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Is a Cat Right for You?

Is a Cat Right for You?

I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul. ~Jean Cocteau

Before you consider whether you want a specific breed of pedigreed cat, are interested in adopting a cat from a shelter or a rescue, or will take in the stray that's been hanging around graciously indicating she would be willing to live with you, you need to take stock of your life. Ask yourself: Is a cat right for me?

To get the big picture, it's often a good idea to write down all the issues involved in owning a cat and see how you stack up. That way, you can properly evaluate your emotional wants and needs, your expectations and shortcomings, and the expectations of a feline friend. If you answer honestly, it will be abundantly clear whether you are ready to bring a feline into your life. Always remember the old adage: when in doubt, don't!

Time, Family, Space,

There are certain basic questions you need to ask yourself when determining whether getting a cat is the right thing to do. Do I have the time and resources to take proper care of a pet? Will everyone else in my family accept a cat? Can I offer a cat the kind of home where she will be happy and healthy?

Before you acquire a feline friend, make sure you have the time to provide her with proper care and plenty of attention.

Do You Have the Time?

If you are looking for a feline companion, then you need to ensure that you have time in your schedule to attend not only to her daily needs but also to her mental and physical stimulation. You can't merely shake out some kibble, top up the water bowl, scoop the poop, and trot off for the rest of the day. There has to be lots of time for interaction and play. Cats need to spend time with their people. Cats don't sleep all day by choice; it's a sign of boredom. And, if left alone for excessively long spells on a regular basis, they can suffer from separation anxiety.

Cats thrive on company. A lot of them are lap kitties who give you seconds to settle before taking up residence in your lap and making it clear that you're not moving for the next hour. Then there is time for grooming. Sure, cats tend to be tidy and meticulous self-cleaners, but they still need to be groomed-some more than others. Certain longhaired breeds need to be brushed on a daily basis. Maybe not a hundred strokes, but daily grooming can be very time-consuming. And don't forget the nail care.

Do you have time to learn about nutrition and health care for your cat, to socialize with and groom her, as well as train her to keep off counters, if that is your preference? Not to mention teaching her not to scratch your favorite chair? If you work all week and are out socializing on weekends, or if you spend large chunks of your day car-pooling your kids to various extramural activities and supervising homework, then this may not be the time to commit to the responsibility of a cat.

Is Your Family Ready?

If you are in a committed relationship, does your partner like cats or merely tolerate them? This is very important, and you have to be truthful with yourself.

And, although it's wonderful to bring up kids with pets, in a household filled with small children, do you have the time to devote to an animal and also teach children to respect a feline friend? Both children and feline will need to be taught and protected.

Furthermore, it’s important to determine beforehand who in the household is going to be head of the Department of Feline Affairs. This is the person ultimately responsible for the cat. Never designate a child who is keen to have a pet as that pet’s sole caretaker. Children cannot be responsible for visits to the veterinarian or for keeping track of Biblemedical records and vaccinations. And, as much as your child may promise to take care of a cat’s grooming needs, in reality, the novelty often wears off and the cat gets neglected.

There is no guarantee a new cat will get along with your dog or other pets you may already have.

Statistically, cats live healthier and longer lives when kept indoors all the time.

Ownership vs. Guardianship

Under American law (as under the law of many other countries), cats, like all domestic animals, are considered property when they clearly belong to someone. It follows, then, that if cats are property, from a legal standpoint, people are owners. This terminology, however, has long sparked heated debate among animal lovers, animal-related organizations, animal-rights groups, and lawmakers.

The country's current legal standpoint maintains that keeping pets classified as property is the best way to protect them and that changing the property classification would be problematic. For example, in order to change it, animals would have to be able to sue for an injury or harm done, and thus the issue is further exacerbated by the question of who will represent the animal in court and who will have the right to bring suit on behalf of the animal.

In 1999, an organization called In Defense of Animals (IDA) launched a campaign called They Are Not Our Property-We Are Not Their Owners, which, as the name clearly states, opposed the concept of animals as property. The IDA organization wanted to have the term pet owner legally replaced by the term guardian and ultimately "reconstruct the social and legal relationship between humans and animals."

