Last updated: March 14, 2017
So you’ve decided to get a cat? Presumably you’ll be starting at the beginning with a kitten. Now when you hear the word “kitten” it immediately conjures up visions of lovely little cuddly squeaky things with great big blue eyes and fur as soft as angels’ wings. (OK, so I’ve never actually felt angels’ wings but you get my gist!) But you are adopting a baby into your house and for the rest of its life you’ll be a kitty parent, so you need to prepare for your little bundle of joy the same as you would with a human baby. Here is a guide to help you to keep your kitty happy, and to keep you sane!
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1) Your vet and how to choose him/her
You need to be very picky – ask around your neighbors and friends and listen to their recommendations. If too many of them say things like: “she only likes animals, not people,” give them a wide berth!
Your vet and their professional staff should be friendly and accommodating. Ask for a tour of their facilities, and if they are reluctant or flat out refuse, look elsewhere. I mean, what do they have to hide? A secret stash of Milk Bones?
Make sure you and your vet see eye to eye about animal ethics and treatment. It isn’t any good if you disagree about whether or not you should put your twenty-year-old kitty to sleep! Clearly you need to be singing from the same hymn sheet at a time like that. If you don’t, it’s OK to have a second opinion, and any reasonable vet should allow you that.
Check if their surgery is always busy. If you’re tripping over tails on the way in, you can guarantee your vet’s a superhero!
You shouldn’t have to re-mortgage your house to pay for your pet’s welfare, so ask if there is a payment plan whereby you can split your bill into installments. The cost of food and veterinary care may make quite a hole in your household budget, so tempting as it is to grab that cute little morsel and whip him off homewards at high speed, think about the needs of your kitty first.
It’s best if your vet’s surgery is close by in case of emergencies. Driving the whole way across town with a sick cat wailing in the cat carrier is not my idea of a nice day out! Also, make sure they are available in case of emergencies. You may have to go a lot further away if your own vet isn’t available.
2) Life Span
For their size, cats are quite long lived. You have to bear in mind that they’ll be purring and meowing for between fifteen to twenty years so make sure you can make a commitment to a creature that will live in your home and heart for a very long time! And can you cope with the strain of tending to the inevitable ailments that come with old age? Then, of course, there is the inevitable heartbreak when kitty passes on to that great big cardboard box in the sky! Only you know that.
3) Where does my kitty come from?
I can’t tell you where to adopt your kitty from, but please don’t do it from a pet shop or a newspaper ad. A plea from the heart – adopt from an animal shelter when you consider getting your cat or kitten! Not only are you giving a home to a needy cat who is a bit down on its luck, but these cats are well-fed, vaccinated and sterilized, just ready for you to take them home and SMOTHER them with love!
4) How to choose your kitten from a litter
Take a few minutes to see how the kittens play with each other. Different characters will be showing themselves in kitties only a few weeks old.
It’s written in our DNA that we protect and nurture the smallest and weakest of any species, but the runt of the litter may need a lot of attention and be better off in the hands of those who have handled this kind of kitten before.
Try to get a kitty that’s somewhere in between confident and independent. If you snuggle up to them and murmur gently, they may try to get away, or they may love it. Trust your instincts!
If the kitten is drowsy it could be ill or resting after dinner or a rowdy tumble with his siblings! Go back at a different time of day. If things look the same, maybe it’s better to choose another cat.
Health-wise, there are certain things you should look out for.
The bigger the kitty, the healthier it will usually be. However, look out for pot bellies, which can be a sign of worms.
Make sure there is no sign of a limp.
Kitty’s nose and eyes should be clean and have no mucus or discharge. Ears should be clean, odor-free without scabs. Black patches may be a sign of fleas, and if your cat shakes his head a lot he may have an infection.
Kitties should respond to higher-pitched and squeaky noises, and if he doesn’t it may be a sign of deafness. White cats for some reason suffer from deafness more than most.
Your kitty shouldn’t fight to breathe or have rattling or wheezing sounds.
Kitty’s fur should be free of baldness, red patches, scabs or black flakes, and should be beautifully soft and clean as a baby’s bottom! Now, this is the fun part when you get to play with your kitty! If you bounce or wave something in front of him, he should instinctively try to pounce on it and “kill” it. This mean’s he’s acting out his predatory instincts. He’s a true cat!
5) Kitten proofing your home
Kittens are very curious creatures, just like human babies, and want to explore every inch of their territory, but beware the pitfalls!
