Before Getting a New Kitten or Cat

Before getting a new kitten or cat, one of the things to ask yourself is: Can I properly care for a cat and provide a stable, safe home for its lifetime which is typically about 15 – 20 years? Many statistics show that as much as 50 percent of all cats change owners at least once in their lifetime. This is an appalling and alarming statistic.

Can I Afford A Cat?

The initial purchase price (or adoption fee) of a cat is not the most expensive cost as there will be many other costs over the cat’s lifetime. Those costs include food, litter pans, litter, toys, scratching posts and/or cat trees, and veterinary care. Veterinary care (without taking into consideration any catastrophic health problems) will run about $100 – $300 per year. Preventive and consistent care is vitally important to any cat’s overall health. If an owner cannot afford veterinary care, it is probably a good idea not to get a cat. Additionally, depending on where an owner lives, there will be a one-time fee of anywhere from $70 – $500 for the cost of getting the cat spay or neutered. Even if the cat is an indoor only cat, it recommended that it have all of its vaccinations, including rabies (a rabies vaccination are legally required in many cities and/or states for cats and dogs), and depending on where you live, there may be other medications that are strongly recommended by the veterinarian on a yearly basis (such as a heartworm preventative medicine). Many people believe that because their cat is an indoor cat, it does not need a rabies vaccination. However, consider what would happen to you and/or your cat if it bit someone while they were in your home? First of all, the authorities will most likely remove the cat from your home and quarantine it for a period of time (at cost to you for boarding and care); if on the off chance your cat shows signs of rabies it will be destroyed. It is highly recommended that a potential owner check with their veterinarian to find out what vaccinations are required by law.

What Breed of Cat?

All kittens are cute and most people fall in love with a cat or kitten because of its look (the cuddlebility factor). Some people prefer a pedigreed cat because of certain breed characteristics while others prefer a mixed breed cat. If desiring a pedigreed cat, careful consideration should be given as to the breed characteristics of that breed. For example: how much grooming will the cat require, how much will it shed, how playful or active is the breed, how big will the cat get? Are you looking for a cat that gets along well with small children or elderly people? Do you need a cat that gets along with your dog? Do you desire a cat that is calm and loves to cuddle and will sleep with you at night? These are just a few of the things to consider before bringing a cat home.

Should You Get a Kitten or an Adult Cat?

Many people, when considering whether or not to get a cat, will only consider getting a kitten. Here are a few reasons why an adult cat may be desirable:

  • An adult cat has already developed its personality so you will know exactly what you are getting;
  • An adult cat is already litter box trained;
  • An adult cat should only need yearly examinations and vaccinations (instead of a series of vaccinations that a kitten will require in the first 6 months);
  • An adult cat has already gone through its “teenager” phase;
  • An adult cat can “bond” just as well as a kitten with a new owner.

Where to Get a Cat?

Animal Shelters – While many shelters are no-kill, most are not. Getting a cat or kitten from an animal shelter may well save it from being put to death. Typically, you should look for a cat that looks clean, healthy, with a shiny coat and clear eyes. Ask to visit with the kitten or cat in a private area to see how it will interact with you. How friendly is it? If the kitten or cat appears lethargic, it may be best to look at another one as this one may be sick. Ask the actual caregivers of the cat or kitten for any information they may have on it. Ask why the cat was surrendered to the shelter. Keep in mind that many people do not always tell the truth to shelter personnel when they surrender their pet. So, sometimes the shelter may not be aware that this cat or kitten may have undesirable behavioral traits (i.e., not using its litter box) or have some type of major health concern which may shortly require a very high veterinarian bill. Many shelters will have already spayed or neutered the cat or kitten prior to its going to a new home. If not, they will generally require that you do so within a certain time period. Do not over-look the adult cats.

Responsible Breeders – If you are looking for a purebred/pedigreed cat or kitten, it is best to locate a responsible breeder. To find such a person:

  • Visit a local cat show which is a great way to see the different breeds of cats, meet breeders, and ask questions.
  • The Cat Fanciers Association (“CFA”) has an on-line breeder referral list which can be searched by breed, location, and other search options. (Please Note: the CFA does not endorse or recommend any particular breeder or cattery on the list.)
  • Nowadays, there are many show breeders, as well as hobby breeders, that have web sites. To locate a breeder in a particular area via the internet, use a search engine (i.e., yahoo, Google, etc.) and type in the particular cat breed and the state you reside to get results for breeders in your particular state or locale. Some breeders advertise in Cat Fancy or other such publications.

