The domestic cat or Felis catus is one of the most popular and commonly kept pets in the UK, often vying with the dog in the rankings for the top spot. Cats are often considered to be distant and aloof, and while there is certainly some truth in the saying “dogs have owners, cats have staff,” it is by no means the case that cats are unfriendly, uninterested in people, or do not love their owners. Cats are highly affectionate animals and often bond very deeply with the people that they love; however, cats are also highly independent and like to do things on their own terms, and often, won’t hesitate to find themselves a more welcoming home if they feel that they are not being treated with the respect that they deserve! In the UK, cats are generally kept as indoor/outdoor pets, being given the freedom to roam the house and also to go outside as they please, although many cat owners close their cats indoors at night, either for their own safety or that of the local wildlife! In many countries across the world, cats may be kept as an indoor only pet, and this is occasionally the case in the UK with high value pedigree cat breeds, those that do not cope well with the outside world, or those that have an injury or medical condition that precludes them being able to go outside. Well cared for domestic cats commonly live for over fifteen years in good health, and sometimes even well into their twenties. If you are considering getting a cat and are not sure where to begin in terms of researching and finding out more about cats, their care requirements and the kind of commitment that is involved in keeping them, this guide will help. Read on to find out more about the basics of buying and caring for a cat or kitten.
Cats are often considered to be an ‘easy’ pet to keep, and certainly compared to the ever-popular dog, cats require rather less maintenance than dogs on a daily basis, and do tend to be fairly self-sufficient. However, a cat is by no means a “feed and forget” pet, and cats require play and interaction with their owners, appropriate feeding and veterinary care, and for some breeds, a lot of attention to keep them happy! As well as making sure that anyone else that you live with is happy with the idea of sharing their home with a cat, you will also need to bear in mind some other considerations when making your decision.
Make sure that you are clear about the answers to all of these questions before moving forwards.
The initial outlay involved in buying a cat can vary greatly; it is not at all uncommon for kittens to be offered to potential new owners by private owners for free, or for under £30. Adopting a rescued cat from a shelter usually commands a donation of up to £100, whereas buying a pedigree kitten with breed papers from a breeder will cost from £600 upwards for a pet that you do not intend to show or breed from, and can run to many thousands of pounds. In terms of the ongoing costs of caring for a kitten or cat, you should take into account various factors. When you first get a cat, you may have to pay out for any or all of the following, depending on what the breeder or seller has already provided beforehand:
The ongoing costs of caring for a cat on a year-by-year basis include:
On a day-by-day basis, cats are relatively independent and don’t mind being left while you go out to work, as long as they have ample opportunity to entertain themselves and preferably, go outside. However, cats do still need love and attention, and you should ensure that you will have plenty of time each day to sit with your cat and play with them, and of course to feed your cat and check that they are ok. While you can buy automated cat feeders that apportion food automatically for up to three days in a row, you should not leave your cat unattended for more than a day, even if food and water is available. Your cat may become sick or injured or something may go wrong, and it is important that you will be able to spot this in a timely manner. Also, cats need love and attention and will not be happy if neglected, even if their physical needs are taken care of; they are highly likely to try and find themselves a person who will spend time with them if you aren’t living up to their expectations! If you are looking for a pet that will entertain you when you are in and not cause a problem if you are out or away for prolonged periods of time, then a cat is not a good choice for you.
The answer that springs to many people’s minds when faced with this question is “mice and birds!” and it is certainly fair to say that many cats are keen and prolific hunters, something that you must be able to come to terms with if you wish to own a cat. However, hunted food should not form the basis of your cat’s diet, and even if your cat regularly appears to have a belly full of freshly caught rodent, it is important to feed them a complete balanced diet that is adequate for their needs as well. Cats are carnivorous, and require a meat and fish-based diet. They also require various essential nutrients and minerals to be present in their food, such as taurine, which can be found in pre-packaged complete cat foods. Some people prefer to make and prepare their cat’s meals from scratch with fresh ingredients, however doing this can be complicated and time consuming, as well as being a challenge to ensure that the food is nutritionally complete. The first time cat owner is strongly recommended to feed a pre-packaged complete diet. Cat food comes in two basic varieties; dry and wet. Dry food consists of bagged kibble pellets, and wet food consists of tins, pouches and trays of moist meat or fish chunks in gravy or jelly. Cats can be fed either a dry diet or a wet diet alone, and both systems have their drawbacks and recommendations. Dry food is recommended for dental health, but is often considered to lead to dehydration and kidney problems, whereas wet food minimises this but may lead to problems with the teeth and gums. The majority of cat owners feed a mixture of dry and wet food (in separate bowls) with dry food freely available to graze on at all times, and wet food fed at set times of the day. Cat food comes in many different varieties and ranges, and you should choose a food that is appropriate for your cat’s age and activity levels, something that is usually clearly indicated on the packaging of the food itself. You can also buy a wide range of specialist premium diets that are designed to suit a specific breed, health condition or life stage. The cost of feeding your cat can vary enormously, depending on whether you feed a basic supermarket brand or a premium veterinary diet. Regardless of what type of food you choose for your cat, make sure that their meals are complete, and that the food that you buy indicates that it is suitable for feeding as their main foodstuff and not simply as a supplementary treat.
