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Adopting a cat - Introduction

Before going into detail about how to get a cat and where to get it from, it is important to stress that a cat is not a passing fancy but a commitment for the lifespan of the animal. The average life of a cat is 15 years and many cats will leave to be 20 years or more. So before rushing in and getting a kitten to bring home, think 'Am I ready for this?' The same applies to when giving someone a cat as a present. Unless you know that this person really wants to receive it, and is able to care for it properly, you could be bringing unwanted problems into that person's life (and the cat's!). Apart from anything else, it is very important that the future owner (owners if we are talking about family) choose the cat that they think is suitable for them.

Another important consideration is whether any member of the family who will be in constant contact with the cat has any allergies. Allergic reaction to cats is common and it is unlikely that the condition will be improved by having a cat on the premises. It is more likely that the allergy will intensify. If you are not sure but you suspect that you might be allergic to cats, check with your GP first. A simple allergy test can put your mind at ease. You might wonder if a negative test is a full assurance that you will never develop allergy - the simple answer is no. Allergies can develop at any stage of your life and there is no way to predict if someone is likely to develop cat allergy.

OK, you have decided you want a cat - so what is the next step? The next thing is to decide what type of cat you want. Now is the time to consider your options. We will cover each one of them briefly below:

  • Do I want a kitten, a young adult or a mature cat?
  • Is the cat for breeding purposes, shows or a family pet?
  • Do I want a particular pedigree?
  • Is female or male cat better for me?
  • Is the cat going to be a completely indoor cat, or is there a garden the cat can explore?
  • Should I have one or more cats?

Do I want a kitten, a young adult or a mature cat?

Let's look at the kittens first. Kittens are certainly very adorable. Fluffy and helpless, they almost instantaneously make you think "I want it". It is therefore not surprising that kittens are the most popular choice. But is it always the best? When a family considers a cat for a child, kittens can be a very good choice. They are playful, and with children around, they will get the attention they require. However, it is important to remember that kittens do not come as house trained. You will have to teach them (for example) how to use the litter tray, the scratch pad (instead of the tempting carpet), and why climbing the curtains is a bad idea. By their nature, kittens will explore and create a degree of havoc from time to time. On the other side of the coin, it is easier to teach a kitten than to persuade an adult cat to change its ways.

Sometimes you may not have a choice. If you want a particular breed, you may have to get your cat from a breeder and most likely that will be a kitten. From time to time breeders do sell off older cats past their breeding age, but these cats are certainly less common.

Young adult cats, when adopted from a good home, will already be house trained and generally require much less initial work. You can also spot some unwelcome traits more easily in adults before adopt them - for example, do they scratch or bite or are friendly towards you on the first or second encounter? For busy professionals, a young adult cat is probably the best option, especially if you have a garden where the cat can spend some time amusing itself. Adult cats are more independent and they may appear to be more standoffish (remember, a cat will do what it wants to do and there is little you can do about it). Although young cats, especially outdoor cats, are more likely to get into fights and may require occasional visits to the vet, hopefully that won't be a regular occurrence. Cats are very territorial and once a cat establishes itself as a resident, the other cats will usually work out how to live with it.

Finally, let's consider an older cat. These can be great pets. As companions they are definitely better than young cats, they will spend more time snoozing on your sofa or your lap, most love being cuddled. At the same time they are usually well house trained, so they are more likely to be impeccable residents. All cats need a quiet corner in the house where they can snooze undisturbed during the day. But for old cats this is more important than ever, so busy households with lots of children and other animals are probably not ideal for such cats. Also old cats are more likely to develop health problems and may require expensive trips to the vet.

Is the cat for breeding purposes, shows or a family pet?

Most people get a cat because they want a family pet and this article is mainly for them.

If you are getting a cat for breeding purposes, make sure that the cat was not spayed. In the UK many cats are spayed routinely because of the huge amount of unwanted cats which need to be destroyed each year. If you would like to breed animals for shows then your first and most important call is to find a reputable breeder. This topic however, is far beyond the scope of this introduction.

Do I want a particular breed?

