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rec.pets.cats: Getting A Cat FAQ

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Archive-name: cats-faq/getting-a-cat
Last-modified: 16 Jul 1999

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                                 Getting a Cat
   Note: Please see the [1]Table of Contents FAQ for a complete list of

   Originally written 1991 & updated through 1997 by Cindy Tittle Moore.
   Maintained by the Fanciers website as of July 1999.
Should You Get a Cat?

   Your cat will depend on you throughout its life, and with proper care
   may live 15 years or more. Are you willing and able to care properly
   for it and provide a stable home for that long? An astonishingly high
   percentage of cats change owners at least once in their lifetimes, and
   that does not count those that didn't make it out of the shelter.
   Don't get a cat without prior budgeting for vet visits and other
   costs. Normal veterinary care includes yearly shots and boosters,
   tests for worms, and examination for typical diseases as needed. This
   will run about US$100-$300 a year. This, of course, depends on your
   vet and on the health of your cat. Preventive and consistent care is
   less expensive in the long run.
   If you cannot afford veterinary care for a cat, you should not get
   one. Do not think that you can get a cat and never see the vet. Annual
   shots and examinations are a must for keeping your cat healthy;
   certain vaccinations are required by law in different areas.
   Other routine costs include cat food, cat litter, litter pans and
   scoops, and other cat paraphernalia such as scratching posts and cat
   Most life changes shouldn't affect your ability to give a cat a good
   home. Some people think they must give up a cat when they move, but
   that's not true. It is relatively easy to move with a cat, even if you
   are moving cross country or overseas.
   However, if you expect that you will soon be in a situation where you
   will have to give up your cat, consider spending time with friends'
   cats instead of getting your own . It can be very difficult or
   impossible to find a home for your adult cat if you ever have to give
   it up.
What Kind of Cat

   Many people are attracted to cats or kittens because of their looks.
   Consider her characteristics as well, since the kitten you choose
   today may be a member of your family for 15 years or more. Are you
   looking for a very active, playful cat? Do you need a cat that will be
   especially gentle with children or elderly people? One that won't be
   frightened by a barking dog? Or a calm, affectionate cat that will
   sleep on your bed at night?
  Kitten or adult
   Consider adopting an adult cat. An adult cat already has a fully
   developed personality, so you know what you're getting. Adult cats
   generally adapt just fine to new homes, and "bond" just as strongly
   with new owners as kittens do. Also, adult cats are much less likely
   to be adopted -- most people want to adopt cute little kittens.
   Kittens are terminally cute, but they can have many disadvantages.
   They require more care and watching over, they may not have the litter
   box down yet, and they go through a wild phase at around 6 months of
   age when they are unstoppable bundles of energy. Kittens need several
   trips to the veterinarian for vaccinations, checkups, and finally,
   neutering or spaying. Perhaps most important, it is difficult to
   predict what a kitten will turn out like when it grows up, in both
   looks and behavior.
   If you do decide to get a kitten, try not to get one that is too
   young. Kittens should not be separated from their mother and
   littermates until they are at least 8 to 10 weeks old. Many breeders
   do not sell kittens until they are 14 to 16 weeks old, when the immune
   system is fully developed.
  Male or female
   Neutered males and spayed females make equally good companions.
   Although some people insist on cats of one sex or the other, cats
   actually vary in personality independently of their sex. Neither sex
   is uniformly more affectionate, more intelligent, more calm, or more
   Unaltered cats of either sex, however, can be difficult to live with.
   Unneutered males "spray" a foul smelling urine on the walls and
   furniture. If allowed outdoors, they will roam and fight with other
   cats. Unspayed females may also spray, and usually "call" when they
   are in heat; this is an incessant yowling that will drive you and your
   neighbors to despair! Neutered and spayed cats make much more pleasant
  One cat or two
   Many people recommend getting two cats instead of one. A single cat
   can get lonely and bored. Two cats keep each other company, especially
   during the day while you're away. They tend to get into less trouble.
   And they're fun to watch together.
  Kinds of cats
   Most cats do not belong to any particular breed. These cats are often
   called "mixed breed" cats. They are also known as "domestic
   shorthairs" or "domestic longhairs." Domestic shorthairs and longhairs
   vary tremendously in looks and personality. They come in a wide
   variety of color patterns and may sometimes closely resemble specific
   breeds even when they are not. Each one has its own unique
   personality, regardless of what color it is or how long its hair is.
   Domestic shorthairs and longhairs are easy to acquire. In fact, many
   cats and kittens are killed at animal shelters because there are more
   cats than there is demand.
   Purebred cats are uncommon, estimated at between 1% and 3% of all
   cats. There are about 40 recognized cat breeds. Each breed consists of
   a closely related group of cats with similar looks and personality.
   For example, typical Siamese are slender, active, people-oriented cats
   that tend to vocalize a lot. Not all Siamese have these
   characteristics, but most do. A purebred kitten will probably grow up
   to be typical of its breed in looks and personality; a non-purebred
   kitten may turn out quite different from what you expect.
   Many people are attracted to purebreds because they want a cat with a
   particular color, size, or hair length. For example, you might be
   interested in Russian Blues because you like the blue-gray color, or
   you might be interested in Maine Coons because you want a big shaggy
   cat. But it's not necessary to buy a purebred to get these physical
   characteristics. You can find blue-gray cats, or big shaggy cats, or
   cats of any other size and description, at your local animal shelter.
   If you're more interested in specific personalities, a purebred might
   be more predicatable: while any personality type can be found among
   the non-purebred population, figuring out which one has which may not
   be as straightforward unless you are looking at adult cats.
Where to get a Cat

