You have finally made the decision to have a family pet, a CAT! When that the excitement of it wears off, it’s time to make another important decision. WHICH is the right cat for you and your family? When you start looking at all the available options, it can get overwhelming very quickly. Here are a few tips to help the process of choosing the right cat for your family go smoother.
SET YOUR EXPECTATIONS
First of all, you need to set your expectations and figure out exactly what you want. If all you know is that you want a hypothetical “pet”, it will be very hard to narrow down your choices and make the right decision.
Sit down and write a list of things you look for in a pet.
Questions you might want to ask yourself:
- Do you long for an affectionate cat who insists on claiming your lap every time you sit down? Or do you want a cat who is independent and doesn’t get into your face too much?
- Do you look for a cat whose looks are unusual and even exotic? Or Do you want a cat who is least likely to be adopted specifically because of his/her looks?
- Do you have a conviction to save one kitty’s life and adopt it from the shelter? Or do you have a desire for a purebred cat?
- Will you have time to give attention to the cat? Do you stay home most of the day? Or do you travel a lot? (Some breeds require regular grooming and interacting and some are fine being on their own).
- Will you be able to afford having a cat? (Even if you are not getting a purebred cat, the cost of the adoption fees and initial set up can run up higher than you expect).
- Do you prefer to have a young kitten and train it from the very beginning? Would you prefer an older cat who is already established in his/her habits.
When deciding on a family pet, be sure to include everyone in this process. You need to agree on what you ALL want your future life with a pet to be like.
This is probably reason #1 why once successfully adopted cats will return to the shelter. As a result, not only your family will be heartbroken to give up a beloved pet, but also the cat as well will be confused why he’s not with his/her humans any longer. To avoid this painful experience, think of all members of your family and the possible signs of allergies. If all of you deal well with hanging out in households with pets with no reactions, you are probably fine. But if you notice itchy eyes and sneezing, you might want to be careful when deciding on a new kitty.
The source of cat allergies is a protein called Fel d 1, which is found in cat’s saliva. Technically, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat because all cats have the above mentioned protein, and they regularly groom themselves using their tongue. However, some cat breeds produce less of the Fel d1 protein and therefore are a better match for people who have allergies.
The best breeds for people who are sensitive to cat dander are Sphynx, Siberian, Balinese, Devon Rex and Cornish Rex, Bengal, and Russian Blue (and a few others).
When we were looking for a cat, these were the breeds we were focusing on. Our son had signs of allergies to dogs, so we had to be extra careful when deciding on our new pet’s breed. We knew it had to be a shorthair breed and on a “low allergy” breed list. We waited several months until just the right kitty showed up on our web searches. She wasn’t a purebred, but rather a Russian Blue mix. Still, it worked out great for our family with no issues at all!
Also, consider those family members (or workers, like a nanny) who come to your house on a regular basis. If your parents/siblings visit often or help out with childcare, consider their allergies as well.
KITTEN or ADULT
There is no doubt that it is so much more fun to watch and play with a kitten! They are adorable, funny looking, silly, and clumsy. But they are also a lot of work. And that’s probably an understatement. Yes, it is true that you will develop a stronger bond if you raise your kitten yourself. However, be prepared to put in hours and hours of hard work of litterbox training, scratching the post, mewing at night, taming his/her wild personality, climbing on your counters and curtains, and getting into other stuff.
When you adopt an older cat, you will get a more mature pet, already familiar with house rules (often described as “house broken”), litter box situation, and meal schedule. However, you will also get a pet with already set habits and personalities. In this case, meeting your cat before making a decision to adopt is very important.
Also, it’s good to remember that kittens are HIGH energy! They love playtime and will always be asking for more attention while they are young. If they don’t get it, they will vocalize it in their adorable tiny but perpetual (and at times annoying) meows. Older cats, on the other hand, are calmer and better behaved. They still enjoy regular playtime and interaction. But they certainly love their independent time for exploration and naptime just as much, if not more.
Note: 1 year old cats are still considered kittens, but they are often listed on adoption websites as a “young cat”. These cats are usually already litter box trained and “housebroken” but still energetic and playful, like kittens.
What exactly do you want? Do you feel more secure and confident to go to a breeder and get a kitten from a litter where you can have history of the mom and dad? Will you be OK adopting from the shelter and having mixed breeds? Or do you have a soft spot for lonely strays? Whatever path you choose, consider also the breed.
As I mentioned earlier, choosing a particular breed is important when dealing with allergies. It also can be important to consider personalities and care associated with certain breeds.
For example, while Siamese cats are very vocal and social and may require frequent interaction, Main Coons and Siberians may require a lot of grooming due to their long hair instead.
Read more about cat’s breeds and their characteristics here and here and choose a breed that fits your abilities and interest. Or do a simple Google search and find out more information about a particular breed in which you are most interested.
Some breeds love to be in the middle of the family commotion, and some prefer one on one attention and interaction. Whatever your situation, make sure you know your own preferences and cat’s potential behavior before you sign your name on adoption documents.
MEET AND GREET
Before you make your final decision, try to visit the shelter for a “meet-and-greet”. If you are coming just to browse and see how you feel about cats in general, take it slow. Make sure you visit with each cat, and don’t discount the sleepy fellows.
If you want a closer look of a cat, ask the helper to let the animal out of its cage. Don’t force the interaction, but rather let the cat use his/her senses and instinct to approach you. Pay attention to behavior and reactions from both the humans and the cat. And try not to judge a cat by his looks. So often the sweetest and most loving personalities reveal themselves in the “average” looking cats who didn’t spike your interest at first. Give every kitty a chance to meet you and interact with you. You might be pleasantly surprised to find a gem of a pet snoozing in the back.
Making an initial contact is very important. You get more information from the face to face meeting than any photo on the Internet or fancy description. Hopefully, one of the kitties will tug at your heart in just the right manner. Once it does, you will know that this is the right cat for you.
Some shelters allow a “sleepover” trial. I think it’s a fabulous idea to try living with a cat for a few days. Don’t base your decision on just one night! The cat will most likely be a tad anxious and stressed out. It may meow and explore the house all night. But by the 2nd or 3rd day, you should have a pretty good idea of your compatibility with the cat, including allergies, personalities, and level of care.
When you are choosing a pet, it’s good to remember that you are getting a house mate for about 15-20 years. That’s a big commitment! Choosing just the right cat that will stick by your side through life’s events for the next decade or two is a very important decision. Do yourself a favor and really take your time when making that decision. Consider the tips above, and I’m sure you will be able to have a better idea of what cat suits your lifestyle best!