Read an Excerpt
The Humane Society of the United States Complete Guide to Cat Care
By Wendy Christensen
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2002 The Humane Society of the United States
All rights reserved.
Why the Cat?
Quite simply, cats chose us.
Cat lovers have long appreciated the honor, privilege, and joy of being chosen by a cat. "He will be your friend if he deems you worthy of friendship, but not your slave," reflected cat-loving French writer Théophile Gautier. Living with a cat is a priceless opportunity. If you let him, your cat will take you on a daily voyage of discovery, gently revealing the world through his wise, mysterious, glowing eyes. You'll enjoy — right in your own living room — a precious glimpse of wild nature.
Like any treasured relationship, living with a cat brings costs and trade-offs, cares and worries, heartache and heartbreak. You'll be concerned about whether he's getting adequate nutrition, whether he's happy and satisfied in his life with you, whether he needs medical attention, exercise, a diet, a treat, a feline companion, some serious cuddling — or just a new toy.
Your cat is your companion for life, eager and willing to give you trust, love, and friendship. He's counting on you. Accept his gift. You'll share a lifetime of quiet companionship, lively, joyous play, and steadfast loyalty. In times of trouble, you'll rely on his comfort, counsel, and ever-listening ear. Cherish the delights of kittenhood, the pleasures of middle age, the sweet wisdom of old age.
LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH
If you're reading this book, you probably love cats. Perhaps you grew up with a beloved furry friend. Maybe you're a recent convert to the mysterious, undeniable allure of cats. That you're reading this book means you realize there's more to cat ownership than falling in love with a winsome kitten and living happily ever after. You know that love is not enough.
Learn all you can about that remarkable creature curled up in your lap or snoozing on your laundry. In this book, you'll meet your cat's ancestors, discover his history and origins, and learn some secrets of decoding his moods, quirks, and behavior. And you'll learn lots of easy, inexpensive, everyday strategies to help you provide the cat you love with a long, safe, satisfying, healthy life.
A CAT IN YOUR LIFE — IS IT THE RIGHT DECISION?
Many people happen into cat ownership without considering why they want a cat — or any pet. Some families adopt a pet because it's the thing to do, because they want to please their children, or because their friends have one. Too often, adopters settle for a cat because they don't have the time or energy to walk and exercise a dog. A cat, they think, is the no- muss, no-fuss pet — a cheap, easy alternative to a dog. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You can't ignore a cat because you're too tired, busy, or stressed to feed and care for him. That tiny kitten you adopt on a whim today will require food, supplies, care, training, socialization, exercise, toys, and medical care for his entire life. Too many cats are relinquished to shelters because their owners never realized that cats require regular veterinary care, including vaccinations, as well as plenty of daily care and attention. Before you fall for that pet-store kitten or succumb to a neighbor's pleas to take one of his latest litter, think hard — and do your homework.
What Are You Looking For in a Cat?
As cats have moved indoors and overtaken dogs as America's most-popular pet, the media — and pet-supply merchants — have developed a heightened interest in cats and their owners. Psychologists, essayists, and other observers are fascinated by the depth and power of the human-cat bond.
Although many dog owners enjoy a master-subject relationship with their pets, this is unusual among cat owners — because the cats won't stand for it! Novice cat owners who think cats should come when called, perform tricks on cue, or pull a lost skier through the snow are usually quickly disabused of these quaint notions. Cats can be trained to do these things (well, maybe not pulling a skier from the snow), but not because they recognize anyone as master.
There are probably cat owners who maintain an owner-property relationship with their cats, seeing them as personal property or livestock — but we hope there aren't many of them! Writer Ellen Perry Berkeley notes, "As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat." But it's important to acknowledge ownership of your cat for legal and ethical purposes, and to accept full responsibility for his care and for making decisions that affect his well-being and life.
Many cat owners maintain a parent-child relationship, treasuring their cats as if they were their own children. Domestic cats nestle easily into this role. Owners of a "feline child" go the extra mile to consider his unique needs and concerns when making decisions that may affect his life, health, or happiness — just as they would with a human child.
Whatever relationship you and your cat forge, it will be a mutual decision! Ideally, you'll be partners in the grand adventure of life. It's no coincidence that our growing awareness of the vital importance of the natural world and the web of all life has blossomed along with our renewed esteem for domestic cats. Living with your cat lets you thrill to a precious bit of natural wildness right in your own home, every day.
Why People Get Cats: Not-So-Good Reasons
"Just like Fluffy"
Did you grow up with a beloved cat? Do you long to relive that experience? Have you lost a cherished cat? Some people adopt a cat or kitten in the mistaken belief, or hope, that they can somehow re-create the friendship they shared with a previous animal companion. This is neither realistic nor fair. Childhood pets, and beloved pets you have lost, have likely attained near perfection in your memory. Can a real cat live up to that? Are you being fair?
