Things To Consider
So, you've decided to welcome a cat to your home. Or maybe you're adding another cat.
I've gotten calls for a 'friend for fluffy' many times. Sometimes it's empty nest syndrome, or fluffy is getting old and lethargic. Sometimes people have just suffered the loss of their beloved cat after a long time and are now ready to open their hearts to a new friend.
There are several ways that cats come into our lives. Sometimes the right cat just finds you. Each has a different approach and a different set of suggestions depending on your circumstances. Maybe he or she has been hanging around your porch, or a neighbor cat had kittens under their porch, or yours. These events happen when you are not looking.
Cats do have a way of worming into our hearts one way or another.
The Found Cat
Frequently these cats are the most memorable of our lives. By all means welcome them, but please consider the other feline residents of your home before doing so. Bringing in a cat from an unknown source can bring in unwanted visitors. Your heart is in the right place, but be sure that you are not going to cause harm to the cat/s who are already there.
All cats carry some viruses. Some are relatively harmless, or will be known to your cat's immune system and may bring on nothing, or 'only a cold'. When considering bringing in an outdoor cat please take the cat to your vet and have it tested for felv, and fiv. One note of caution however, there are other diseases that there are not simple cost effective tests for. Some are quite dangerous to other cats. FIP, Bartonella, and others. All cats will bring their own brand of Herpes with them. ALL cats. Most have that under control, but the stress of a new companion can bring out a hidden virus. Discuss this with your vet, or do some online research. If kitty checks out at your vet it is still wise to isolate him or her for at least a month, and even have him rechecked as some of the tests can give false negatives, and even sadly false positives. Keep his litter box and food bowls separate, and clean them separately. In other words, even a healthy cat can be a carrier, so use caution. Isolation and Observation are always best in any circumstance when adding a cat to an existing population.
Once you have brought your new cat into your house, please keep him or her indoors for the remainder of it's life. Also don't make the mistake of thinking that if you only let the poor cold fellow in for a night, or a meal that you are safe from whatever he may carry. Repeating the exposure to the outdoors will increase his chances of bringing in yet another 'bug'. Change means stress to a cat, both your new cat and your old cat. Stress can bring out a virus that is otherwise happy to hang around. Isolation will go a long way to reducing stress on both cats. Both cats will 'know' there's another cat in the house. They can smell far better than we humans. They will smell him, his dander will be on your clothing and hands. However it's a good idea to wash your hands in between love fests with each cat. Viruses live on clothing too, and some can live for up to a year, as can ringworm so be careful you don't transfer from one to the other.
INDOOR/OUTDOOR is a term for carpeting, NOT cats. Once a cat goes outdoors it should be considered an OUTDOOR CAT. Mixing outdoor cats and indoor cats is a risky proposition.
I cannot stress enough that if you regard kitty as your pet, PLEASE KEEP HIM INSIDE for the rest of his life. It is NOT CRUEL there are ways to simulate the 'outdoor' world safely. For tips on how, see the toys exercise and entertainment link.
Once a cat is allowed outdoors it will need annual shots, annual testing and will put any indoor cats at risk, REGARDLESS OF "SHOTS". There is simply no way to innoculte against all the dangers and diseases that exist outdoors. In short, it will cost you more and possibly cost the cat it's life. Outdoor cats live much shorter lives. (I know, you had one for twenty years, we've all heard that, but trust me, it's the exception, not the rule) The inoculations alone that would be needed, not only cost a lot, but testing should be done, (costly) and not all that accurate, and there are simply not vaccines for all of the diseases that kitty can come in contact with or pass on.
The Shelter or Adoption Center Cat
The same holds true here. Take kitty to YOUR vet, even if he has been checked by the shelter and keep him isolated for a period of time. Always keep kitty on the same food he is accustomed to at the time you get him, at least for a period of time. That way if kitty develops loose stools or vomiting you will know it's probably not the food change.
Changing foods should be done gradually, after kitty has had a chance to settle in. So unless your vet recommends you change foods stay with the food he came with for a few weeks and OBSERVE. Watch what goes in, and what comes out. If he's eating the food he's used to and there are no upset stomachs then you can switch foods, slowly by mixing the two foods, one third, two thirds old, and then gradually going up on the new food. See how he manages. Sometimes a cat will refuse to eat in a new environment. This is quite common, and has to do with stress. If this continues for more than 24 hours, and since he will be isolated you will know how much he's eaten, then try baby food meat. This is high in liquid and the one thing you don't want is for a kitten to become dehydrated. In a young cat if you pull the skin of the back of the neck up with two fingers and it doesn't snap right back down, chances are he's dehydrated and vet intervention and fluid replacement should be sought immediately. Another check for dehydration is check the gums over the large canine teeth. They should be a nice pink, not red, not white. Push in gently with your thumb. If they get white and come right back to pink he's likely ok. Again, watching what and how much he's eating will hopefully avoid this. Dehydration in a small cat can happen very quickly.
Welcoming Your New Cat
The best way to welcome your new cat is the same whether he is the only cat or one of several. Confine him please !!! Keep him in one room at the outset. This will help you to know how much he's eating and drinking, and eliminating, especially if there are other cats. He may be on a different diet and since cats don't do well with rapid changes in anything including diet, it's best to keep him separate. Cats are curious by nature and they will find hiding places that you didn't even know you had. I have had to have cats cut out from walls, resucued from the eaves of my roof, and trapped in the basement, behing boxes, and even behind the refrigerator. What hasn't happened to me has happend to someone else. Believe me, confining is the best method. This way he can get used to your home, you, the noises, the smells etc, all in a safe environment. Ideally this will be your bedroom so he can sleep with you. This may require some fancy footwork if you already have a cat who is used to doing this. I know people who have slept in two rooms for weeks to keep everyone happy. It can be done. The bottom line is, leaving a new cat to it's own devices alone, particularly if you are not home all day, is a recipe for disaster.