  Animal shelters
   An animal shelter is a good place to pick up a cat and save it from
   death in the bargain. Look for a clean, healthy cat. Look for signs of
   friendliness and liveliness. Talk with the people caring for the
   animals for any information on a particular animal they can give you;
   they can often tell you a lot about a cat's personality. Don't
   overlook the adult cats.
   At the animal shelter, be prepared to pay a fee, answer some questions
   about the home you will give the cat, and perhaps give some
   references. This is normal. The fee covers some of the costs of
   operating the animal shelter. The questions are meant to ensure that
   adopted cats go to good, stable homes.
   Most will require that you have the cat neutered. Some will do it
   prior to adoption, others will require you to do so within a month or
   two of adoption. THis is also normal and is intended to reduce the
   population of kittens returning to the shelter. In particular,
   shelters that neuter all outgoing animals prior to adoption have
   particularly good success with reducing the overall population of cats
   in the shelter, since compliance with these programs is 100%. Please
   neuter your cat if the shelter releases it to you unneutered.
  Private parties
   People who have to find homes for adult cats will sometimes advertise
   in the paper (or on bulletin boards at local stores or schools). These
   cats are usually well cared for and you can meet them in a home
   You will also see kittens advertised in the paper. Make sure you are
   getting a healthy, well socialized kitten, don't get a kitten that is
   too young (younger than 8 weeks), and find out if the kittens' parents
   have been fixed! Try to look for people who are trying to place
   kittens that have been found, or people who have already spayed the
   mother cat after an accidental mating, rather than encouraging
   careless people to keep producing kittens. Also, if the kittens were
   born because the people don't bother to get their cat(s) fixed, they
   may not bother to feed and care for growing kittens properly, either.
  Responsible Breeders
   If you want to buy a purebred cat or kitten, you will need to look for
   a good, responsible breeder. Do not patronize pet shops or look for
   breeders in the paper, or you may end up with an unhealthy or poorly
   socialized kitten. A good way to meet breeders is at cat shows, which
   are listed in cat magazines like Cat Fancy or Cats. Cat shows are also
   a good opportunity to learn about the different breeds of cats.
   Try to talk to more than one breeder before buying a kitten. Look for
   honest breeders who care about their cats' welfare, and who have
   good-natured cats. Talk to breeders about inherited health problems.
   Ask about how the cats are raised. If possible, visit the cattery
   before buying a kitten. Listen to your intuitions; if you feel
   anything is "not right" about this breeder, go to another breeder.
   A good breeder asks you questions, too, to find out if you are a good
   home for a kitten. The breeder may also ask that you sign a contract
   requiring you to care properly for this kitten. This is normal, and is
   a sign of a responsible breeder. Expect to pay $300-400 or more for a
   "pet quality" kitten, depending on the breed and your area. Breeders
   also may have purebred adults available at low or no cost to a good
   The variety of purebred cats can be bewildering. [2]Breed FAQs are
   available to help you understand the differences between the various
  Pet Stores
   Don't buy kittens from pet stores. Pet stores are notorious for
   selling unhealthy or poorly bred purebreds, and even irresponsibly
   bred non-purebreds. Kittens sold in pet stores are outrageously
   expensive, often two to four times more expensive than the same type
   of kitten bought from a private breeder. They are often obtained from
   "kitten mills," where animals are poorly treated and bred (and bred
   and bred) for profit. By buying from the store, you are supporting
   these mills and adding to the pet overpopulation problem.
   Some stores claim that animals are all obtained from local breeders or
   "home raised." Employees are commonly instructed to tell customers
   that the kittens were obtained from local breeders, when in fact they
   were not. No responsible breeder would allow their kittens to be sold
   in a pet store, where they could not interview the buyer to make sure
   they are aware of the responsiblility of caring for an animal.
   It is further suggested that you don't even patronize such stores.
   Take your business to stores that sell pet supplies only, no puppies
   or kittens.
   One happy exception: Look for one of the increasing number of pet
   supply stores that work with the local shelter to help place the
   animals. These programs provide additional exposure and opportunities
   for the local shelter and are a wonderful example of constructive
   partnership for the benefit of our animals. However, make sure that
   the animals are being adopted out under the rules of the shelter
The First Vet Visit

