Things to Know Before Adopting a Cat
June is National Adopt a Cat Month and some of you might be considering doing just that. Before you do, though, there are a few things I would like you to know and consider.
Things You Need to Know
- Know that no two cats are the same. Each cat has it’s own personality, needs, and preferences. Some cats are cuddly, whereas others prefer their space. Some cats can free feed, but most cats cannot.
- Know the breeds. Cats, like dogs, come in certain breeds. Each of those breeds has different characteristics. The Bengal is known to be very active and needs a lot of play and activity. The Norwegian Forest Cat is a climber and, often, a talker. The Maine Coon is intelligent and usually fairly laid back. Orange cats are generally more relaxed. These are general characteristics to keep in mind but, like dogs, these characteristics don’t always define their personalities—you still need to get to know a cat to determine if you are going to make good companions for one another.
- It is worth is to take the time to find the right cat for you. The best way to do this is to spend time with cats at the shelter or rescue. If you are lucky, your cat will be there and you will both know after one or two visits. Then again, it might take longer. I highly recommend becoming a socialization volunteer at your local shelter or rescue. Your job will be, essentially, to spend time with the cats so that they get more used to and trusting of people. This makes a HUGE difference in their ability to get adopted because it allows the cats to actually be open to getting to know people who might be interested in adopting. (Think of each potential adopter as blind dates for all of the cats—if the cats are too shy to even introduce themselves, then how will the adopter be able to fall in love?) Your cat may not be there yet, but you’ll be helping bring others together while you wait … and getting some practice in while you wait.
- Cats take time. People often get cats because they see them as “low maintenance” in comparison to dogs. People make the mistake of thinking that if they want to leave for a few days, they can just pile up some dry food in a bowl and put out a few more water bowls. This is inaccurate and irresponsible. Yes, many cats can go a couple of days with little intervention, but it is hard on them. It is as hard on them as it is for most people to be all alone for that length of time. Your cat may be able to survive, but they are not likely to thrive. Please don’t leave a cat, even an independent cat, alone for more than two days (and then only do so if their diet allows it).
- Not all cat food is equal. In fact, most cat food is swill. Take the time to find out what the best brands of cat food are and plan to pay a little more for it. As with humans, a quality diet will improve your cat’s health and quality of life.
- Not all cats can eat the same food, even if it is good food. Some cats can eat one type of food with no problem, other cats will have digestive issues if they eat certain foods. One of my cats prefers dry food whereas the other would like to eat dry food but, when he does, he becomes constipated. That cat gets wet food and occasionally very small amounts of kibble as a treat.
- Scoop their litter box(es) [at least] daily. Ever walk into a truck stop bathroom and promptly want to turn around and run away screaming? That is how a cat feels when its litter box isn’t clean. A cat’s sense of smell is better than most dogs, let alone humans—if that box isn’t clean, then a cat is basically holding its breath until it is done eliminating. Even worse, the cat has to walk around in that box—if there is urine or feces present then you can imagine how unpleasant that is. You’ll need to find the litter your cat prefers, and then you will need to make sure that you keep the box clean. We use Nature’s Miracle because it is low on dust (which is better for my asthma and Fuzzy’s allergies), it clumps, it is scoopable, and it is flushable, making it easy for us to empty the litter box whenever it needs it.
- The general rule for litter boxes is one per cat per floor of your house. If you are a lucky multi-cat caregiver, then your cats may be okay with sharing a litter box, but don’t plan on it in the beginning. If you are thinking about getting a cat, or getting another cat, realize that you may well need more boxes. Here’s a hint, too—the cleaner you keep the boxes, the more likely they are to share. (Makes sense, when you think about it—how often do you want to use the toilet after someone else who did not flush?)
- Cats have a low thirst drive, but they still need plenty of clean water. Many cats don’t drink a lot because they just don’t recognize their thirst. Like most animals, though, they are healthier when they get plenty of water. The trick is to figure out how to make water appealing to them. For us, fountains work well, and Buddy likes to drink directly from sinks a lot of the time. Fuzzy, on the other hand, does not like to drink as often and so we add a little bit of water to his wet food and sometimes give him chicken stock (not broth—broth has other ingredients, whereas stock is just chicken ingredients and water) mixed with more water.
- Cats have other needs beyond food, water, and litter boxes, as well. They need to have places where they feel safe and comfortable, they need to have things that keep them occupied (windows are the cat equivalent of television—we keep a bird feeder outside one of ours), and they need interaction. Cats are hunters, so toys that allow them to “hunt” are the best. I highly recommend “Da Bird” toys for this purpose. Get to know your cat to find out which toys they like. (For example, intelligent cats tend to like “puzzle” toys—especially if they are food motivated. ThinkGeek.com has a few such toys.)
Things You REALLY Need to Know
Now I want to get into the things that I think are REALLY important:
- Don’t get any animal unless you are willing to keep it and care for it for the rest of its life. Animals aren’t toys; they are living creatures with feelings. It is exceedingly difficult for them to bond with a person and then have that person leave them. They don’t understand what is going on, and it can be traumatic and heartbreaking for them. All animals are a commitment, and if you aren’t ready to make that commitment, then DON’T. You can get your time with animals by volunteering with them instead.
- Get your animals spayed and neutered. The reason that there are so many homeless animals is because humans are irresponsible. Cats and dogs breed quickly and their numbers can expand rapidly. What’s more, unaltered animals have MANY more health problems (for example, every time a female cat goes into heat, it increases her likelihood of developing ovarian cancer tenfold). Only reputable breeders should have intact animals, because they are the only ones with the knowledge and skill to make sure that the health of the animals involved is not compromised.
- Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives. As long as you provide a safe and stimulating environment for your cats then their quality of life does not suffer AT ALL by keeping them indoors. If you feel like your cat just HAS to be outside, then get it a harness and a leash or provide it with a safely enclosed area and take it out for supervised time. The simple fact is that the more time a cat spends outside unsupervised, the shorter its life expectancy is. Yes, I have known some exceptions to this rule, but they are just that—exceptions. (Average life expectancy of outdoor cats is 1-5years, while the average life expectancy of indoor cats is 15-20 years)
- DON’T declaw—it hurts a LOT. There are VERY few reasons that this could ever be a medically necessary procedure, and I firmly believe it should NEVER be done for ANY non-medically necessary reason. There are numerous safe and healthy ways to change a destructive clawing behavior, including: providing the cat appropriate and appealing surfaces it CAN scratch, clipping its claws (or having them clipped at the vet or groomer), or getting nail covers. We have several surfaces for our cats to scratch, including a carpeted cat tower, cardboard scratchers, sisal scratchers, rope scratchers, and a cork tower from Natural Scratch. We also clip their claws regularly. There are so many effective and pain-free options for changing destructive cat behaviors, but I think that the most important thing to remember is that if you are more concerned about things than living creatures, then you are not the sort of person who should have a cat. (For more information, check out Catster's just-the-facts article on the subject.)
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