So you think you might want to get a cat, and don't know where to start. You no doubt have dozens of questions running through your mind: "Should I get a male cat or a female, a kitten or an older cat?" "I'd really like a purebred (name your favorite breed), but maybe I should adopt a mixed breed instead." This tutorial helps answer those questions, as well as a few you haven't thought of.
Adopting a cat for the first time should be a lifetime commitment, so it is important to do your homework first.
Am I Ready for a Cat?
So you've decided it's about time you had a cat in your life. Maybe you have a friend with a cat and you've learned first-hand how relaxing it can be to sit with a warm vibrating body in your lap. Or you find yourself alone in your brand new apartment and you can finally have the cat you've always wanted but couldn't have because a parent was allergic . Perhaps you and your spouse have agreed that the kids need a pet, and you think dogs might be too rough on the toddlers.
Whatever the reason, there are a number of factors to consider before rushing into a decision that you may regret later.The fact is, too often pets acquired by impulse quite often don't work out, and this is especially true with cats, who often have their own agendas.
Questions to Consider
- Are You Financially Prepared for a Cat?
If you have children, I know you want to care for them the best way you can, and a new cat will be much like having a new child in the family. This means you need to be prepared for the costs of responsibility for a cat.
- Are there children younger than five years old in the home?
Tots usually love kitties, but if you bring a very young kitten into your home you may find them loving it to death--literally. Alternately, the kitten could inflict some painful scratches. You'd be better off either getting an older cat that's been around children, or waiting a couple of years.
- Is your silk Queen Anne chair or your new off-white carpet extremely important to you?
Face it, cats need scratching exercise, and guess where they'll head first, lacking an approved scratching surface? A good scratching post and regular nail clipping is a must. So is a clean litter box and the necessary training for kitty to use it.
It is critical that you are willing to make the commitment to provide your cat with the necessities, and to put your cat ahead of furniture and other inanimate objects. Stuff happens. Are you willing to live with it? Or will you consider " getting rid of the cat" at the first sign of trouble?
- "I was planning on declawing it so I wouldn't have to worry about ruined furniture."
Stop right there! Declawing is actually the surgical removal of the first knuckle of each toe. Whether done with a guillotine tool or by laser, it is extremely painful, dangerous to the cat and patently inhumane. You may find declawed cats at the shelter, and they are usually there because they turned to biting or spraying after being declawed. If declawing is your only solution to having a cat, and you're not willing to take your chances with a previously declawed cat, you should get a nice aquarium instead, and leave that cat for someone who will love ALL its parts.
- Will an adult be responsible for feeding the cat, keeping the litter box clean, and grooming the cat regularly?
This is a serious consideration. Pets are fine for teaching children responsibility, but there should always be an adult around to supervise and make sure the necessary jobs are done every day.
- Will you have time to be "family" to the cat?
Contrary to popular opinion, cats are very social animals and love attention from their humans. Your bond with your cat will last for a lifetime. A lonely, neglected cat will soon find all kinds of mischief with which to amuse herself. Also contrary to popular opinion (among cats), you don't have to be a slave to her, but 15 minutes a day of play time and petting will make the difference between a happy cat and a nuisance.
- Are you willing to spend the money necessary for spay/neutering, vaccinations, and veterinary care when necessary?
If you're acquiring a new family member (and this is how you should view your new arrival), she will come with responsibilities and their attendant costs. You wouldn't neglect your children's health and neither will you want to neglect kitty's medical needs.
- Are you prepared to keep your cat indoors only?
There are too many hazards to the outdoor life for cats to list here, however they far exceed any benefits you may perceive of outdoor life for cats.
- Is your place big enough for a cat?
This is a frequently asked question by readers. The easy answer is that a cat can live very comfortably in a studio apartment, given the right conditions.
What Kind of Cat Should I Get?
So you're seriously thinking about getting your first cat, and you are sure you want a cat in your life. Splendid! You may have some preconceived notions that you want a particular breed of cat, or that you want a kitten instead of an adult kitty. But before that important decision, do some homework. Like life itself, there are many factors involved in choosing a cat, some of which you may never have considered. Here's the help you need in making that decision. On the other hand, you may find yourself lucky enough to be chosen by the cat of your future.
Male vs Female
Personality-wise, there really isn't a lot of difference between the sexes, if they are neutered. Whole male (unneutered) cats will fight for territory if outdoors, and indoors will liberally spray their strong scent on walls and curtains, to mark their territory. Whole females will also spray on occasion. Worse yet, they will make themselves and you miserable each time they go into season, with loud yowls and bizarre body gyrations.
On the other hand, once spayed, their personalities will improve, if anything. I've known male cats to be loving and loyal, and they are my usual preference. Other people swear by female cats as felicity purrsonified. Bottom line is that it doesn't make a lot of difference. You'll want to look for personality first, then if you find several nice kitties, narrow it down to sex, if that's important to you.
Pedigreed Cat VS "Moggie"
You may have already been to a pet store (heaven forbid!) or a cat show, where you fell in love with a particular breed. One important factor with "purebred" cats is that, unless the breeders has years of experience with genetics, and carefully chooses their breeding stock with the cats' full pedigree background, undesirable traits will creep into the breed. Some breeds have inherent problems because of this, e.g. Persians with P.K.D.and/or nasal problems because of their foreshortened noses, or Manx with spinal problems. Reputable breeders will screen their cats and offer guarantees against known physical problems in their breed.
"Moggies," which I've adopted from the English term for domestic mixed breed cats, are of unknown parentage. The Moggie you adopt from a shelter or rescue organization will most likely be a true "orphan." Because their health and genetic history is unknown, it is important for a shelter cat to be tested against certain diseases, and to receive his "shots," preferably before you bring one home.
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Adult Cat VS Kitten
When you first visit a shelter you'll be torn between appealing kittens clustered in cages, but keep in mind that grown cats often are more "user-friendly", and will be ever-so-happy to find a new home. These cats often came from a happy family setting, and were given up because of illness of an owner, divorce, death, etc. The benefits to you in adopting an older cat are many:
- Older cats (other than ferals) are usually trained to a litter box.
- Kittens are rambunctious and lively. Your household will never again be peaceful with a crazy kitten running around. If "serenity" is your lifestyle, you'll be better off with an older cat.
- Grown cats may already have been neutered and had its "shots."
- Older cats may make the transition to a new home easier than kittens. Older cats are much more grateful!
The benefit to the older cat is that most of these cats will not find homes, because people naturally gravitate toward the kittens.
A final consideration is your own age. If you are 65 or older, it is always possible that you will not outlive your cat, so an older cat would be an excellent choice. You might even want to adopt a "disabled" cat, one that is blind, an amputee, or otherwise "unadoptable." These cats make wonderful companions and compensate for their "disabilities" with a wealth of love and devotion for their human savior.
For more information, please read this illustrated article on the many Reasons to Adopt an Older Cat.
If you are younger, with school-age children, a cat who is one or two years old would be a great choice, and s/he can grow up with your children.
One or More Cats?
You may have not even entertained the idea of adopting more than one cat, but it is not unusual for someone to go to a shelter to adopt one kitty and come home with two. You may fall in love with a beautiful, personable cat, only to find that she has a litter mate or "best friend" and can only be adopted as part of a pair. My response to that scenario is that if you have the space in your home and your heart and the resources to care for more than one, you'll be rewarded with much more than twice the amount of joy. This is particularly true when getting a kitten. Kittens are loads of fun, but for a number of reasons, two kittens are better than one, in many cases.
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