Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Wanted: a cat

with 10 comments

Wanted not by me (and certainly not by Megs, a very territorial little girl), but by a reader:

My wife and daughter (6.5 yrs old) will absolutely NOT let me get us a dog. I love dogs… cats are another subject. I love cats with “dog” personalities…know what I mean? Dogs are predictable… cats, not so much.

Your Megs sparked an interest in me, however. I’ve done some research and feel that maybe this is a cat we can ALL love.

I’d like your observations on Megs… her strengths and faults. Is she “kid-friendly”? My daughter is quite timid around all animals and our new pet must be well behaved and mellow.

So, when you have a minute, jot down some thoughts for me? I really appreciate it. Our house must have a pet.

First, I totally agree on the interesting differences between dogs and cats—I even blogged about it a while ago. In that post, I mentioned (and linked to) Roger Tabor’s two books on cat behavior. I highly recommend that you get those. Unless you are a long-time cat person—or have immediate access to a long-time cat person—you’re going to need to help understanding your cat. These two books are immensely helpful, with enough photos to hold the interest of a 7-year-old. I suggest that you read the books before you get a cat: the books will help confirm or disconfirm the desire to have a cat, and will create an informed climate for the new cat.

Second is the question of whether to get a kitten or an adult cat. Kittens are amusing and entertaining, and they can be extremely well mannered if they were kept with mum and siblings until they were 14 weeks old, the age at which they normally would move out to be on their own. Kittens snatched too early from their family circle may not have learned how to play nicely, for example, and might become neurotic as well. Eight weeks is too early, for example. Twelve weeks is stretching it. I actually had one “breeder” (probably a kitty farm) offer kittens of five weeks of age—pure cruelty.

With adult cats, you know more what you’re getting, and at around age 2 cats settle down quite a bit—though all cats seem to have a time in the evening of going crazy and running at breakneck speeds around the house.

Another question: boy or girl? Boy cats tend to be larger and more affectionate. If not neutered in time, they can also be prone to spray, a very bad habit. They also are more prone than females to urinary tract problems. The Wife has always gone with girl kitties for some of those reasons, and a cat more affectionate than Sophie, her current cat, is sort of terrifying to think about.

Another question: indoor or outdoor kitty? If you live in town, it seems to me that having an indoor-only kitty is by far the best option. By living indoors, the kitty avoids predators, traffic dangers, parasites and diseases, fleas and ticks, fights with other cats (they are territorial, remember), and the like. Some people look at a cat sleeping peacefully indoors on the window ledge (probably to be in the sun) and think, “Oh, the poor thing, sitting by the window and wanting to be outside,” when in fact the cat, if outside, would probably be sleeping in much the same sort of spot. Windows are favored not because the cat wants to be outside but because they are a sort of TV for cats: things moving about, birds making noise, etc.—and, of course, when the sun is right, nicely warm.

Megs seems to live quite a happy life indoors, with plenty to keep her amused. Indeed, a cardboard box in the middle of the floor is enough. (Cats love cardboard, and they love to sit on an “island”: something higher than the surrounding area.)

She has a kitty tree near the sliding glass doors that lead to balcony (I live in an apartment), and I’ve hung a bird feeder just opposite the kitty tree. She loves to sit and watch the birds come to feed, and often will make little chirruping sounds, calling them to come play with her.

Another decision: longhair or shorthair. For me, that was easy: longhair cats require more attention: matting can be a problem, for example. The Wife will confirm this: Sophie matted so much that The Wife had to get a special trimming brush to keep the hair in check. OTOH, even shorthair cats require some brushing, especially those with thick coats like the British Shorthair (whose fur is thickest of all cats—and who lack awn hairs, so the fur feels particularly lush and plush). I try to brush Megs 3 times a week, though I don’t have to have a special trimming brush. – UPDATE: Megs finally has forbidden any brushing at all. When selecting a kitty, take a brush with you to see how comfortable the cat is with being brushed by you.

The final decision is: pedigreed or moggie. With a pedigreed cat, you know what you’re getting, to a great extent. You can look at the characteristics of the breed, and determine what’s important. I’ve created a multi-page Excel spreadsheet with the various breeds and assorted characteristics. Each page has the breeds sorted by a particular characteristic, so you can pick out what’s important to you. The British Shorthair, for example, rates high on all the characteristics important to me. Use the spreadsheet (which you can download at the link) to determine the breeds of greatest interest to you, and then do more research (via Google searches, for example, or at the library) on those breeds.

FYI, the Havana Brown is generally considered to be the most dog-like of cats. Just a thought.

And, so far as getting what you expect: Sophie is now approaching the size of a very small pony, but we thought she was going to be a tiny cat. When she was a kitten, she was not only small, but felt small, with ribs like little toothpicks. But then she grew—and grew and grew and is still growing. Fortunately, she has a lovely sunny disposition, but she’s enormous as well—which is a bit of a puzzle to her, as she continues to try to fit into spaces where she could once sit comfortably.

