Words of Advice for Possibly a New Cat Owner

Updated on September 27, 2011
B.S. asks from Lansing, MI
18 answers

Ok, so I think my husband and I might actually cave and get a kitten for our girls. We have not owned a pet. (Although, my husband had a pet dog as a young child) We are thinking a kitten because cats can easily maintain themselves when we are out of the house. We have told our girls over and over we will not have living pets in our home. So this will be a complete shock if we follow through with this.

So I'm needing words of advice since I for sure am not familiar with owning a pet. We are thinking about adopting one at the local shelter. I know we will have to have it spayed/neutered. I believe it will also get its shots and necessary things done. However, I don't know that it will have its front paws declawed? Is this something I should have done. And how will I know I'm getting a friendly cat, it needs to be tolerant of a 6 and 4 year old....that will love it to pieces!!! My husband tells me if it is our cat, it will be tolerant of our kids...but I am not sure that is true.

Also is there anything I should know before we jump into being a cat owner?

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So What Happened?

Thank you for the much needed advice! I have emailed the shelter and explained our situation and what we are looking for and they suggested a young kitten for us. She is 4 months old. I am going to surprise my girls and go visit her on Wednesday and see if she will be a good fit for the girls. If not we'll keep on looking.

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answers from Richmond on

Aside from what you've already mentioned, the only ONLY thing I hate about cats: cleaning the litter box. There is nothing else on this earth like that horrid smell. Just be prepared ;)

You might also want to consider rescuing an older cat; they will flat out tell you if that cat is good with kids or not. You'd hate to raise a cat from a kitten, only to find out that it was born to hate kids (this has happened to my friends before)... adopting an older cat who's already accustomed to kiddos is a safer bet!

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answers from San Francisco on

I've owned lots of cats, and here's my most important tip:
Don't take the kitten who is closest to mama cat. In a cage full of 12 playful kittens, we chose the little baby sitting right next to mama not moving. She wasn't ready to go and she was a challenge her whole life. Definitely have your girls play with them-- whichever cats respond sweetly will be sweet at home too. And with older cats (or even with kittens that have been in the shelter for a while, or have been in foster care) the workers are pretty good at figuring out their personalities and interactions with kids and families. Trust them if they offer advice.

Also consider 2 if you're getting kittens. They are very very playful and if they have each other to roll around with when you are not home, you lessen the possibility of them chewing or scratching things you don't want them to.

Don't declaw, it is cruel (like cutting off their fingers at the top knuckle). You can easily clip front paw claws with special scissors, faster than clipping your girls' nails. If you say on top of it, you won't need scratching posts.

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answers from Washington DC on

1. Go to the shelter and be frank with them - your house, your needs, the personalities of your kids. That helps prevent you from falling in love with a cat who wants a quiet home. Give an older cat an honest chance. Kittens are energetic and pointy and sometimes too much for a novice. Our younger cat was a bit over a year when we got her but she was still very playful - yet not quite as crazy as a kitten.

2. Learn to clip nails and not be afraid of them. Learn what to do to prevent unwanted scratching. There is no need, IMO, for declawing! In my limited experience, declawed cats can have other behvioral issues (like biting). There are a lot of tips out there, so find whatever works (squirt bottle, sticky tape, etc) and you'll all be happier without resorting to declawing.

3. Teach the kids how to be calm and gentle. They need to give the cat a chance. Sometimes kids can overwhelm a new pet (if they are anything like my kids!) and the cat just needs to settle in. Give the cat an "out" if there's too much going on. But also have the kids help the cat care - playing, feeding, litter...so that not only do they get a sense of responsibility, but the cat thinks, "That little person feeds me! I loooooover her."

4. Cats are not like dogs. You will be "owned" by the cat. But that doesn't mean the cat will be aloof. Our cats are so person-oriented. Many is the time our little cat will worm her way onto my lap while I'm typing and just looooove me. A little annoying sometimes, but I wanted a lap cat.

5. ENJOY your cat! Enjoy its quirks, it's funny behaviors, it's purrs, etc. Keep a sense of humor.

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answers from Dallas on

I don't have one now, but I've had them for years. When you decide to get one, take the kids to the shelter with you to find a cat. That way you will be able to find a cat that likes kids. Animals have personalities - if it doesn't like kids, it doesn't like kids. Often shelters will know which kitties are ok with kids so that might help in the search as well. Some are snuggly, some are lap cats, some just want their own space, etc. so you might want to think about that as well.

