If you are reading this, you are clearly thinking of getting a cat or kitten, possibly for the first time. Or perhaps you already have one, and are thinking of adding to the feline family. If you have already acquired your new feline friend, then good luck to you! But if you are just considering it, please read on, as there are many factors to be considered.
Cats are lovely, they are great fun, and they quickly establish themselves as members of the family. But owning a cat is also a great responsibility. Cats frequently live to be 16 or 17 years old, and sometimes even longer; these days it is not that unusual for cats to live into their twenties! A cat is for life, and you need to be able and willing to care for your cat for that length of time. Re-homing a cat, if you decide after a short time that cat ownership is not for you, can be difficult - and extremely traumatic for the cat. So…do you really, really want to do this? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of cat ownership...
Although a cat may not give you the unconditional affection of a dog, it will love you in its own way. My cats meet me when I come home, they purr and rub against my legs, and they are clearly delighted to see me…though they sometimes pretend not to be, in order to punish me for leaving them! As someone once said, they turn coming back to an empty house into coming home. I love my cats to bits, and I absolutely wouldn’t be without them, and many people feel like that. This is particularly true if you live alone.
On a practical level, you will never have to worry about mice (unless your cat brings them in from outside!). And if you have children, then having a cat is an excellent way of teaching them about responsibility and how to care for other beings. Overall, cats do indeed bring pleasure into our lives.
They may also give you a new hobby. Many people start showing their cats, even non-pedigrees, and some just visit cat shows without entering a cat, a least in the beginning. This can be a lot of fun and a good way to make new friends.
However, before you rush out to buy or adopt a cat, do read the following...
Firstly, cats are expensive. Cat food may not appear to cost much, but if you add it up over the course of a year it involves quite an outlay. You will also have to factor in spaying or neutering, microchipping, flea and worm treatments, vet bills, and possibly insurance. If you want to go on holiday, or even go away for a weekend, you will need someone to care for the cat; don’t even think about leaving it to fend for itself for longer than a night or two! You may be lucky enough to have neighbours who will do this, but otherwise it means either finding a cat sitter or taking the cat to a cattery, both of which cost money. Later on, as your cat gets older, it may well become ill, and while modern veterinary treatments are excellent, they are definitely not cheap. So think long and hard about whether you can actually afford to have a cat!
Secondly, cats will tie you down. No more last minute holidays, or just suddenly staying away overnight because you can. You will need to make sure that the cat is OK, and that someone else will look after it if you can’t get home one night. Cats are reasonably self-sufficient for a short while, but it is something you will need to consider and plan for in advance.
Thirdly, forget right now about having a pristine home and smart clothes. Cats shed hair, they scratch your furniture, and although they are exceptionally clean animals most of the time, they will occasionally vomit or pee in the wrong places. They will probably also try to sit on your newspapers, claw your clothes, and even eat your food. Some people say they can be trained not to do these things; well, perhaps it depends on the cat, but I never managed to persuade mine to do anything they didn’t want to. And please don’t even consider de-clawing your cat to stop it scratching; it is illegal in the UK, and definitely bad for the cat. Cats end up ruling the household; be in no doubt about that. If a perfect home is important to you and you don’t want any of that, then don’t get one.
Finally, is your home actually suitable for a cat? Do you live on a main road or in a flat? If so, you will probably need to keep the cat indoors, for its own safety. Every year, hundreds of cats are killed on our roads, and you really don’t want the heartbreak of losing your new family member to a car. Keeping a cat indoors is possible, but some cats find it very stressful, and some people think it is cruel. Letting it out, even in a relatively safe area, means that you risk losing it to traffic or other accidents, and you may well spend a fair proportion of your evenings running around with a cat treat tin trying to find your cat and persuade it to come home. A good compromise is a large cat run or a fully enclosed garden for your cat, but this can be difficult and expensive. So you need to bear all this in mind.
So to summarise, cat ownership is not something to be taken lightly. Definitely don't go out and on impulse adopt a pretty kitten as a Christmas present for yourself or someone else; much more thought is needed. But if, like many of us, you love cats, then you won’t care. And if that is the case, I hope you find your perfect feline family member.