With so many breeds and types of cat out there, it’s important to take the time to choose the one that will be right for you and your lifestyle.
Spoilt for choice
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. Consider:
- How will the cat fit in with your lifestyle?
- Do you adopt a kitten or an older cat?
- Do you prefer a pedigree or a crossbreed?
Most cats that we see are moggies, or mixed-breed cats. In fact, many people are unaware of the huge variety of pedigree breeds available. There are over 100 different recognised breeds and colour varieties of pedigree domestic cat and five basic categories:
- Persians or Longhairs;
- Other longhaired cats;
- British Shorthairs;
- American Shorthairs;
- Other Shorthairs.
The great advantage to buying a pedigree kitten or cat is that you know what you’re getting, as 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 are predictable in the pedigree. Generations of inter-breeding has also led to a greater vulnerability to genetically inherited disease and an increased tendency towards behavioural issues.
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 Tonkin’s was created by crossing the Siamese with the Burmese).
Most crossbreeds available today will be the result of accidental matings, where a pedigree female has encountered 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 and headstrong, but perhaps not as demanding as a purebred Siamese.
Mixed breed cats
Otherwise known as moggies, these cats come from an entirely non-pedigree background. The most thoroughly mixed are categorised as either 'domestic shorthairs' or 'domestic longhairs'. Their primary disadvantage is that you just don't know what such a kitten will grow into – what the adult size and coat will be and key character traits, for example.
However, many owners enjoy this element of surprise – and unlike dogs, cats are not that different in size or shape, so you won't be too surprised at how your kitten turns out.
The most significant advantages to choosing a mixed breed cat are health and personality. Moggies are generally healthier than pedigree animals, as they have a large gene pool to call on and few inherent genetic problems. They also tend to be more balanced, well-rounded feline personalities.
Ultimately, mixed-breed kittens and cats also tend to be 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 that, through no fault of their own, 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 the Animal Welfare League www.animalwelfareleague.com.au.
Cat or kitten?
Few people can resist kittens. They’re cuddly, playful, mischievous and inquisitive. At the same time, though, they demand a lot of vigilance and attention. So you need to be sure you’re 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 that has essentially 'proven' his or her compatibility.
The impact of a cat on your home
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 at once. Since they’ll be growing up together, this will hopefully avoid future friction.
Probably the best way to decide the ideal age of your future pet is by playing with each cat or kitten available for adoption. After all, attachment is all about chemistry and difficult to predict.
Male or female cats?
Provided they are desexed (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. Cats can fall pregnant 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 (desexing) male cat, a young (desexed) female may be the best choice for him and you.
- The cost of sterilising a female is greater than that of 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 in a cat
Once you have found the breed you want and a litter of available kittens, visit them several times before taking one home. 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 eight weeks old before she can leave her mother.
Some breeders even reverse the process – they may want to visit your home to ensure that you can offer a caring and responsible environment. Many will ask you lots of questions about your lifestyle before agreeing to give you one of their kittens.
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, she is 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 she grows. 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, with 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. 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.
Also consider the social background of the kitten or cat. You may never know the parents' identities, but you can certainly ask about the amount of social interaction and handling the kittens have had. If you have children at home, it is a good idea to select a kitten that has been introduced to children at a young age.
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 instead consider choosing a friendly, outgoing kitten.