Responsible breeders will have (at a bare minimum) a written health/genetic guarantee, provide a starter kit that goes home with the kitten or cat (containing the type of food it has been eating, feeding instructions, breed information), have some provision for (or already had it performed) the spay/neuter of the kitten or cat, provide documentation of pedigree, parentage, and vaccination records. When interviewing a breeder, listen to your intuition; if anything feels “off” about a breeder, do NOT get one of their kittens. If this happens, it is recommended that you seek out and interview another breeder. Remember, a responsible breeder will want to interview you and get to know you as a potential owner as much as you may want to interview them.

Pet Stores – A responsible breeder would not allow their kittens to be sold in a pet store or other re-sale outlet where they could not personally interview the buyer to make sure they are aware of the responsibility of caring for an animal. Most responsible breeders belong to breed clubs and sign a breeder’s code of ethics which prohibits them from selling to retail outlets (pet stores). More often than not, the puppies and kittens for sale in a retail outlet are from commercial, “puppy” mill type operations. Some stores (i.e., Petco, etc.) do have cats for adoption through a local animal shelter but are not actively involved in the resale of cats and dogs. If getting a shelter pet through this type of adoption process, make sure that the adoption procedures comply with that shelter’s normal adoption process.

Private Sources – Sometimes, if an owner can no longer keep their adult cat, they may place an ad through a local newspaper, grocery store bulletin board or veterinarian’s office. As long as you can meet the person, observe the cat in its home environment, and make sure the cat is healthy, there is no reason not to get a cat this way. If it is a kitten, make sure it is at least 12 weeks of age, is properly litter box trained, had age-appropriate vaccinations/wormings, and appears healthy. (Warning: responsible breeders would not advertise this way nor use Craigslist or something similar).

Getting a cat is a lifelong commitment of not only an owner’s time, but their money in order to keep them in food, toys, and proper health. If the on-going cost of keeping a cat beyond the initial cost of it (i.e., veterinarian, vaccinations, cost of spay/neuter, unforeseen health issues/costs and more), then perhaps it is not the time to get a pet.

Dogs and Cats Living Together

Dogs and cats are supposedly life-long enemies. Hence the phrase, “fighting like cats and dogs.” Having always owned both cats and dogs, I find the phrase and the premise to be far more inaccurate than accurate. Of course, we all know that there are those dogs that will simply chase every cat they see and those cats that will never tolerate a dog. However, it has been my experience that handled correctly, the vast majority of dogs and cats can live together. They may not learn to love each other; but they certainly can learn to tolerate each other’s presence. Dogs and cats that are raised with each other typically do fine their entire lives. They may actually accept an animal of another species more easily than one of their own, in that there are fewer fights over dominance and territory.

There are some dogs that should not be kept with cats. Dogs with a strong hunting heritage may always view cats as prey and may never be able to be trusted with any small animals. In addition to hunting dogs, terriers such as Jack Russells and pitbulls are often poor companions for cats. These dogs have an incredibly strong predatory instinct; they chase and attack moving objects without thinking about whom or what the object may be. Cats and other small pets are just too much of a temptation for these dogs.

Other dogs respond less to the animal than the situation and will leave alone a cat that sits still, but chase and attack one that moves. This is especially true of dogs that are kept outside. There is something about being out of the house that really pushes the hunting instinct into overdrive and will often result in even the most docile indoor dog attempting to chase cats once outside. So, one would not want to make the assumption that a cat and dog who tolerate each other indoors will do the same outside. The dog may decide to attack the cat. Finally, dogs that have a history of attacking cats are likely to do so again and should not be trusted with cats. If you are planning on rescuing a previously-owned dog, it is a good idea to get a history of the dog’s attitudes and behaviors around cats before bringing it into a house with cats. Many shelters will allow you to ‘test’ the dog by introducing it to a cat before completing the adoption.

Most cats, if they have had positive experiences with dogs, will tolerate canines in the house. Those that will not typically have had some prior negative interaction that is firmly embedded in their memories. Because most cats, even those that hate dogs, do not attack without provocation, these cats may be able to live with a dog. However, they probably will never bond with the dog, will avoid the dog at all costs, and will be pretty miserable. It is kinder to leave these cats in a feline-only household. Again, it is often possible to find out the history of a cat before adopting it, or to test the cat’s reactions to dogs in an adoption situation.

So which cats and dog can get along? The answer is just about all of the rest of them. In the best of circumstances, cats and dogs really become friends, playing and sleeping together. In other situations, cats and dogs may never be overly friendly, but they can learn to tolerate and behave themselves with other members of the family, including those of other species. As long as you are willing to work out a positive introduction and protect the animals from physical harm, these species usually get along. The process may take up to six or eight weeks, or even longer, but can be successfully accomplished.

