Choosing a cat

- From the American Veterinary Medical Association

Pets are an important part of the American household. Your pet-owning experience will be most enjoyable if you carefully consider which pet best suits your family, home, and lifestyle. The primary reason pets are given up to animal shelters is unfulfilled expectations, so make an informed decision. Take time, involve your family, and give careful consideration to the following questions before selecting a cat.

What's special about cats?
Cats make wonderful companions. Their entertaining antics and affectionate behaviors have endeared these animals to millions of owners for thousands of years. Easily house-trained and relatively low maintenance, cats make good indoor pets and most will readily adapt to a variety of environments.

What choices do you have in cats?
Purebred and mixed-breed cats come in a variety of shapes (head, ears, body, and tail), sizes, colors, personalities, and hair coats. Purebred cats have been selectively bred to enhance certain physical and behavioral characteristics that some owners find desirable, while mixed-breed cats have varied characteristics and also make wonderful pets. Veterinarians, cat fancy associations, and cat shows are good sources of information about the physical characteristics, personalities, and needs of various breeds.

What are the special needs of cats?
Feeding, exercise, play, and elimination are daily needs that must be met if you want a healthy, happy cat. Some purebred and mixed-breed cats have long and/or thick hair coats that require daily grooming to prevent matting and skin irritation. If you're not prepared to provide daily grooming, consider a short-haired variety that can take care of most of its own grooming needs. To reduce the risk of injury and disease, cats should always be kept indoors. A cat's litter box must be kept very clean so that the cat continues to use it. If there are multiple cats within the home, multiple litter boxes should be available in several locations.

Who will care for your cat?
As its owner, you will ultimately be responsible for your cat's food, shelter, exercise, and physical and mental health for the rest of its life. While families should involve their children in caring for a pet, youngsters need the help of an adult who is willing, able, and available to supervise the daily care of a cat.

Does a cat fit into your lifestyle?
Cats can adapt to most living situations if proper housing, food, grooming, and exercise are provided. To help decide if a cat is the right pet for you, answer the following questions:
  • Do you rent or do you own your home? If you rent, does your lease allow you to keep a cat?
  • How long is your work day? Do you frequently have obligations after work that would interfere with caring for your kitten or cat?
  • Do you travel? Who will care for your pet in your absence?
  • If you have multiple pets, will adding another cause you to violate restrictions on the number or types of pets where you live? Will your new cat get along with your existing pets?
  • Do any family members have allergies to pet hair or dander?
  • Should you get a kitten, or an adult cat?

Kittens require additional time for litter box training and socialization, as well as more frequent feeding and supervision. If you can't make this commitment, consider purchasing or adopting an adult cat that is most likely litter trained and will usually adapt well to a new home.

Can you afford a cat?
The purchase price for a cat can vary tremendously by breed and source, and will just be your initial expense. Cats need high quality food, proper housing, mental stimulation (e.g., toys, playtime), and regular visits to a veterinarian for preventive care. Other costs may include emergency medical treatment, grooming, boarding, identification, licensing, sterilization (spaying or neutering), and accessories. Today, pet health insurance is readily available and may help you defray unexpected expenses resulting from illness or injury.

Where can you get a cat?
Purebred kittens and cats can be purchased from reputable breeders. Both mixed-breed and purebred kittens and cats can be adopted from animal shelters and rescue organizations. If you obtain your cat from a shelter, discuss with shelter personnel what they have observed about the cat's personality and try to learn why the cat was given up. Some kittens and cats are in shelters because of family lifestyle changes (e.g., moving, new baby), but others are given up because of chronic health or behavioral conditions that you might not want to manage. Some conditions may be treatable, but this will require additional investments of time and money.

What should you look for in a healthy cat?
A healthy kitten or cat has clear, bright eyes and a clean, shiny haircoat. It should not appear thin, overly fat, or show signs of illness, such as nasal discharge or diarrhea.

When choosing a cat, pick one that is active, inquisitive, and seeks affection and attention from people. Sometimes cats are uncomfortable in noisy or unfamiliar environments, so keep that in mind during your evaluation. An adult cat should allow handling and petting without hissing or scratching. A kitten should purr and be relaxed when picked up and handled. The best age at which to obtain a kitten is when it is between 7 and 9 weeks old. Your veterinarian can also provide information about health conditions and behaviors that may be common in a particular breed you are considering.

What must you do to prepare for your cat?
Before bringing your new cat home, prepare places for it to eat, sleep, and eliminate. Purchase necessary accessories such as a litter box, litter, toys, and food and water bowls. Pet-proof your home by keeping toxic chemicals and plants out of reach, and make sure windows are securely screened when open so that your cat cannot escape. Be sure to provide appropriate scratching materials, such as a scratching post, so your cat can stretch and sharpen its claws without damaging your furnishings.

Plan to spend time training your cat so that it becomes comfortable with handling and grooming, and learns how to play and interact with people. Provide different kinds of play with a variety of toys, balls, or even a climbing tower. Kittens need frequent attention to socialize them to people and acquaint them with new things and experiences. Careful supervision also helps the kitten learn the rules of the household.

If you already have a cat and wish to add another, matching personality types may help the transition go more smoothly. For example, quiet cats should be matched with those of similar temperament. When another cat or kitten enters the home, introductions should proceed slowly with periods of isolation and separation until each cat learns to accept the other. If problems arise, consult your veterinarian for help.

Appropriate toileting areas are essential when multiple cats live together. This means at least one litter box per cat in more than one location. Food, water bowls, scratching posts, and resting areas should also be spaced throughout the home.

To ensure they live long, healthy lives, cats require regular veterinary medical checkups. Ask your veterinarian about a vaccination program and other preventive medical care appropriate for your cat's lifestyle and to protect against disease risks in your area. Your veterinarian can also help you learn how to detect subtle signs of illness, since cats are good at concealing when they don't feel well.

When you acquire a pet, you are making a promise to accept responsibility for the health and welfare of another living creature for its lifetime. You also agree to be responsible for your pet's impact on your family, friends, and community. Choose your pet wisely, keep your promise, and enjoy one of life's most rewarding experiences!

Kitten Tips
  • Seven to nine weeks is considered the ideal time for a kitten to move into a new home.
  • Spaying or neutering your new pet is an important part of responsible pet ownership. Talk to your veterinarian about the best time to have your kitten spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted litters.
  • When possible, meet the kitten's parents — their physical and behavioral characteristics may provide a clue as to how your kitten will be as an adult.
  • If you already have a pet (or more than one pet) and plan to get a cat, remember that your other pets may be less enthusiastic about your new addition than you are Ask your veterinarian about the best ways to introduce your pet to its new animal family.
  • String is NOT a good toy for cats. If a cat eats string (or ribbon), it can develop life-threatening intestinal problems. There are many safe toy alternatives available at pet stores.

    For more information on selecting a cat, visit

    The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), established in 1863, is a not-for-profit association representing more than 74,000 veterinarians working in private and corporate practice, government, industry, academia, and uniformed services. Structured to work for its members, the AVMA acts as a collective voice for its membership and for the profession

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