Originally written 1991 & updated through 1997 by Cindy Tittle Moore.
Maintained by the Fanciers website as of July 1999.
Should You Get a Cat?
Your cat will depend on you throughout its life, and with proper care may live 15 years or more. Are you willing and able to care properly for it and provide a stable home for that long? An astonishingly high percentage of cats change owners at least once in their lifetimes, and that does not count those that didn’t make it out of the shelter.
Don’t get a cat without prior budgeting for vet visits and other costs. Normal veterinary care includes yearly shots and boosters, tests for worms, and examination for typical diseases as needed. This will run about US$100-$300 a year. This, of course, depends on your vet and on the health of your cat. Preventive and consistent care is less expensive in the long run.
If you cannot afford veterinary care for a cat, you should not get one. Do not think that you can get a cat and never see the vet. Annual shots and examinations are a must for keeping your cat healthy; certain vaccinations are required by law in different areas.
Other routine costs include cat food, cat litter, litter pans and scoops, and other cat paraphernalia such as scratching posts and cat trees.
Most life changes shouldn’t affect your ability to give a cat a good home. Some people think they must give up a cat when they move, but that’s not true. It is relatively easy to move with a cat, even if you are moving cross country or overseas.
However, if you expect that you will soon be in a situation where you will have to give up your cat, consider spending time with friends’ cats instead of getting your own . It can be very difficult or impossible to find a home for your adult cat if you ever have to give it up.
What Kind of Cat
Many people are attracted to cats or kittens because of their looks. Consider her characteristics as well, since the kitten you choose today may be a member of your family for 15 years or more. Are you looking for a very active, playful cat? Do you need a cat that will be especially gentle with children or elderly people? One that won’t be frightened by a barking dog? Or a calm, affectionate cat that will sleep on your bed at night?
Kitten or adult
Consider adopting an adult cat. An adult cat already has a fully developed personality, so you know what you’re getting. Adult cats generally adapt just fine to new homes, and “bond” just as strongly with new owners as kittens do. Also, adult cats are much less likely to be adopted — most people want to adopt cute little kittens.
Kittens are terminally cute, but they can have many disadvantages. They require more care and watching over, they may not have the litter box down yet, and they go through a wild phase at around 6 months of age when they are unstoppable bundles of energy. Kittens need several trips to the veterinarian for vaccinations, checkups, and finally, neutering or spaying. Perhaps most important, it is difficult to predict what a kitten will turn out like when it grows up, in both looks and behavior.
If you do decide to get a kitten, try not to get one that is too young. Kittens should not be separated from their mother and littermates until they are at least 8 to 10 weeks old. Many breeders do not sell kittens until they are 14 to 16 weeks old, when the immune system is fully developed.
Male or female
Neutered males and spayed females make equally good companions. Although some people insist on cats of one sex or the other, cats actually vary in personality independently of their sex. Neither sex is uniformly more affectionate, more intelligent, more calm, or more playful.
Unaltered cats of either sex, however, can be difficult to live with. Unneutered males “spray” a foul smelling urine on the walls and furniture. If allowed outdoors, they will roam and fight with other cats. Unspayed females may also spray, and usually “call” when they are in heat; this is an incessant yowling that will drive you and your neighbors to despair! Neutered and spayed cats make much more pleasant companions.
One cat or two
Many people recommend getting two cats instead of one. A single cat can get lonely and bored. Two cats keep each other company, especially during the day while you’re away. They tend to get into less trouble. And they’re fun to watch together.
Kinds of cats
Most cats do not belong to any particular breed. These cats are often called “mixed breed” cats. They are also known as “domestic shorthairs” or “domestic longhairs.” Domestic shorthairs and longhairs vary tremendously in looks and personality. They come in a wide variety of color patterns and may sometimes closely resemble specific breeds even when they are not. Each one has its own unique personality, regardless of what color it is or how long its hair is.
Domestic shorthairs and longhairs are easy to acquire. In fact, many cats and kittens are killed at animal shelters because there are more cats than there is demand.
Purebred cats are uncommon, estimated at between 1% and 3% of all cats. There are about 40 recognized cat breeds. Each breed consists of a closely related group of cats with similar looks and personality. For example, typical Siamese are slender, active, people-oriented cats that tend to vocalize a lot. Not all Siamese have these characteristics, but most do. A purebred kitten will probably grow up to be typical of its breed in looks and personality; a non-purebred kitten may turn out quite different from what you expect.
Many people are attracted to purebreds because they want a cat with a particular color, size, or hair length. For example, you might be interested in Russian Blues because you like the blue-gray color, or you might be interested in Maine Coons because you want a big shaggy cat. But it’s not necessary to buy a purebred to get these physical characteristics. You can find blue-gray cats, or big shaggy cats, or cats of any other size and description, at your local animal shelter.
If you’re more interested in specific personalities, a purebred might be more predicatable: while any personality type can be found among the non-purebred population, figuring out which one has which may not be as straightforward unless you are looking at adult cats.
