
Finally, you may want to consider teaching your cat a basic recall. That way you can summon him back for his evening meal before locking the cat flap overnight until after rush hour the following morning. For more information on teaching your cat recall, please visit our page on ‘Training Your Cat’.
Our advice will always be to rehome a cat or a kitten from a shelter. There are so many cats in need that what the world certainly does not require are more cats being bred for profit or being born due to irresponsible pet ownership. You will find both mixed breeds and pure breeds in shelters, as well as cats of all ages, who would be so grateful to find a new home. So please consider your local shelters and rescue groups before expanding your search to include professional or amateur breeders.
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Wherever you choose your cat or kitten from, you will want to ensure that it is being properly socialised to people, and for that to happen it needs to be gently handled by more than just one person, preferably by both men and women, and that handling should be on a daily basis from when the kitten is three weeks old.
Try to see both parents, where possible. This is probably unlikely to happen if you were to adopt a cat from a shelter, but if you are getting your pet from a professional or amateur breeder, then be sure to meet both mom and dad, for their own sociability and fitness will give you some clues as to how your cat may turn out once it is all grown up. A great deal of a cat’s boldness and sociability comes from the father, so the more skittish the dad, the more likely your cat will grow up to have the same attitude and reactions.
Consider the area in which the cats or kittens are being kept. Are they clean, sterile environments? Have they been provided toys or other distractions to keep them entertained? Do the breeders or shelter staff show a genuine interest and affection for the animals under their charge?
Ask the breeder or shelter staff for their vet’s details, and then get a reference check from that veterinary practice. No doubt they will have seen previous kittens from that breeder or shelter and will be in a good position to say whether those cats and kittens have been well looked after and screened for any inherited diseases.
Unlike most dog shelters, cats that arrive there tend to come from good homes where the owner’s circumstances may have changed. In that respect, most cats in shelters will come with a history that can be checked. Most of them will have learnt to use a litter tray or to toilet outdoors. But do check whether the cat you are interested in came from such a home or whether it was a stray or street cat, as the latter may involve a little more work in terms of getting it to settle in to its new home.
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You’ve looked in your local shelter or rescue group, visited a registered and reputable breeder, and there’s one cat that has captured your eye, your heart, and your attention. You’ve asked the necessary questions as to its history, physical condition and behaviour. But what further steps can you take to better gauge whether this animal will be the right fit for you and your home environment?
On a first greeting, kittens tend to be easier to engage with than adult cats, as you can appeal to their innate sense of curiosity and playfulness. If you are looking to adopt a kitten, first watch how it interacts with its litter mates during playtime. Is it rather timid and withdrawn, or does it dominate others during play? Rather you would want to select a kitten that engages in play with its siblings while not bullying them into doing what it wants.
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Distract it from the rest of the litter by tapping your fingers on the ground or enticing it with a play wand. How does it react to this distraction? Does it want to stick with the rest of its litter or is it willing to approach and explore this new distraction? Gently stroke it with one finger around its ears, mouth, and chin before moving from the head down to its tail. Try to avoid any attempt by it to turn and paw at you or bite your finger. This, of course, is not aggression but simply it responding to your finger as it would to any one of its siblings trying to engage with it. As long as it does not withdraw, then clearly it is already showing signs of sociability toward human beings.
The truth of the matter is that not all cats enjoy being picked up and held. This can be down to their not being properly socialised to people at an early age, but it can also be down to their inheriting some of their parent’s attitudes and tastes. Gently pick up the kitten. If it squirms and twists around, trying to grasp at you to gain some paw hold on you, then it is quite possible that this kitten may grow up to prefer having its paws kept firmly on solid ground. Of course, this may not be an issue for you, but it is good to know at this stage so that you can make an informed decision about what type of cat you will be getting.
If all has gone well, then you may want to ask the breeder or shelter staff if you could spend some time with the kitten away from its litter mates. Sit down somewhere quiet with it and let it explore the new area, then see if you can draw its attention to you by tapping on the ground. If you have a play wand with you, then you may want to engage with it in some play. See how willing it is to climb up onto your legs and lap of its own accord without picking it up.
As noted before, kittens should be handled on a daily basis from when they are three weeks old, as studies have shown that those that are handled even as late as seven weeks old show a marked preference to not being picked up and are less likely to settle on a lap. Kittens should also be introduced to a broad range of people by the time they are seven to eight weeks old in order to avoid skittish or nervous behaviour. In fact, those that have only limited contact to people up until ten weeks of age may end up becoming feral.
If you are looking to adopt an adult cat, then chances are it won’t be as eager to engage in play on a first-meet basis. Rather lower yourself down, hold out your hand palm up, with your fingers curled inward, and solicit it to come to you. If it does, let it sniff at your hand and if it begins to rub against you, then you may already be on to a winning relationship! If it sniffs and turns away, solicit it to come over to you again, giving the cat the opportunity to relax to your presence. The key is not to follow after the cat but to let it come to you. It may require your finding a low distraction environment to be with the cat one-on-one, so speak with the breeder or shelter staff to see if this can be arranged.
