What Do I Need to Know About Cat Ownership?

Updated on August 24, 2016
M.D. asks from Pittsburgh, PA
17 answers

DH and I both grew up with dogs. We know that we can't have a dog. We aren't home enough and it wouldn't be fair to the dog. But we would like a pet. Several people have suggested we get a cat because they are more independent. We know nothing about cats.

Are cats really independent? Is a cat happy home alone all day? What do we need to know to be good cat parents?

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all the tips so far! Keep them coming.

My half-hatched idea is, at this point, to go to a shelter with my kids and interact with adult cats (not kittens) to see if we can find one that isn't terrified of small people. I have plenty of neighbors with outdoor cats, but I think I'd prefer an indoor-only cat. I've heard before (and repeated here) that they are healthier.

Someone mentioned allergies. I'm allergic to many things, but not cats. I don't know about my kids. We've not spent enough time around cats to know. This is another reason I plan to spend an afternoon in a shelter interacting with cats with my kids.

Two specific questions:
- do all male cats spray? Or is that only if you don't get them neutered (I would definitely get my cat spayed/neutered)?
- (from my husband) Do you bathe cats?

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J.C.

answers from Anchorage on

Cats are easy to care for and can be left alone, but if you will be gone all day most every day I would consider getting two cats so they can keep each other company. Cats can be perfectly happy as indoor only pets, and one nice thing about them over dogs is that as long as they have plenty of food and water they can be left alone for a couple of days without worry.

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E.B.

answers from Beaumont on

I have nothing to contribute because I've never had a cat but I COMMEND you on putting the effort forth to be great "parents". Best of luck. You got some great advice!!

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T.F.

answers from Dallas on

My daughter ( raised with dogs) convinced us she needed a cat because her dog (our poodle) would not work being in the condo after being raised where he chased squirrels, and has lots of room to play.

So, she went to the shelter. No cat she interacted with "fit". There was 1 cat ( less than a year old) that was "not ready" to meet people because she had been in foster care. She was a very newbie to the shelter.

Last cat to try... Beautiful cat (tortoise shell) but they said she hates everyone, throughout fister care. Well not in daughters case. Daughter went to the visit room and this cat just connected. She immediately was in daughters lap and just interacting.

To this day... 3 years later, she's a true cat dog. Perfect for daughter and being in the condo.

She has a huge patio door and the blinds stay open, this cat loves her everyday TV of birds, squirrels!!' She begs at the table like a dog, she fetches toys as well.

She's low maintenance, extremely loving and wants the companionship. She could not have ended up with a better cat.

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J.S.

answers from St. Louis on

Cats are dicks. My work here is done!

Nah, we cat owners tell people that so no one corners the cat market. Our cat is so friendly he gets on our nerves.

We went out of town a couple weeks ago. Water fountain, self feeder, clean litter box he was fine. Granted he wouldn't leave us alone for days after we got back but cats are easy

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S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

i think a cat sounds like a good choice for you, and i love that you're asking all the right questions first.
yes, cats are really independent. it's impossible to say whether any individual cat would prefer to be alone or have another as company, but the shelter will be able to direct you. i've got one who was sooooo happy being solo, he's never quite recovered from us getting more. and i've got one that would love nothing better than to be in a huge kitten pile all day, and is a little wistful at having only stand-offish companions.
i love that you're looking at adult cats- kittens are beyond charming and far less trouble than puppies for the most part, but adult cats are euthanized by the ton every day. thank you for saving one. and your idea isn't half-hatched at all, it's completely sensible.
no, all male cats do not spray. and if you adopt a male from the shelter he'll be neutered so the chances of him being a sprayer are very slim.
you only have to bathe cats if they have a particular issue, a skin condition or fleas. i've got 3, indoor/outdoor, and i never bathe them.
keep us posted! i can't wait to hear about your new cat!
ETA letting a cat outside in the city is probably fraught with peril, but if you live on a farm you have cats who work. my lazy lot spend more time inside than out, and they do take songbirds on occasion, but they're all mousers and keep down the mole population. i'm always amused at the 'all cats must be inside 100% of the time' clamor.
khairete
S.

