If you want a pedigree kitten, such as this Birman Sealpoint, make sure you get one from a reputable breeder, and involve the whole family in your selection process.
Like most people, you may find yourself choosing your own cat, but don’t rule out the possibility that your cat will choose you. You will be walking past a pet shop or veterinary clinic and there, peering out at you, will be an adorable little cat face with pleading eyes. You have been thinking about a cat, but not too seriously. Now here is this bundle of fluff, asking you to give it a home. It will be difficult to resist.
Some stray cats have the routine worked out, too. They turn up on a doorstep, reconnoitre the premises, check out the standard of meal service, win over the human inhabitant(s) and then move in.
Although some neighbourhood cats do choose their owners in one of the above ways, most are selected following a planned and carefully considered decision on the part of their owners.
Without a care in the world – cats will leave many of life’s responsibilities up to you!
Factors to consider
ο Why do you want a cat? Is it to be a companion, for breeding or to show?
ο What other animals do you have already, and will a cat integrate with them?
ο Is your property suitable for the type of cat you envisage? A small, high-rise apartment may suit a lethargic domestic longhair, but be inadequate for an active Oriental. A house bordering a busy highway could guarantee a short lifespan.
ο Who will look after it? Even if it is a family pet, make sure that one person takes on the responsibility of feeding a proper diet and ensuring that the cat receives the correct vaccinations at the right intervals and is regularly wormed and treated for fleas. Don’t rely on the promises of your children.
ο How will it integrate with any of the other animals in your household? Will the family terrier terrorize it? Will an incumbent cat consider the new one an interloper and try to drive it away? Is your favourite budgie likely to become a cat’s dinner? Will the goldfish in your garden pond continue to lead their current peaceful life?
ο Can you afford the cost? Cats may be cheaper to feed than dogs, but they still require health care. This can be costly.
ο Is any member of the family an asthmatic? Many asthmatics are allergic to cat fur, so do your homework.
Adult cats have less of a chance of finding a new home than kittens do, yet they can be the ideal choice for an elderly person who does not wish to cope with an energetic kitten.
Where to buy your cat
Animal shelters and rescue organizations usually have a selection of cats of varying ages. Many of them employ veterinarians who check the animals’ health before they are advertised for a home, and cats from such a source will usually have been vaccinated prior to sale.
Veterinary clinics are another reliable source. Many of them have clients who are looking for a good home for a cat or kittens. These animals will probably have been subjected to health checks, and the veterinary staff will ensure that they receive their proper vaccinations.
Too many kittens are left homeless and have to be destroyed. If you can, get your new cat from an animal welfare centre such as this one.
Pet shops commonly have kittens for sale. If you are buying a cat from such a source, do so only if the shop agrees that it is conditional on the cat passing a veterinary health check. If the cat or kitten has not been vaccinated, then ensure that you get this done as soon as possible.
If you decide to get a kitten or cat by answering an advertisement, also only take the animal on condition that it passes a veterinary health check.
Occasionally a kitten or cat may arrive as a (welcome) gift, and in this case the giver should have taken all necessary steps to ensure that the animal is healthy.
Pedigree or non-pedigree?
If you are interested in showing and/or breeding, then a pedigree cat may be the right way to go. If showing your cat rather than breeding interests you, remember that most cat shows have classes for non-pedigree animals, so you don’t have to own a pedigree cat in order to be able to show it.
Cats spend a large part of their day fastidiously grooming themselves, and can reach almost every part of their fur with their tongues. This breed is an Oriental Red Lynx.
Depending on where you live, you may have a choice of 40 or more pedigree breeds, ranging from long-haired cats such as the Chinchilla to sleek shorthairs like the British Shorthair or the Foreign (also called the Oriental). If you fancy something rather different, you can opt for a Norwegian Forest Cat, a Turkish Van or a LaPerm. Within some of the breeds (such as the longhairs or Persians) there is a wide range of coat colours, perhaps as many as 50. There are plenty of books and Internet sites that list and describe these breeds and varieties, so if you are thinking of getting one of them, do your homework first.
Remember, too, to talk to your veterinarian. Vets get to see many of the health and behavioural problems that arise in the local cat population, and have a good idea of any pitfalls. They know which breeders are reputable and which are not, and while they may not be willing to name the latter they can certainly steer you clear of them.
One advantage of choosing a pedigree animal is that you should be able to get a good idea of what the mother, and possibly the father, is like. Reputable breeders are happy for you to visit their breeding cattery and inspect their animals for temperament and health. Avoid a breeder who makes excuses and won’t let you view the parents or give you sufficient information.
