So You're Thinking Of Getting A Cat?

Three friends have asked on social media over the past few weeks, for advice on getting a pet cat. Both are not previous cat owners, and one is utterly convinced that all cats hate her. I champion anyone who wants to share their home with a cat (or any other furry beast for that matter!) and I hope that as a cat owner, I can provide some pointers for the novice would-be cat keeper. 

Most people already know enough about cats to know whether keeping them would be a sensible decision on their part, so I've put together a few bits that I would suggest anyone think about before they go so far as to bringing home an adult cat or kitten.

  1. Why Rescue Matters - there are quite literally hundreds of thousands of cats and kittens in rescue centres up and down the country, looking for homes. We hear so often that the noble thing to do is to adopt an unwanted pet before we buy from a breeder, so often that I think we've largely become desensitised to the idea - in one ear and out the other, as it were. The reality is that there are more cats given up for adoption than there are spaces in rescue centres. If a rescue centre can accommodate 25 cats, then cat number 26 simply has to be turned away - and the fate that meets these "extra" cats is often not pretty at all. The uncomfortable truth is that every kitten bought privately from a seller or breeder, potentially costs the life of an unwanted pet or baby kitten born to a stray Mum. There is simply no reason to buy over adopting. If you don't meet the criteria that a rescue centre has set for potential adopters, then chances are this is sound advice, and a cat is not the right pet for you. If you're buying a kitten because it's important that your pet has a certain appearance, then a cat is definitely not the right pet for you, in fact, a pet is not the right pet for you. If, for some reason that I am unable to fathom, you can only possibly own a cat if it's a certain breed, then most breeds are represented in dedicated rescue charities. I've listed the most popular here: London Persian Rescue (rehome Persian cats throughout the UK) Ragdoll Rescue, Russian Blue Rescue, Burmese Rehoming, Bengal Cat Rescue.
  2. Once You've Gone Black You'll Never Go Back - I mentioned this when I blogged about my own black cat, The Kitten (over here). Black cats are the least likely to be adopted, for a number of bizarre reasons including possible links to Satan and an inability to look great in selfies. Either way, most black cats can expect to spend months in a rescue centre, whilst other, more in-demand colours, can be rehomed in a couple of days. Black cats have no particular character traits as a result of their fur, neither does any other cat. You may have a wonderful, affectionate ginger cat, you may just as likely have a wonderful, affectionate black cat. Besides, light coloured cats do not live well with anyone who wears black tights. 
  3. A Kitten Might Not Be The Answer - A lot of rescue centres have waiting lists for families looking to adopt kittens. If you've decided that a kitten would be your best option (as was the case for me when I adopted The Kitten) then by all means join said waiting list if it exists, but don't write off older cats. A cat can live for 20 years, but most make it comfortably to about 15 or 16, even so, once a cat is older than 2 years, his or her likelihood of finding an owner in less than 9 months dwindles. There are very few obvious advantages to getting a kitten, other than the cute factor. The advantages of getting an adult cat though? They're usually neutered, microchipped and have had a full course of vaccinations already, as most rescues will do this before rehoming. They're usually very low maintenance and will adjust to life in your home quickly; they're less likely to scratch furniture, climb up curtains, attack your legs etc. and they worked out long ago that human laps are good for sitting on. The best thing you can do, basically, is adopt an adult black cat from a rescue centre. This cat would typically take an average of 10 months to find a loving owner. 10 months in what is effectively a prison cell (albeit a nice, heated one). A ginger kitten however, is usually adopted within his first 3 days in a centre.
  4. You Do Not Need Cat Toys - If you want to buy play things for your cat, go ahead, but if you'd rather spend your hard-earned cash on, oh I don't know, heating your home, then they're really not as fussed about a cat-nip beaver as we think they'll be. I'd recommend investing in a large scratching post. Both indoor and outdoor cats still like to scratch indoors, and it'll save your furniture. You should buy a scratching post which is tall enough that your cat can stretch to his or her full stretchy length, and that isn't so flimsy that it will topple over - if your scratching post doesn't make the grade, the edge of your sofa probably will. Aside from this, cats enjoy chasing a screwed up piece of newspaper, or a piece of string. They do not need plastic balls with bells inside, or a laser pen. As an aside, most app stores have games that you can download on your tablet or smartphone, for free, for your cat. The kitten particularly likes "Cat Alone", which is a free Google download that he urges you to acquire. 
  5. Not All Cats Like Cat Beds - In fact, in my experience, most cats do not like cat beds. The Kitten has a fleecy blanket which I put in his basket to bring him home, which he still sleeps on occasionally, but neither of my boys have a dedicated basket or igloo or anything for sleeping in. Bucket's favourite spot is my footstool (which I've since covered with a small quilt that I can wash, to protect the stool itself) and The Kitten just prefers to jump up on the sofa. Unless I crawled in to a cat bed with my laptop, I doubt either of the cats would pay it any attention. Bring your cat home first, and observe his or her behaviour. If he or she instantly adopts your bed/sofa/beanbag as a resting place then a bed will probably go ignored, but if it turns out that you've got one of those cats who is forever trying to get into things, then they may like a covered, igloo style cat house. Don't waste your money initially though. 