   You should have your new cat examined by your vet to check for signs
   of disease or parasites. Ideally, and especially if you have other
   animals at home, you should arrange to have the new cat examined
   before you bring it home.
   The vet should check the cat's temperature; look for fleas, flea eggs,
   ear mites, and signs of ringworm; check for overall health and
   liveliness; and update the cat's vaccinations if necessary. It's also
   a good idea to have the vet test the cat for common illnesses.
   If your new cat is not already neutered or spayed, talk to your vet
   about when would be a good time to schedule the neuter/spay surgery.
   Don't assume that your cat or kitten is too young for the surgery; new
   research shows that neutering and spaying as young as 7 weeks has no
   adverse affects on the cat's physical and social development.
  Recommended Vaccinations
   Young kittens need a series of vaccinations ("kitten shots") to help
   protect them from feline Herpesvirus (Rhinotracheitis), Calicivirus,
   and Panleukopenia. Many commonly given kitten shots also protect
   against Chlamydia. For the best immune response, the kitten shots are
   given at three- or four-week intervals from age 7 or 9 weeks to age 14
   or 16 weeks.
   If your new cat is a rescued adult or older kitten, it may not have
   had its shots as a young kitten. In that case, your vet may need to
   start the vaccination series at the first vet visit.
   Rabies shots are a good idea if you plan to let your cat out. Rabies
   is onthe rise in wild animals, especially raccoons. Rabies shots are
   also required in many states. The initial rabies shot can be given at
   age 16 weeks.
   Many people also vaccinate their cats against Feline Leukemia. This
   vaccine is expensive, but it is recommended if your cat goes outdoors.
   There is a relatively new vaccine available now for Feline Infectious
   Peritonitis (FIP). There is some controversy over the safety and
   effectiveness of this vaccine. Many vets do not recommend its use.
  Recommended Tests
   Have your new cat tested for exposure to Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV).
   If the cat is positive, you will need to keep the cat indoors,
   separate from all other cats, or you run the risk of infecting other
   cats. See the [3]Feline Leukemia FAQ for more information.
   Other common tests are for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and
   Feline Infectious Anemia (FIA).
   It is not possible to test directly for the deadly disease Feline
   Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). There is a test sometimes known as an
   "FIP Test," but this test actually does not test for FIP or for FIP
   virus. It tests for exposure to viruses in the coronavirus family (FIP
   is one of many coronaviruses). If you do decide to use the "FIP test,"
   be aware that its results are very difficult to interpret correctly.
   Perfectly healthy cats often test positive on this test, even if they
   have never been exposed to FIP. If your vet believes that an otherwise
   healthy cat has FIP because of a positive test result, you may want to
   seek a second opinion.
Caring for a new kitten

