An idea of getting a new feline family member might be very tempting. Cats are extremely lovable creatures – just think of kittens playing or a fluffy one nicely purring on your lap.
However, If you never had cats before or if you have relatively little experience keeping an animal, there are things that require careful consideration. And that should be made before you actually bring a cat into your home. Romance aside, here are the top 5 things to think through:
1. Cat is for life
On average cats live for 12-13 years; currently many cats reach 15, some live to 18-19 years of age. In some occasions a cat can live more than 20 years, a few are known to reach 25+, but these are exceptional ones.
12-13 years is a long time, and a lot can change in your life during that period. For example, you might change your place of living, maybe more than once. You might decide to have a child. Your job might change to the one requiring extensive travel. Finally, your financial situation might change, and not only for the better. There are plenty of things that can happen in your life, and a cat will be there.
I don’t want to start a long rant now about how overfilled animal shelters are. The fact is, if your cat ends up in a shelter and it is not an exceptionally good looking one or of a sought after breed, the chance that it will be put down within months is about 9 in 10. This is hard to comprehend, but giving your cat to an animal shelter does not automatically mean a bright future for the animal. Of course, a shelter is way better than just throwing an animal out on the street like a bag of rubbish (sadly, there are “humans” who actually do that).
Another question is travel and holidays. A cat will not just disappear for a couple of weeks; a solution would have to be found. Maybe a local cattery? Maybe relatives taking over the care for the time you are away? One way or the other, this is a question to be dealt with, earlier rather than later.
ALL your family members should support a decision to get a cat, especially children. Although children would most probably be the driving force behind this decision rather than an obstacle, the duties and responsibilities should be made clear to everyone. For example, who would feed the cat? Who would play and spend time with it? Who is responsible for cleaning up the cat toilet? A cat will change your daily routine quite a bit, as well as any other animal. It has to be made clear though that getting any animal “just because children want it” is not an option. Keeping an animal is supposed to teach children to be more responsible and get used to daily duties, but daily duties have to be performed daily, without exception, for the next decade.
Some of your daily habits would have to change too. For example, you would have to watch your step (there might be a tail on the way), pay attention when closing doors, keep small items that a cat could swallow somewhere out of reach, get rid of poisonous plants, and so on. Actually, a cat in the household means that you will not find some things in the same place where you put them. Things happen to… move. Or fall down and break. Or disappear altogether, just to be found behind a sofa half a year later.
A cat is for life, that is, for at least 10 years. It is not a toy, nor a present – it is both a liability and responsibility. Think of getting a cat like of getting a(nother) child; you would think carefully about children, wouldn’t you? All the questions like whether you can afford it, whether you can arrange your life to accommodate the little one, whether it is the right time, etc. would come to your mind. And surely you would not consider getting a baby as a Christmas present for your friends.
2. Cats have fur
…and that fur is shed everywhere – it’s all over your bed, carpet, on the sofa, etc. It does not matter how hard you try to keep a tidy house, after getting a cat it will never be completely tidy again. You might get an occasional cat hair on your clothes or in your dinner plate as well.
With some long haired breeds, such as Persians, this can get rather extreme; their hair can be up to 15 cm long. These breeds require daily brushing as well. Of course, all the fur a cat is capable of shedding is nothing compared to, let’s say, a German Shepherd, but it is still a thing to consider.
You will have to hoover much more often, you will have to look at your clothing more attentively before you leave the house and you will have to take extra care in the kitchen. There are household appliances that could help you, such as “Cats and Dogs” type of hoovers or special rubber gloves that help you gather pet hair from upholstery and fabrics, but they are only good when you use them. The fact is, a lot more tidying up ahead.
I know that this might sound a bit too much drama, especially for those of you who have children, but please do not underestimate the “power of fur”. I know a lot of cases where owners just could not cope with it, it was like a burden and finally, it became a reason to give a cat to a shelter after only a couple of months.
To cut it short, you take on a cat as a whole – including its fur, and everything that comes with it.
3. Cats need to toilet
Sadly, this is another of those “unforeseen” reasons why some cats end up in shelters. It is not a huge problem if you have a cat which roams free outside, as most probably it will also leave all the “business” there, but it is an issue with indoor cats.
Cats, like humans, need to toilet. That is, a cat needs a litter box, which would be placed somewhere in the corner for a cat to have a bit more privacy. There are at least 3 things to know about litter boxes, namely:
– they need to be cleaned regularly, as cats urinate and defecate at least once a day. This is not the most pleasant job in the world, but it needs to be done. Some cats are fussy and will not use the box that was not cleaned for long; that means, it will find somewhere else to pee, and it might be your new carpet or your shoes, as an example.
– although most of cat litter would contain the smell of urine quite good, smell of feces is a different matter; it can happen that you come home after work to find that your whole nice flat/house… stinks. And that it stinks a lot. To help with it there are various products available on the market, such as scent catchers, scented litter, even self-cleaning cat toilets, etc. Such products usually carry a much higher price tag; however, I am not aware of any product that would solve the smell problem completely. You should not count on room odors, odor neutralizers and air fresheners as well, as your kitty might turn out to be allergic to them.