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S.F.

answers from Phoenix on

That they can live a verrrrrrry long time so be ready for a long term commitment. Vet bills can also be costly, as with any pet. Our oldest cat is 20 yrs old and basically just eats, uses litter box and sleeps. She's now totally deaf and has to be given meds twice a day for a thyroid problem that is extremely common with aging cats. She hobbles around and is sometimes so still we think she's dead. We keep thinking this is it, today is the day Suki's going to cat heaven when poof! She's purring and rubbing up against me. So yeah, cats can live a long time. Despite the lack of interaction late in life and crazy vet bills, I will always have a kitty.

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D.D.

answers from Boston on

You kind of have to let the cat choose you and your family. I've owned cats for 30+ yrs and their personalities vary from really friendly to you'd better not think about petting me EVER.

Going to a shelter or a rescue group is a great idea. Go in with no expectations of color or size. Focus on just spending time with the cats and they'll show you pretty quickly if they are accepting of your family. If you are looking for playful bring along a couple of fishing pole type toys. Playful cats will always fall for those types of toys.

Figure out what vet you'll be using and take the cat to be checked out soon after you adopt. The cats will usually come with basic shots and sometimes neutered too. If not you want that done along with a fecal check for worms and parasites.

My current cat is a bully so we can only have him. Since you aren't going to be home a lot of the time maybe look into adopting 2 cats instead of 1. With 2 there's less fighting over who gets to play with the cat and they tend to keep each other company. Again ask at the shelter or rescue group if they have a pair that are friends.

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M.F.

answers from Houston on

I think the thing with cats are that you have to find one that you click with. I find with dogs you play with them, feed them, etc and they like you and are pretty friendly. With cats though sometimes no matter what you do they can be solitary or moody. I grew up with this great cat that was so sweet and just wanted to be on top of you all the time. He also used the bathroom outside always but came right back in. My dad worked night shifts growing up so he was always tired during the day so I just always remember him sleeping on the couch with this fat cat(cause my mom would over feed him every time he made a peep) on him. He lived till my oldest was a toddler. The cat that I have now, he is 13 years old. I found him feral as a kitten and took him in(scratching me good) and have taken care of him all these years. We feed him and provide vet care as needed, but he doesn't seek us out. He bites after I pet him for a short time and the couple of times I have picked him up was out of necessity. I do love him but next time I get a cat I will go to a shelter and find a cat I bond with. I think they are sweet and affectionate pets that are pretty low maintenance. So many need homes I hope you adopt one!

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E.T.

answers from Rochester on

ETA: You can bathe a cat, but have on a full suit of armor and lots of bandaids! Most cats hate water and go ballistic if they get wet. Cats bathe themselves so unless they get into something like paint or get sprayed by a skunk they won't need to be bathed. Do brush them though. Especially if they have longer hair. Also if they have long hair you may have issues with poop getting stuck in their fur.

The male cats we had were neutered. I don't remember any of them spraying.
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Growing up we always had cats. I'd have one now, but it is taking a long time to convince my husband who has never had pets. I think cats are a lot less maintenance than dogs.

Every cat has a different personality. Some love to be around people a lot. Others don't. Some love or will at least tolerate kids. Others will hide from kids. Some are more social than others. All cats seem to be able to turn from cute and cuddly to pure evil with no warning.

My parents have two cats right now. Both of them spend the day sleeping even when my parents are home. Both get really nervous when our kids are there and will hide all day. They don't even associate with each other much. In the evenings, especially when it is cold, they will sit on someone's lap or want to be petted. They both sleep in my parents' bed. It is totally on their terms though. If you try to pick them up they will disappear. Most cats are playful, but again it is usually on their terms.