The IDA organization, which continues to advocate for this changes, believes this change in terminology will help alter how individuals and society in general perceive and treat other species. The group's viewpoint is that the concept of guardianship promotes a much more respectful and responsible relationship. According to the IDA:

By disavowing the concept and accompanying language of animal ownership, we can reconstruct the social and legal relationship between humans and animals. As our societal perceptions of animals change, the legislatures and courts will recognize our obligation to protect animals, not as someone's personal property, but as conscious being[s] with feelings and interests of their own.

In 2000, Boulder, Colorado, became the first city to amend its animal ordinance to include the guardian term. In 2001, Rhode Island added guardian to its state statutes concerning animals. Berkeley, San Francisco, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood in California; Sherwood, Arkansas; Amherst, Massachusetts; Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin; and several other jurisdictions subsequently passed ordinances that allowed animal owners to be called pet guardians.

Not everyone agrees that this would be a change for the better. The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), International Cat Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Kennel Club, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, National Animal Interest Alliance, American Dog Owners Association, Responsible Pet Owners Alliance (Texas), California Veterinary Medical Association, and the office of the Los Angeles City Attorney have all at one time or another issued public statements opposing the guardian term or its use in laws. The CFA's statement in 2003 summed up the general consensus of this opinion:

The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc. strongly supports caring and responsible pet ownership. CFA upholds the traditional property rights of animal owners that provide the basis for their ability to make decisions about their animals' well-being, including health, reproduction and transfer to a new owner. Owned cats are valued family members. As legal property, they cannot be taken away from us except by constitutional due process. The term "guardian," whether inserted into animal laws or in common usage, contradicts this critical protective and personal relationship. CFA rejects the concept of animal "guardianship," which can be challenged or revoked, because of the potential legal and social ramifications that would negatively impact veterinarians, animal rescuers, breeders and sellers of animals as well as pet owners.

In the past decade, many cat owners have taken to calling themselves pet parents and their feline companions fur kids. Many of those who support the owner label say that such terms of endearment are fine in a domestic setting. But it's different when dealing with the law because the term owner is the one that best looks after the interest of the pet concerned. The IDA continues to fight for guardianship to be nationally accepted. (Currently thirty American cities recognize the term animal guardian.) Others vigorously defend the value of pet ownership. Those on both sides of this controversial issue have similar goals: to ensure that animals kept as pets are respected and protected from neglect or abuse.

Will Your Other Pets Be OK?

If you already have pets in the household, it's very important to take them into consideration, too. Some dogs love cats. For others, the mere sight of a fluffy tail revs up their prey drive. Remember that two cats who come into the home at different times may not get along either. It can cause anxiety and stress for both felines, resulting in behavioral issues such as going outside of the litter box. Veterinarians liken a household situation in which cats do not get along to an office scenario in which you simply can't stand the person sharing your cubicle. Such a situation can be very stressful and, if you have ever been in such a predicament, it's easy to empathize. When cats in a household do not get along, they will do things such as block one another from using litter boxes and passageways, which ultimately puts a strain on the entire household. The antagonistic situation may resolve itself over time or at least become tolerable for the felines concerned. You need to ask yourself if you have the time and patience to wait for that to happen, or if you will be willing to actively help resolve such a situation, which may include consulting an animal behaviorist. It may also involve dividing up the home so that certain cats are downstairs and others upstairs. Is this something you can live with long term? It's a decision that has to be made before you introduce another pet.

You should consider that an elderly cat or dog may feel threatened by a rambunctious kitten. And what if you have birds that you let fly freely around the house or a hamster that enjoys rolling around in a hamster ball? Every creature in the household has to be taken into account. Simply wanting a cat or a second cat shouldn't be your prime motivation. The basic questions you need to answer are: Is there a safe and secure place for a cat in my home? And will my other animals be safe and secure?

Do You Have Enough Living Space?

