Getting a Cat or Kitten
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.
So, where do you start and what can you expect from a feline addition to the family?
The benefits of adopting a cat?
There's no doubt about it, cats make great pets. After all, what’s better to come home to at the end of a tough day than a contented purr from a loving bundle of fur?
Studies have shown that pet owners are generally healthier and happier than non-pet owners, but remember that getting a cat is a big responsibility and a lifetime commitment. When you are ready to make this commitment, there are several advantages of cat-ownership that you can look forward to:
- Owning a cat has been proven to reduce stress.
- Cat owners generally have lower blood pressure than non-pet owners.
- You can benefit from a stronger immune system and recover from illnesses faster than non-pet owners.
- Children growing up with cats generally have fewer days sick than those who don’t have pets.
- Cats are very loving and full of character, but also treasure their own independence, meaning they can be less high-maintenance than other pets.
- Cats can help people recover quicker from emotional traumas, such as bereavement."
There are lots of benefits to owning a cat, but it’s important to choose your cat carefully to make sure you’re well suited to your fluffy friend. The cat you choose will depend on your lifestyle and personal preference. For example, you might want a senior cat you can cuddle on your lap, or have a special breed in mind that you’d like to raise from a kitten.
Our PetCare experts suggest some points to consider below before making the commitment to get a cat.
Kitten adoption from a shelter or rescue centre
Animal shelters and rescue centres across the country are always searching for loving homes for cats of all varieties and ages, including kittens. If you’re thinking about adopting a rescue kitten, there are a number of things to bear in mind, and look out for, when researching the right shelter or rescue centre.
For example, shelters should be warm and clean, and staff should be just as interested in you as you are in the animals – it shows they’re genuinely interested in finding the best home for the animals they care for.
For more information on adopting a rescue kitten, read our guide on adopting a cat.
Buying a kitten from a breeder
If you’d prefer to purchase a kitten from a breeder, have a good think about the breed that would best suit your family and, remember, pure breeds don’t come cheap! There are a number of things to thinking about when deciding where to buy a kitten.
The first thing to do is to contact breed-club secretaries for the breed you’re interested in. The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), www.gccfcats.org, can give you a comprehensive list of breeds recognised in the UK, with links to their official breed clubs. Breed clubs may have a list of litters available, or they can put you in contact with breeders in your area. Pedigree kittens are generally available all year round.
It’s a good idea to check that your breeder and potential kitten are eligible for GCCF registration, as this indicates the breeder is following a code of ethics for responsible breeding.
If you’re thinking about buying a kitten from a breeder, you might want to do some additional homework by reading a publication such as Your Cat or taking a look at their website www.yourcat.co.uk. Cat shows are also great places to meets breeders and owners.
For information on buying a kitten, and advice on kitten care, www.icatcare.org.
Questions to ask a breeder when adopting a cat
Once you’ve researched breeders and have found one that you think is right for you, arrange to speak to them to ask any questions that you may have. The following questions provide a useful checklist when deciding if a particular breeder or seller is right for you:
- Are their kittens registered with the GCCF?
- Do they show them, breed regularly or are they just pets? Their answers will give you an idea of how much attention they might give their kittens in preparing them for life as a pet.
- How long have they been breeding for? Experienced breeders will have greater knowledge of their chosen breed.
- Which cat breeds do they focus on? A breeder with multiple breeds may be producing litters solely for profit rather than being interested in their welfare.
- How many litters do they produce each year? Responsible breeders will only produce one litter per female cat per year.
- How many litters has this particular cat produced?
- In what environment will the kittens be raised before they go to their new homes? Ideally you want your kitten to be raised in a busy household, with other cats, dogs, children and lots of visitors. This will make them better socialised than those reared in a quieter home or in a cattery.
- Do they offer to take the kitten/cat back in the event of any problems during the cat’s entire life (e.g. health problems, behavioural problems or change in your circumstances)?
- Are the cats health-tested for any genetic problems in the breed? You should research this before contacting the breeder so you’re aware of any tests available.
- Are their kittens covered with pet insurance when you take them home?
- What contact are they prepared to have with you after you’ve taken your kitten home? Responsible breeders will offer advice and support for life of the cat.
- Are their kittens micro chipped?
- Are their kittens vaccinated, wormed and treated for fleas before re-homing? Responsible breeders will treat kittens appropriately at an early age.