Where to get a Cat
An animal shelter is a good place to pick up a cat and save it from death in the bargain. Look for a clean, healthy cat. Look for signs of friendliness and liveliness. Talk with the people caring for the animals for any information on a particular animal they can give you;
they can often tell you a lot about a cat’s personality. Don’t overlook the adult cats.
At the animal shelter, be prepared to pay a fee, answer some questions about the home you will give the cat, and perhaps give some references. This is normal. The fee covers some of the costs of operating the animal shelter. The questions are meant to ensure that
adopted cats go to good, stable homes.
Most will require that you have the cat neutered. Some will do it prior to adoption, others will require you to do so within a month or two of adoption. THis is also normal and is intended to reduce the population of kittens returning to the shelter. In particular,
shelters that neuter all outgoing animals prior to adoption have particularly good success with reducing the overall population of cats in the shelter, since compliance with these programs is 100%. Please neuter your cat if the shelter releases it to you unneutered.
People who have to find homes for adult cats will sometimes advertise in the paper (or on bulletin boards at local stores or schools). These cats are usually well cared for and you can meet them in a home environment.
You will also see kittens advertised in the paper. Make sure you are getting a healthy, well socialized kitten, don’t get a kitten that is too young (younger than 8 weeks), and find out if the kittens’ parents have been fixed! Try to look for people who are trying to place kittens that have been found, or people who have already spayed the mother cat after an accidental mating, rather than encouraging careless people to keep producing kittens. Also, if the kittens were born because the people don’t bother to get their cat(s) fixed, they
may not bother to feed and care for growing kittens properly, either.
If you want to buy a purebred cat or kitten, you will need to look for a good, responsible breeder. Do not patronize pet shops or look for breeders in the paper, or you may end up with an unhealthy or poorly socialized kitten. A good way to meet breeders is at cat shows, which are listed in cat magazines like Cat Fancy or Cats. Cat shows are also a good opportunity to learn about the different breeds of cats.
Try to talk to more than one breeder before buying a kitten. Look for honest breeders who care about their cats’ welfare, and who have good-natured cats. Talk to breeders about inherited health problems. Ask about how the cats are raised. If possible, visit the cattery
before buying a kitten. Listen to your intuitions; if you feel anything is “not right” about this breeder, go to another breeder.
A good breeder asks you questions, too, to find out if you are a good home for a kitten. The breeder may also ask that you sign a contract requiring you to care properly for this kitten. This is normal, and is a sign of a responsible breeder. Expect to pay $300-400 or more for a “pet quality” kitten, depending on the breed and your area. Breeders also may have purebred adults available at low or no cost to a good home.
The variety of purebred cats can be bewildering. Breed FAQs are available to help you understand the differences between the various breeds.
Don’t buy kittens from pet stores. Pet stores are notorious for selling unhealthy or poorly bred purebreds, and even irresponsibly bred non-purebreds. Kittens sold in pet stores are outrageously expensive, often two to four times more expensive than the same type
of kitten bought from a private breeder. They are often obtained from “kitten mills,” where animals are poorly treated and bred (and bred and bred) for profit. By buying from the store, you are supporting these mills and adding to the pet overpopulation problem.
Some stores claim that animals are all obtained from local breeders or “home raised.” Employees are commonly instructed to tell customers that the kittens were obtained from local breeders, when in fact they were not. No responsible breeder would allow their kittens to be sold in a pet store, where they could not interview the buyer to make sure
they are aware of the responsiblility of caring for an animal.
It is further suggested that you don’t even patronize such stores. Take your business to stores that sell pet supplies only, no puppies or kittens.
One happy exception: Look for one of the increasing number of pet supply stores that work with the local shelter to help place the animals. These programs provide additional exposure and opportunities for the local shelter and are a wonderful example of constructive partnership for the benefit of our animals. However, make sure that
the animals are being adopted out under the rules of the shelter involved.
The First Vet Visit
You should have your new cat examined by your vet to check for signs of disease or parasites. Ideally, and especially if you have other animals at home, you should arrange to have the new cat examined before you bring it home.
The vet should check the cat’s temperature; look for fleas, flea eggs, ear mites, and signs of ringworm; check for overall health and liveliness; and update the cat’s vaccinations if necessary. It’s also a good idea to have the vet test the cat for common illnesses.
If your new cat is not already neutered or spayed, talk to your vet about when would be a good time to schedule the neuter/spay surgery. Don’t assume that your cat or kitten is too young for the surgery; new research shows that neutering and spaying as young as 7 weeks has no adverse affects on the cat’s physical and social development.
Young kittens need a series of vaccinations (“kitten shots”) to help protect them from feline Herpesvirus (Rhinotracheitis), Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia. Many commonly given kitten shots also protect against Chlamydia. For the best immune response, the kitten shots are given at three- or four-week intervals from age 7 or 9 weeks to age 14
or 16 weeks.
