For people who want a furry friend to greet them when they come home but don’t want the commitment of a dog to walk, a cat may seem like the ideal choice of pet. However, even though cats are naturally self-contained creatures – they have evolved from solitary and independent ancestors that don’t live naturally in family groups as dogs do – it doesn’t mean they enjoy being constantly left to their own devices. While every cat is an individual, most will get lonely and stressed if left on their own for too long.
Cats can form firm friendships with other animals such as the family dog, as well as a very close bond with their human, coming to rely on their companionship. So, while you don’t have to walk them, pet cats still need regular playtime and plenty of human interaction.
The cost: can you afford it?
Not including how much it costs to actually get a cat you’ll also need money to cover regular vaccinations, boosters and parasite control, insurance (in case they get ill or injured – there’s no NHS for pets – and premiums will steadily rise as they get older), high quality food, along with all the usual feline paraphernalia. This may include litterboxes, litter, beds, a cat carrier, toys, bowls, grooming tools and enrichment items (such as scratching posts and cat trees). And, if they’re not already neutered and microchipped, you’ll have to pay for that too.
DID YOU KNOW?
The PDSA estimates that owning a cat will cost at least £12,000 over their whole lifetime to cover their basic welfare needs. If you decide to spend more on your cat’s care, or they live longer than average, this could be as much as £24,000.
Your home: is it cat friendly?
Cats are territorial and their environment is everything, so you’ll need to be prepared to make your home the perfect place for a fussy feline. Cats like a place for everything, and everything in its place – their food, water, litter tray, scratching post and bed should be placed in different locations around the house, ensuring your cat can access them whenever they need to. Cats also need places to climb up high to safely observe the world and secret hideaways for when they need undisturbed, private time. Find out more about creating a cat-friendly home here
A really important behaviour for cats is scratching – this keeps their claws in tip-top condition and exercises the muscles of the forelimbs and spine, which helps keep them in prime hunting condition. Scratching is also used as a form of territorial communication. Scent and sweat glands in between the pads of the feet produce a unique smell, which is deposited when claws are scraped down a surface. So, while scratching posts can provide a practical outlet for this natural behaviour, a cat is still highly likely to make their mark on your furniture. You have to decide if this is something you can accept.
And, of course, cats are natural born hunters. How will you cope if they bring you back a ‘present’ through the cat flap?
You’ll also have to scan your home and garden for items that are toxic to inquisitive cats. Anything that gets on your cat’s feet or fur is very likely to be ingested when they’re grooming. Common poisons such as antifreeze, weed killer and slug bait should be safely locked away. Also be aware that many plants, including lilies, bluebells, foxglove, hydrangea and wisteria are poisonous to cats. Find out more about keeping cats safe here
Your lifestyle: how will a cat fit in?
Sometimes aloof and always fiercely independent, felines still love to be entertained and thrive on playing games and being given attention. You’ll need to dedicate some time every day for active play and keep a collection of toys that promote movement: feather toys, climbing trees, paper bags and cardboard boxes for your cat to pounce in and out of. Find out more about how to play games with cats of all ages
Cats live to around 16 years and some have even been known to thrive into their 20s. So be sure that when you’re making the decision to bring a cat into your life, you understand the long-term commitment you’re making.
Can you learn to think like a cat?
Cats and humans have been companions for thousands of years but it’s important to understand how cats see the world so you help to make their lives happy and fulfilling. Here’s some feline-focused reading to get you started:
- READ MY BODY LANGUAGE You and your cat might speak different languages, but look closer and you’ll see that your favourite feline is using their whole body to tell you how they’re feeling…
- CAT CHAT While cats use a range of vocalisations such as yowling, hissing and growling to communicate with each other, meowing isn’t one of them. This is a behaviour they’ve adopted just for humans. But what are they trying to tell us?
- A TRICK OF THE TAIL Dogs and their tails are easy to read – a wagging tail means happiness and excitement, whereas a tail tucked between the legs reveals the opposite. When it comes to cats, however, understanding tail talk is a lot trickier…
- WHY SOME CATS AREN’T CUDDLY Some cats love to sit in a comfy lap for hours on end, but others shy away from too much physical contact. The reason for this behaviour lies in their solitary and independent nature…
- THINK LIKE A CAT Dogs are great at being dogs and cats are great at being cats. Experts believe we’re doing our feline companions a disservice if we compare them to canines when it comes to our relationship with them
The right cat for you: how do you make the choice?
Kittens are incredibly cute and, while it’s rewarding to watch them grow and develop, they require a lot of time and energy. Young kittens shouldn’t be left for longer than four to five hours as they need regular meals throughout the day and close monitoring. In order to develop into confident adults, kittens need to interact positively with different people and experience all the bewildering sounds, sights, smells and sensations of a household – vacuuming, TV/radio, people coming and going etc. It’s a big responsibility to take on – you can find out more with the PDSA’s Kitten Checklist
You might find that adopting a more mature, adult cat who knows the ropes and is desperate for a comfy lap to nap in may suit you better. Most adult cats can be left alone for a working day quite happily, although every cat is an individual.
Getting a cat: where will you get your new friend from?
- Leading animal welfare charity rehoming centres such as: Cats Protection, Blue Cross, Battersea, Wood Green and RSPCA always have all sorts of cats looking for loving homes, from kittens to adults and also pedigree cats. Reputable welfare organisations will health check their cats and many do ‘temperament testing’ to try match the most suitable cat to your home and lifestyle. They’ll also offer plenty of helpful advice on caring for your new cat and provide you with post-adoption support.
- You might be able to get a kitten or a cat from someone you know and trust. Kittens from an unplanned litter are often more in need of a home. You should try to see kittens with their mother, in the place they were born, so you know they’ve been well cared for. Also check the mother is up to date with routine health care such as vaccinations and worming.
- If you’re thinking of getting a pedigree kitten, choose from a breed club breeder who’s a member of The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, which is the UK’s premier registration body.
- Never buy from newspapers, websites or a pet shop. Pet shops aren’t the right environment for cats or kittens to be living in and might cause a young cat to develop behavioural problems.
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