If you are thinking of bringing a cat into a dog household, or vice-versa, there are steps that you can take to ensure the success of the relationship. First, because a dog can kill a cat, safety is your first concern. The dog needs to be able to be kept separated from the cat. This can be accomplished with a crate, or a separate room. The dog should have a refresher obedience course, so that it will sit, stay, and come to you when told, and leave the cat alone if ordered to. The dog needs to remember that the people, not the dog, rule the house. This way you can ‘explain’ to the dog, if necessary, that the cat is yours and needs to be treated with respect. In addition, the cat needs to have a safe haven. This means that the cat’s food and litter boxes need to be inaccessible to the dog and that the cat has places to run and hide. For example, leave a few bookcase shelves empty so the cat can climb to them, put a cat door into a closed bedroom, or use baby gates to separate the dog from the cat’s own room.

I keep my cats’ litter boxes, toys, scratching posts, water, and food in an extra bedroom. I use a baby gate to keep the dogs out of the room. I have cut a small cat-size opening into the closed mesh of the gate so that the cats can dash through it if necessary and not have to leap the gate. My dogs respect the gate, but if you have dogs that leap over it, you may need to cut the cat door into the room door or install a screen door with an opening large enough for the cats.

The initial meeting and first few weeks are critical times to set the tone for the future, so it is important to make all introductions go as smoothly as possible. The key is to remember that these animals will be together for a lifetime; there is no reason to rush their meetings. If bringing a cat into the house, provide the cat with its own bedroom for the first few weeks or longer. The litter box and food should be placed in this room. The dog in the house can smell the cat under the door, but has no real need to meet the new member of the family until the cat is comfortable and bored with its personal space. If this is a young kitten, they may end up living in this room for several more weeks. Once the cat is doing well in its own room, you can let the cat explore the house, undisturbed by the dog. You can actually put the dog in the cat’s room while the cat is out, so that the dog really gets to experience the cat’s scent without bothering the cat. You can also get the pets used to each other’s scents by swapping toys, towels, or other items between them.

The initial face to face meeting should be done after the new cat is familiar with the entire house. Make sure that the dog is on a leash and under control. Have another person near the cat to provide help, if needed. Keep the meeting short and positive. Praise the dog for being wonderful around the cat. Use food rewards if appropriate and make sure that the dog understands that good things happen when the cat is present. After a few, short positive meetings, it is time to let the cat explore for longer periods, with the dog present and on the leash. If this step proceeds calmly, let the dog off the leash and watch the interactions. Make sure you are always there to stop any problems before they can accelerate. Do not allow the dog to be aggressive in any way to the cat, and lavishly praise the dog for good behavior. Be certain that the cat has access to hiding places. If aggression occurs at any stage of the introductions, return to the previous stage and slow down. Even if all looks great, do not leave the cat alone with the dog until you are truly positive that everything is running smoothly. This means that if they cannot be supervised, the cat should be left in its bedroom or the dog kept crated.

Bringing a dog into a cat household is relatively easy. The dog should be kept on a leash for the initial introductions and never left unsupervised. Make sure that all animals are praised for their wonderful behavior when they are together. As previously discussed, the dog can be crated or the cat left in a bedroom when they cannot be watched. Since the cat is already familiar with its territory and the dog is a newcomer, the dynamics of the relationship often turn in the cat’s favor, making the transition relatively easy.

Puppies and kittens do present unique challenges. Kittens must be protected from dogs at all times simply because any dog is big enough to badly hurt or kill a young kitten. A kitten must always be closely supervised even around the best behaved of dogs. Provide the kitten with appropriate toys of its own. Do not let the kitten ‘play attack’ the dog or chase it. This can rapidly escalate into a dangerous situation. For the same reason, do not let the dog ‘play’ with the kitten. The kitten must be kept in a safe room when an adult it not home. My kittens stayed in their own room when I was not at home and at bedtime until they were approximately six months old.

Rambunctious puppies may also be a problem. Without meaning to, an energetic puppy can harm a kitten or even an adult cat. It is up to you to make sure that their interactions are monitored so that no one gets hurt. It is also really important to exercise and play with the puppy routinely. Make sure the puppy has its own toys and uses them. A tired puppy is less likely to bother the cat and less likely to be a behavior problem in the house.

It takes work, patience, and time to introduce cats and dogs to each other. However, the positive outcome is well worth the work. My cats and dogs play, eat, relax, and sleep together. I get tremendous pleasure watching them. You will be pleasantly surprised how much positive energy is brought into your home by having both cats and dogs living there.