  6. Insure That Thing - There is no sense what so ever in taking the risk with pet insurance. Friends of mine have recently received a bill for thousands of pounds to cover essential, urgent surgery for their pet. Unless you have thousands just sitting in your bank (the average serious operation with anaesthetic on a cat is going to set you back around £1200) then insurance makes all of the sense. Even something small (one of my old cats got bitten in a fight once) can set you back some serious funds (to have the bite mark cleaned up and checked over for infection cost me over £100). Shop around for insurance policies, they do differ in price but you need to look carefully at what you'll be covered for. There's no point in paying £5 per month for cover that only pays out in the event that your cat is struck by lightening on the back right paw on a Tuesday, when £9 per month could have got you lifetime cover for anything including pre-existing conditions. The most commonly recommended pet insurance (by customers and by vets) is PetPlan. You can get a quote, and a 10% discount, on PetPlan policies here.
  7. Don't Get A Cat For a Purpose - The problem with cats, although I consider it one of their many appeals, is that they're all very very different, in character, likes and dislikes, behaviour and attitude towards humans. You have a problem on your hands if you're getting a cat specifically because you want to keep mice at bay, or because you want it to sit on your lap every evening and show you all of the love, or because you need more Instagram followers. Whilst a rescue centre will certainly be able to give you some pointers on a cats personality - they're unlikely to have ever seen that cat in a home environment. A shy, nervous cat in the shelter may quickly settle in to a loving, affectionate lap cat once she has the security of a welcoming home. Equally, an overly friendly, human crazy shelter cat may rediscover his or her independence once they're no longer stuck in a cage. If you aren't adopting a cat simply to save a life, then don't bother, get a humane mouse trap or a teddy bear! The chances of your cat meeting your requirements are, at best, slim. 
  8. Indoor or Outdoor? - Cats can adapt very well to being indoor pets, even those who've previously roamed outdoors. If you are going to keep your cat indoors, make rescue shelter staff aware and they'll be able to advise you on which cats would be suitable. Some may have been indoor cats all along, whilst others may have certain health conditions (deaf cats for example) which means they need an indoor-only home anyway. Alternatively, getting a kitten may be your best option, thus creating a "they've never known any different" scenario. If your cat is going to go outdoors, they'll live a more natural, cat-like life, which is better for the cat in general. They'll be able to get access to natural food such as small animals, grass and even bird's eggs - but be aware, they may eat something which doesn't agree with them and you could have a poorly cat on your hands. An outdoor cat will need a cat flap. Unless you never ever leave your house, you can't be around to let the cat in and out as he pleases, and an outdoor cat may want to pop out in the middle of the night, as well as whilst you've gone to the butchers. They may also want to come back in when you're not around. You can let your cat out whilst you're at home in the morning - but don't expect them to be around to come back in before you need to go to work - oh no, they'll turn up ten minutes after you leave, be unable to get indoors, and will spend the day meowing and pissing off your neighbours. There's also the fact that they may not be able to get to fresh water or shelter whilst you're out. So a cat flap is crucial. If you live in a rented property, your Landlord may not take kindly to your installing a flap, so you may want to consider a) keeping cats indoors or b) buying a house (indoor cat sounds preferable). Outdoor cats do, by definition, cost more in vet's bills, from grass seeds stuck up noses to injuries sustained from defending their patch. My boyfriend's cat recently had surgery after slicing herself open, we're not sure how, but potentially from climbing through an opening in a metal fence. Indoor cats have a lower exposure to disease or opportunity to harm themselves. When keeping a cat indoors though, you'll have a litter tray to contend with, and a bag of the cheapest cat litter will set you back about £1.50. You need to provide your cat with a tray large enough that he or she can turn around in it and bury "their business", if the tray is too small, the cat will find somewhere else to go (probably under your bed or in your handbag). A common sized bag of litter should last around a week, but if you have more than one cat, as I do, you'll probably only get a few days out of the bag, so bear the expense in mind. If you're out at work all day you may come home to some funky odours too. Some cats will not share a litter tray, so if you have more than one cat you may have to provide one tray per cat. Luckily, my two are happy to share and have a hooded tray with a door on the front to allow them a little privacy. I keep my litter tray in the bathroom, where the floor is easy to sweep up if any litter granules escape the tray, and where it isn't near food. Indoor cats also groom themselves more, this means your cat has a wonderful coat, but does make them more prone to furballs (gross). If you're keeping cats indoors, I'd recommend keeping them in multiples. One lone house cat, even with a stay-at-home human, can get bored. There's only so many times you can explore a utility room. Providing feline company means providing constant stimulation and comfort. The added expense is minimal if you're already buying cat food and litter, and to add a second cat to your existing insurance policy is usually about half the price of the first cat. I'll write a separate post some time about introducing a new cat, if you don't get two together. Rescue centres often have cats who've lived together in the past and are looking for a new home together, they may or may not be related.