My cats were declawed, but if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't de-claw them. I believe there are ways to train them to do their clawing stuff on certain materials - ask the shelter/vet about that so you can find things for the cat to claw on that aren't your furniture.

Get the flushable litter - I liked the corn based litter. It worked really well, and wasn't as cloggy as the clay. And if you have a spare bathroom, put the litter box in there so the mess goes right down the toilet. The automatic litter boxes are ok, but you still have to dump the tray.

Don't use your hands as toys for the cat to play with. They like to attack stuff (it's their nature to pounce) - but not in a bad way :) But if you have toys, wand toys, etc that they can attach, they won't learn it's ok to bite hands, etc.

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answers from Columbia on

I've been owned by cats for my entire life. I have two now.

Please keep in mind that this is a LONG commitment. Cats can live for as long as 20 years. They need annual vet check ups and immunizations. You need to ensure that they are treated during the warm seasons so they don't get fleas or ticks.

When you visit the shelter, talk to the folks there and let them know just what you are looking for. I stongly recommend that you get an older kitten who has already been spayed/neutered, or a younger cat. If you're looking for a cat to be strictly indoors, a kitten or cat who has never been outside is a good idea, since they probably won't be as likely to take off out the door. Indoor cats live longer and are healthier. I recommend keeping your kitty inside.

IF you decide to declaw, you should ONLY do this on a kitten. Do it during the spay/neuter. I really don't recommend declawing. It is cruel. You are literally having all of their fingertips chopped off. But if you decide that is what you want to do, DO NOT DECLAW an older cat. It can cause serious behavioral issues and litterbox problems.

It is very likely that the rescue center will already have an declawed, fixed, very kid-friendly young adult cat. If you so chose, you could completely skip the entire kitten age (which has its perks). So that's something to consider.

Regarding what you need to do at home, there are plenty of books out there about preparing your home and family...but first and foremost, I advise that your kids spend at least a couple of hours playing inside a friend's home with their cats. You don't want to get a new kitty home only to find out that your kids or spouse are allergic!

Best of luck!

ETA: I just wanted to respond to the person who said cats are "not good kid pets."

This is utter nonsense. I mean, I've never heard of a child being mauled to death by a cat...

I've had cats in my life since I was a toddler. When raised around kiddoes they are extremely tolerant. Yes, they might bite or extend their claws when a child gets way too rough, but the child quickly learns to be more gentle.

I have two boys and two cats. My 8 year old cat is just 6 months younger than my youngest son. Taylor doesn't remember a time without him. We also have a 6 month old kitten. She lets my boys pick her up, carry her around, rub her belly, and has only scratched accidentally when playing.

So...bottom line, don't listen to people who say that cats are not good for children. They are wonderful for children, and far simpler to maintain than dogs.

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answers from Detroit on

I agree with Julie K's comments. DO NOT declaw your pet - it is actually very cruel and my vet highly discourages declawing. If you are worried about your furniture/drapes, do not get a cat. I have 4 cats and I love them dearly but I have learned to live with their ways (furniture scratching) and feel the trade off is worth it. Not everyone would agree with me on that!

I also think an animal rescue is a good place to adopt from. They can help match you with a good fit for your family and children's ages.

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answers from Grand Rapids on

This is just a consideration that I thought I would bring up. If you are fully commited to getting a cat, you can ignore this. I just thought I would point out that many people have severe cat allergies (my daughter and I both do). Someone mentioned making sure no one in your household has the allergy and that is very important. However, if you like to host gatherings at your house or have family or friends from out-of-town stay with you, you may want to ask if family and friends have a cat allergy. My cat allergy is super severe and I also have asthma so I may not be in a house with cats even if I pre-medicate. I even have trouble sitting near someone who has cats if there is much fur on their clothing. My best friend has two cats and I can never go to her house. My daughter misses out on some parties and such if the hostess has a cat. Just a thought for you. If you have a niece or nephew or someone close who spends a of time at your house, you may want to make sure there are no known cat allergies.
P.S. Please don't think I am an animal-hater. I love animals; unfortunately, my allergies don't.

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answers from Saginaw on

If you don't want the girls all scratched up, or your furniture...yes...front declaw, but leave the back, no reason to declaw the back in my opinion.

you're going to have to treat your kitten like an infant for the first few days to make sure she/he is litter trained. Put it in the room with you at night, with a litter box in one corner and her/his food in the other (never close to eachother) get up every so often and put it in the litter box and take its front paws and scratch at the litter. you'll know right away if its trained.

once you get a litter that works for both you and your cat NEVER change it. Cats are really picky about their litter. If its suddenly different, they may get confused and not want to use it and that would be a disaster. Its also important to keep it very clean or they won't want to use it. I recommend daily (although at my house it is the kids chores...so one does morning, and the other does night...spoiled cat! haha)

I don't recommend changing its food often either, some cats can have pretty sensitive stomachs.

