Read an Excerpt
How to Bring
a Cat into Your Life
Cats enrich our lives tremendously. They enchant us with their beauty and grace. They entertain us with their acrobatics. They intrigue us with their feline mystique. So well adapted to domestic surroundings and yet so closely resembling their wild relatives, cats bring the natural world right into our living rooms. Perhaps most of all, they give us companionship and comfortholding a purring cat in your lap is a truly heartwarming sensation. Cats can even improve our health by keeping us calm and returning our love and affection. In exchange for all this, they ask relatively little and may seem to be fairly independent creatures, especially compared to dogs. But cat ownership is an important responsibility that we must take seriously every day of their lives. Not a day goes by that they don't need us to provide fresh food and water, to clean out the litter box, and to give --to even the most aloof felinehuman contact and affection.
The cat-human relationship is one that too many people enter into lightly. As a result, many cats do not grow old in their first homes, and each year millions of cats are left to roam the streets or are relinquished to shelters (and too often put to death) because their owners have found them too much trouble or unsuited to their lifestyles. Countless other cats that stay in family settings are ignored or poorly cared for and so do not get to enjoy the benefits of a comfortable home life.
This section of the ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats is designedto help you ascertain whether you are ready to handle the responsibility of cat ownership, for it is not a relationship to enter into casually. You will find advice on how to choose a cat that will fit into your living situation and how to welcome that cat into your home as smoothly as possible. As a whole, this section is meant to help you plant the seeds necessary to ensure a happy, healthy, and long-lasting relationship between you and your cat.
First Things First:
Are You Ready for a Cat?
On a day-to-day basis, cats are fairly self-sufficient creatures, requiring little from their owners other than food, shelter, a clean place to eliminateand, of course, regular stroking and nuzzling. Most cats don't need much grooming or bathing, and unlike dogs, they don't have to be walked several times a day. Cats are better adapted than dogs to spending time alone, which makes them ideal companions for people who work outside the home. Nevertheless, cat ownership is a long-term commitment. Many cats live fifteen to twenty years, and some live even longer. You must consider the impact a cat will have on your daily life. For the next decade or two you will have to change the cat box, vacuum up litter and cat hair, repair scratches in your upholstery, buy litter and food week after week, and pay for regular veterinary care.
Before you go ahead and adopt a cat, read the following questions and consider each one seriously. Involve everyone in your household in the decision-making process. If you have children, read Cats and Kids on page 32.
Is the timing right?
Before you get a cat, think about where your life is headed and how changes in your lifestyle might affect a pet. If you travel often, or if you expect to take a long trip in the near future, you must think about who will care for the cat while you are away. If you plan to move or to have a baby, consider that some cats will not adapt well to such changes. Keep in mind that many landlords do not welcome pets, which limits your housing choices if you move to a rented home.
How many hours do you spend away from home?
Many healthy adult cats can thrive in a busy, working household and are not terribly put out by the occasional weekend on their own, but it's not a good idea to leave any cat alone for twelve hours or more on a daily basis. Leaving a cat for long periods of time day after day can make her difficult to handle, unstable, and, depending on the cat, either excitable or aloof. The less companionship you provide for your cat, the less companionable she will be. Some people choose to adopt two cats to provide social interaction for one another, although owning more than one cat can present its own challenges (described in One Cat or More? on page 30).
When choosing a cat for a working household, keep in mind that kittens under four months of age should never be left alone for more than four hours at a time and that adolescent cats (six to eighteen months) need more attention during the day than adult catsor else they may be more active at night when you are trying to sleep. If you are thinking about a purebred cat, you may want to stay away from the "oriental" breeds (including members of the Siamese family, as well as Burmese, Burmillas, Havana Browns, and Tonkinese), which tend to demand a lot of attention throughout their lives.
Do you travel often?
Most cats hate to travel, so it is likely you will have to hire a cat sitter when you plan to be away. Healthy, well-adjusted adult cats can usually be left alone with an automatic food-dispenser for a couple of days from time to time, but for extended absences you'll need someone to visit daily or even stay in your home. Cats left alone for long periods can get lonely, and those with fastidious litter box habits may begin to eliminate elsewhere when the box becomes more soiled than usual.