  9. Off With His Balls - Even if your cats are staying indoors, there are arguments for having your cat neutered. Outdoor cats must be neutered. Male cats can smell a female cat several miles off (no exaggeration) and they will find her. If she's stray, that's a litter of kittens being born on the streets. Equally, if your cat is the female, all of the "intact" boys in yours and surrounding neighbourhoods will be queueing up to get her pregnant. Please don't encourage your cat to get pregnant, either because the kittens will be adorable or will make you a few quid. For every kitten that your cat gives birth to and that you sell on, a cat or kitten elsewhere is denied a space in a rescue centre and may lose their life as a result. If you've got friends, family or neighbours that want a kitten, send them to your local shelter. Male cats who aren't neutered may develop very territorial behaviours, especially scent marking their home by "spraying" - not so desirable if your indoor cat is claiming your favourite armchair. There's also a possibility that neutered cats are a lot more affectionate towards their human companions - probably because their mind isn't elsewhere! You can (and should) get your cat neutered from around 6 months old, and it will typically cost around £60.
  10. Can The PDSA Help? If you're on a low income, find out whether there's a PDSA clinic in your area. The PDSA provide emergency and routine veterinary treatment for the pets of low income families. If you receive housing or council tax benefit then you can probably get free treatment for one family pet, and heavily subsidised treatment for any further animals in your home. Even if you're working, and don't receive housing benefit, those that receive Tax Credits can get heavily subsidised treatment for all of their pets. Check the PDSA website here to see if your new cat would be eligible, and whether you have a clinic nearby.
  11. But What About When I Go Away? Cats are cheaper, and easier, to leave behind whilst you travel, than dogs. If you're only going away for a day or so, perhaps a local friend or family member can call by to spend a little time fussing your cat, topping up their food and water, and cleaning out a litter tray if applicable. My boyfriend is going away for a week shortly and I'll be dividing my time between his house and my own to make sure that all of our cats get some love and are properly looked after, to save him having to use a cattery, it's free, and easy. However, if you're going away for longer and there isn't anyone who can spend a couple of nights at your house and be around for the cat, then a cattery is your best option, these are cheaper than boarding kennels for dogs, and the price per night usually includes all of their food and litter. Have a look around a few local catteries before booking your moggy in, and expect to pay around £6 per 24 hours for one cat. 
  12. I Have Children and a Dog - The great thing about getting a cat from a rescue centre, is that they'll be able to match you to a cat that will suit your home. Many rescue cats will have lived with dogs and/or kids before, or if not, the centre will be able to make a judgement as to how they'd take it. When I adopted Bucket from the RSPCA we already had a dog, and Bucket, as a stray, hadn't told anyone whether or not he liked dogs. As a young, confident cat though, the staff at the shelter were happy that he would probably take it in his stride - and he certainly did. I will do a post another time about introducing a dog and cat who've not previously lived together, but in the meantime, make sure you speak honestly and openly to the staff at your shelter and they'll tell you which cats will fit in to your family. With kids, the one thing that drives me nuts, is when I see pets being rehomed because "my child won't leave her alone/terrorises her/is too rough with her". Education, education, education people. The great thing with bringing children up around family pets is that they learn to respect and empathise with animals. Again, perhaps I'll write a post about how to create a harmonious relationship between small child and feline friend, but for the most part it's common sense. Speak calmly and slowly to children about how they treat the cat, point out what might hurt them, or scare them, and if your child behaves in the wrong way, don't shout at them (thus scaring everyone, cat included) but take them away from the cat quickly and explain why they can not treat the cat in that manner. Simple really. If your child continues to be cruel and abusive towards your cat, rehome your child.

I'd love to hear tips from other cat owners; what do you wish you'd known before you got a cat, or what piece of advice would you pass on to a first time cat owner? Are you thinking of getting a cat for the first time? If so I'd love to know if there's anything worrying you.

1 comment:

  1. These are some ace tips 👌