Go to the animal shelter and look for a kitten that is spunky, not hiding in the corner...those are usually the more "tolerant" cats as they get older and they are more friendly and want to be with the humans and hang out. In my experience male cats have been more playful than female ones.

Cats are cool...they learn your schedule, they interact well, and are no where near as needy as a dog. It'll be good for your kids to have a pet.

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answers from Spokane on

First off, I do not and have not ever, owned a cat. This is just information I have learned in my research because we were thinking of getting a cat.

The shelter will take care of neuter/spay and all shots, this is why they have adoption fees (that don't actually even cover all the medical expenses, just some). They will not declaw a cat, and you shouldn't either. It throws the cat's balance off, and if they ever go outside (because you let them, or just because they escape) they cannot defend themselves against other cats, dogs, or other wildlife. There are plastic caps you can buy to cover their claws, or just invest in a couple of scratch posts and put them around your house.
What I did with my kids was take them to a cat rescue and let them love on all the cats for a couple of hours to find out if they were going to have an allergy problem. My son, who is allergic to lots of environmental stuff, had no problem; my daughter, who is allergic to nothing, broke out in hives on her hands and face. This is why we do not have a cat, after I was totally ready to buy one and my husband was on board. See if you can make sure there won't be allergy problems *before* you bring a cat home :)

As far as picking one that will be comfortable with your kids, spend lots of time at the shelter in the play room with the cats and see which one gravitates to your girls. Have them sit and see which one comes up to them, have them walk around and see which one doesn't run as they approach. Even after taking home a cat that seemed perfectly loving, you'll have to expect a few weeks of transition once you are home. The cat may hiss, and hide under beds, and generally not want any attention at all. I had a friend who's cat took almost a month to come out from under the bed during the day, but once she was out she was best friends with everyone in the house, even their huge black dog!

Good luck on your search for a family pet!

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answers from New York on

Take your kids with you to pick out the cat. If the cat isn't kid-friendly, you'll know it right away. We have two cats- actually they belonged to the hubs before I met him, so it was kind of a package deal. They are tolerant of our son, but not a huge fan of him in general.

Declawing is up to you. My understanding is that it's pretty cruel and ours are not. They haven't destroyed our furniture, but we have scratching posts and toys for them throughout the house.

Cats are pretty low-maintenance and independent. Ours are not the norm and can't be left alone for periods of time, but most others are.

Good luck!

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answers from Detroit on

Hi---I also recommend adopting 2 sibling kitties. We adopted one from the farm where my MIL boarded her horses. He had a brother that I am sure is long gone. Our kitty is a male and he is lots of fun. But I can see where having a kitty friend for him would have made life more fun for him.

We did have the front claws removed. I just didn't want to take the chance that Memphis would destroy anything. We found that we didn't need a lot of fancy toys. An almond or a milk cap ring are his favorite toys, along with a feather stick and my Dobie pads from the kitchen. He takes those and throws them up into the air and then pounces on them.

Having a pet is good medicine...although sometimes it can also be frustrating. Our kitty seems to need to puke regularly so I won't be getting new carpet any time soon. Good luck. D.

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answers from Detroit on

I haven't read all the answers you received, so I'm not sure if you've already heard this 17 times or not. Cats are not good kid pets. Kids will want to hold them and grab them and cats are simply not tolerant creatures. It would be much better to get a kid-loving dog than a cat as far as a pet that will be good with kids. (Although, I know dogs are much more high maintenance as far as care.) The cat will just end up hiding underneath the bed to escape the kids or scratching them when cornered (if not declawed). I just don't think it's a good idea.

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answers from Lakeland on

Be sure to ask when you adopt if it can be brought back. Cats are picky and tend to choose their owners. I had adopted a cat and all it did was cry and hide in the corner. I felt so bad for this animal so I called the rescue and returned her. A few months later I did adopt one that was a much better fit. They have their own personalities and are all different. I would suggest that maybe get a book for your kids on how to take care of it before you adopt.
And please have it spade/neutered.