Another good idea is to leave his carrier in the new room, take the door off if it's a hard carrier, or fold it under if it's a soft one. This way, kitty can always go to a safe place that is really safe. You can put a soft blanket in there, or one of your old t shirts. A good idea is to bring something from his old home and keep in in there for a week or so. That smell will be a comfort to him when he's frightened. My new kittens go home with a momma blanket made by me, and rubbed on mom. I ask people to bring a t shirt of wash cloth from home, both cloths are put into the carrier for the trip home. That way it makes the transition to the new home a little easier. This is a tried and true method, and highly recomended.
Pick a Breed
Suppose this time you've decided that you have always loved the look of a Maine Coon or Bengal , or Persian cat. Or you aren't sure which breed might suit you and your lifestyle. There are many sites that have 'tests' to help you determine by temperament which breed is right for you. I am not sure how accurate they are, but they're entertaining. It's best to check out several breeds and pay close attention to what the breeders say about their breed, and any comments they may have on their sites by folks who live with them. Some cats have a tendancy to produce less of an allergic reaction.
One of the breeds that I breed falls into that category. The LaPerm. The Skookum which is a cross between a Munchkin and a LaPerm has the same curly coat that is low shedding. (www.laperm.com )
Some breeds are high energy, some are high maintenance (lots of grooming required) some are more talkative, some very inactive. Consider what suits your temperament. You will be living with it on a daily basis. Make sure it's what you like.
So now you've decided it's a particular breed you want. Finding a breeder who has a cat for you may take some doing. I am not in favor of shipping kittens, so I tend to place my cats with people who are willing to travel to get their new cat. I think this is a good idea in any event as one should be welcome to visit any breeder who is offering you a cat or kitten. A breeder who does not welcome you and your visit should be suspect. A breeders' home should be neat, clean and odor free. If you do go to a breeder's home and you see sick cats, or there is excessive odor, try to resist the urge to 'rescue' the kittens from that breeder. I have had people tell me that they did just that and regretted it later.
Expect that a good breeder will ask you a lot of questions, try not to be offended and please be truthful. As a matter of fact, be honest with yourself. If you honestly don't have the time for a new kitten, then don't pretend to anyone that you do. In order to get the most out of your new relationship, be prepared to spend a good bit of quality time with the new baby for the first month at least.
Children and cats
It is the policy of the ASPCA to not adopt out to families with small children. This has become a standard protocol for most reputable rescue organizations as well, so try not to take this personally. No one is criticizing YOUR child. http://www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=edu_resources_young
Young children, below about the age of seven or eight, generally do not always deal well with the needs of others. Self is pretty much all they know. It is not always reasonable to expect them to undestand that a kitten is not a toy, or that the kitten may need to rest. This is normal and does not mean that they are deviant. Many breeders will also not place a kitten in a home with small children. Placing kittens with small children has many times, more than we'd like, ended in injured kittens, or worse, or injured kids. Children need time to grow and learn that not all needs can be met at the moment. A three pound kitten is no match for a 40 or 50 lb child. If possible it will use it's claws, or it's teeth. If that fails the kitten may end up the loser. Toys can and are broken in fits of anger, but if the same rage is taken out on a kitten the results can be disastrous.
If you do have young children, be prepared to be especially watchful and be prepared to spend the time teaching your children about the rights of the kitten.
Young children also have spurts of energy and may feel that kitty should comply. If kitty is not interested, or prefers to sleep, which young kittens do the child may become angry. Since kittens only know how to scratch or bite, someone is likely to get hurt.
If you have young children ask yourself, if both kitty and baby are sick, which one will you take care of first? Is it fair to put either one in the second spot?
It is also not uncommon for a young child to resent any attention given to a new pet, much the same as they might if a new baby were introduced.
Breeders and shelters alike always expect an increase in demand around Christmas. People seem to think that a kitty under the tree is what the child really wants. NOT. This is a terrible idea. If you've noticed, even the video game that you stood in line for is relegated to the floor within a week after the holiday. That may be fine for an inanimate object, but not for a living creature.
If you plan for and discuss a pet as a family then everyone should agree ahead of time who will be the primary care giver and agree that the pet may come first at times if it's necessary. Also consider that once a pet comes home travel plans become more complicated.
The bottom line is, you are responsible for the cat. Not the child who thinks they want it. So please be honest with yourself, and your child and do your part to keep unwanted cats out of shelters. This is true whether you spend $1000 or more on a pedigree cat, or agree to take a kitten from a neighbor's yard.
The ideal age for a cat to come home for the first time is around 9 or ten. (shelf pets may be more appropriate for younger ages) BUT remember since an average cat life span is 12 - 15 years, you will be the one responsible for the cat when junior takes his first job, joins the military or goes off to college. So be honest with yourself.
The national average for pet care annually is around $500 for veterinary care, and add in food and litter, and ask yourself if you are prepared to share your child's college funds with fluffy. If your cat does get sick and needs more intensive care these costs can easily go much higher. Pet insurance is one option, or you can start a fund for fluffy, to be used only if it is needed. If kitty lives to 15 or longer and needs only the average, which is not uncommon, you can continue the fund for the next pet.