Want to adopt a cat? Here’s what you need to know
If inviting a fluffy, four-pawed feline companion to join your family is at the top of your wish list, you’ll need to buy all the kit – a cosy cat bed, a cat carrier, a cat litter box, a cat scratching post, a selection of cute cat toys and, of course, some top-quality cat food.
However, before you get completely carried away with writing out your dream kitty shopping list, it’s essential that you’re fully informed about what it really means to be a cat guardian.
People are often attracted to cats as companion animals when they want a furry friend but don’t want the responsibility of having to take their pet for daily walks, as with a dog.
And it’s true, it’s not just dogs that can be our best friends, cats make wonderful companions too. In fact, 24% of adults in the UK own a cat according to the PDSA's 2020 PAW report.
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. Cats can form 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.
To help you decide if you’re ready to become a cat guardian, take a look at:
- The right cat for you: how do you make the choice?
- Where will you get your new feline friend from?
- What items will you need to get for your new cat?
- How much will it cost?
- Cats and allergies
- Choosing the right food for your cat
- Your home: is it cat friendly?
- Welcoming your new cat
- Your lifestyle: how will a cat fit in?
The right cat for you: how do you make the choice?
Kittens are unbelievably cute and, while it’s rewarding to watch them grow and develop, they require an awful 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, doorbells, hairdryers and people coming and going.
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.
Where will you get your new feline friend from?
Choosing where to get your new feline friend from is the next most important decision after you’ve decided to get a cat. Where your cat comes from can have a big effect on their health and life with you.
- 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, available at locations around the country. 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.
PDSA has teamed up with other charities and animal welfare organisations to create a Kitten Adoption Checklist. This has all the questions you’ll need to get answered before you take on a new feline friend, along with tips on what to look for to check that your new pet is happy and healthy.
What items will you need to get for your new cat?
Rehoming charity Cats Protection has a handy list of things you’ll need for your new cat:
- One food bowl
- One water bowl – remember to place your food and water bowl away from each other
- Cat food and fresh water
- A soft, warm and comfortable bed put somewhere quiet and safe
- A litter tray, kept away from your cat’s food and water area
- Access to a high spot where they can view their surroundings. A simple cardboard box should do the trick!
- A sturdy scratching post
- A brush
- Cat toys
- A cat carrier – choose something well ventilated and sturdy
The charity advises that when providing beds, litter trays, scratching posts and food and water bowls, it’s a good idea to provide one extra. When more than one cat is sharing the home, provide one of these items per cat plus one extra. For example, two cats should have access to at least three litter trays.
How much will it cost?
PDSA estimates that the ‘set-up’ costs comes to around £250 for all the kit a new pet cat needs, plus microchipping, an initial course of vaccinations and neutering. This doesn’t include the cost of buying your cat. Adopting from a reputable rescue centre (which usually requires a donation) will mean your cat is likely to already be neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.
Then there are the ongoing costs of looking after your cat. These may include:
- Yearly health checks and booster vaccinations
- Flea and worming treatments
- Pet insurance (there’s no NHS for pets)
- Complete cat food
- Cat litter
The charity estimates the minimum monthly cost of owning a cat, based on the above, is around £70. However, if your cat ends up with other ongoing care costs you might be paying a more. Over their whole lifetime, owning a cat will cost at least £12,000 to cover their 5 Welfare Needs (health, behaviour, companionship, diet, environment). 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.
Rehoming charity Battersea says: “Our rehoming fee is £95 for cats (over six months), £125 for kittens (under six months) or £170 for a pair of cats and £225 for a pair of kittens, which includes a full vet and behaviour assessment, microchipping, flea and worm treatment, neutering, initial vaccinations, starter pack of food and four weeks of free Petplan insurance. Each cat also goes to their new home with their own blankets and a favourite toy, such as a knitted mouse.”