All of the cats I've had have been very independent. They are ok with being home alone all day or even all weekend. We'd feed them in the morning and evening and make sure they have fresh water all day. If we were going to be gone for a weekend we would leave the food bag accessible.

You need to keep the litter box clean. Most cats are good at being house trained, but if the box isn't clean they will protest by leaving surprises in inconvenient locations. Hair balls are a common problem and will cause cats to vomit.

Spay or neuter! Even if you think the cat will never be outside. Don't declaw! It can cause permanent injury to the cat's feet and legs. Be sure to keep immunizations current. Microchip just in case the cat gets out.

Before you plan on letting a cat be an indoor/outdoor cat you need to check on your city ordinances. In both our community and where my parents live cats cannot be outside unattended. If a cat is outside and is a nuisance (i.e. killing song birds) there is a steep fine and the cat can be taken to the pound. Being outside also exposes your cat and your family to more disease. There are diseases they can get from rodents and they can bring ticks and fleas into your house. An outside cat is also more likely to die sooner. Growing up I had one cat suffer a broken jaw after being hit by a car. He survived only to disappear without a trace a couple of years later. I had another cat killed by a car and one who froze to death after getting wet and not getting inside before the temps dropped. They were all under 5 years old. In contrast, a friend of mine has a cat who has never been outside who is now 21 years old. My brother got a cat from the shelter 15 years ago and he was at least 2-3 when he got him. Cats can be a long time commitment pet.

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H.W.

answers from Portland on

My feeling as a longtime cat owner-- if you aren't going to be around a lot, consider finding a bonded pair which seems to 'take' to your family. We didn't go that route, got our male first and then our female a few months later, but knew that the cats are social creatures and some want company. They were slowly introduced to each other and there's a process for that you can find online.

Each cat is like a person, with their own personality and proclivities. Ours like to go in and out of the house as they please (they are in before dark for their own safety). Sally is feisty and a bit skittish while Milton is like a puppy, can be very assertive, and follows me around from time to time. Different breeds have different temperaments. For example, blues (the gray cats) can be VERY sensitive guys; the transition to our house was hard for both Milty and our last cat, Gus (who was a rescue from a friend's house where he was hiding under the bed all the time. He came to us very sick-- which no one could really notice until it got bad, because cats don't show that they are ill as evidently as humans or dogs). With Milty I had to go over to his hiding place, put chicken baby food on my finger and get him to lick it until I finally coaxed him to eat. He didn't eat the first few days, he was so stressed from the shelter and all of the transitions. Sally, on the other hand, is a tortoiseshell girl and talky, loves my husband to bits, will wake us up to let her out... only wants to be pet when *she* wants.... so do look up temperaments.

I also want to add that you should be prepared to spend a lot more money in the first few weeks at the vet. I'm not saying it's guaranteed that you will, but it's been our experience. While we always take new pets to the vet *anyway* for a good check-up, because Milton wasn't eating, we had to take him in for fluids and an anti-nausea shot (he was throwing up, poor stressed guy). Sally, come to find out, has asthma! So we had her examined which involved a few extra tests. Gus, as I mentioned earlier, was very sick-- that was about $3 grand to address (feline fatty liver/pancreatitis) and almost died: we ended up tube-feeding him for about 4 or 6 weeks until his health improved, but there were other vet visits while that was going on.

All that to say, know in advance how much of your money and resources you are willing to commit to this pet. We are fortunate to have had financial resources and time to tend to the cats. Many people out there would have had to make a different choice.

I'm not trying to scare you, just give you information you might not hear from others. I agree that an older cat (2-4) might be a great choice, and think about the friendlier breeds like tabby cats, which don't seem to mind kiddos as much from my experience. It really depends on the individual cat's personality.

Our cats have never sprayed. Neutered males, neutered when they were young.... then again, we don't have competing males in the house. Male/female pairs work well.