Another point: a pedigreed cat from a reputable breeder is likely to be healthy. Megs, a pedigreed cat, cost me $600, as I recall, but she has never had to visit a vet except for a certain operation at around age 5 months. Sophie, a moggie, had an initial adoption fee that was minimal—but Sophie’s several vet visits quickly made her cost more than Megs. Sophie’s healthy now, but the investment in the two cats is quite similar.

Moreover, a pedigreed cat from a good breeder is likely to have remained with its family for the critical 14 weeks of early life. This is important even if you take the cat as an adult (a retired queen, for example), since it will have a healthy personality.

One very important point—and you’ll learn this from Tabor’s books—the critical window for socializing a cat to humans is from age 2 weeks to age 7 weeks. If the kitten gets at least 45 minutes a day of playtime with 3-4 humans, in the presence of its mum, during those critical 5 weeks, it will trust and accept humans. If not, you can never quite get the socialization complete. The cat whose critical window was passed may bond closely to its owner and perhaps its owner’s family, but it will also be shy and distrustful of other humans, and lack the confidence and winning personality that is so endearing. (Megs did not get good socializing, so she is really comfortable and loving only with me. After some years she has learned to tolerate The Wife, but next time I will seek a more confident and friendly cat—one whose socialization during those critical 5 weeks was well done.)

If you ask any breeder, they will say that “our kittens are raised underfoot”—i.e., in interactions with their families. So you have to be a bit more inquisitive. “So, can you describe the kittens’ playtime with people?” With follow-up questions that cannot be answered “yes” or “no”—examples: How often do the kittens play with people? How many days a week? How much time each day? How many different people? What are the ages of the people they play with? (Obviously, you want to check that the kittens play with children as well as with adults.) How old were the kittens when they started playing with people? Describe how the playtimes work and where they occur?

And so on. You want a kitten or a cat that has received the minimal amount of play (45 minutes a day) from several (3-4) people, during the critical window (age 2 weeks through age 7 weeks).

Once you bring the cat or kitten home, keep it in just one room for 2-3 days, so that it can become accustomed to that room and make that room its territory. Then you can open the door and let the cat/kitten explore the rest of the house, since it can always retreat to its own territory if it needs security. It will be quite wary as it steps out into the house—this area is, after all, not its territory, and thus may belong to some other cat. But in a short while, the entire house becomes its territory.

Continue the same food that the kitten/cat enjoyed when you got it, and bring along some of its toys so it will find some familiar things to reassure it. But if the food is not highly rated, move it to a better food as soon as possible. Cats evolved for an all-meat diet, and their food should reflect this: high protein and fat, few carbs. Megs and Sophie really liked Wellness cat food until (our guess) the formula was altered—or maybe they just got tired of it. But that is a high-quality food, and we moved them to other foods of good quality.

The pet store gave us small sample packet, and we put some of each on sheets of paper on the floor and watched which the cat most enjoyed. Sophie went for Natural Balance Venison & Pea, which is actually a food for cats with allergies—thus the use of venison and peas, which other foods lack and which most cats have never had. And, indeed, Sophie’s little occasional digestive problem cleared up.

Megs chose Innova Evo.  The common advice is that the first five ingredients in cat food should be meat. (Cats are purely carnivores.) I give Megs 1/2 to 1/3 of a can a day, depending on her appetite. (She has to finish it all.) In addition, she always has a bowl of the Innova Evo kibble sitting by.

I’m sure that cat lovers will add more advice in comments.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2006 at 10:57 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life

10 Responses

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  1. I read an article some time ago about how to select a cat or kitten from a shelter. I remember only the main point, which was: a cat will tell you everything you need to know about it’s personality in the first 5 minutes, as long as you are paying attention. This has proven to be true of all my cats, in retrospect, though I wasn’t always paying attention. If you pick up a potential cat and it immediately climb up on your head, that’s the kind of cat it is – it will climb up on top of stuff and use you to get there if necessary. If, when you open its cage, it would rather snuggle with you than make a break for freedom, then it may grow up to be Sophie. And so on.

    the wife

    21 September 2006 at 2:02 pm

  2. The Wife said that a Bengal is also said to be somewhat dog-like. A beautiful cat, but more active than the British Shorthair. The British Shorthair, BTW, comes in colors other than British Blue (the gray that Megs shows): tabby, tortiseshell, black, etc. British Blue is the most common, but the other colors are quite attractive as well. Getting a book on cat breeds from the library is a good way to explore the various breeds and their appearance and characteristics.

    LeisureGuy

    22 September 2006 at 8:15 am

  3. Wow. Any time I ever have a question about anything, I know who to go to for a thorough answer. You definitely gave the guy what he was looking for! And I agree with The Wife about the everything-you-need-to-know-in-5-minutes rule with cats — Riley was sweet as pie at the SPCA, and he still is (even when he’s a brat). But next time, I’d definitely go for an adult cat. Kittens are very very cute, but they’re also destructive and bratty, and if you don’t want them being inquisitive all over everywhere (kitchen cupboards, the toilet, the drapes, your dinner, etc) then an adult cat who knows not to jump up on the kitchen counters is a good bet.

