Is a cat right for me?

Covered mag, presented by
  • | by Dave Jenkins

So you’re thinking of a getting a cat? Or perhaps a cat has decided to get you?

It happens… Mine was a stray living in a bush in my garden before she decided to upgrade her accommodation to my house. Some people end up with one mewling on their doorstep every night until they finally give in. Whether it’s you or the cat that’s made the conscious decision, it’s a huge commitment – sometimes as long as 20 years.

“Ask yourself: What do I want from a cat?” says cat behaviourist Vicky Halls. “Ideally the answer is ‘very little’. You should never make any demands of it. A lot of people think of the cat as small dog. Or a little person. A little member of the family. They ultimately become that but they’re very different.”

Poor expectations invariably lead to feline homelessness. Cats are complex characters, take time to understand it and you’ll develop a great relationship. Naturally your lifestyle will influence your choice of cat – if you’re busy working all day, for example, then an indoor cat, or an older one who needs more attention, isn’t a wise choice.

How to buy one…

Firstly, the costs: A good rule of thumb budget of keeping a cat is approximately £1,000 a year. This includes pet insurance, regular worming, flea treatment, litter and food. Unless you’re buying a pedigree then a cat itself won’t cost much at all. Buying options are: Local adverts in the vet or community by people whose cat has had kittens, a reputable breeder (if you’re keen on a particular pedigree) or a rescue centre. Thankfully the cruel issue of puppy farms we highlighted here isn’t as endemic for cats but there are still many unscrupulous breeders. The Governing Council Of The Cat Fancy is one of the most reliable resources for checking up on a breeder’s reputation. And of course, avoid buying them from a pet shop – you won’t be sure of its history, parentage or whether it's been treated well or not

Having kittens?

“If you’re going to get a kitten there are a few things you need to look out for,” says Claire Bessant, CEO of the Feline Advisory Bureau. “You want it to be physically healthy and you want one that’s socialised. Kittens need that human interaction before they’re seven weeks old or they’ll never have that need for human interaction. In those early stages they meet people, other cats and dogs. They take it as the norm. So check they’ve had that type of upbringing.” Ask about the parentage; if the mother is sociable with humans and the father is confident or bold then that’s a good indicator that it will be a good natured cat. Basic checks for health include bright eyes, clean nostrils, clean ears and a shiny coat. Being able to see a membrane in the corner of its eyes nearest the nose, or a dull coat also suggest ill health.

Or adopting?

“At any one time Cats Protection is looking after over 6,000 unwanted cats across the UK,” explains Joel Scott, deputy manager of Cats Protection’s National Cat Adoption Centre in Sussex. “Anyone adopting a cat from Cats Protection has the peace of mind that their cat will be examined by a veterinary surgeon, microchipped, vaccinated if old enough and will also come with four week’s free insurance.” Adoption has other benefits; if you’re taking on an adult cat then you’ll know its size and have a better indication of whether it’s sociable or not. But be patient as it settles into its new home…

The purrrfect welcome

Making your cat feel at home is crucial, especially if it’s been rescued. If it comes from a shelter it’s used to small spaces. So start off in a small room with all the things it might need. “Then leave it to explore that space,” says Vicky. “If it wants to hide then let it hide. Let the cat dictate the quality and quantity of interaction, they will tell you how much interaction it wants.” Whether it’s a kitten or adopted, all cats need food, water, shelter, somewhere to go the toilet and somewhere to hide away. It also needs to be left alone and be able to hunt. Whether it does the real thing or simulates it through play, hunting is very important. Keep the cat in the house for at least two weeks before letting it explore outside. This is to ensure it knows its environment and if you’ve got any vaccinations to acquire. There’s always a worry that it may roam back to its old territory, but it’s not a massively common problem, especially if it’s miles away. “Most cats don’t travel too far,” agrees Claire. “Let it out when it’s hungry for a short period and call it back with some food. Make sure they make that association with returning for food is strong and it’ll make the connection. It needs to bond to the new house.”

‘Purr indoors

Keeping your cat indoors is absolutely fine as long as you’ve provided the essentials above. Some cat owners believe it to be safer as they’re not at the mercy of other cats, dogs, cars or cat-hating neighbours. Just make sure it’s regularly kept occupied through play and has enough high perches, secret places and things to explore.

Fellow furry friends

Introducing your new furry friend to any other animals you have is the biggest challenge. It needs to be done slowly in a calm environment so holidays or excitable kids are best avoided. Scent is important; a common tip is to stroke each animal and not wash your hands in between so they’re used to each other’s smell. It’s also wise to use cages so they’re safe from each other. The Blue Cross website has this one really well.

Finally... A few feline tips.

- Soften your eyes to a squint when greeting your cat. It’s a non-threatening form of communication that puts them at ease.

- A wagging tail is not a sign of an angry cat, just an undecided one.

- If your cat is scratching a particular piece of furniture cover it with double sided sticky tape and it will soon lose interest.

- If your cat piddles on the floor, remove all traces using anti ammonia sprays or it will keep using that spot forever.

- And it does mess up your floor, rubbing their nose in their waste will not help the situation… cats don’t understand consequences like humans and it will just confuse them.