There are lots of important things to consider before choosing a new pet. The first step to starting a long and lasting friendship with a cat is choosing the cat and choosing one that is right for you. By definition, this is the largest decision you will make regarding your cat. It is also an important decision because unlike an item of clothing, a video-game console, or must-have electronic gadgets, a cat is a living, breathing being who will need care and attention for next 10, 15, or even 20 years.
There are so many cats out there and so many kinds of cats to choose from, it is hard to know where to begin. Ask yourself some questions:
- kitten or adult?
- lazy lap cat or unguided missile?
- quiet or talkative?
- independent cat or Velcro kitty?
- purebred or mixed?
Answers to some of these questions lie in your own lifestyle. Are you a couch potato who wants a cat to nap along with you? Do you hang on every fascinating word kitty says? Is kitten watching more fun than TV?
Kitten or Cat?
Kittens are adorable, curious, playful, and full of energy. They can also be exasperating at times, demanding lots of supervision to keep them out of trouble and patience when they get into it. A kitten is an unknown entity–you do not really know what kind of cat you will end up with once they outgrow their kitten personality. Adult cats are usually calmer, less bouncy, and less mischievous. With an adult, what you see is usually what you get, so if you are looking for specific qualities, consider a cat who is a year or older.
When choosing a cat, keep your family in mind. Kittens and young children do not mix well because kittens are fragile and youngsters can be kind of rough. Babies and toddlers will grab the closest part of the cat, be it tail, ear, or fur and cannot resist giving a cat a big hug. Always supervise interactions between youngsters and your cat. Personality Cats, like people, are individuals. No two are exactly alike whether from the same breed or even the same litter. Some cats are very mellow and will tolerate any kind of handling, including being dressed in clothes. These cats are perfect for young kids or older people who want and appreciate this type of cat. Other cats do not like to be picked up or held and will only come to you for petting when they feel like it. There are cats who live to nap and those who are perpetual motion machines. Personality will vary widely by breed as well. If you decide you want a purebred, do your homework so you end up with one that is right for you. Persians, for example, are typically laid-back and sedentary, while Bengals and other “exotic” breeds (created with wild cat genes) tend to be extremely active. Siamese have a reputation for being very talkative.
Short Fur or Long?
This is mainly a matter of preference and willingness to devote time to regular grooming. Long haired cats require frequent grooming sessions to prevent matting. Not all cats enjoy being brushed though and you could wind up having to take your long haired cat to a groomer to be shaved down. Short haired cats do not require much brushing, but it does help to remove loose fur, stimulate skin, and distribute oils throughout the coat. A cat who likes being groomed will come running when she sees the brush.
Purebred or Mixed Breed?
There are far fewer cat breeds than dog breeds. Most dogs evolved from the type of work they were meant to do. Cat breeds developed mostly for companionship. There are fewer personality differences between cat breeds. If you have your heart set on a specific breed, make sure you research the breed thoroughly as well as the breeder (if you choose to buy purebred). Some breeds are prone to certain medical problems and there are breeders that are not careful about breeding programs. Mixed breed cats tend to be healthier since the gene pool is more diverse.
Many cats with special needs make wonderful companions. They might be older, deaf, blind, or have an illness that requires regular medications. The condition does not have to affect the amount of love and pleasure they have to give; it just means an extra commitment on your part to meet their needs for the rest of their lives.
Room For One More?
If you already have pets, consider them before bringing home a cat. The good news is that cats can get along with other cats and (despite the common stereotype) most dogs can get along with cats. It is not necessarily easy to get them used to one another and sometimes it can be impossible. Some cats are perfectly happy as the only cat and could really resent a newcomer. The more cats you have, the more potential problems you invite; cats can become stressed and develop undesirable behaviours like spraying, fighting, and hiding. Dogs and cats can become best friends, but dogs with a high prey drive might not be able to resist chasing, terrorizing, or even killing the new cat. Birds and cats can coexist peacefully, but remember that felines are hunters by instinct. A cat may traumatize your bird by trying to get at him through the bars of the cage.
Once you have made a carefully thought out decision, be the ideal pet parent by providing your cat with everything she needs to live a happy and healthy life.
Adapted from the Humane Society of the United States, 2010.