    The Niece

    22 September 2006 at 4:21 pm

  4. I think that what you might get is an adult cat that knows not to jump up on the kitchen counters when you’re around. 🙂

    LeisureGuy

    22 September 2006 at 4:27 pm

  5. Re: kittens. I read about a woman stuffing a turkey for Thanksgiving. She went over to the kitchen table to get the bowl of stuffing, came back to the counter and started to put in the first spoonful of stuffing, and discovered a kitten in the cavity. 🙂 Just looking.

    LeisureGuy

    22 September 2006 at 4:29 pm

  6. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for ALL the info and recommendations. I really appreciate you sharing !
    Now….can I convince Lovie that we need a new kitty??
    I’ll keep you updated.
    (Maybe we can meet for coffee when my family visit in Nov.?) If Lovie could meet Megs in person she may be more pliable…if you know what I mean?

    Take care,
    Rick

    Rick

    24 September 2006 at 11:45 pm

  7. I think a convincing argument for any parent is the discovery that pets improve children’s health. Indeed, the improvement in health could result in enough savings to offset the cost of the pet.

    LeisureGuy

    25 September 2006 at 9:20 am

  8. Hey,
    I need to know how to catch a wild cat without you hurting it or it hurting you. Please respond back.

    Love CatLover,
    Cheyenne

    Cheyenne

    6 June 2007 at 10:28 am

  9. I believe cats are MUCH more like humans than dogs are. Dogs may be submissive or may be alpha types, but they love instantly. With cats, they are just as affectionate, but not in an “in your face” way….and not instantly. You must EARN your trust.

    I’ve taken in dozens of dogs in the last twenty years, and hundreds of cats in the same time…all with the intent of getting them to safety, getting rid of their fleas, worms, wounds, illnesses, and getting them spayed or neutered.
    I can predict cat behavior just as easily as dog behavior.

    Cats will ignore me/us if they are ignored. They’ll sleep, play, etc. on their own. However, the more affectionate I am with them, the more they expect and want affection. Cats are more like women, in that they prefer affection that shows awareness of what you’re doing, and is tender and gentle. Although some will tolerate it, very few cats actually enjoy rough affection, like flipping them over and tickling them,or rapid, intense scratching. (But very few people enjoy that either) . This kind of affection actually backfires most of the time, causing cats to be suspicious of touch, and often teaching kittens to grow up to be biters….(since they don’t have the ability, as we do, to shout, “that hurts; stop it!”)

    Dogs, otoh, can handle the rough affection. They also are MUCH more likely to be destructive when they aren’t getting attention.

    On another note, when I volunteered for three years with a rescue group, the way their cats acted at adoptions at Petsmart or Petco adoptions had NOTHING to do with their real personalities, unless your home environment is identical to the atmosphere at those stores, and you keep your cat caged at home. Thats’ why these stores have started putting the cats behind glass and in locked rooms. Many cats and kittens show fear because of all the activity, which few cats could be expected to be accustomed to. Many parents consider adoptions to be a sort of free petting zoo for the kids and will leave their kids unattended, or do nothing if their brood is obnoxious.

    There are groups of kids who come up to cages unsupervised, and when in groups, sometimes will all try to grab a kitten at once, or may scream and shout loud enough to terrify any living being. Of course, most rescue groups don’t allow it, but they’re not there to babysit either, and may be busy with applications or answering questions. Any animal over the course of a day, esp. a young one, will go back and forth between periods of being tired and sleepy or periods of play. I’ve been amazed at how many people walk up and assume a kitten is not playful because it’s sleeping, even though the kitten had 68 people come by in the last two hours who played with it. Some people bring their dogs up to the cages to sniff, not realizing that it’s in a cat’s instinct to fear dogs, since they’re natural enemies and dogs do often kill cats (esp. kittens or strange cats who wander into their yard). The whole day can be very stressful on cats who may act fearful or nervous in that situation, whereas they may be very loving at home.

    The way to find out about personality is to ask the foster person.

    Yepsters

    15 October 2007 at 12:34 pm

  10. I currently own a cat that has a “dog personality” so, I know exactly what this post is all about. My kitty is like my baby! He loves to play fetch, rolls over on command, jumps, makes a growlish noise, licks my face(kisses), and is extremely smart. He even knows how to push slightly opened doors open and shut them! He’s never once had an accident, is neutered, declawed, micro-chipped, and vaccinated for the next 3 years! Unfortunately, my financial circumstances have changed and I cannot afford him any longer. Which sucks big time because I love him very very much. I am devistated by my situation. If anyone would like to adopt “Pepper” please email me and I will provide any details necessary. I really NEED to find him a good home ASAP. Thanks for reading my post!

    April

    2 April 2008 at 6:44 pm


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