Keep toilet lids closed. Your kitten can fall in and drown while trying to get a drink. (I kid you not! Cats don’t mind toilet water!) Ditto for the washing machine, dishwasher and dryer. Cats will sleep anywhere!
Childproof locks can be used to keep him out of medicine cupboards or anywhere there are toxic things like bleach and detergent. If there’s a place he absolutely shouldn’t go, keep the door firmly shut! Don’t allow little things like elastic bands, hair clips and erasers to be anywhere kitty can reach them. Swallowing and choking on these can be life-threatening. Don’t forget electrical wires and other stringy things. Tape these to the wall if you can, and remember that kitty is interested in things like irons even while you’re using them.
Be careful what kinds of house plants you keep. Some of our favorite houseplants, like philodendron, are poisonous to kitties, and even garden flowers like daffodils and lilies are harmful, so do your research first. Rather say “bye-bye daffodils” than “bye-bye, kitty!” Make sure all heaters are unplugged unless you’re using them, and keep a close eye on your furball when they are. Kittens’ claws can be injurious to furniture, so supervise him and provide a scratching post so that those claws get the rough treatment they need!
All cats love to climb, so that scratcher can do double duty as a distraction. A cat tree would be a great help too., and be quite decorative! (Do they make them for humans?)
Check all nooks and crannies they can squeeze into and go to sleep. Get cat-proof window screens and blinds, because the cat can get stuck in the other kind – and the squealing of a stuck cat is worse than that of a stuck pig – trust me – I know! Get gazillions of his favorite (and safe) toys, like balls and catnip mice to keep his mind busy and out of mischief!
6) Checklist of kitty necessities
Good quality kitten food, (preferably recommended by your vet) and food bowl, fresh water and water bowl (changed every day, bowl washed!)
A “sanctuary” room where he can be kept when first brought home. Litter box with low sides, scoop and litter.
Kitties gotta scratch, so get him a scratching post, preferably a sisal covered one which they like best and is the most hard wearing (your furniture will thank you!)
Nail trimmers – no you don’t have to go the whole hog and buy him kitty nail varnish as well, but keeping claws trimmed will stop accidents like claws getting caught on table cloths and knocking down your favorite goldfish bowl!
Cats like motion when they play so a ball that’s too big to swallow and a soft toy that he can bat around and chew on are great when kitty’s playing on his own. When you and he are having fun together use a fishing pole toy or a laser pointer.
There are lots of different kitty beds on the market but I’d pick the warmest and softest. Your kitty is used to Mommy’s fluffy tummy for his warmth, so putting in a heating pad or hot water bottle is a good idea, as well as an alarm clock to simulate the rhythm of Mommy’s heartbeat.
Cats love to hide! Mine hides especially during thunderstorms or if there are firecrackers outside. You can invest in a cat tunnel for your cat’s amusement or pleasure, or you can go with the tried and tested (and very cheap) cardboard box! Some cats prefer behind the curtain or under the table or under the bed, and because like to ambush their prey, don’t be surprised if a little furry cannonball shoots out from behind the sofa across your feet and almost breaks your neck! You have been warned!
You may be one of the lucky 0.0005 % of people whose cats love traveling in the car. However, for the rest of us 99.9995% we need a cat carrier to keep them confined and safe for a car journey. They may not like it but it’s for their own good – especially if it’s a trip to the vet!
Cats need to climb. Cat trees are vertical shafts of wood with perches protruding from all round them. The bigger the cat, the bigger its bottom, hence the bigger the perch.The status of a cat depends on its height off the ground, so the higher the cat’s social status.
7) Spay or neuter your pet
When it grows up, your fluffy little boy kitty will undergo a complete metamorphosis! An unneutered tom cat will roam the neighborhood searching for sex, getting into fights and sometimes running under the wheels of a car. And he will advertise his ‘patch’ by marking it with a noxious, stinky spray! If your female isn’t spayed she will send out plaintive messages to every tomcat in the neighborhood to come and mate with her. Not nice at three in the morning! So one of the first thing you should do is neuter. It will curb the wanderlust and stop the stink!
8) Indoor/outdoor kitty?