IMPORTANT – CATS AND ALLERGIES
Before you bring a new cat into your home, are you absolutely sure that nobody in your household has a cat allergy?
Battersea states: “We rarely rehome to people with cat allergies unless these are very mild, as allergies are one of the most common reasons why cats are brought into us for rehoming.
Truly hypoallergenic cats are a myth. There is a common misconception that some breed cats are hypoallergenic, but the protein responsible for causing cat allergies is found in a cat’s saliva, so a hairless cat could still cause an allergic reaction in someone who has allergies to cats.”
Choosing the right food for your cat
Cats are ‘obligate’ or ‘true carnivores’, which means they must eat meat to survive and thrive. Obligate carnivores require nutrients found only in animal flesh and, while they might be able to ingest small amounts of plant matter, they’re not able to fully digest it.
The optimum diet for your cat is one that supplies the correct number of calories and balance of nutrients and dietary components such as protein, fat, carbohydrate and vitamins and minerals for their size, life stage and lifestyle. Burgess Cat Food is a complete food. This means, whatever variety you choose for your cat, it will contain all the nutrients they need in the correct balance.
Burgess Kitten Chicken has a unique recipe that contains a balance of highly digestible proteins to help build muscle, calcium to support developing bones and teeth and nucleotides, which help support growing bodies and are vital for the development of the gut and immune system. It has specially designed smaller kibble to suit a kitten’s bite size and is suitable for kittens from four weeks up to one year of age.
Neutered cats are less likely to roam, but more prone to weight gain They’re more likely to have urinary tract infections and neutering may increase the likelihood of hairballs. To help address these issues, Burgess has undertaken detailed nutrition research – along with all- important taste tests – and have developed the award-winning Burgess Neutered Cat. This tasty, advanced, high protein recipe is suitable to feed from the age when a cat is neutered.
Cats experience changes in how they digest their food as they age – specifically, they cannot digest protein or oils as efficiently as before. Senior diets, such as Burgess Mature Cat with Turkey and Cranberry are formulated to be more digestible to help combat these changes, as well as helping to support healthy joints, heart health and protect immunity and can be fed from seven years upwards.
- If your cat has not eaten dry cat food before, it’s best to introduce it slowly over a seven-day period. Start by mixing it with wet food, gradually mixing in more of the dry food.
- If your cat has eaten another dry cat food and is eating Burgess Cat Food for the first time, introduce the food gradually by increasing the amount of Burgess Cat each day and reducing the other dry cat food over a period of seven days.
- Cats naturally eat lots of small meals per day. Try to split their daily intake into several small meals (unless advised otherwise by your vet). In the wild, cats have to work for their food, which exercises their bodies and stimulates their minds. Food dished out twice a day in a bowl in the kitchen presents no kind of challenge. Providing it in feeding balls or cat puzzles can deliver a much more exciting and rewarding experience for your cat.
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.
Welcoming your new cat
Cats Protection advises: “The most important thing your cat needs is a quiet, comfortable and secluded space of their or her own. It could be a spare bedroom or a cosy space in the corner of your living room. This will make sure your cat becomes familiar with one space before exploring the rest of your home.
Here's a step-by-step guide on setting up a space for your new cat
- Make sure the space is private. Keep dogs, kids and guests out
- Make it safe. Remove potential hazards like cleaning products or anything that could be knocked over
- Provide a hiding space. A cardboard box on top of a tall piece of furniture is ideal
- Add your cat’s essential items your new pet needs: a bed, cat food, water, scratching post and litter tray.
- Provide some fun. Puzzle toys, fishing rod toys and even cardboard boxes are excellent boredom busters
To help things along, it’s a good idea to install some feline pheromone diffusers in your home a day or two before your new cat arrives. Feliway products emit pheromones that cats leave when they feel secure. Go at your cat’s pace and don’t invade their personal space. Let them come to you when they feel ready.
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 decide to bring a cat into your life, you understand the long-term commitment you're making.
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