Bathing cats? Sometimes, it must be done. I suggest armor. Gus got into some gross stuff a few years ago (under the crawl space, animal pee or something) and that was a lesson in intestinal fortitude. Many people pay to have someone else do flea dips, etc bathing for their pets. I generally close the cat into the bathroom, say a little prayer, and just do what needs to be done. Your cat will be entirely pissed off and spitting mad (maybe) and then it will be done. They will glare at you and avoid you for a while and then they get over it. Your scratches will heal. (yes, joking, sort of--- cats are not docile in the tub.)

Oh, and they may claw. It might not be the couch (although the side of ours is terrible, even with a scratcher placed next to it. I'm not attached to the couch.); one of our cats likes to claw along the bottom of the box spring and drag himself across the hardwoods. Another one did the bottom (underneath) the bed, laying on his back. Know what you are willing to deal with. We won't declaw. Some people adopt declawed cats for this reason. They also need their nails trimmed from time to time. Look it up online for how to contain the cat while you do this.

Oh, and consider what you want their indoor/outdoor access to be like. We thought we'd keep these guys in but they started fighting... so we introduced them, a bit at a time, to the outdoors. The fighting stopped. Cats like to play, frolic, catch moths (or birds, mice, etc.... mine don't but my neighbor gets 'gifts' from her little hunter), stalk around, hunt..... so if you don't choose to let them out, be prepared to spend time playing with the cat ("Da Bird" feather/string/stick item is a great toy) and giving kitty an opportunity for exercise. Oh, and we never leave food outside for the cats, either. Just water. Cats will like to have their own individual cat boxes, and they like them cleaned right away if possible. Yes, we cater to our cats a little, however, they are good kitties, great companions and so much fun to have and love.

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S.G.

answers from Los Angeles on

I have had cats my entire life. They are very good pets, independent and affectionate. A cat will be fine home alone all day, but be prepared to give lots of attention when you do get home. Cats are very easy to care for. Minimum grooming required and I would rather scoop out a litter box than pick up dog poop any day! Please, if you do get a cat do not let it outside. Cats that go outside have much shorter lives than indoor cats. Also, cats are not indigenous to North America, and allowing cats to run loose is taking quite a toll on our songbird population.

ETA: I prefer male cats as they seem more affectionate. No neutered males that I have owned have sprayed, but I did have one that peed on the carpet. You do not bathe cats. They clean themselves. Several times a day. We take out indoor cats out for walks on the leash or tie them up in the yard if we are out on the patio.

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M.S.

answers from Portland on

I think cats make a great pet. I haven't had a litter box in years. I just have a dog door. My cats come and go as they please, are social when they want to be, and not when they don't. I can usually count on them to tell me when they are hungry because they yowel until you feed them, then purr to say thank you. Each cat has a different personality, and you just have to find the one that fits with yours. I had one cat that went on a plane with me to grad school across the country, then she did a road trip with me in a car back home 2 years later. She hated men, and so when she didn't hate my now husband, I knew he had potential.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

I'm a cat person. At the moment we do not have one. I had one since college all the way up to a few years ago. She was not an especially affectionate cat, except to me, and only when she felt like it. It was her personality. But I loved it. She was kind of a cranky old thing but entirely lovable.

My cat was extremely low maintenance. She just slept most of the time.

No problem leaving them - mine would be in same spot we left her - she may have got up once or twice to eat/drink/use litter.

As kittens they're a bit more active. I just had a few toys but mostly she'd chase anything you dragged.

Mine was an indoor cat. Here, cats show up on signs constantly as lost - we have coyotes near us.

At one point I had two cats. It did not go over well. I'd had my main one for years then introduced a friend's cat into the mix (didn't want him anymore). The new one took over the house - main one hid under our bed. So we found a new home for the new cat.

The only bad thing about a cat is the litter box but it's not a big deal. Mine did not have hair balls but some do. Pretty minor stuff really.

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R..

answers from San Antonio on

Our cat lived 18 years...she was very solitary and rarely enjoyed people company other than my DH who if he sat down she was on him like a flash....just adored him and tolerated me as the person who fed her.