If your new cat is a rescued adult or older kitten, it may not have had its shots as a young kitten. In that case, your vet may need to start the vaccination series at the first vet visit.
Rabies shots are a good idea if you plan to let your cat out. Rabies is onthe rise in wild animals, especially raccoons. Rabies shots are also required in many states. The initial rabies shot can be given at age 16 weeks.
Many people also vaccinate their cats against Feline Leukemia. This vaccine is expensive, but it is recommended if your cat goes outdoors.
There is a relatively new vaccine available now for Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). There is some controversy over the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine. Many vets do not recommend its use.
Have your new cat tested for exposure to Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). If the cat is positive, you will need to keep the cat indoors, separate from all other cats, or you run the risk of infecting other cats. See the Feline Leukemia FAQ for more information.
Other common tests are for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Infectious Anemia (FIA).
It is not possible to test directly for the deadly disease Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). There is a test sometimes known as an “FIP Test,” but this test actually does not test for FIP or for FIP virus. It tests for exposure to viruses in the coronavirus family (FIP is one of many coronaviruses). If you do decide to use the “FIP test,” be aware that its results are very difficult to interpret correctly. Perfectly healthy cats often test positive on this test, even if they have never been exposed to FIP. If your vet believes that an otherwise healthy cat has FIP because of a positive test result, you may want to seek a second opinion.
Caring for a new kitten
Generally, a very young cat doesn’t need the full run of an entire house. Use your judgement, but leaving it in one room until it is a little older can save both of you some anxiety. A kitten will need a different diet than an adult; most brands of cat food also come in “kitten food” versions. Kittens have small stomachs and big appetites; they need to be fed several times a day.
Most kittens will understand how to use the litter box. Usually their mother teaches them, but they will pick it up easily on their own. If you have a too-young cat, you can teach it by confining it to one room so that access to the litter box is easy and putting it in the litter box after feeding.
You might wind up with kittens too young to have been separated from their mother for whatever reason. If you have an orphan kitten, you will need to provide a warm draft-free area and use something like KMR (kitten milk replacer) for food, using an eyedropper. Consult your vet for advice and help.
From kittenhood, accustom your cat to being handled. Look into its ears (clean, white and light pink), eyes (clear, no runniness, inner eyelids may blink but should remain open), nose (clean and pink (or its normal color) and mouth (clean, light pink gums) regularly. Hold it still and look at its anus; pick up its paws and look at the pads and claws. This will have the added benefit that you will notice any changes from normal quickly and be able to call up your vet if something is wrong.
Do arrange for the kitten to meet plenty of people; this will socialize your cat and it will not hide from people when adult.
Introducing your new cat to
You may need to introduce a cat to other animals (but first make sure the new kitten or cat has been seen by a vet to reduce the risk of transmitting illnesses or parasites to your other animals). The key to this is patience. It may take several weeks to a month to achieve
desired results; it may take overnight. Do not give up and don’t lose your temper. It depends on the temperament and ages of the animals involved.
In most cases, you can simply introduce them, let them work it out, and after a week or so, things are fine. However, sometimes this is a lengthy process that you will have to work through. In general, the following procedure will work:
Put the cat in its own room, where the original pet
can smell it, but not see it. After a day or so of this, remove the cat from the room and let the original pet smell and explore the room thoroughly. Put the cat
back in. Depending on the reactions involved, let the cat out and meet the original pet under supervision. If there is some hostility, separate them while you are gone until you are certain that they get along. It is best if you can arrange a “retreat” for each animal.
You can modify the length of time and amount of supervision as you see how two cats react. Some forms of cat playing can appear hostile but are not. Look at the ears for a clue (standing up or forward when grappling is trouble, flat back when standing and staring is also trouble). If the fighting immediately stops when one yelps or squeaks, they’re OK.
Introducing a puppy or kitten into a household with an elderly animal already present can be stressful to the older animal. The best way to handle this is to make sure the older animal does not feel threatened by the newcomer. Lavish attention on the older animal, not the new kitten. Make sure the older animal has a cozy place to retreat to, and undisturbed time to eat and relieve itself.
A puppy introduced to a cat will quickly view it as another sort of dog and leave it alone or, more often, want to play with it. The cat will view the dog as a nuisance for some time, but will eventually learn to ignore it or even to play with it. Introducing a kitten to an older dog will depend on the dog’s temperament. Many dogs are good with cats, such as Labs or Newfies, and will present no problems whatsoever. Other dogs with high prey drives may need to be taught to leave the kitten alone. Soon enough, the kitten will be able to get
up out of the dog’s reach when it wants to be left alone. Providing the cat with a place the dog can’t get to is always helpful. This can be achieved by placing a childproof fence in the door of a room high enough for the cat to get under but not for the dog. Do trim the
cat’s claws to minimize damage to the dog’s nose.
According to humane society studies, these are some combinations of animals that tend to work well:
- two kittens
- an older kitten and a puppy
- a pair of mature neutered animals
- two cats
- two dogs