As you spend some time with the cat or kitten, watch its gait as it walks to see that its motion is smooth and fluid. A healthy cat should have good muscle tone and support its weight evenly across all four limbs. Its coat should be clean and smooth with no sign of fleas or other parasites. The eyes should be bright with no evidence of discharge from either the eyes or nose. Ears should be free from wax and its gums should be pink.
Signs of sickness in a kitten:
© Busy Animal / courtesy of BusyAnimal.com
The best way to gauge a kitten’s fitness and health is to engage with it in a bit of play. If the kitten is happy to pounce and prance around, then there is a good chance it is feeling well within itself.
For an adult cat, you may wish to find a ledge or a post in the room to see if it is happy to jump up on it, so check with the breeder or shelter staff to see if you can offer a treat and then solicit it to jump up onto the ledge to earn the reward. Of course, if the cat in question is a senior you may need to have a lower post or ledge, as even a generally healthy elderly cat may experience some stiffness in its joints.
You will probably need to ask the breeder or shelter staff for help when making a closer examination of the eyes, ears, and mouth. Cats tend to be less willing than dogs to having their gums exposed or their ears probed, but this will be something that will become important for them to learn as it will become essential when they will be visiting with the vet.
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In time you should consider training your cat to accommodate such handling through a process of desensitisation, and you should also learn some simple methods of gentle restraint to make the process quick and painless for your cat. Such information can be found on our pages about ‘Training Your Cat’ and ‘Veterinary Care for Cats’.
As already mentioned, we would strongly recommend that you try to meet both parents of any kitten you are looking to adopt. While it would be usual that you would be able to meet the mother, often times it is the father that is more difficult to locate, especially if it were an accidental pregnancy. But it is important that you try to locate him, for it is through the father that a kitten will inherit its boldness and sociability, or lack thereof.
Find out from the breeder how sociable the parents are, not only toward people but also toward other cats. Some cats will seek out confrontation while what you should really be looking for is one that practices avoidance. Are the parents relatively docile, or are they spooked by the slightest noise? By seeing both parents, you will be able to engage with them, consider their respective health and fitness, and get a better insight into how your kitten may behave once its all grown up.
You’ve carefully considered getting a cat, you’ve selected the one that has captured your heart and done the necessary checks. Now the furry one is either on its way to you, or may even be travelling back home with you now! But what preparations should be in place for its arrival at your home?
Well, first of all there are all those little one-offs that you would have to had bought in preparation for its arrival, namely:
And then there are the consumables:
When you first welcome your cat or kitten into your home, you will want to do this in stages so as to give it time to adapt to its new surroundings. A single room with no avenue of escape is best, so ensure that room is secure, free of breakables, and prepared with a litter tray positioned a short distance away from the eating area, with a comfy bed along with newspaper or puppy pads in case of toileting accidents.
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Try and provide some safe hiding places in the room for the cat, so perhaps leave an empty box with a hole cut out on one side for it to escape into, should it wish. Leaving out a couple of pet-safe toys will also allow the cat to keep itself entertained when on its own.
Be sure to remove all plants that may be poisonous to cats. These include: Lillies, English Ivy, Azaleas and Rhododendrons, Chrysanthemums, and Tulips.
Other things to arrange upon your cat’s arrival:
Try not to bring a kitten home prior to ten to twelve weeks of age, as it is in the period of eight to twelve weeks that a kitten learns many of its social skills from its mother, so you will want to give it at least some of that time to learn from both its mother and siblings as to what it means to be a cat and how to interact socially with others.
When you do bring your cat home, bring it in the cat carrier, ideally with some of the bedding it may have had from where you got it so that there would be some familiar smells to help it settle in. Take it up to the room you have selected, open the cat carrier door, and let the cat emerge when it is ready to do so.
You should choose to bring your cat or kitten home at a time when you have relatively little else going on, so that you can spend some quality time with it and help it to settle in to its new home. Be sure to establish a clear routine as to when there is time for play and when you leave it to settle down to sleep.
Once you have clearly established these patterns and your new feline compatriot shows signs of having settled in, you can begin to let it explore its larger domain. If it is old enough, begin to train it to respond to its name or to a soliciting sound, and only once it appears to have truly settled in and accepted you – which can take anywhere between two to three weeks – consider to let it out.
No kitten should be allowed outdoors unsupervised, and certainly not below the age of six months. There are a range of kitten harnesses and long-line leads available on the market, which will allow your kitten to explore your garden while also giving you some peace of mind that it won’t be able to escape. Even with a harness and long-line, though, you will not want to leave your kitten unsupervised, as it can easily become entangled in the long-line lead.
No cat or kitten should be allowed outdoors until it has received full immunisation from the vets.