Do you have children?
Most cats get along well with children, especially if they are introduced to them as kittens. Some cats accept only the children in their own household, while other cats are uncomfortable around any child under the age of seven or so. For suggestions on finding a cat that can fit into a home with children and on teaching kids how to behave with cats, see Cats and Kids, page 32. In the Reference Guide to Cat Breeds (Section II, starting on page 65), breeds that are known to get along with children are marked with the Good with Kids icon [??]. If you are bringing a new baby into a home where a cat already resides, see page 250.
Do you have other pets?
The same cats that do well with childrencats with relatively tolerant, adaptable temperamentsalso tend to take relatively well to other pets in the home. If you plan to introduce a purebred cat into a home with other pets, consider the breeds in the Reference Guide to Cat Breeds that are marked with the Good with Kids icon [??]. Cats that have been exposed to dogs early in life are more likely to accept canine housemates than cats that have never lived with a dog. If you have a resident adult cat, it will be easier to introduce a kitten rather than another adult. Most animal behaviorists advise against bringing an adult male cat into a home with a resident male cat.
Smaller petsguinea pigs, birds, rabbits, mice, fishmust be kept in a safe, enclosed environment if you plan to introduce felines into the mix. Cats are predatory by nature, so if you allow small animals to run free in the house, expect your cat to pursue them. Fish tanks provide an endless source of amusement to cats but must be securely placed and covered.
Can you afford a cat?
Your relationship with your cat may last for twenty yearsand you're the one footing the bill. After you acquire the cat, you'll need to purchase basic household equipment, such as grooming tools, litter boxes, a cat carrier, and scratch posts. On a regular basis, you'll have to pay for food, litter, and veterinary care, including neutering (a onetime expense), routine examinations, vaccinations, dental care, and treatment for sickness or injury.
Are any members of your household allergic to cats?
Unfortunately, some people just can't live in a home with a cat. It's not fair to the person with allergiesor the catto initiate a relationship that will be cut short. You should make every effort before you decide to adopt a cat to be sure that no one in your household is allergic. Everyone should spend time handling the cat you have chosen in the environment in which it has been living.
When people with feline allergies are around cats, their eyes itch and swell, they sneeze incessantly, their sinuses become congested, and they may cough and even become asthmatic. Allergy sufferers feel miserable when they are exposed to an allergen, and there is very little that can be done to make them feel better.
It is not a cat's hair that affects most allergy sufferers, but a protein in the cat's saliva. It can take weeks for enough allergens to build up in your home to affect certain people, so all allergies don't make themselves evident right away. Some people with mild allergies can live with a cat by keeping the house very clean and bathing the cat several times a month.
The safest way to predict a problem is to have everyone in your household spend time at the homes of people with different types of cats, as well as at catteries and shelters. It is essential that they also spend time with the cat you have chosen to adopt in its home environment before you bring it home.
Are you prepared for the mess?
If you have a cat, you will have cat hair on your clothes and furniture. Virtually all cats shed to some degree, although the Cornish Rex sheds relatively little and the hairless Sphynx does not shed but can leave oily spots on furniture. Longhaired cats leave more hair about than shorthaired cats. By brushing your cat regularly, you can minimize the amount of hair that winds up around the houseor that your cat spits up in hairballs. Another mess to think about is the litter box. Even the most fastidious cat needs constant human assistance in keeping this area clean. Cats can also cause minor destruction by using furniture to give themselves manicures. You can limit the damage by keeping their nails blunt and providing suitable scratch posts. If you have breakable objects, you might consider putting them out of the way keeping in mind that cats are adept at getting into out-of-the-way places.
Which Cat Is Right for You?
Once you've decided you are ready for a cat, you must consider whether you want a garden-variety house cat or a purebred, a kitten or an adult, a male or a female. Taking the time to find the right feline match is an essential step in becoming a responsible pet owner and the best insurance you can have for a long and happy life with your new companion.
Kitten or Adult?