Just as individual cats vary in their temperament, so do the various breeds. For example, some longhairs (such as Persians) are friendly, comparatively inactive and enjoy nothing more than a cuddle on a warm lap. Others tend to be rather aloof and object to too much handling. The Siamese and Foreign (Oriental) breeds are far more demanding and independent. Don’t confuse such perfectly normal ‘cat attitude’ with poor temperament, though, which is often expressed as aggression. Some pedigree animals have a very poor temperament, caused through selection for their physical appearance with regard to little else, so watch out for it and don’t select any animal that comes from such stock.
Cats that have obvious physical defects, such as in-turned eyelids (particularly prevalent in some Persian and exotic varieties) should also be avoided. If a breeder tells you that this condition is normal for the breed, be wary, because while runny eyes or laboured breathing may be acceptable to some breeders, both are a potential health problem. If you are in any doubt, talk to your veterinarian first, or purchase the animal subject to a health check.
The Korat is a very old breed, native to Thailand (where it is known as the Si-Sawat).
The majority of pet cats are of unknown pedigree, and if you choose such an animal the chances are that you will be unable to obtain much information about its ancestry. You may be able to see its mother and get some idea of her character, but that won’t necessarily give you an indication as to how her offspring will turn out. Every cat is an individual, and this particularly applies to the non-pedigree or ‘domestic’ types. What you see is what you get.
Having said that, the vast majority of non-pedigree cats turn out to be ideal household companions. Their ancestors had to be tough, sensible, adaptable and healthy in order to survive, endowing their offspring with what scientists call hybrid vigour: a mixture of genes that gives an individual cat a good chance of surviving and reproducing.
This Birman breeding cattery is a high-class establishment that provides spacious indoor and outdoor accommodation.
Kitten or adult?
Many non-pedigree kittens are offered for homes from six to eight weeks of age. At this age they should have been properly weaned and socialize well into their new homes. They still need toilet training, and are unlikely to have had any vaccinations.
Play fighting is an important part of the kitten’s mental and physical development, where the animals learn to attack others and defend themselves.
By contrast, responsible pedigree breeders will not usually allow their kittens to go to a new home until they are at least 12 weeks old. By this time they are house-trained and have received their first course of vaccinations.
A kitten may be far more appealing than an adult, and fulfil your need to nurture a young animal. You will have less idea of what its temperament will eventually be, but the way a kitten is handled and brought up will influence its character, and properly treated the vast majority of kittens turn out be ideal cat companions.
When deciding between kitten and adult, do remember that animal shelters have juvenile and adult cats waiting for, and deserving of, a good home. Some pedigree adults become surplus to breeders’ requirements and, after neutering, are available as pets, and it is easier to determine the temperament of an adult cat.
Choosing the sex
If you are buying a pedigree cat and hoping to breed, then you will probably choose a female. A stud cat (male) usually needs to be kept in separate quarters, and because of its scent-marking rarely makes a good family pet. If you do not intend to breed, then sex is not really an issue because as a responsible pet owner you should arrange to have the kitten (or, if necessary, the adult cat) neutered. There is little difference in the behaviour of a neutered male and a neutered female, and both sexes can make an adorable, loving pet.
Take your kitten to the vet for a health check, as a runny nose and eyes could indicate a problem.
Choosing the individual
Look for a healthy kitten or cat whose temperament and personality suits you and your lifestyle. To get an idea of which individual might be suitable, you need to spend some time with it. If you are with an adult cat, sit with it and talk to it, and see how it relates to you. Gauge its reaction to being touched or handled. If you are with a litter of kittens, handle each kitten in turn. A kitten that is unduly shy, or is excessively aggressive towards its littermates, may continue to exhibit those traits in adult life, although that is not always the case. If the kittens’ mother is present while you are with them, check her temperament and health as well.
When investigating a cat or kitten for health and temperament, use the following checklist:
ο It readily approaches you and does not back away or show aggression.
ο It is alert, bright, gentle and playful, and not dull or lethargic.
ο It holds its head normally, and walks or runs without limping.
ο There is no head shaking, sneezing or coughing.
ο The skin appears clean and healthy, without sores, scabs, dirt or flea droppings. The fur is glossy, clean and well groomed, with no areas of hair loss or matting.
ο There are no discharges from the eyes, nose or ears. The third eyelid (nictitating membrane) is not partly covering the eyeball.
ο The teeth appear clean and free from tartar. The gums are a healthy salmon-pink colour and show no signs of bleeding.
