A practical guide for the new cat owner:

How to choose the right cat for you?

So you’ve made the big decision to welcome a cat into your home and it’s an exciting time! However, whether you’re a novice pet parent or an experienced feline caregiver it’s important to make sure that you choose the right cat for you. At first glance the options can seem endless; from making the basic choice between a kitten or an adult cat right through to looking at different breeds and lifestyles, but don’t worry. This guide will help point you in the right direction to decide what’s best for both you and your new feline friend.

Cat Breeder or Animal Shelter?

Often the first decision to be made once you’ve committed to getting a new cat is whether to go to a cat breeder or your local animal shelter. The third option of course is when that decision is already made for you… Either you’ve been given a cat or as is often the case, you’ve already been selected and adopted by the cat that has simply turned up on your doorstep! When you have the option of choosing where to obtain your cat, a breeder can provide a level of knowledge and history that is difficult to get from an animal shelter. Generally you can be assured that they have come from a good environment and been well socialised as a young kitten. The breeder will also be able to provide you with breed specific information, as well as a history of any genetic or inherited health issues. Getting your cat from an animal shelter on the other hand means that you’re providing a forever home to a cat that’s probably had a tough time and will respond well to a little love and attention. You may or may not know their previous history and there’s no guarantee of good social adjustment to their new environment, however all good animal shelters will conduct a behavioural assessment of their cats and try to match the needs of the cat to that of the potential new environment. Additionally most kittens and cats that are re-homed from animal shelters will have been thoroughly vet checked and may already be neutered, as well as vaccinated and wormed.

Domestic Moggy or Breed Specific?

Temperament and personality are hugely important factors when deciding what type of cat you want to live with. Many breed specific cats have heritable aspects to their temperament and this can be a good predictor and useful to help make your decision, but unfortunately it’s no guarantee! The old debate of nature versus nurture is never more appropriate then when talking about cats. The socialisation period of young kittens, as well as the training they receive in their first year of life is key to influencing their adult temperament. Domestic short- or long-haired cats may have no strong breed influences on temperament, but their personality is as individual as any other cat and is also subject to the same influences of training and environment.

Kitten or Cat?

Kittens are gorgeous bundles of fluff and mischief, but they also require a lot of time and patience! If you decide you definitely want to welcome a kitten into your home, be prepared to dedicate adequate time every day to help them grow into healthy, happy cats. Most kittens acquired from breeders and animal shelters will at least have started their litter tray training, but this will need to be continued and if you want them to start going to the toilet outside the home this will also need to be taught as they grow. Additionally kittens will need to learn that using their teeth and claws during play with humans isn’t the most appropriate way to interact and this training takes time and patience. The good news is that cats are generally pretty fast learners and kittens acquired from a young age can also bond more closely with their human companions, particularly when they are in single-cat households. Adult and more mature cats on the other hand will already have well defined personalities and temperaments and this can be helpful when deciding if they would fit with the type of cat you’re looking for, as well as the environment that you can provide to them. Adult cats should also already come toilet-trained and socialised to interact with people. This isn’t always guaranteed depending on their history and background, although it’s rare that it becomes an issue. Generally speaking, adult cats also settle pretty easily into their new homes, particularly if the environment is similar to what they are already used to.

Lifestyle

This is probably the most important determinant when it comes to choosing the right cat to live with. Whether you work long hours outside the home or you’re retired or you have a houseful of young children, it’s vital that your lifestyle suits the cat that you’re acquiring. Just like people some cats will be used to young children and enjoy their company whereas others prefer the quiet life. Generally speaking cats are solitary animals and do better when they live in single-cat households. This is particularly true when you’re thinking of bringing a new cat into your home and you already have an in-situ feline resident (Article. 'Introducing your car to other family pets'). Unnecessary stress can be caused both to the cats who have to adjust to this situation and to the people who have to help them adjust. Other considerations to think about are whether you want to have an indoor cat or one that is free to roam outside. Indoor cats will require more of your time and attention throughout their life as they come to rely on you for play, exercise and to help them fulfil other natural behaviours that may be thwarted by their inability to go outside e.g. hunting and predatory behaviours. Outdoor cats on the other hand will be more at risk from cat fights, roaming and road traffic accidents, so the position of your home and the surrounding environment is also an important consideration.

All in all, making the decision to bring a furry feline resident into your family is a huge step and an exciting time. However to try to mitigate potential behavioural problems down the road, now is the time to consider all the different elements of your home and lifestyle to make sure that you choose the cat that is right for you.

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