Choosing the right cat for you
You’ve probably imagined all the cuddles you’ll have and the games you’ll play with your new fluffy friend, but remember that your cat will be a big part of your life for a long time to come, so it’s important you do your homework before you fall in love with the first cat you see.
You’ll need to make some decisions such as whether you want a cat or a kitten, whether they’ll be an indoor or outdoor cat, who will have what responsibilities for them and what type of cat will fit in with your lifestyle.
Should I get a pedigree, crossbreed or mixed breed?
Around 90% of the cats in the UK are moggies, or mixed breed cats, while the rest are pedigree breeds. Did you know there are over 60 different recognised breeds and colour varieties of pedigree domestic cat? They fall into seven basic categories: Persians, British, Semi-Longhair, Burmese, Oriental, Siamese and Foreign.
The main advantage of buying a pedigree kitten or cat is that you know fairly well what type of pet you'll be getting. Although their breed temperament is less predictable than in pedigree dogs, you’ll have a pretty good idea from the breed profile what they will look like and how their personality is likely to develop. For example, a pure-bred Siamese will often be vocal, mischievous and a bit of an attention seeker! Another aspect of buying a pedigree cat is that you’re more likely to know what size the kitten will grow to, how long their coat will be and any breed-specific health problems they might develop.
However, in some breeds generations of in-breeding have led to a greater vulnerability to genetically inherited disease and perhaps an increased tendency towards some behavioural issues, so keep this in mind if you’re considering a pedigree cat.
For more information about pedigree breeds and the types of cat available, take a look at a good feline encyclopaedia or consult our Cat Breed Library. The website of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy features a comprehensive list of cat breeds recognised in the UK and details of GCCF Member cat clubs. Further information is also available on the International Cat Care website. You could also read a specialist cat magazine such as Your Cat.
Crossbreeds cats have two pedigree parents, but from different breeds. 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 cat has encountered one of the opposite sex from another breed.
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, this type of cat comes from an entirely non-pedigree background. Given the amount of parental variations possible, they are simply categorised as either 'domestic shorthairs' or 'domestic longhairs'.
If you choose a moggie you can’t be exactly sure what kind of cat they’ll grow into. You won’t know quite what their adult size and coat will be and you’ll have to wait to see what character traits they have as they grow. Not knowing can be half the fun as you see your pet develop, and luckily unlike dogs, cats are not significantly different in size or shape, so you won’t get any big surprises!
Two big advantages of choosing a mixed breed cat are their health and personality. Moggies are generally healthier than their pedigree peers, as they have a large gene pool to call on and fewer inherent genetic problems.
There’s also the issue of cost - mixed-breed kittens and cats are comparatively inexpensive, while purebred kittens can be very costly to purchase.
Should I get my cat from a breeder or rescue shelter?
If you’d rather be more sure of your new cat’s personality, why not consider an adult mixed breed cat from an animal shelter? With past experience of home life, these cats usually adjust and fit in with you and your family very quickly. To find out how you could give one of these beautiful cats a second chance, contact Cats Protection, Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home or the Dublin SPCA.
If you decide to get a kitten from a breeder, make sure you check out the environment where they’ll spend their first few weeks, which is a vital time in their brain development. They’ll need a rich environment with lots of things to challenge them, such as children, other pets and an environment that extends past floor level as they grow. A variety of social interactions and physical opportunities will help them cope better with life as an adult – kittens that come from very quiet or unstimulating environments may grow into nervous, antisocial cats when they’re older.
Should I get a cat or kitten?
It’s tough to resist a brand new kitten! 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 for a young kitten. If not, how about an adult or older cat?
Adult cats are also playful, and by now their personalities have become quite developed. They will have been influenced by their previous homes – if they had one – so it will be easier for you to tell what they’ll be like to live with. You may be able to get some information from the cat's previous owner about their litter tray habits, food preferences and personality, which means you can help them settle in a bit easier.
Middle-aged and older cats are often harder to re-home as many people would often prefer a kitten, but older cats can make excellent new pets and have a lot of advantages. For example, they’re more likely to sleep through the night, they’re less likely to urinate indoors and they’re less likely to develop behavioural problems.
What to look out for when choosing a cat
If you decide to get a kitten from a breeder, and you’ve found one you trust, it’s a matter of waiting for a litter of little ones to be born. When you’re given the go ahead, you can visit the kittens several times before choosing one and eventually taking them home.
Some personality traits will appear over days or weeks and by going back a few times you can start to build a bond and decide which 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 eight 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. You should see this as a promising sign, as they clearly care about the welfare of the kittens as much as you do.
There are lots of things to look out for when choosing your kitten: personality, tolerance, activity level and compatibility with your family, just for starters!
There are lots of things to look out for when choosing your kitten: personality, tolerance, activity level and compatibility with your family, just for starters! You should also think about their coats, as long haired cats require more grooming than their short haired counterparts.
If a kitten shies back from their littermates and is consistently unwilling to approach you, they may well grow up to be a timid type with a dislike of handling, while a kitten that repeatedly mouths and claws at your hands may turn out to be a bit of a rough player when they’re older. When buying a cat, look for the kitten that responds positively, but not aggressively, to your touch or voice and to their brothers and sisters.
Make sure that the kittens and cats appear healthy. They should have bright, clear eyes and white teeth. Ears should be clear of thick brown or black wax, their nails smooth and they should have a thick (depending on breed) and shiny coat without any evidence of fleas. There shouldn’t 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 arranged an examination with their own vet, and your kitten should have received their initial vaccinations before you take them home.
Should I get a male or female cat?
Both male and female cats make brilliant pets, and there are actually only a few behavioural differences between them. Male cats can be just as loving as females, and female cats just as independent as males. The general differences between the genders are:
- Males are usually a little bigger than females.
- Un-neutered toms often develop a few antisocial habits such as wandering away from home, pungent urine spraying and fighting.
- Un-neutered females can be very vocal and difficult to keep indoors when they come into season. They can also become pregnant very early in their lives, so take action and have them neutered to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
- Whether you get a male or a female cat 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 right choice for him and you to have the best chance of avoiding clashes.
- It costs more to neuter a female cat than a male cat, and it will be more expensive still if she is already pregnant. Most re-homing charities will have already neutered their cats before they put them up for adoption.
What impact will a cat have on my family?
Before you bring a new cat into your home, consider how other family members will respond to them – particularly any feline residents. If you’ve got a cat already, they may be happier with a new kitten than another adult cat. If you don’t have a cat, but would like to have more than one, consider adopting two kittens at the same time from different litters. This way they can grow up together and become firm friends without becoming over-dependent on each other, which might make them less likely to bond well with you.
Can I adopt stray or feral cats?
It can be very tempting to rescue a stray or feral cat, especially if it’s wandered into your garden, but bear in mind that they may be affected by their disadvantaged start and may therefore lack socialisation skills. Similarly, if you’re offered a kitten that appears very frightened, or one that hisses and tries to escape, you should assume that this behaviour may well take a long time to change, and in fact may never change. Cats and kittens that have been raised in noisy, active households are the ones best suited to grow up and live in noisy, active households.
Ready to get a new cat but not sure which breed is right for you and your family? Great news! Our Cat Breed Library can help you understand the different breeds and help you decide which type of cat could be your perfect pet.