Before you get a cat, think about why you want one. Cats are not little dogs, nor are they small people in fur coats. Maybe you have problems with mice and think that a cat is the answer. Certainly, cats are known to hunt mice, but some cats are more predatory than others. You may get one like Garfield, the cartoon cat, who just lazily watches mice run by. Get a cat only if you want to enjoy the cat himself, not just because he may have hunting potential.
In contrast, maybe you’re horrified at the thought of your pet hunting rodents. Whether you plan to keep your cat always indoors (and there are many good reasons to do so) or he is allowed outdoors, he will most likely present you with a tiny corpse from time to time. Cats are carnivores and hunters. If the thought of a dead mouse or songbird upsets you, a cat may not be your ideal pet.
Maybe you’ve fallen in love with the idea of a kitten from all of the photos and videos you’ve seen online. Kittens are irresistible, but they need care, and they don’t stay kittens forever. They grow into cats who may or may not be as adorable.
Children may be the number-one reason that people get cats. Most children love the idea of having a pet, and parents may think that cats are less work than dogs. While most cats areless work than most dogs, that doesn’t mean there’s no effort involved. Don’t get a cat if you are not willing to be his primary caretaker. Even if your child promises to take care of the new addition, the ultimate responsibility is yours.
Also, while a cat and your kids can make a great combination, not every cat will appreciate the attentions of children. Children need to be taught to respect the cat and his claws. If your children are very young, it might be better to wait a bit before introducing a cat—or any pet—into the family.
If you don’t want cat hair on your furniture, don’t get a cat. Some cats don’t shed, and some shed more than others, but if you have a cat, you will likely have cat hair around your home. And don’t forget the possibility of hairballs. There’s nothing quite like getting up in the middle of the night and feeling a hairball squish between your naked toes. Are you ready to share your lap with a feline friend?
If you think a cat would provide a touch of elegance to your decor, buy an antique vase instead. What happens if you change your decor? Do you get rid of the cat? Besides, a cat mayhave the opposite effect if he decides to sharpen his claws on your love seat or shred your drapes. There are ways to prevent that type of destructive behavior, but if you’re very concerned with interior decorating, you might not appreciate scratching posts or a cat tree in your living room. And as for that antique vase, cats have been known to push things off shelves. If you have many breakable treasures, you may not want a cat.
If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, that’s fine; however, if you want your pet also to be vegetarian or vegan, do not get a cat. Cats need meat. There is no long-term substitute that will work to keep a cat in good condition. If you are not prepared to feed meat to your cat, don’t get a cat.
No matter how much your child loves the cat, she cannot be his primary caretaker.
Cats may not be as overtly affectionate as dogs, but they do bond with their people, and they do enjoy the company of their families. Isolating or neglecting a cat is cruel.
There’s a wonderful children’s book by Margaret Mahy called The Three-Legged Cat. In the story, a woman has a three-legged cat, but she isn’t always happy with him because he sheds and eats a lot. The woman has a brother who wanders the world, but the brother has decided to retire from travel because his old fur hat doesn’t keep his head as warm as it used to. After a visit with his sister, the man mistakenly puts the cat on his head, leaving his old hat behind. The woman is delighted. She can hold the hat on her lap and stroke it, but it doesn’t shed and it never eats.
Maybe you’re like that woman. If you just want something warm in your lap that you can pet, a stuffed animal can do the job. There are even toy cats that move and purr. These alternatives are cuddly and entertaining, with never a litter box to clean or a tin of cat food to open.
Adopting Your Cat
If you want a pet cat and are not concerned about breed or pedigree, getting a cat from a friend or neighbor can be a good option. If that friend’s or neighbor’s cat has kittens, then you’ll be getting a youngster who will come to you with no bad habits and, hopefully, no diseases. You will have met the mother and will know what her temperament is like. If she’s calm and friendly, chances are that her kittens will be that way, too. If you are adopting an older cat from someone you know, some of the same principles hold true. You’ll know how old the cat is, you’ll know what kind of personality the cat has, and you can ask the owner about vaccinations, medications, and health issues. If you have children or a dog, you may also have an idea of how the cat will interact with them. Getting a cat from your local animal shelter or rescue is also a very good way to get a cat, and there are always plenty of cats in need of good homes. While a shelter cat’s exact age may be unknown, he will have been checked by the shelter veterinarian and be up to date on vaccinations, free of fleas and ticks, and spayed or neutered. The shelter may also have implanted a microchip for identification purposes. If the cat was surrendered, the former owner may have given the shelter some personality and behavior information, such as if the cat is good around children and other pets. From observing and interacting with the cat, the shelter staff will likely know whether the cat is a cuddler, is very active, is vocal, and other traits. If you have your heart set on a kitten, check your local shelter in the spring. Most sheltersare inundated with pregnant cats and kittens each spring. You’ll have your pick of just about every color and coat length. Many shelters perform early spay/neuters. If not, they might offer a voucher for a free or reduced-cost spay/neuter when the kitten is a bit older.
Meeting the Kids
There’s nothing cuter than a kid and a kitten, but children—especially young ones—need to be supervised when they are with the new kitten or cat. A child doesn’t always understand that he or she may be hurting a kitten, so it’s up to you to keep all parties safe. Don’t let your children sit on the cat, pull his ears or tail, or poke his eyes.
Pay attention to your cat. If his ears are back, his tail is thrashing, or he’s hissing or growling, he’s had enough. Remove him from the situation. Don’t let children interfere with your cat when he is eating or sleeping. Crating your cat or putting him in a room by himself will give everyone a chance to calm down. Encourage your children to sit on the floor to play with the cat or kitten and teach them the proper way to pick up the kitten: with one hand under the chest and the other supporting the hindquarters. Also, remember that, while an adult cat may have learned to play nicely, with claws sheathed, a kitten is more likely to scratch. Supervise playtime. Encourage using toys on poles so that the kitten’s claws connect with feathers or fur, not skin. You don’t want your child to get hurt. Another good way to help strengthen the bond between your children and the kitten is to let them help take care of him. Even a small child can fill a water dish or scoop food from a can. Remember, though, that even though your children may enjoy caring for the kitten, it’s up to you to make sure that the kitten isn’t neglected because the children forgot or were too busy.
If you don’t have children at home, but children visit from time to time, it’s a good idea to introduce your kitten to some children. You want him to grow up to be a cat who is comfortable around both adults and children. Maybe there are some neighborhood children who’d like to meet your kitten. Just remember to supervise all interaction. You want this to be a positive experience for both the kitten and the children.