– cat litter sometimes sticks to cats paws, and gets spread all over the house. The industry has already addressed this problem rather effectively, offering litter mats to be placed near the entry to the box. However, an occasional piece can (and most probably will) make it to your living room or bedroom, although this is nothing compared to the problem below.
– one of the “nicest” issues is normally not widely addressed: you might actually need to wash or wipe your cats’ behind from time to time. Yes, actually take a damp cloth or a wipe and clean under their tail, otherwise you will have traces of feces spread all over the place, with accompanying aroma. Such measures are needed when a piece of feces sticks to the fur of the cat and remains there (happens quite often with long haired cats), also when a cat is having a diarrhea or is not able to fully expel the feces. For example, my Persian has this “problem” approximately once every 10 days or so.
So, the toilet needs to be cleaned, there might be not-so-pleasant smells around the house from time to time (not always!), you might get an occasional granule of litter here and there, and accidents can also happen. If you can deal with this, you can deal with anything.
4. Cats get ill
Like humans, cats are prone to all sorts of illnesses. The job of an owner is to take reasonable care to prevent those, as it might be fatal to the cat and rather expensive to the owner. Inevitably the health of a cat deteriorates with age, but with proper care most of them can live happily until the end of their days.
Just as humans, cats have more and less complicated illnesses. They can develop cancer. They can have FIV, which is equivalent to human HIV; in this case your cat must have no contact with other non-infected cats. Outdoor cats can get into accidents, with all spectrum of injuries. This might require long term intensive care by the owner. Cats can have heart attacks. Some cats suffer from hip dysplasia later on in life, and they can’t walk anymore. Genetic diseases due to poor breeding practices can result in a whole bunch of health problems, some of them starting at a very early age. Some cats swallow objects they are not supposed to swallow, such as strings, and this can be life threatening in a very short period of time. The list goes on and on.
Major illnesses are usually a major financial challenge. The best way to deal with high vet bills is pet care insurance – there are lots of insurance companies offering all possible variations of insurance cover. Choosing the right one for you might be a time consuming and a rather daunting task, but it really pays off to do your homework here so that you have piece of mind.
However, even the best insurance will not help if you ignore the signs of illness for too long.
Some less critical but therefore more common problems, such as hairballs, ear mites, fleas or worms require attention as well. You should check your cat for ear mites and clean their ears if necessary at least once a month, worming tablets must not be forgotten every 6 months, teeth (yes, teeth!) should be brushed often, and so on. Grooming long haired cats is usually a daily task.
An extremely important point is vaccinations, especially for outdoor cats. Every kitten or cat taken from animal shelter will usually have all necessary vaccinations made, but this is a very important issue to discuss when buying/getting a cat from private individuals or irresponsible breeders.
5. Cats need attention
In fact, cats often demand attention very expressly. Cats are intelligent creatures, they need intellectual stimulation as well. In short, a bored cat is walking trouble.
Kittens are real challenge for many. Yes, it is very nice to watch a cute furball play and fall asleep finally. The problem is, a kitten would want to play much more often and for much longer than you would manage. Although small, kittens are real energy bundles, and usually they do not sleep for long at a time. In other words, your kitten might want to play in the middle of the night. In your bed, for example.
Mature male cats can start marking their territory, leaving foul smelling urine patches on the walls. Females in heat will drive you crazy with their yowling 24/7. If you are not careful, in 3 months you will have a litter of kittens as well, father unknown. Neutering before puberty solves this problem, with most of unwanted behavior disappearing altogether. However, if you leave it for too long, there is a chance that certain behavior, such as territorial marking, will stay.
A cat tree/post for scratching is also a must, if you have a bigger house, then even more than one. That is, if you want your furniture, doors and wallpaper to stay intact. Making a kitten understand that it is only the tree or a scratching post where it is allowed to sharpen its claws is a different matter. Some cat owners clip the claws to avoid facing this problem altogether; this is not recommended for outdoor cats.
A good selection of toys, puzzles, mice, with or without catnip, is also a must-have. From my experience the best and most cost effective way to provide a cat some basic entertainment is to get a bag of table tennis balls. Laser pointer also does the trick, but only used with caution, as laser beam can damage their eyes.
The bottom line is, your cat will need you, be it just purring on your lap or play. If you work full time and keep a cat indoors, staying alone the whole day, a cat might get depressed. Yes, depressed. This manifests in, for example, excessive grooming, unwanted scratching, even aggression. Well, anyone would get crazy spending days between four walls, week after week, month after month…
So, that’s about it. The list is, of course, not exhaustive, but it covers a lot. Hopefully the above does not put you off getting a cat. The issues described in this article are meant to draw attention to the fact that a cat is not a toy, it is a living creature, with its own needs and own personality. Owning a cat means taking care of it as well, not only stroking it occasionally and hearing purrs all the time.
However, if you have some doubts after reading this article, then please do not hurry. Take your time, make a bit of research, try to go through all of it again. Please keep in mind that a cat needs a home for life, with all what it entails, and it needs you to be ready to assume responsibility.
When you are ready, the cat will show you that being a cat parent is one of the most rewarding experiences in life.
P.S. Your comments are always appreciated!