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answers from Dallas on

Spend some time with the kitten at the shelter before you decide. Take it out of the area where the other cats are to see what it is really like. If it has it's ears pulled back, it does not like what is happening. If it's tail is twitching, it is getting really annoyed and may bite or scratch.
Make sure you girls are always gentle with it. It a kitten is played with too roughly, it is much more likely to scratch or bite.
I love cats, but my husband and son are allergic, so I haven't had one in a long time. Sometimes I just go to the shelter to get a "cat fix."

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answers from Raleigh on

I would check some books out from the library about care and training of cats. I would make sure to have a scratching post and teach the cat to use it. When you first get the cat it should have a room like a bathroom or small bedroom where it will stay for a few days until it gets used to your house. Also make sure that your kids are nice to the cat. If the cat has a few bad and or painful experiences with your kids it will quickly learn to be mean and hateful back.

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answers from Detroit on

My advice is pretty similar to alot of the rest.
having 2 kittens at once is nice because kittens can be very curious and having someone else to play with should help keep them out of trouble LOL. I've always had 2 or more cats at one time, even with a dog or 2. They've all had different personalities. One of the ones I have now was in a foster home of a rescue group. She's very friendly with everyone, including my grandchildren, and any visitor that comes in the door. Another one I have that I adopted a few months later was also from a rescue group, but was at a pound. He's super sweet for us, but scares very easily, and disappears when anyone else is here. I think all the noise from the pound when he was a baby made him more skittish with loud noises. Since we adopted them just a few months apart, they are the best of buddies and often sleep snuggled up together. We adopted the 2nd one because we had an older cat who wanted nothing to do with the first one and we felt bad that she had all this energy and no one to play with.
We do front declaw all of our cats. I had one that I didn't and she scratched our couch, carpet and other places. Most shelters will already spay or neuter a kitten, but they won't declaw. Or if it's not already fixed, ask your vet if they will do both at the same time...then you only put the kitten through anesthesia once. Mine have all had it done at the same time...they come home with glue on their toes, and adapt within a few days. There will always be the argument of cruel or not, but I feel that it saves my furniture and keeps the cat out of trouble. I had one who used to escape outside once in awhile, and one time I watched as he climbed up a tree because a dog was running at him...he was up that tree just as fast as any cat with claws would have been!
I also don't ever allow my cats outside, they are indoor only cats. It does protect them in so many ways. They also live much longer lives as indoor cats.
If you adopt a male, I would definitely get a young kitten. If it was older when it went to the rescue, and then got fixed, it might still spray. If they're fixed before they start spraying, at about 6 months, then they won't ever start spraying. I've had both male & female, and personality wise, it just depends on the cat, not it's sex.

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answers from Sacramento on

I'm sure others have recommended to adopt an adult cat, rather than a kitten. See if you can find a rescue, not just a shelter. People who foster cats have lots of experience with cats in general and with each cat they keep. They will be able to tell you the cats temperament and habits, so you can get the right one for your family and environment.

Please do not have your cat declawed. If you find that the cat is scratching on things that you don't want it to... (cats mark their territory this way) you can either keep the nails trimmed, or consider a product called "soft paws." Since your kids have never had a pet before, it will be critical to make sure that they are gentle with the cat especially in the first few weeks of owning it. I would be sure to supervise the time when they are with cat. They might want to treat it more like a doll or stuffed animal than a living thing. Even a good natured cat can become nervous with the quick movements, bets intended child touches etc... and it will be important to teach your kids "cat language" of when it has had enough. Switching tail, ears back, growling, hissing... all signs that they should leave the cat alone before they get scratched or bitten.

Cats make wonderful pets, but it's important that they have their space when they need it. Unlike dogs they aren't necessarily people pleasers, and like things more on their terms than on yours.

Good luck!

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answers from Detroit on

The shelter is a good option. I would suggest at least a partially grown cat rather than a kitten. I know kittens are so darn cute, but with an adult cat you really know their personality before you adopt. Cats generally have long lives, so getting a cat that is a few years old still gives you years of enjoyment.
We front declawed and are happy. Our cat thinks she still has claws and pretends to knead the furniture with her paws as if she were clawed. Just imagine if we hadn't declawed her...
Teach your kids how to respect the cat and it will really cut down on the cat's stress level. You know, not chasing after it screaming. Had to get on the neighbor girl for that one. Tail pulling, etc.
Consider hair-length too. Long-haired cats tend to get hairballs and their fur mats. You will have to brush a lot more frequently.
If you choose to let the cat outside, add a bell to its collar. It gives the songbirds a chance to escape. Cats are very detrimental to songbird populations.

Good luck! We love our cat to pieces. She is sweet and cuddly and adorable, and we have a 5 yo and a 6 yo she lives with. :)

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