Don't be surprised, or offended, if the breeder asks you as many questions as you ask them when you’re getting a kitten. This is a very good sign and shows they’re genuinely interested in finding the best homes for their kittens. They want to make sure you’re prepared and your circumstances are suited to their type of kitten.
If you're happy with the answers given by the breeder - and they’re happy that you can provide a suitable home for one of their kittens - then it's time for a face-to-face meeting.
Meeting the seller before getting your cat
Whether you’re buying a kitten from a registered breeder or a reputable source, such as a friend, it’s important to see the conditions the kittens are kept in. It should look and smell clean, and be warm and dry. Mum and kittens should have their own space, preferably away from other adult cats, and there shouldn’t be any signs of overcrowding.
When getting a kitten, you should always meet the kitten's mother (the father is unlikely to still be on the scene) and other kittens so you can check that they’re happy and friendly as well as comfortable with the breeder. It's natural for mum to be a little wary of people viewing her litter, but she should be attentive rather than nervous or aggressive. If the kittens are old enough, ask the breeder if you’re allowed to pick them up.
Look at mum’s size– and ask about both parents’ health and temperament – as this may affect your kitten when it grows up.
Choosing your cat
Once you’ve met the breeder and are happy with everything, you can pick your perfect pet! You’ll usually meet your new kitten for the first time when they’re 6 weeks old but, if possible, try to visit them from as early as 3-4 weeks so they can start to get to know you. Visit a few times if you can and take your family so the kitten can become used to you all. A lot of new people can be overwhelming for a tiny kitten, so try to visit in smaller groups if possible.
By six weeks, your tiny kitten should be showing interest in you and their environment. They’ll be keen to investigate you and explore the world around them. Expect them to be playful, outgoing and mischievous.
When deciding which one you’re going to take home, avoid the smallest (known as the runt of the litter). Even if they are the cutest – which they often are - they often have health problems. By spending a bit of time with the litter you’ll also begin to notice individual personalities. The nervous or withdrawn kittens are likely to need more socialisation, or may be unwell, so best to avoid them. Ideally you want your kitten to be confident but not too independent.
What breed of cat should I get?
There are over 60 different recognised breed and colour varieties of pedigree domestic cat in the UK, meaning that you have lots to choose from when buying a cat. Pedigree cats come in seven basic varieties:
The greatest advantage of buying a pedigree kitten or cat is that you should know something about what to expect from your pet. For example, a pure-bred Siamese is more likely to be vocal, mischievous and demanding of your attention. Buying a pedigree kitten should also give you an insight into how big the kitten will grow up to be, how long their coat will be and any breed-specific health problems that they might experience.
It’s important to remember that unfortunately inter-breeding sometimes occurs, which can mean that pedigree cats are more vulnerable to genetically inherited disease or behavioural issues. This, and other information specific to a breed should all be considered carefully when getting a cat.
For more information about pedigree breeds and how to choose a cat, take a look at our cat breed selector.
The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy can provide a comprehensive list of breeds in the UK, with links to their official breed clubs. Further information is also available on the International Cat Care website.
Crossbreeds have two pedigree, but different breed, parents. 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).
Whilst some crossbreeding happens on purpose to create a new breed, most cases 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 crossbreeds, it is sometimes possible to see some behavioural and physical traits from both breeds in the kitten it produces.
Otherwise known as moggies, these cats come from an entirely non-pedigree background. These cats are usually categorised as either 'domestic shorthairs' or 'domestic longhairs'.
If you’re thinking about getting a mixed breed cat, remember that you won’t know exactly what a mixed breed kitten will grow into, as you won’t know a lot about what breeds make up their DNA. For example, this could mean that they could have a more mischievous personality, or their coat markings may change. Luckily, unlike dogs, cats are not that significantly different in size or shape, so you won't be too surprised by how your kitten grows up!
Moggies are often generally healthier than pedigree cats, as they have a large gene pool to call on and fewer inherent genetic problems. They can also have more balanced and well-rounded feline personalities! Ultimately, mixed-breed kittens and cats are also generally less expensive, and easier to find.
Should I get a cat or a kitten?
