Finding the Kitten of Your Dreams
-- Text by Patricia Jacobberger
The domesticated cat has become the companion pet of choice in North America. Reasonably easy to maintain and care for, cats are adaptable to a variety of living styles and are comfortable in motor homes, condominiums, traditional houses and apartments. I even know of one cat that travels with her owners cross country in an eighteen wheeler!
Cats are affectionate, sensitive and independent - an interesting combination of attributes that appeal to a number of people. While the generally sweet nature of the cat appeals to our "warm, fuzzy" cravings, their independence is something that we also admire and respect. It is this independent side of the domesticated cat that allows us to keep a bit of the "untamed" in our homes to appreciate and treasure. Cats help to keep us healthier and reduce the stress in our lives.
Yes, indeed, the cat is a wonderful companion for the human. But, before you go out to find your dream kitten, take a little time to answer some basic questions and do a little research.
Do you REALLY Want a Cat?
First, ask yourself, "Should I get a cat?" Today, veterinary medicine is so advanced that cats often live 15 years or more when cared for properly. Your cat will depend on you throughout her/his life for shelter, food, attention and a stable home. Are you willing to commit that amount of time to your pet?
Next, evaluate whether or not you can financially afford and support a cat in your current living situation. If you are looking for a "pure bred" (pedigreed) cat, expect to pay between $300 and $1500 depending on the breed and your geographical location. Figure that yearly health care will be between $50 and $200 for vaccinations and examinations.
That first year, you will need to alter your pet - spay or castration surgery will cost anywhere from $50 to $200 for a male and from $100-$300 for a female. Budget an extra $100 to $150 per year for the unexpected. Do not forget the cost of food, litter, toys and the other paraphernalia that your cat will need. Add it up - if you cannot afford veterinary care or the basics for your cat right now, you may want to wait until you can.
What Kind of Cat Do You Want?
"What kind of cat do you want to acquire?" Do you want a kitten or an adult cat? Kittens are a permanently cute, playful and fun, fun, fun. But, there are disadvantages to kittens. They require care and monitoring as they grow, they are full of energy and mischievousness and they make mistakes - like getting up on the dining room table during your dinner party; like climbing up the draperies; like climbing up your pants leg to get your attention. As you can see, a kitten will require a fair amount of attention and training.
An adult cat on the other hand has been through all of that - at someone ELSE'S house! Adult cats generally adjust to a new home without difficulty and they bond just as easily with humans as do kittens. On the other hand, an adult may come with habits that you may not appreciate. But, adult cats can also learn to change their behavior when you take the time to work with them.
"Do you want a male or a female?" Altered males and females make equally good pets in the long run. Most pet owners find that there is very little difference in personality and that neither gender is more affectionate or more playful than the other. However, if you are more strongly drawn to one gender over the other, then by all means, that is what you should have. In either case, plan to alter your cat at the proper age. Unneutered, mature males will spray their urine on your furniture and walls to mark their territory and it smells - bad. Unspayed females call or yowl and cry when they are in season - incessantly. In both cases, altering your cat will yield a much better behaved, much healthier companion animal.
"Do you want a longhaired cat or a shorthaired cat?" Pretty basic question but, one that some do not think to ask. Longhaired cats are lovely but require daily combing or brushing. This is not a difficult task particularly if you begin grooming your pet as a kitten. If you decide that a longhaired cat is what you must have, promise yourself and her/him to daily grooming. All cats shed, but longhaired cats shed a longer hair that accumulates more apparently than that of a shorthaired cat.
"Do you want a pure bred or a mixed breed cat?" What's the difference? A mixed breed kitten (also known as the domestic shorthair, domestic longhair, or moggie), is usually the result of an unplanned, randomized mating between two cats of unknown heritage. Mixed breed cats and kittens make up the majority of the cat population in North America and are generally acquired from humane organizations or shelters, neighbors, through want ads or in pet stores. The prices on mixed breed kittens range from $0 to $50. They are generally available in a variety of colors and patterns. Each comes with its own personality no matter what color or coat length and so personality is not always predictable. Moreover, the kitten you acquire as a shorthair may actually grow up to be a cat with a medium length coat that needs daily grooming. Of course, one of the pluses of taking a mixed breed kitten home from most shelters is that you are rescuing an otherwise, unwanted animal.