Cats don't require a large apartment or house. But all animals need their space, and you will need to ensure that a cat will have some place in the home to call her own, such as a cat tree or a kitty condo, for some feline privacy.

Part of the process of domesticating the Felis catus has been the recognition that cats are in fact much safer if they are kept indoors. Whether you live in the country or enjoy an urban lifestyle, cats who are allowed to roam freely are more likely to be in contact with fleas, ticks, and other parasites. They stand the chance of being attacked by predators, becoming the victims of animal cruelty, and suffering injury or death from traffic.

Consequently, these days, most cat activists, breeders, and welfare organizations promote an indoor lifestyle, but can you live with the idea? If not, does your current living arrangement allow you to have a safe outdoor cat enclosure that your cat can access? And will everyone in the household be responsible about ensuring the cat doesn't escape?

Will You Relocate with Your Cat?

Whether you own your own home or are renting is another deciding factor. Owning your own home means that you are in charge of your domestic destiny. But a rental situation can be precarious. A lot of places are not pet friendly. And, even if you are lucky enough to find one that is, circumstances can change, and, at any time, you could find yourself being given notice by a landlord that you must vacate the premises or that your cat is no longer welcome. Then what happens to your cat? If you are in a rental situation, it's important to have a Plan B in place before you become a cat owner.

It's important to assess your job situation, too. Are you likely to remain in one place, or is there the possibility of relocation? And, if so, are you prepared to relocate with your cat? Far too many cats end up in shelters simply because their owners consider it too much trouble to relocate them and further ensure that they settle down well in the new environment.

Nuisance Laws

Cats can cause problems in neighborhoods, such as noise, attacks on other cats, defecating in gardens and on lawns, and spreading diseases. Although there are no state-specific nuisance laws pertaining solely to cats, municipalities and cities often create limitations on the number of pets per household. Some laws specify the number of same-species pets allowed. Very often, even though such laws exist, they are not usually acted on unless a complaint is filed.

Do You Have Health or Financial Issues?

You need to take your personal health and that of any close family members into account, too. That includes elderly relatives who may visit regularly. Does anyone have allergies? Many people are allergic to cat hair and dander and don't even know it. So it's a good idea to spend time around cats beforehand to ensure that you and your immediate family members don't suffer from itchy eyes, a blocked nose, or a wheezy chest whenever a cat enters the room.

Can you afford to keep a pet? Apart from the basic expenses of preparing your home for a cat, such as buying a bed and food and water bowls, you could incur such costs as having to replace door and window screens to ensure your home is a safe environment. Then there are the ongoing costs of good-quality food, toys, and regular veterinary check-ups-not to mention the unknown medical costs that could arise in the future.

How Many Cats?

One cat or two? According to the 2013–2014 National Pet Owners Survey (an NPO survey is published every two years by the American Pet Products Manufacturers, APPA), nearly three-quarters of all the cats living in American households reside in multicat homes, and the national average is 2.11 cats per household. It's important to weigh up the advantages of a multicat household against the disadvantages. Although you are doubling your financial costs, there's a lot to be said for adopting two cats at the same time, allowing them to grow up together and provide companionship for each other. In fact, some adoption agencies insist on two cats being adopted at once for this very reason. Before you adopt is the right time to make this decision because if you bring in a second cat later on, the cats may not bond.

Cats and Kids

If you are willing to put in the time socializing your kitten in her new home and teaching your children how to safely interact with her, the fact that there are children in your home does not preclude you from getting a new cat. In fact, the same NPO survey also points out that in households of three or more children, the average number of cats owned increases.

Kittens are, of course, very cute and playful bundles of fur. But suddenly during exuberant play, and for no apparent reason, they can inflict painful bites and scratches. Often, if not taught proper manners, they continue to do this in adulthood. Such behavior has been known to give parents second thoughts about having a cat in a household with children or the elderly. However, once this rough play is put into perspective, understood, and controlled, people can see that having children in the home is no reason to have second thoughts about adopting a cat, and it is certainly not a reason to give away the cat.