Kittens can be hard to resist when getting a cat. They're cuddly, playful, and you also have the chance to nurture them into the pet you want them to be from the very beginning. At the same time, they demand a lot of attention and you need to be vigilant, especially if they’re feeling naughty! Are you prepared to invest the time and energy necessary to care for the needs of a kitten? If you are thinking of getting a kitten, these things will need to be taken into consideration.
When choosing a kitten from a litter, look for the kitten that responds positively, but not aggressively, to your touch or voice and to their brothers and sisters. A kitten that shies away from the group and is consistently unwilling to approach you is more likely to grow up to be timid and dislike handling. Getting a kitten that repeatedly bites and claws at your hands may mean that they play quite roughly as they grow.
When choosing your kitten, check that they appear to be healthy. Their eyes should be bright and clear, their ears clear of wax, their nails smooth and their coat shiny and thick (depending on breed) without any sign of fleas. If buying from a breeder, they may have already had the kitten examined by a vet to make sure they are healthy. If not, ask if you can take them for a check-up before making the final commitment to take them home.
If you already own at least one cat, then getting a kitten may cause less social conflict than another adult cat. If you don't have a cat now but hope to have several in the future, taking on one or two kittens will mean they will grow up together and therefore should get on! Read our guide on introducing your cat to other pets for more information.
Adult cats can also be playful and very loving, but bear in mind that they may come with a bit of emotional baggage, especially if they have been unfortunate enough to have had a tough start in life. Whatever influences have shaped them, their personality will already be more established before they come to you. You may be able to get information from the cat's previous owner or rescue shelter to help you know what to expect and how to help them settle in - including litter tray habits, food preferences and personality.
Problems such as inappropriate urination or cat aggression, especially towards other cats, are less likely in an older cat who has grown up! Senior cats also make great cuddle companions, as they’ll have less energy than kittens so will be happy dozing on your lap.
There are many adult and senior cats in the UK who are looking for loving new homes. To find out more about rehoming a cat, contact Cats Protection, Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home or the Dublin SPCA. If you are thinking about giving a new home to a rescue cat, read our guide on adopting a cat for more information.
Should I get a male or female cat?
Between them, as long as they have been neutered. Some may say that females are more loving and males are more independent, but you may find yourself with a cuddly mummy's boy, or a self-reliant female. When choosing a cat and picking their gender, bear these handy tips in mind:
Generally, males are a little bigger than females.
Un-neutered toms can are more likely to wander away from home, which can increase their risk of fighting with other cats they come across or being involved in a traffic accident.
Boys that are unneutered are also more likely to spray urine to mark their territory.
Un-neutered females can be very vocal and difficult to keep indoors when they come into season. They can become pregnant from as young as five months old, meaning that your kitten could soon be having kittens herself!
Cats from rescue homes should usually already be neutered, but check with the centre advisor beforehand. If you need more information on neutering, visit our FAQs page.
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 both him and you.
The cost of sterilising a female is generally more than for neutering a male, and more 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.
When to bring your new cat home?
The wait for your cat can seem endless, especially when you’re so excited! However it’s important that they’re given plenty of time with mum and their brothers and sisters. In these crucial first weeks, kittens learn how to communicate with other cats through play. They’re taught how to be litter-trained and how to hunt. If they’re taken away from their family too soon, a kitten can end up being nervous and shy.
The general rule of thumb is that you should pick up your kitten at around eight weeks old (pedigree owners may extend this to nine weeks) to allow them time to socialise and develop their understanding of a bustling family home. If your kitten is a lot older than that, be even more careful. There may be a reason why the breeder has held them back, so ask why. Late re-homing can affect how easily they bond with you and how quickly they settle into your home.
Sometimes a breeder will ask you to wait until 12 weeks to allow them to have all their vaccinations. So long as the kitten has been raised in a busy household where they’ve been well socialised e.g. a home with children if you have children yourself, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Bear in mind that the age that you take your kitten home will affect which vaccinations your kitten will have received. Check with the breeder, who should be able to give you a list of vaccinations, worming and flea treatments that the kitten has had and any that they still need.
Finally, before you bring your new bundle of joy home, make sure you chat to the breeder about their feeding regime so you can continue this at home, at least until they’re fully settled. If you want to find out more about what to feed a kitten, read our helpful guide.
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.
When getting a new cat, it’s important to think this through thoroughly, but once you know the answers, you can look forward to a future of cuddly companionship and lots of fun with your furry friend.
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.