The healthy cat will be bright, alert and responsive to stimulus, and their nose, eyes and ears will be clean and clear. Their gums should be pink, and their back end should be clean. The coat of the cat should be clean and not clogged with muck or dandruff; cats are fastidious about their grooming, and a poor quality coat is one of the clearest indicators of ill health. Cats should breathe quietly, and be able to move freely and comfortably including running and jumping without pain or discomfort. Some cats are rather more vocal than others, such as many oriental breeds and the Bengal cat, and so a cat that is making a lot of noise is by no means potentially indicating discomfort or pain. The happy, relaxed cat will purr to signal their satisfaction; often extremely loudly! As a general rule, cats are fairly robust creatures that stay fit and healthy into old age. There are, however, a range of health conditions that cats can be prone to, including breed-specific health issues, obesity, dental problems, skin sensitivities, ear mites and liver and kidney problems, as well as of course rarer conditions of all varieties from diabetes to asthma to heart conditions and more. Cats that hunt prolifically may be prone to contracting intestinal worms, and so you should pay careful attention to your cat’s worming protocol. Cats are also sensitive to a wide range of poisons and toxins, such as lilies, antifreeze and other household items; more information on this can be found here. Because the cat is a popular pet with a long history of human ownership, veterinary care for cats is readily available and comprehensive, so you should not have any problems in finding a vet that is able to treat your cat. You may even be able to find a cat specific veterinary practice in some areas! However, veterinary treatment can soon prove expensive, and it is highly recommended that you insure your cat to help to offset the cost of unexpected treatments and make sure that you can get your cat the treatment that they need, when they need it. More information on pet insurance can be found in this section.
If you have decided for definite that you would like to own a cat or kitten and have taken all of the above considerations into account, the next thing you will need to do is start to collect the equipment that you will need to provide for your cat. Plus, you may need to make some alterations to your home and garden to be ready to house them. Ensure that your home is safe to bring a cat into, and that any hazards or potential sources of danger have been removed. Similarly, check out your garden; while you cannot expect that anything but the tallest of walls will keep a cat in, it is important that your fencing keeps dogs out, so that your cat can be safe in the area around their home and can escape freely back to their garden if pursued by a dog. Also, bear in mind that cats can hide in the smallest of corners and spaces; this is ok if you know where they are, but there can be few things more frightening for the new cat owner than bringing their new cat home and then finding that they have disappeared without a trace half an hour later! Look around your home with your cat’s viewpoint in mind to identify potential boltholes! Finally, make sure that your house is secure, or that you can close off part of it to contain your new cat or kitten until they settle down enough to be allowed outside. Don’t forget your cat equipment shopping list:
There are a wide variety of potential places to buy or adopt a new cat or kitten, depending on whether you prefer a youngster or a fully grown cat, and a pedigree or non pedigree breed. If you are hoping to acquire a kitten, these are most commonly available in the late spring and summer, although theoretically you may be able to find a kitten for sale at any time of the year.
To find a range of cats and kittens available for adoption, check out our cat adoption section here on Pets4Homes, and for pedigree and non pedigree cats and kittens for sale by breeders and private individuals, check out our cats for sale section.
It is important not to rush into your decision to buy a cat or kitten until you have everything that you need and are all ready to take them on, and so don’t let any seller try to push you into taking on a cat or a kitten in a hurry before you are ready. If you are buying or adopting a cat or kitten from a charity or rehoming shelter, they will usually have a standard procedure to follow and can guide you through the process and the paperwork involved. If you buy from a breeder, you may have to place a deposit on your kitten of choice, and then wait several weeks until they are ready to be weaned from their mother and go home. If you do buy a pedigree kitten from a breeder, make sure that you receive all of the associated breed paperwork with your kitten, and find out what liability the breeder has to you, if any, if your kitten is found to be unwell or suffering from any inherited health conditions after the sale. You may wish to have your potential kitten inspected by a vet prior to purchase, particularly if the breed that you are considering is known to have elevated risk factors for any hereditary conditions, and consider having a formal contract of sale drawn up for expensive kittens. How a sale and exchange takes place with a private individual or seller can vary greatly from case to case. Always make sure that you view the cat or kitten in their own home and are confident that the seller owns the animal in question; and whether buying from a private individual, breeder or charity, always get a receipt for any money that changes hands.
When you have agreed a sale or adoption and are ready to collect your cat or kitten, it is important to do everything that you can to ensure that the process goes smoothly and provides the minimum amount of stress to the cat or kitten in question.
Despite their long history of domestication, cats are, at heart, hunters. They were in fact highly prized for their hunting abilities up until as recently as the middle of the 20th century, and all cats will exhibit hunting behaviour to some extent, even if this simply means pouncing on a toy or an unsuspecting foot! Some cats will also hunt small prey outdoors, such as rodents and birds, although cats are much more likely to be successful at hunting four legged prey than prey on the wing. Your cat may even bring their trophies home to present to you in a loud fanfare of self-satisfaction and await your praise and approval! There is really no way to know if any cat or kitten will develop a strong hunting instinct, and only limited steps that you can take to manage this if they do. If the idea of dealing with dead or dying prey is repellent to you, or the very principle of hunting behaviour in cats is not something that you can get to grips with, then a cat will almost certainly be a bad choice of pet for you. You can read more about cats and hunting behaviour.
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