Understanding Feline Play

Felines have a natural prey drive and instinctively tend to play rough attack-and-retreat games with each other and with the people in their lives. This characteristic usually becomes evident in kittens when they are around three months old and is a normal part of a kitten's development. Kittens pounce on each other, wrestling and tumbling about, and even latching on to one another with their teeth. It looks serious and can be noisy, but it's nothing more than their natural instincts at play. They also get into chasing mode, where they will crouch down, almost flat on the floor, then stealthily creep up on their "prey" and spring.

Of course, if the "prey" happens to be your hand, this can be disconcerting and a little painful, especially if the kitten sinks her tiny teeth into your skin and adds some kicks with her back feet. Such behavior can be truly frightening to a small child. Children should be taught never to shout and scream or lash out and hit. Instead, they should be taught to stay out of such games completely. When rough feline play starts up, children must know to leave the cat or kitten alone and retreat, seeking out a parent instead.

Once you learn to read the signals that an "attack" may be imminent, you can keep it from happening. Signals to watch for are a flicking tail and a wild look in the eyes. Simply stop petting, don't initiate any more games, and move away. Children must be taught to do the same.One way of allowing a child and a young cat to play without the danger of a scratch or a bite is to teach the child to interact with the cat using a wand-type toy. The wand directs the cat's prey drive away from the child to the toy. Once again, though, it's important to teach children to watch for signs the play is getting out of hand, such as a flicking tail. In this way, it's possible to put an end to the game before it gets too rough and you have to call for a time-out.

Time to Stop Play

Teach children to watch for the early warning signs that feline fun and games are about to get rough so that they can stop play before a time-out is needed. It's also a good idea to ensure that your cat has somewhere to retreat for a little privacy and feline alone time, such as a nice tall cat tree or kitty condo.

Two cats provide each other with companionship, so you may want to consider adopting two at the same time.

Kids and Feline House Rules

Children need to be taught the following simple rules to establish a loving kid–cat relationship:

  • A cat is not a toy. Small children should not be allowed to carry a cat around. Instead teach them to sit next to their pet and stroke her gently.
  • Learn to read basic cat body language that indicates annoyance, anger, or fear, such as a flicking tail and flattened ears.
  • Learn to recognize that the cat has had enough and wants to be left alone.
  • Never hold a cat against her will or back her into a corner so that she is unable to escape.
  • Never bother a cat when she's sleeping, eating, or using the litter box.
  • Loud boisterous screaming can frighten even the mildest tempered feline.

It's important to invest time into developing the bond between your child and your pet. Give children treats to give to the cat because this helps to establish a positive relationship.

Cats and kids can become great friends, but their interactions should be supervised by an adult to make sure they both are having a good time.

From the age of about five years old, encourage children to be involved with the cat's daily care. A simple task such as making sure that the water bowl is always full and that there's food in the dish will teach responsibility in caring for a pet.

Over the years, various studies done around small children and pets have shown that children who are attached to a pet and possibly even involved with its care often have high IQ test scores and are better able to understand and communicate with their peers. There's no doubt that a loving relationship with a pet will impact on a child's life and teach him or her to love and respect animals.Of course, the success of a toddler–cat relationship depends a lot on the demeanor of the cat, too.

If you have a newborn on the way, it's a good idea to let the cat get used to the crib and other baby items before the big day.

Toxoplasmosis and Pregnant Women

One of the biggest concerns for pregnant women is contracting toxoplasmosis from cleaning cat feces in litter boxes. Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite found in cats who have eaten infected meat. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women who test positive for toxoplasmosis don't pass it on to the fetus because they have the necessary antibodies in their systems to fight the condition. Thus, the hysteria regarding pregnant women is overblown.

There's no reason to get rid of a cat because of a pregnancy. Instead, women should avoid direct contact with feline feces by getting someone else to clean the litter box. The alternative is to wear gloves and disinfect the box every time you change the litter. Although toxoplasmosis is associated with feline feces, it is also very easy to pick up the parasite by eating raw or partly cooked meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison, or by touching your hands to your mouth after contact with raw or undercooked meat in the kitchen. Consequently, cats often are blamed unnecessarily.