We came and went with her never had to worry about going on vacation unless it was more then three days....then I had a cat loving friend come by and feed her.

She was a biter...only broke skin twice in 18 years but was for sure only pet me two to three times then leave me alone.

She didn't play, didn't interact much and was very aloof. But we loved her and am glad she was in our lives.

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R.B.

answers from San Francisco on

Can it be an indoor/outdoor cat? Imo most cats aren't happy alone all day unless they get to go outside.

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T.D.

answers from Springfield on

are you allergic? cats like to see their owners too. maybe a fish or hamster would be better suited to be left home alone all day. before he passed my cat loved to sit on your lap. he wanted nothing more than to be with people so leaving him home alone all day would of been bad for him. (my dad is retired so it was with someone all day.. but may that little grey furball rest in peace.. he passed in his sleep so peacefully)

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N.H.

answers from Peoria on

Yes, cats are MUCH easier to take care of. Yes, cats can and do help themselves compared to dogs. BUT Cats can become depressed when left alone all day or w/little to no interaction. They're people lovers, most of them anyway, and do need play time. Consider adopting 2 siblings or cats that may be 'friends' already. They need interaction and love. They're also nocturnal so they may stay awake at night and keep you up too. Also, they may want a belly rub so give them a belly rub or maybe a gentle pat on the head or scratch under it's neck...they LOVE that... but when they want to you to stop, they may nip at you or swat at you. They're just telling you, hey, enough w/the petting for now. If you don't stop, they may bite or actually scratch you next time. OR sometimes they DON'T want you to stop and may accidentally scratch you when they grab for your hand to 'put it back'. In that case they're saying "HEY, don't stop, I like that!" Just remember though, cats don't like aggressive petting or roughness like a dog might like. Cats are gentile creatures & need different type of handling. Consider a "Catio"...an outdoor space that's protected but allows them some outside leisure. They do tend to get bored sometimes and want to go outside sometimes so this may help.

If you do hafta leave kitty alone for more than a day, let's say a weekend trip, leave enough food & water out for that duration and be sure to clean the litter box before you leave Or for more than 3 days, I'd ask a trusted friend to look in on kitty or find a reputable kennel that deals w/cats. They can be good alone for a weekend trip but if it's more than 3 days, I'd ask for help.

As far as care, some cats don't mind getting a bath but most do NOT like it. They keep pretty clean themselves b/c they groom themselves. The only reason you may need to bathe a cat is if it's unable to groom itself or got into something you can't brush out..like motor oil or soap, etc or if they have horrendous flea infestation in which case you need to go to the vet for treatment. That's the best thing you can do... My Siamese cat did not mind it at all when I gave her a bath but my Siamese mix and other cats I had HATE/HATED baths. Our current kitty had to be bathed regularly b/c she was a stray & apparently got hit by a car so she was unable to groom herself properly & her tail is paralyzed so she can't groom it. We ended up w/a HORRIBLE flea infestation from being out in the country (she was an indoor cat at that point) and b/c fleas eat blood, their excrement is blood. She'd get ate up by fleas ALL the time and her fur would be encrusted w/blood and so would her tail so we had to bathe her all the time to get that out. Now we live more in town & fleas are gone and we don't bathe her as often. Maybe a couple times a year if her fur gets oily from not being able to groom herself.

If you DO have to bathe your kitty, use luke-warm water. Have soap & large towel ready for use, have the water on BEFORE you bring kitty in otherwise it'll startle kitty when you turn the water on. It's also best to use a detachable shower head or one you can attach to the downspout of the tub. You may wanna wear thick work gloves if kitty has claws, it can get bloody! Also, talk to kitty in a gentle, soothing voice. Don't force kitty or be mean to it...it just makes things worse. It's also easier w/2 people...one to hold kitty & bathe it and the other person can put the soap on. My husband holds the cat by all four legs & that seems to work so try that & see if it helps! Once kitty is bathed, immediately wrap it in the towel and help dry the fur...like you would your hair when you finish showering. Kitty can also finish drying off itself too but I'd at least give it a good rub-down before letting it loose. OR you could try an experienced groomer who has a lot of experience w/cats. Perhaps your vet may have suggestions on who they'd recommend for a groomer.