Knowledgeable animal lovers cringe whenever a distinctive breed or type of cat or dog appears in a popular movie or TV show. They've seen it all before: the rush by status seekers to adopt the pet of the moment, whether a dalmatian pup like the ones in a movie or a sphynx cat from another film. Most status-seeking adopters have no idea of the special needs of the animals they take into their lives and often tire of them as soon as the fad fades. Sadly, status pets, whether domestic or wild, are often surrendered to shelters, turned over to sanctuaries, or abandoned when they become too expensive, large, dangerous, or inconvenient — or when a newer fad animal beckons.
For the Children
Living with a cat can help a child learn about responsibility, commitment, and love. Memories of childhood pets are among our fondest. But a family cat obtained at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons can teach a child all the wrong lessons about pet ownership — and about cats. Never get a cat just because you think the children ought to have a pet and you don't want to bother with a dog, or because your unruly toddler needs to be "taught some responsibility." In chapter 11, you'll learn how to introduce cats and kids so that the resulting relationship is healthy, beneficial, and pleasant for everyone. If your child isn't ready for a pet, surprising him with a cat will neither make him ready nor magically turn him into a responsible pet caretaker. Don't adopt a cat impulsively or casually, and never in an attempt to cure a child's behavior or disciplinary problems.
Why People Get Cats: Good Reasons
There's nothing like the company of a cat. Your cat is a loyal friend, a warm sleeping buddy, a playmate, a confidant, a presence. Countless writers and poets have expressed delight, pleasure, and wonder at the everyday miracles of feline life and behavior. French writer Fernand Mery gloried in his cats' "cleanliness, discretion, affection, patience, dignity, and courage." Another Frenchman, Henri Poincaré, noted, "The cat is witty, he has nerve, he knows how to do precisely the right thing at the right moment. ... He extricates himself from the most difficult situations by a little pirouette." Cats bring joy and delight to everyday life. Stroking a cat can even lower your blood pressure.
Admiration of Feline Traits
If you're able and ready to adopt, there's no finer reason than your admiration for the grace, beauty, and elegance of the domestic cat. Many happy cat owners attracted by the splendid aesthetic qualities of cats have been further delighted by the depth and richness of the bonds they've forged with their feline companions.
Perhaps you admire cats but aren't able right now to responsibly care for one. Hold out until the time is right. Until then, educate yourself about cats. And volunteer at your local animal shelter! Shelter cats always love extra cuddling and attention, and affectionate socialization and gentle handling will make them happier, healthier pets.
Think It Through: How Well Does a Cat Suit Your Lifestyle?
Think and plan carefully before making a lifelong commitment to a cat. Are you and your family ready for a cat or kitten? (See chapter 3 to learn why the old myth that a cat is a low-maintenance/low-cost alternative to a dog is so untrue!) Can you afford a cat or kitten? Every cat needs regular veterinary attention, vaccinations, surgeries, and emergency medical care when necessary, as well as high-quality food, litter-box filler, and other supplies. You'll need to hire a cat-sitter or pay a boarding facility to look after your cat when your family is away on business or vacation. This can be a considerable expense.
Consider possible health and safety consequences. Has any family member ever experienced allergies to cats or other animals? Do you have a family member with a compromised immune system or serious chronic illness? Does your household include frail elderly persons, infants, or small children? If so, it might be a mistake to add a cat to your family right now.
How stable is your living situation? If you live in rental quarters, how does your landlord feel about pets? Have you checked the language in your lease? Might you be moving soon? Is there a major life change looming for you, such as a divorce, hospitalization, or job change, that may necessitate a lot more time away from home or a move to another city? Any of these situations might mean that this is not the right time for you to consider adopting a cat.
Do you have enough time to devote to a cat? To be happy, satisfied, and fulfilled, cats need plenty of interaction and attention from the people in their lives. Do you live alone and work seventy hours a week? Cats are sociable and intelligent, and loneliness and boredom can cause stress and misbehavior. Or is your household a mad hive of activity, with people coming and going, grabbing quick snacks, and dashing off again? A cat might feel confused and left out in such a busy, chaotic environment where no one has any time just for him.
Consider also the needs and rights of your already-resident pets. Do you have a frail elderly cat who might find newcomers distressing? Do you have a poorly socialized dog who might chase or even attack a cat? Do you already have a large number of pets? Has your home reached its cat-carrying capacity? Are you adopting this cat or kitten because of sympathy or guilt?
A Family Decision
Every member of your family should agree that a cat is a welcome addition to the home you all share. True, cats have a way of winning over even the most dedicated feline-skeptics, but if your household includes someone who genuinely hates or fears cats, it's not fair to a cat, or to that person, to force cohabitation.