ο The belly feels reasonably firm and is not distended. It is neither too hard nor too flabby.
ο The anus is clean, and there are no visible signs of diarrhoea or tapeworm segments (which emerge from the anus and look like grains of rice).
ο Details of the existing diet are available.
This cat’s raised tail indicates that it is confident and willing to interact.
Kittens that have had no contact with humans may be distrustful and difficult to socialize.
If you don’t feel competent to make the above assessments, take somebody along with you who is. If even one member of a litter of kittens appears unhealthy, you would be wise to choose from another source.
Once you have decided on an individual, make sure that it has been sexed correctly.
Finally, ask for a 10–14 day approval period during which you can obtain an independent health check from your veterinarian. Any infections that are incubating will show up during this time.
Cats and kittens may not usually like water, but they certainly enjoy stalking its inhabitants.
If you have purchased a pedigree cat or kitten, make sure that you receive the correct registration papers. If one of the conditions of purchase is that the cat or kitten must be neutered (de-sexed), then it is normal practice for the breeder to withhold such papers until after you provide proof that the operation has been performed.
One or two?
Many people think in terms of one kitten or cat, but do consider the option of taking two together. Cats certainly enjoy solitude on occasions, but they are also communal animals and two individuals will often prove good company for each other while their human owners are away from home.
Integrating a new cat with existing pets
Before you bring a second (or even a third) cat into your household, you should make sure you are familiar with cat behaviour, both territorial and aggressive, and the basic principles of cat training (see pp61–71). Some cats will accept a newcomer, especially a kitten (which may be perceived as less of a threat), but others will not.
You will help this integration by gradually introducing the newcomer to your cat(s), keeping it separated in one room until it has gained confidence (especially if it is a kitten) and your existing cats have got used to it. The newcomer is probably unsure and may be frightened, and it is moving into new and unfamiliar territory which is already occupied (and maybe defended) by the current feline inhabitants. Feed them separately to reduce competition for food, and make a fuss of your existing cats so that they do not feel neglected because of the new incumbent.
If you already own a dog, the introductory process is similar to that described above – gradual and non-threatening. Once again, the dog may immediately accept the cat. Sometimes a bitch will accept a kitten and relate to it rather like the way she would to one of her own pups, even to the extent of offering it some protection. Make sure that you give the incumbent dog as much fuss and attention as usual (or even more), and praise and reward it for good behaviour.
Goldfish and small mammals that are kept as pets need to be protected from the family cat – make sure their cages are secure, and avoid keeping a goldfish in an open bowl.
Introducing a new cat to pet birds can pose a problem. If it is a kitten purchased from a breeder, it may never have experienced the sight or stimulation that a bird presents. Although its basic hunting or playing instinct may cause it to react, it may be quite easy to train your cat to ignore the bird or even to accept it as a companion. If, however, it is a kitten from a domestic cat that has had the opportunity to introduce its kittens to bird prey, or is an adult cat that has already learned to catch birds, then you have a more difficult task on your hands. If you find that you do have such a problem, talk to your veterinarian.
Dogs, especially bitches, may willingly accept and mother kittens in the household.
Goldfish are yet another pet that can be threatened by an incoming cat. Those kept indoors in an aquarium tank with a glass lid and artificial lighting should be safe, but any that are exposed to an inquisitive cat may stimulate an unwanted reaction. Goldfish in an outdoor pond are also susceptible to a cat’s attentions, and you may need to train your cat to leave them alone. Protective measures include physical barriers such as netting, and the installation of plenty of water plants, such as water lilies – the fish can hide under the leaves.
Introducing a cat to children
If you have a baby, you are more likely to want to protect it from the cat. Make sure that the cat cannot climb into a young baby’s cot, because there is always the danger that the cat will jump down onto the baby’s face and scratch it, or curl up close to the baby’s face and obstruct its breathing.
Toddlers can cause a new cat some problems, because they tend to want to hold the animal – usually in an extremely uncomfortable, if not painful, position. You need to train your child just as much as your cat to ensure that they both get the most enjoyment from each other.
The same applies to older children, especially if this is the first pet they have experienced. They need to understand how the newcomer feels, and the importance of keeping it free from stress and allowing it some time out on its own. Children have similar needs, and it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to learn to treat the new cat as an individual rather than an object or toy.
When choosing a new kitten, try to view the whole litter at home. Although the smallest kitten may look cute, it is more likely to be weak and sickly. The boldest, biggest kitten is a better choice.