As for litter, we've been using the self-sifting litter box bags which keeps down the amount of scooping we have to do. For a new cat, I always take kitty & show it the litter box, I usually put kitty in it & move the paws in a digging motion to 'show' this is the litter box, it seems to help. Also, be sure to get a scratching post or cat tree they can claw. Same w/the litter box, I take the cat over to the scratching post & press their paws til the claws come out & make the 'scratching motion' on the post w/their paws & claws out. You may hafta do that a few times. If you catch kitty clawing the furniture, immediately take kitty over to the post & do the motion again. Eventually they'll understand. Otherwise, you may need the plastic claw caps or spray w/water bottle & say a firm "NO!" That can work as well.

Cats can also get upset tummies too so stick with the same types of food like, for instance, my kitty can only eat canned food so I may feed kitty chicken flavor for a couple of days then change to chicken and liver for a couple of days then turkey for a couple of days then maybe turkey and giblets then maybe beef & chicken then beef then reverse the order starting w/chicken & beef, going backwards til I get to chicken again then maybe I'll change to chicken & tuna, then tuna, then tuna & mackerel, etc...you get the idea. The idea behind this is that it gives their tummies time to adjust. If you just go from, let's say, chicken to beef...those are 2 different things, beef tends to be richer compared to chicken so it may give kitty diarrhea or make it vomit....especially the canned food w/sauce or gravy can upset their tummies too b/c it may be too rich for them. Also, cats are meat eaters, NOT vegetarians. There's a lot of new foods that contain vegetables, I'd avoid those.

If you feed kitty dry food (aka "kibble"), stick w/the same brand. If you DO change brands, mix the new brand a little at a time w/the current brand to give kitty time to adjust. Same w/litter. Change litter brands or type?? Mix new litter a little at a time w/current type so kitty gets used to it. Cats can be VERY picky...you'd be surprised. If kitty truly does not like a flavor or food, switch...change it...find out what it will eat then stick to it, same w/litter.

When you bring kitty home, give it a few days to adjust. It may run & hide somewhere til they get comfortable w/the new surroundings. They may avoid eating during that time too. Some cats can be okay w/new environments but mine always took a few days to adjust. Eventually they usually come around, just be patient, leave them alone but still talk to them, interact w/them but just be prepared if they don't feel like playing for a few days.

Most importantly, if you have young kids...if you haven't already, please help them understand that cats are NOT dolls to be rough handled and tossed up in the air or having their tails & ears pulled. Cats do NOT like this. If you do have young kids, maybe an adult cat would be a better choice as a suggestion.

As someone else suggested, look up different breed personalities. I personally LOVE Siamese cats but they can be a handful sometimes. They're VERY vocal and LOUD when they meow. They also can require a lot of attention BUT can be VERY smart & easy to train. They're also beautiful too, that's just an example. Some cats are quiet, some are playful, etc. Also, yes, as someone said, opposite genders are best. I once made the mistake of getting an additional female cat for my Siamese to have a companion...you'd have thought I started WWII ! The new cat kept attacking my other cat so I had to take her back to the shelter. So yes, male cats w/female cats options are best IMO. Definitely make sure the cat is spayed or neutered. This will help w/spraying and also male cats who are not neutered tend to wanna run off from what I've seen & read. I too am against declawing but If kitty has already been declawed then always keep it inside (unless you have a catio). Otherwise it won't be able to defend itself if it does get out. You can always buy cat scratchers and claw caps, etc.

Hope you find my info helpful. I've had cats all my life & LOVE them! I understand them a lot better than dogs. If you have any further questions, feel free to send me a message. I'll do my best to try and help you. I'm not expert by any means but I can try to help you in any way I can. :) Good luck!!

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