A "pure bred" kitten is bred from known pedigreed parentage in order to conform to a written standard that describes what the ideal example of that breed should look like. Usually, they are obtained from breeders who are working with a specific breed towards a specific goal. Appearance and temperament are typically predictable. "Pure bred" cats are uncommon and comprise approximately 3-5% of the cat population on this continent but, there are over 40 breeds recognized among all of the feline registry organizations in North America. For the most part, a "pure bred" kitten will grow up to be representative of its breed both in looks and in personality. This makes "pure bred" cats attractive because when someone wants a particular breed, it is often for a particular reason.
Where to Get Your Cat
There are a variety of places from where you may acquire your new kitten or cat. Animal shelters and rescue groups are good places to start if you are looking for a mixed breed cat. Look for a kitten or cat that is friendly, active and outgoing. You may have to pay an adoption fee to help to cover some of the costs of operating the shelter, complete a questionnaire and sign an agreement to alter the kitten when age permits. Do not worry, this is pretty standard with most humane and rescue groups.
The "Want Ads" of your local newspaper is another place to look for a mixed breed kitten or cat and it is also a place to look for "pure bred" cats. (Buying from a breeder is covered further along in this article.) If you are purchasing a mixed breed kitten via the want ads, make certain that you are acquiring a clean, healthy, well socialized kitten. The kittens should look well fed, be active and free from tearing of the eyes. Steer away from kittens that are younger than 8 weeks of age - they need a little more time to properly socialize. Your kitten should have had a least the first set of inoculations before you take him/her home.
Pet Stores are another place where you can acquire a pure bred or a mixed breed kitten. Be aware, if you are considering purchasing from a pet store, that reputable breeders of pure "bred breed" cats do not sell their kittens through this channel. Sometimes, kittens for pet store sale are obtained from "kitten mills" where breeding practices may be less than optimum. Frequently, "pure bred" kittens sell for considerably more at a pet store than from a breeder. The same rules apply if you cannot resist, however. Make certain that there is no runny nose or eyes, that the kitten is at least 8 weeks old and is active and curious. Insist on having the management's policy for any health guarantee explained, preferably in writing.
Pedigreed or "Pure Bred" Breeders are the ideal people from who to obtain a "pure bred" kitten or cat. A good place to meet breeders is at a cat show. You can also find listings of breeders in magazines such as "Cat Fancy". Going to a cat show allows the opportunity to see a large number of breeds at one time and to get the answers to a lot of questions. But, do some home work first because with over 40 breeds of "pure bred" cats, there is a lot to choose from. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Do I want a longhaired cat or a shorthaired cat?
- What kind of personality do I want or am I willing to put up with? (Review the Breed Characteristics and Personality chart for more information)
- What color(s) do I want?
Take a little time and drop into the public library and do some reading about various breeds to see what you find appealing. Seek out more than one breeder and ask questions related to how their cats are bred and raised (for example, in a cage or under foot; with children or without; etc). Be prepared for the breeder to ask you questions about things like your home environment, your attitude about declawing and keeping kitty indoors and about other cats you may have had in your life.
In most associations, any kittens at the show that are available for placement will be at least 4 months old. If you want a younger kitten, you will need to visit the breeder's home. There, you can evaluate the breeder's environment and see one or both parents. Nearly every "pure bred" breeder will require you to sign a purchase agreement that addresses neutering and spaying. Most breeders will provide you with detailed information about care for your new kitten or cat.
What Questions to Ask
Be assertive when selecting your kitten or cat no matter where you are acquiring him or her. You should be able to obtain answers to questions about:
- Vaccinations - what has been given, when was it given and when is the next shot due?
- Health history - has the litter been healthy, are all the individual kittens healthy, is the mother healthy?
- Health guarantee - how long is it and what is covered?
- Was a stool sample tested and what were the results?
- What is the feeding schedule and what food is the kitten or cat used to?
- Feline leukemia testing - have both parents been tested and are they negative?
- What if things don't work out - what is the "return" policy?
- What kind of litter is the kitten or cat used to?
- How were the kittens raised - in a cage or "under foot.
The First Visit to the Veterinarian
After you have obtained your dream kitten or cat, take him or her to your veterinarian as soon as it is convenient. It is an excellent way to check on the overall health of your new pet and a good way to get an early start on his or her relationship with the doctor. Your vet will perform an examination and make further recommendations about vaccinations, care and feeding. With that completed, you can take your new precious companion home and begin the development of your life-long relationship. Good luck and enjoy your dream kitten - it will be a long and beneficial association for you both!