   Generally, a very young cat doesn't need the full run of an entire
   house. Use your judgement, but leaving it in one room until it is a
   little older can save both of you some anxiety. A kitten will need a
   different diet than an adult; most brands of cat food also come in
   "kitten food" versions. Kittens have small stomachs and big appetites;
   they need to be fed several times a day.
   Most kittens will understand how to use the litter box. Usually their
   mother teaches them, but they will pick it up easily on their own. If
   you have a too-young cat, you can teach it by confining it to one room
   so that access to the litter box is easy and putting it in the litter
   box after feeding.
   You might wind up with kittens too young to have been separated from
   their mother for whatever reason. If you have an orphan kitten, you
   will need to provide a warm draft-free area and use something like KMR
   (kitten milk replacer) for food, using an eyedropper. Consult your vet
   for advice and help.
   From kittenhood, accustom your cat to being handled. Look into its
   ears (clean, white and light pink), eyes (clear, no runniness, inner
   eyelids may blink but should remain open), nose (clean and pink (or
   its normal color) and mouth (clean, light pink gums) regularly. Hold
   it still and look at its anus; pick up its paws and look at the pads
   and claws. This will have the added benefit that you will notice any
   changes from normal quickly and be able to call up your vet if
   something is wrong.
   Do arrange for the kitten to meet plenty of people; this will
   socialize your cat and it will not hide from people when adult.
Introducing your new cat to other animals

   You may need to introduce a cat to other animals (but first make sure
   the new kitten or cat has been seen by a vet to reduce the risk of
   transmitting illnesses or parasites to your other animals). The key to
   this is patience. It may take several weeks to a month to achieve
   desired results; it may take overnight. Do not give up and don't lose
   your temper. It depends on the temperament and ages of the animals
   In most cases, you can simply introduce them, let them work it out,
   and after a week or so, things are fine. However, sometimes this is a
   lengthy process that you will have to work through. In general, the
   following procedure will work:
     Put the cat in its own room, where the original pet can smell it,
     but not see it. After a day or so of this, remove the cat from the
     room and let the original pet smell and explore the room
     thoroughly. Put the cat back in. Depending on the reactions
     involved, let the cat out and meet the original pet under
     supervision. If there is some hostility, separate them while you
     are gone until you are certain that they get along. It is best if
     you can arrange a "retreat" for each animal.
   You can modify the length of time and amount of supervision as you see
   how two cats react. Some forms of cat playing can appear hostile but
   are not. Look at the ears for a clue (standing up or forward when
   grappling is trouble, flat back when standing and staring is also
   trouble). If the fighting immediately stops when one yelps or squeaks,
   they're OK.
   Introducing a puppy or kitten into a household with an elderly animal
   already present can be stressful to the older animal. The best way to
   handle this is to make sure the older animal does not feel threatened
   by the newcomer. Lavish attention on the older animal, not the new
   kitten. Make sure the older animal has a cozy place to retreat to, and
   undisturbed time to eat and relieve itself.
   A puppy introduced to a cat will quickly view it as another sort of
   dog and leave it alone or, more often, want to play with it. The cat
   will view the dog as a nuisance for some time, but will eventually
   learn to ignore it or even to play with it. Introducing a kitten to an
   older dog will depend on the dog's temperament. Many dogs are good
   with cats, such as Labs or Newfies, and will present no problems
   whatsoever. Other dogs with high prey drives may need to be taught to
   leave the kitten alone. Soon enough, the kitten will be able to get up
   out of the dog's reach when it wants to be left alone. Providing the
   cat with a place the dog can't get to is always helpful. This can be
   achieved by placing a childproof fence in the door of a room high
   enough for the cat to get under but not for the dog. Do trim the cat's
   claws to minimize damage to the dog's nose.
   According to humane society studies, these are some combinations of
   animals that tend to work well:
     * two kittens
     * an older kitten and a puppy
     * a pair of mature neutered animals
     * two cats
     * two dogs
    Getting A Cat FAQ


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