Pedigree cats

There are approximately forty different pedigree breeds available in England, so there is definitely a cat for everyone. the cat's appearance is the first criterion for most people. This is certainly important, since we want a cat which looks appealing. However, before you decide on a type of cat you should also consider your home circumstances. Long-haired cats,( for example Persian or Bermian cats) require regular brushing. They are probably more suited for an indoor life than the great outdoors. Short-haired varieties, for example British Shorthair or Burmese require much less brushing since they are quite capable of grooming themselves.

The next important thing to consider is character. Although each individual cat has its own personality, there are some pedigree-common behavioral characteristics. For example, some longhaired cats such as Persians are bred for docile character. They enjoy a warm lap or sofa and are well suited to indoor life. A domestic short hair (breeder-speak for a common moggy) will probably be more energetic and outdoorsy. All breeds are not the same. Some oriental breeds are very demanding and often very vocal. Also, you have to consider health problems, which are more common in some breeds then others. Before getting a pedigree cat it is very advisable to do your homework thoroughly and also talk to a vet who will be able to give you help and advice. The advantage of getting a pedigree from a good breeder is that you will be able to see the cat's parents and litter mates and have a better chance of spotting any potential behavioral problems.

Non-pedigree cats

Non-pedigree cats are cats which do not have a known breeding history. Often neither you nor anyone else will know anything about the father, and little about the mother. That said, most non-pedigree cats are absolutely wonderful pets. Because they are outbred they are generally more robust animals in terms of health and temperament.

The best places to get a non-pedigree cat are cat rescue/re-homing shelters. They always have large variety of cats of different ages, shapes and sizes. Although you are unlikely to see the cat's parents there, the staff will be able to tell you what you need to know about each candidate for adoption. You will probably be able to visit the cat as often as you need before making a final decision.

Is a female or male cat better for me?

Some would say females are better pets than males, while others swear the opposite. Neutered females and males are very similar so this should not greatly affect your choice. Males are normally more confident and more likely to be your standard lap cat, although this is also more likely to be the result of early handling (animals which are handled when kittens are more likely to accept being picked up and carried around).

Cats that are a not neutered are a different matter. During the mating season they may be more aggressive. Tomcats have the tendency to spray pungent urine during these times. Therefore, it is usually recommended that all cats (unless you specifically got them for breeding) are neutered at the earliest opportunity.

Is the cat going to be a completely indoor cat, or is there a garden the cat can explore?

This is an important consideration. Cats are very independent and above all they are hunters. Most cats which are used to spending any time outdoors will be unhappy indoor cats. Many cats kept permanently indoors are bored and without anything to occupy their minds they will sleep or may develop psychological problems. It is therefore essential that indoor cats have a lot to amuse them. Plenty of pet toys, and some climbing scaffolds will keep the cat amused when you are out. But is is also important to set a play time when the cat interact with you. Cats love routine, so regular play times are important. Although cats are very much solitary animals and do not pine for the company of their own kind, when cats are kept permanently indoors, having two may be an advantage. Even if they hate each other but they will have a partner to interact with.

If you have a garden, you should consider letting the cat out into it. Cats with free access to the garden have lots to keep them busy and they get sufficient exercise to keep fit. However, it is not always possible for your cat to get outdoors. You may live in a high rise building or next to a busy road (cats can be very stupid when it comes to traffic) and in these situations an indoor cat is the only solution. There are some breeds of cat which are well suited for indoor life, and if the cat must be indoors, we strongly recommend you choose one of these breeds.

Should I have one or more cats?

From the point of view of a cat - one is the ideal number. Cats are territorial and solitary and having more than one cat may result in frequent fights. That does not mean that you cannot adopt more than one animal. As mentioned above, for indoor cats, more than one cat is an advantage. Taking two cats from the same litter may be a good choice. They are used to playing and interacting with each other and some brothers or sisters do form a strong bond. If you have already got a cat and are considering adopting another, you need to choose carefully. Kittens may be a better choice than adults because they do not constitute the same degree of threat to the resident cat. Adopting an adult cat may be more difficult but a slow and careful introduction should result in successful homing. There are some cats that will not tolerate other cats. In that case it is best to leave them as single animals and find a new home for the unsuccessful newcomer. Remember, always to stick firmly to the role of adoption- last in, first out.

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