While a kitten's cuteness is tough to resist, its rambunctious behavior can take a toll on a household. Kittens under four months of age tend to climb objects rather than jump on them, which can result in shredded curtains and furnishings, not to mention legs. Although kittens are adept at climbing up drapery, they are often unable to get down and will hang on and screech until help arrives. Kittens under twelve weeks of age have a way of running headlong into dangergetting stuck behind or inside furniture and appliances, chewing electrical wires, and so forth. If a kitten or young cat does not have enough stimulation during the day, he is much more likely to be rowdy at night, perhaps when his human companions are sleepingor trying to sleep. Getting two kittens instead of one usually helps to alleviate the nighttime crazies (see One Cat or More? on page 30).
Kittens often make ideal companions for children over age six or seven. Growing up together creates a strong bond, and a cat that is accustomed to a child's attention is less likely to run away and hide when playtime gets a little noisy.
If you already have adult cats in the home, feline household harmony may be more quickly restored if the new addition is a youngster rather than another mature cat. Another advantage to getting a kitten is that it is much easier to train kittens than adult cats to use a scratch post and to accept such grooming procedures as nail-trimming, tooth-brushing, and bathing.
If you decide on a kitten, plan to adopt one that is between eight and sixteen weeks old. Younger kittens will not have had sufficient time to become properly socialized with their littermates. You should not get a kitten younger than four months of age if you must be away from home during the day for more than four hours at a stretch.
While you cannot be sure how a kitten's personality will turn out, the temperament of an adult cat is already established. When you meet an adult, you can tell whether he is friendly or aloof, placid or active, noisy or quiet, high-strung or calm, short-tempered or tolerant. This makes it much easier to match your requirements to the right cat. If you have children, you can choose a calm, friendly adult cat rather than one that might hide from children or perhaps even strike out during play. Adult cats are usually better able than kittens to tolerate being alone much of the day.
Male or Female?
There is no shortage of cat lovers who vehemently claim that a male cat makes a better pet than a female, while an equal number take the opposing view. In truth, there is much individual variation from cat to cat, and a neutered cat of either sex can make a delightful family companion. Most animal behaviorists do not recommend introducing an adult male cat into a household that already has a resident male cat.
Domestic Shorthair or Purebred?
By far the most popular kind of cat is the basic nonpurebred domestic cat. In this book these cats are referred to as domestic shorthairs for the sake of simplicity, even though the common domestic cat's hair can be short, medium-length, or long. Domestic shorthairs come in a vast array of colors, patterns, hair types, and physical builds, and display an endless range of personalities. They usually have a broad genetic background that makes hereditary problems relatively unlikely. Domestic shorthairs are easy to acquire and are usually inexpensive, or even free. Most of the millions of unwanted cats that are euthanized each year are domestic shorthairs. If you adopt a domestic shorthair from a shelter, you may be saving its life.
Purebred cats are much less common than domestic shorthairs, comprising less than 10 percent of pet cats. There is much variation among individual cats, but purebreds generally are much more predictable in physical appearance and, to some extent, behavior and personalityincluding such traits as companionability, liveliness, and talkativenessthan domestic shorthairs. Often when you buy a purebred you can see how the cat spent its first weeks and you can investigate its parents' health and temperament.
Certain breeds or lines of purebred cats are prone to hereditary conditions or other disorders associated with years of selective breeding. These can include deformities, such as those seen in the knees of some Devon Rex and Chartreux cats; medical conditions, like the kidney problems that occur in some Persian and Abyssinian lines; or structural problems, such as those suffered by some Persians with extremely shortened faces. Kittens born and reared indoors in multiple-cat households, like the majority of purebred catteries, are more likely to be exposed to certain viruses, such as coronavirus, the cause of the fatal disease feline infectious peritonitis.
The cost of a purebred cat varies; a pet-quality cat can usually be purchased for 300 to 500 dollars, but a show-quality cat can cost double or triple that, and a highly desirable breeding animal can cost several thousand dollars. Peruse the Reference Guide to Cat Breeds to find the breeds that will best fit into your household.
Long Hair or Short?