Although caring for a cat can be a rewarding educational experience for youngsters, never delegate all cat-care tasks to young children. Make plans to insure that cat supplies are on hand; that the cat is properly fed, groomed, and cared for; and that necessary litter-box maintenance is done every day. And never, ever surprise your family or child with a cat or kitten. Make the decision together, plan for the new family member together — and select your new feline companion together.
Why All the Fuss?
Why, you might ask, is it so important to be careful in deciding whether to adopt a cat or kitten? People adopt cats every day!
Selecting a cat is often a matter of life and death — for the cat. Adopting a cat at the wrong time, or for the wrong reasons, or selecting the wrong cat for your family, situation, or lifestyle, almost certainly means problems later. Intolerance of certain behaviors; lack of attention or proper care; misunderstanding of the cat's needs; financial disputes because the cat's needs weren't taken seriously; changing life circumstances when no accommodation for the cat's welfare can be devised — these problems send too many cats to shelters, where many are euthanized (humanely destroyed) despite heroic efforts to find them good homes.
As a responsible cat owner, one of your tasks is protecting your cat in times of crisis and change. In chapter 17, you'll learn how to plan ahead to keep your cat safe and healthy in the face of a variety of disasters and how to handle a range of feline emergencies with a clear head and steady hand. In chapter 18, we'll look at some of life's inevitable transitions and changes that can affect your cat and your relationship with him. In the same chapter, we'll also explore how to insure that your cat will remain safe, healthy, and cared for if you die or become unable to care for him.
Cats Pay the Price
It's so easy. You bundle the cat — so recently a cute fluffy kitten, but now large, hungry, and a bit rude — into the shelter. You're handed a form: "Reason for Surrender?" Hmmmm ... "Moving — can't take cat." Sounds good. You hand over the cat, and you're out of there. Whew!
It happens hundreds of times a day. Are all "surrendering owners" really moving? Perhaps. Or perhaps a new girlfriend doesn't care for cats. Maybe a boyfriend came home with a big dog, or the landlord found out about the cat and threatened eviction. Maybe a parent took a dislike to the cat's mess or smell. Maybe it was a dorm cat — cherished by a houseful of students all year but inconvenient now that everyone is going home for the summer. Maybe a summer- cottage family had no room for the cat in its city apartment when fall came.
Maybe there's no reason at all — people tire of pets every day. This cat, this magnificent descendent of those wild felines who long ago chose to keep company with humans, may face death because of an irresponsible choice by a thoughtless human — a choice made in haste, in capriciousness, in ignorance, in selfishness.
HAVE YOU BEEN CHOSEN?
Cats chose us. In the next chapter, you'll learn how and why. Cats chose us — and they're still choosing us. According to a 2000 survey by the APPMA (American Pet Products Manufacturers Association), strays — wandering, previously owned cats who showed up on the doorstep or wandered into the yard and made themselves at home — account for 29 percent of cats in single-cat households. Among owners with multiple cats, 43 percent were chosen by their cats. Many multiple cat owners joke that their homes must be marked with a "Felines Welcome! Cat Lovers Dwell Within!" sign, visible only to cats. Have you been chosen?
A SACRED TRUST
The domestic cat has claimed our friendship, our trust, and our hearts. We and our cats share a close, inextricable relationship. There's no going back. Cats chose us; we accepted their gift. This is the Feline Covenant, and it's a sacred trust. In chapter 4, we'll explore the Feline Covenant, how it came to be, and what it means to us, to our cats, and to our ever-evolving relationship.CHAPTER 2
How Did Our Domestic Cats Originate?
The complex, checkered relationship of humans and cats is only a few thousand years old — the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. And it's only in the last 150 years that we've begun to intervene in feline evolution through deliberate selective breeding. But the feline tribe is ancient. Our domestic cats are the products of millions of years of evolutionary refinement. All cats, wild and domestic, are exquisitely designed, magnificently built, and superbly equipped predators — the ultimate hunters.
YOUR CAT'S WILD ANCESTORS
Let's go back 60 million years to the Paleocene epoch, when the first distant ancestor of that furry bundle cozily curled up in your lap appeared on Earth. The Miacids, founders of the mighty tribe of Tiger, were also the ancestors of all modern mammalian carnivores, including bears and canines.
The Eocene epoch, about 54 million years ago, saw the first true felids. Then, about 50 million years ago, according to fossil evidence, the cat's direct precursor, Dinictis, appeared. This lynx-sized carnivore with uncannily catlike teeth was a powerful predator, well adapted to numerous ecological niches. Dinictis spread widely and rapidly.
Excerpted from The Humane Society of the United States Complete Guide to Cat Care by Wendy Christensen. Copyright © 2002 The Humane Society of the United States. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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