Deciding to bring home a new cat or kitten is very exciting, if not a little daunting. Like all big decisions, it's important to gather as much information as possible. You'll need to consider how your cat will fit in with your lifestyle. Do you adopt a kitten or an older cat? Do you prefer a pedigree or a cross breed? Choose wisely…
Purebred or mixed breed?
Around 90% of cats in the UK are moggies, or mixed breed cats and you may be unaware of the huge variety of pedigree breeds available. There are over 60 different recognised breeds and colour varieties of pedigree domestic cat in 7 basic categories: Persians, British, Semi-Longhair, Burmese, Oriential, Siamese and Foreign.
The greatest advantage of buying a pedigree kitten or cat is that you know fairly well what you're getting, although breed temperament is far less predictable than in pedigree dogs. Their appearance and personality is likely to fit the profile of that particular breed. For example, a pure-bred Siamese is more likely to be vocal, mischievous and demanding of your attention. More specifically, buying a pedigree is likely to give you an indication of what size the kitten will grow to, how long the coat will be and any breed-specific health problems likely to occur.
Be aware however, that it's not just size and personality that may be more predictable in the pedigree. Generations of inter-breeding have also led to a greater vulnerability to genetically inherited disease and an increased tendency towards some behavioural issues.
For more information about pedigree breeds, take a look at a good feline encyclopaedia or consult the Breed Selector on this website. The Governing Council of Cat Fancy, www.gccfcats.org, can provide a comprehensive list of breeds recognised in the UK, with links to their official breed clubs. Further information is available on the Feline Advisory Bureau website at www.fabcats.org. You might also consider publications such as Your Cat. Take a look on their website at www.yourcat.co.uk.
Crossbreeds have two pedigree, but different breed, parents. These are less common than in the dog world, but some feline crosses are available. In fact, many new pedigree breeds have been created through careful crossbreed matches (for example, the Tonkinese was created by crossing the Siamese with the Burmese). Most crossbreeds available today will be the result of an accidental mating, where a pedigree female has encountered a male from another breed instead of the 'mate' intended. In crosses, it is usually possible to see some behavioural and physical traits from both breeds - for example, a Siamese cross may have a similar physical structure to a Siamese, but might not have the pointed markings. The Siamese nature may also be present, although the traits will be diluted - so the cat may be talkative, assertive and quite headstrong, but perhaps not as demanding as a purebred Siamese.
Otherwise known as moggies, these cats come from an entirely non-pedigree background. The most thoroughly mixed of these are categorised as either 'domestic shorthairs' or 'domestic longhairs'. Their primary only minor disadvantage is that you just don't know what such a kitten will grow into - quite what the adult size and coat will be and certain key character traits, for example. But for many owners who enjoy this element of surprise, it's an advantage! Unlike dogs, cats are not that significantly different in size or shape, so you won't be too surprised by how your kitten turns out.
The most significant advantages to choosing a mixed breed cat are health and personality. Moggies are often generally healthier than pedigree animals, as they have a large gene pool to call on and fewer inherent genetic problems. They can also be much more balanced, well-rounded feline personalities. Ultimately, mixed-breed kittens and cats are also generally less expensive, while purebred kittens can be very costly.
If you are concerned about not being able to predict how a mixed breed kitten will mature, why not consider an adult mixed breed cat from an animal shelter? There are many adult cats who are looking for new owners. Being used to home life, they usually adjust and fit in with you and your family very quickly if given the chance. To find out more contact Cats Protection www.cats.org.uk, Blue Cross www.bluecross.org.uk, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home www.battersea.org.uk or the Dublin SPCA.
Cat or kitten?
Few people can resist kittens. They're cuddly, playful, mischievous and inquisitive. At the same time, they demand a lot of vigilance and attention. Are you prepared to invest the time and energy necessary to care responsibly for a kitten?
Adult cats are also playful, but bear in mind that they have spent their formative years in someone else's home, outdoors, or even homeless. Whatever influences have shaped them, their personality is better established and may therefore be easier to read. With some luck, you'll be able to get information from the cat's previous owner - including litter tray habits, food preferences and personality.
Middle-aged and older cats are often harder to re-home. However, older cats can make excellent new pets and are more likely to sleep through the night. Common problems such as inappropriate urination or aggression, especially to other cats, are less likely in an older cat who has essentially 'proven' his or her compatibility.
The impact on your family
If your home already boasts at least one cat and you're determined to bring home another, a kitten may cause less social conflict than an adult. If you don't have a cat now but hope to have several eventually, consider adopting one or two kittens who may well grow up together avoiding future friction.
Male or Female?
Provided they are neutered, both males and females make brilliant pets - and there are actually very few behavioural differences between them. For every person who says females are more loving and males are more independent, there will be someone with a loving mummy's boy, or a self-reliant female.
- Generally, males are a little bigger than females.
- Un-neutered toms can present various difficulties, such as wandering, pungent urine spraying and fighting.
- Un-neutered females can be very vocal and difficult to keep indoors when they come into season. They can become pregnant from very early in their lives, and unplanned litters can be costly and difficult to manage.
- Your choice of sex may be determined by any existing cats you have. If you already have a sociable (neutered) male cat, a young (neutered) female may be the best choice for him and you.
- The cost of sterilising a female is greater than neutering a male, and greater still if she is already pregnant. Most re-homing charities will have already neutered their cats before they put them up for adoption.
What to look out for with a pedigree
Once you have found the breed you want and a litter of available kittens, visit them several times before taking one home. Some personality traits appear over days or weeks and help you decide whether a particular kitten would be a good match for your family. Visits can start when the kittens are only a few weeks old, but your kitten must be at least seven weeks old before they can leave their mother. Some breeders reverse the process too, they may want to visit your home to ensure that you can offer a caring and responsible environment.
There are many factors to weigh up when deciding which kitten to take home. Personality, tolerance, activity level and, ultimately, how they integrate into your family are all important.
If a kitten shies back from the group and is consistently unwilling to approach you, they are likely to grow up to be timid and dislike handling. A kitten that repeatedly mouths and claws at your hands may play quite roughly as they grow. Look for the kitten that responds positively, but not aggressively, to your touch or voice and to their brothers and sisters.
Make sure that kittens and cats appear healthy. They should have bright, clear eyes, white teeth with no excess tartar, ears clear of thick brown or black wax, smooth nails, and a thick (depending on breed) and shiny coat without any evidence of fleas. There should not be any signs of a runny nose or watery eyes. Most private owners and some shelters will allow you to take your new pet to a vet for a physical examination before making a final commitment if they haven’t already engaged their own vet for an examination. Your kitten should also have received her initial vaccinations from a vet before you purchase her.
Also consider the social background of the kitten or cat. You may not ever know the parents' identities, but you can certainly ask about the amount of social interaction and handling the kittens have had and it’s wise to choose one that has been brought up in a normal stimulating home environment, so that your normal home holds few surprises for her.
Sadly, feral cats and kittens, such as timid strays found in fields, may permanently bear the effects of poor socialisation. If a kitten acts very fearfully, hissing and trying to escape, assume this behaviour may well take a long time to change, if ever. Noisy, active households are probably not their ideal environment, so consider choosing a friendly, outgoing kitten instead.