Cats can be wonderful companions. Although they may seem independent, caring for one demands as much commitment as with any other animal.
Cats often live for 20 years or more, so do not assume that it is always best to take on a kitten. An older cat has much to offer and may be better for owners who are out working, are elderly, or have families with young children.
Can I care for a cat?
To care for a cat you will need to:
- Provide plenty of human companionship.
- Provide regular, suitable meals and a constant supply of clean drinking water.
- Provide outdoor access or be prepared to empty and clean a litter tray on a daily basis. Some cats may prefer to use a tray indoors as well as having access outdoors.
- Ensure there is freedom to exercise in a safe place, such as a fenced garden away from busy roads and traffic.
- Provide a clean and comfortable bed.
- Groom your cat regularly – long-haired breeds require daily grooming to avoid matting.
- Vaccinate your cat against the major feline diseases regularly – your vet can advise you.
- Worm your cat regularly and provide treatment for fleas – seek advice from your vet.
- Be prepared to take your cat to the vet if required – pet insurance can help offset the cost of treatment, which can be expensive.
- Have time to play with your cat.
Cats of all ages are appealing and it is easy to get carried away with the idea of taking one home without really thinking about the consequences. Bringing up a cat for around 15 years (perhaps longer) will take a lot of time, effort and money. You will be responsible for your cat’s health and happiness – if you do not think you are able to provide lifelong care, you should not take on a cat.
In addition to looking after your cat’s physical needs, you will be responsible for any behavioural problems which may have to be addressed. Unforeseen circumstances may mean you can no longer look after your cat and, if the pet is not well socialised, the cat’s future could be uncertain.
There are many different breeds of cats but most pets are crossbred “moggies”. Pedigree animals tend to be kept for showing, but can also make great pets. Short-haired breeds are easier to care for, as long-haired cats must be groomed regularly if they are not to become matted.
All kittens are adorable and it can be tempting to take one home without thinking of the consequences. Remember that, just like children, they can be destructive and demanding. Taking on a kitten means that you are committing yourself to years of care, with some living well into their teens and twenties.
When choosing a kitten, ideally you should see the litter and consider the parents’ health and temperament. By doing so, you can ensure the kittens are healthy and of the correct age when you take them home.
There will be occasions when this is not possible, such as when choosing a kitten from a rescue organisation (if for instance the kitten was brought in or found as a stray). Always ask as many questions as possible before deciding to give a kitten a home.
Beware of choosing kittens with eye and/or nose discharge, poor coat condition and those that look underweight. All are indicators of poor health.
When taken home, your kitten should have easy access to a litter tray at all times and, if you have children, ensure that they always handle your kitten with consideration and respect. Kittens that have not been well socialised from an early age may not make ideal companions if there are young children in the family. These animals may be quite shy and afraid in a busy household. Similarly, farm kittens can also be quite a challenge and may need to be placed in an experienced household.
The optimum age for socialisation is between two and seven weeks of age. Ask what the breeder or rescue centre has done to ensure the kittens are well socialised and confident around people and other animals.
Choose only a kitten (of at least eight weeks of age), if someone will be at home for all or part of the day to give your cat the care and attention needed.
With improved nutrition and veterinary care, cats are living to greater ages. Cats are generally considered to be middle aged at seven years. However, in America, over the past decade there has been a significant increase in the number of cats reaching the age of ten. This picture is likely to be mirrored here in Britain as, although cats over ten years of age are considered to be geriatric, many live into their late teens and early twenties.
- Be sure to understand the needs of the cat you are interested in.
- Be prepared to wait – the right cat is worth waiting for. Every year, thousands of cats are abandoned or given up into the care of organisations, often because the cat was wrong for the original home.
- Visit your chosen pet regularly between the time of choosing and collection and find out as much as you can, for example, what your cat has been fed on.
- Ensure you ask for a copy of the vaccination certificate and record of worming at the time you take your cat home.
If buying from a breeder:
- Request a written agreement stating that purchase is subject to a satisfactory examination by your vet within 72 hours of purchase.
- Ask where your cat came from, should your chosen pet not originate from the place of purchase.
If you follow these principles and are prepared to spend time, energy and money on your cat, you will have a well behaved member of the family who will bring years of joy and companionship.