There are many good arguments for keeping your kitty indoors all the time. One of the best ones is safety. If your kitty goes outside he may be attacked by other animals, run over by a car, pick up parasites or be bitten by something poisonous. On the other hand, if he stays indoors and no-one plays with him he may get bored, fat and lazy. Mine is an indoor/outdoor kitty. He doesn’t go over the wall because he’s been trained not to and his veterinary care protects him from all sorts of nasties. However, many cat parents worry about the impacts cats have on the local wildlife. Mine brings in all sorts of dubious delights – mice, rats, pigeons, lizards and even big spiders! One solution to this is to give your kitty an indoor/outdoor place to be safe, but where he can’t get out to murder the local fauna, and the local dogs can’t get in to murder him! This is called a catio, a space for your cat that’s outside the house but enclosed by a wire mesh or something similar, with a shady spot to get out of the sun and shelter from the rain, and a roof to keep them out. In it you can keep his bed, food and water bowls, cat tree, toys, scratching post and all the other requirements a well-appointed cat needs for his comfort! This is an ideal compromise, since the cat will always see his surroundings and therefore will never get bored, and will live in the lap of luxury! There are many D.I.Y. options such as kits so it needn’t be expensive. (OK, I’m moving in!)
9) What to do when you’re on holiday
Leaving him with a friend
Cats can’t simply be shifted off to a friend’s house like dogs can, unfortunately. They like their space and their routine, but if you really, really need some time away, what can you do? We had time off last year and gave ours to a friend to look after, but this wasn’t a wholesale success. Our friend had two other cats who deeply resented the intrusion of a stranger into their space, so our poor cat had to be kept in one room to stop him from fighting with the other cats and/or running away!
Depending on the quality of care of the cattery, this can be quite a good option, if a little on the expensive side. The quality of care can vary quite a bit, so make sure that you visit several before making your choice and don’t just go for the cheapest! Most of them offer spacious pens, feeding, medical attention if needed and lots of stimulating toys to play with – in fact I just might spend my holiday in one!
A professional, experienced cat sitter may cost the same, if not more than a cattery, but they have certain advantages. One biggie is that your little furball can stay in his own surroundings and stick to his own routines, coming and going as he pleases. Cats are creatures of habit and if the normal pattern of their days is disturbed they may become stressed. If you give your cat sitter a breakdown of your cat’s feeding times, quantities of food, vet’s number and anything else pertaining to his welfare he should be quite comfortable. Make absolutely sure you get traceable references, though! If possible, ask your vet.
There are many reputable house sitting agencies out there who will do anything from watering the plants and filling up the swimming pool to feeding the pets and even staying overnight. Again, traceable references are needed but even so, many of us may not be comfortable allowing relative strangers into our homes and giving them our alarm codes. You’ll find that many of these service providers have a disclaimer clause in their contract which says something like: “we are not responsible for thefts, accidents, acts of god, the outbreak of World War 3, blah, blah, blah…” Small print is a dangerous thing!
Obliging friends and neighbors
The cheapest option – but is it the best? Your friend or neighbor is no doubt very dear to you but are they the best for the job? Kitty expects to be fed at six o’clock in the evening and not a minute later – and believe me there will be hell to pay if it doesn’t happen! They have stopwatches in their heads when it comes to food! However, the friend or neighbor may not look after your cat the way you’re both accustomed to and you may end up with a neighbor from hell and an enemy for life. Be very, very careful who you ask to do this, and maybe do a trial run for a few days first.
Many vets do a boarding service at their clinic which is fabulous because you know he’s in the care of a professional. Some animal shelters will supply volunteers to do this job. You can pay them a stipend or make a donation to the shelter, whichever they prefer.
10)Interacting with other pets
Cats don’t like to share their patch with anyone, so bringing a new cat into the house can be quite traumatic for both resident and newbie. Keep each one on either side of a closed door, and feed them both at the same time, so that they can smell each other and associate it with eating. Yum!
Play with both your cats for the same amount of time each day so that neither feels rejected.
Remember that animals recognize others by their scent as well as their eyes, so you can try switching the cats’ bedding around and wiping each one’s cheeks with a towel to transfer it to the other, so that when they meet they’ll know each other.
Once the new cat is eating and using his litter box in his own room, let him run around the house a bit, while keeping your old cat in the newbie’s room. You can do this for a few days till they get familiar with the other animal’s scents. This avoids encounters with the others which may be upsetting for all concerned! Only do this when you’re there, of course, and on no account leave Mr Newbie outside his room when you’re away. After a while you can open the door just a crack so they can do a peek-a-boo with each other, and repeat the whole process as many times as you need to get the desired result!
The last word…
So these are just a few of the things you need to consider when adopting a cat or a kitten. There are lots more, but there are only twenty-four hours in a day! Make one resolution when your considering adopting a cat – resolve to love him for the rest of both your lives – it’s easy, I promise!