Longer-haired cats tend to need more grooming from their owners than do breeds with short or medium-length hair. The hair of certain breeds, especially the Persian and Himalayan, mats quickly unless it is brushed daily. Longhaired cats are also particularly prone to forming hairballs (page 297). If you are a fastidious housekeeper and suspect that you'd hate having cat fur all over the place, you should probably stay away from a longhaired cat. Shorthaired cats shed, too, but less copiously than longhaired ones. Breeds that need to be groomed more than once a week are marked with the Special Grooming Needs icon [??] in the Reference Guide to Cat Breeds.
Talkative or Quiet?
How vocal your cat is may be important to you. The meow of most cats is far from floor-rumbling (though it can be rather piercing in some), but a particularly talkative feline might annoy you or your neighbors. Some of the high-energy breeds (Balinese, Colorpoint, Cornish Rex, Javanese, Ocicat, Oriental, Russian Blue, Siamese, and Tonkinese) are the most vocal, with the Siamese topping the list. At the other end of the spectrum are the Persians, quiet and calm cats that rarely make a sound. In the Reference Guide to Cat Breeds, very vocal breeds bear the Talkative icon [??].
High or Low Energy?
There is much variation in temperament among individual cats, especially domestic shorthairs. Purebred cats have somewhat more predictable behavioral tendencies, although breed type is far from the only consideration. Some of the most significant factors in shaping a cat's temperament are early learning experiences and the behavior of the cat's parents and other relatives. Not only do cats that are related share a common genetic background, but they also may have had similar environmental and socializing influences if they came from the same breeder. The age of a cat is also significant; all kittens and adolescents (cats from six to eighteen months of age) are high-energy felines. The activity levels of adults (three-plus years) tend to vary much more depending on breed and body type.
If you want a cat that is active and inquisitive, you may want to consider one of the breeds marked with the High Energy icon [??] in the Reference Guide to Cat Breeds.
Cats that generally have quiet, calm personalities and prefer resting peacefully to strolling along a mantelpiece include the American Shorthair, Birman, British Shorthair, Exotic Shorthair, Himalayan, Korat, Persian, Ragdoll, and Selkirk Rex.
Other breeds tend to have temperaments somewhere in the middle, neither extremely active nor somnolent. See the Reference Guide to Cat Breeds for overviews of breed personality traits.
One Cat or More?
From the feline perspective, two can be a crowd. According to many animal behaviorists, being a singleton can be a fine situation for a cat. If you don't travel much or work long hours outside the home, you can give your cat all the social interaction and companionship she needs. If you are away a lot, two young cats (ages six to eighteen months) can keep each other entertained and are less likely to engage in destructive or otherwise irksome behavior (such as racing around the house in the wee hours). Experts do not recommend taking on kittens under four months of age if you will be away for more than four hours at a time, as such youngsters need lots of supervision. When adopting two cats, if you cannot get littermates, which is ideal, try at least to obtain kittens of the same age.
Cats raised together are likely to be close companions, get along well, and may not seek as much attention and affection from their owner as a single cat that bonds more tightly with the humans in the household. Generally, if a second cat is added later, the first cat will maintain a close relationship with the humans, while the second cat may be more cat-bonded.
How Many Cats Are Too Many?
How many cats can live comfortably in one household? The answer depends largely on the personalities of the cats involved. Sociable cats are better suited to life in a multiple-cat household than those with more solitary temperaments. Kittens that stayed with their littermates until twelve weeks of age are more likely to be sociable with other cats; orphan kittens are less likely to be cat-friendly.
When a household has too many cats, significant problems can arise. Cleanliness is more difficult to maintain, and infectious diseases become harder to control. The cats may become stressed and anxious, and you may see an escalation in behavior problems, such as aggression and urine marking. An overused, unclean litter box repels some cats, and you'll find those cats eliminating elsewhere.
Each cat in a multiple-cat household must have her own "personal space." Cat owners should provide a variety of resting places and observation posts, preferably at different heights, to allow each cat to choose that special place. Some cat owners install window-sill shelves for the cats to rest on or purchase a multilevel "cat condo."