People infected with toxoplasmosis are often unaware of having this disease because typical symptoms are similar to muscle aches and pains associated with the flu.

Cats and Newborns

So what happens if the situation is reversed? That is, what happens if the newcomer is a human baby and the established resident is a cat? Some people mistakenly believe that cats and newborns don't mix and that cats can even pose a danger to a newborn.

This is simply not true. If you already have a cat, you don't have to find your cat another home. Cats are very intuitive creatures, and cat owners often say that their felines "know" about the impending arrival of a baby and that it brings out their nurturing instincts. I have experienced this personally!

Preparing Your Cat

According to popular belief, cats are extremely jealous of babies. In fact, usually the behavior a cat exhibits in a household with a newborn baby (or a household preparing for a newborn) is nothing more than anxiety, a reaction to all the new activity in the household.

Cats are curious. If you deliberately exclude them from a certain room in the house-one you're preparing for the baby-they will make a concerted effort to gain access on their own. Instead of completely barring them, allow them inside a new baby's room under controlled supervision, especially when you are preparing it for the baby's arrival. Let them lie around while you decorate and set things up. It's a good idea to even play with them in this environment so that they feel comfortable in this territory.If friends with babies visit, keep your cat around to get used to the sounds of crying and gurgling. In fact, take a recorder on a visit to the OB/GYN's office; there's bound to be a crying baby you can record. Replay at home, especially when you are working in the nursery and in the room in which you intend to feed and entertain the baby. Play with musical toys, too.

Because scents are very important to animals, it's a good idea for the mother-to-be to start wearing baby powder, lotion, and any other baby-related products before the baby's arrival.While you are out shopping for baby, shop for kitty, too. Buy new cat toys, even a new kitty condo. But keep these items hidden and only bring them out when the baby actually arrives home, to create a diversion. It's the same thing you would do if there were older children in the house who may be apprehensive of a new arrival in their midst.

Keeping the Cat Out

Parents who would prefer to keep the family cat out of the baby's room both before and after the baby's arrival should invest in a special motion detector device that is triggered by the presence of an animal. Numerous models are available that either beep or making a hissing sound. Others spray water or a harmless citronella spray. Even a can of compressed air used to clean a computer keyboard will do the trick! Cats are fast learners!

Preparing for the Baby's Arrival

If you're the main cat caretaker of the household and the one who'll be giving birth, it's a good idea to let your spouse (or whoever will be cat sitting) take over feeding duties at least a month before the baby's arrival. Let the same person be the dispenser of treats, too. This is an excellent way of helping the cat become comfortable with her temporary caregiver during the time immediately after the baby's arrival. When it's time to go into the hospital, leave worn items of your clothing around, especially where the cat sleeps. Make sure that feline feeding times and any other routines don't change. Make the same preparations if you are planning on giving birth at home; even though you'll be in the house, you'll be in a separate space.

Introducing Cat to Baby

Cat behaviorists believe that it's a good idea to introduce a cat to a baby under controlled circumstances very soon after bringing the baby home or as soon after the home birth as possible. If you include the cat by stroking and petting her when she's in close proximity to an infant, she will automatically associate the baby with behaviors that feel good.

When the baby actually arrives, this is the time to take out the new kitty toys. In addition, if an increase of visitors into your home makes your cat anxious, spray special feline pheromone sprays around to soothe feline nerves. They are widely available from pet supermarkets and veterinarian offices. There are also soothing pheromone collars made from all-natural, safe ingredients. To be effective, they should be replaced monthly.

Allow the cat and the baby to "meet" one another. If anyone in the household is tense and worried, the cat is likely to pick up on these feelings. So remain calm and let them get to know each other, particularly during feeding and changing routines. And give your cat space-make sure there is somewhere she can go and chill out when the noise and the crying all become too much!

Allow your cat to meet your new baby as soon as possible. This is a good time to break out new toys and treats, so she views your newborn positively.

From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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