Is a Cat the Right Pet for You?
Getting a pet can seem like such an exciting idea that it can often be easy to overlook the responsibilities and costs which ultimately come with owning any animal. Without properly considering whether a cat is suitable for you, your lifestyle and your purse an impulse decision can lead to cats (and any pet) ending up at a rescue shelter when the realities have sunk in.
I have worked in animal rescue and have seen first-hand when kittens and cats get dumped and the heartbreak of it all.
There are many reasons why a kitten or cat will get dumped and end up in rescue shelters. Reasons include:
- Cat grows up and isn’t a cute kitten anymore
- Lack of adequate space
- Lack of money for food and vet bills
- Not realising that a cat is not a toy and needs responsible looking after and feeding, vaccinations, worming and de-fleaing
- Older cats get dumped when they develop health issues and the regular vet bills are too expensive
- Cats not being neutered, ending up in fights and ending up with high vet bills
- Cats not being neutered, getting pregnant from 6 months of age and ending up with unwanted kittens
- Owners move away and leave the cat behind
- Owners cannot take cats to a new rental property that doesn’t allow pets
- Owners get new dog (after the cat) and the cat is offloaded somewhere else. Some cats can get very stressed living with dogs if they are not used to them.
- Owner becomes old, moves to a care home and the cat cannot be taken with them
- Lack of time to spend with the cat
- Cat sheds too much hair
- Cat scratches the furniture and around the home
- Cat has fleas (the owners don’t de-flea or look after their cats then don’t want them when fleas appear)
All of the above are real reasons for cats and kittens ending up dumped. If they are lucky enough, they end up in a rescue centre so at least they have a second chance to find a new home.
So with all the potential problems of having a cat or kitten and it not working out, I thought it may be useful to list what you will need to think about to help decide whether a pet cat or kitten is going to be suitable for you, your family and your home. This is a realistic checklist with top tips on what to consider.
The most important question is…
1. Are you prepared to care for a pet for its whole life?
When you adopt a cat/kitten you’re committed to caring for it for its entire life, and if you get a cat when they’re young this can be for an average of 15 years! Cats can live until 20 + years, our cat Leo is now 19 years old!
You and your family should be in complete agreement that you are committed to loving and looking after your cat for life. If you’re considering getting a cat you should also think about where and what you’ll be doing in 2028. For instance, what are the chances of you moving house that will continue to be suitable? Are your hours changing at work? Are you planning more children? Are you going to get a dog? If your situation is likely to change, make sure that you have a solid plan of who will be taking care of your pet if you aren’t able to.
2. Will a kitten/cat fit into your lifestyle?
Your little, playful kitten will need a lot of attention and shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time. All kittens need to be socialised and interact with humans so that they grow up being confident cats that are used to human touch and interaction. Unsocialised cats can be aggressive, scared and even on the feral spectrum if they don’t interact regularly with humans.
Cats, although they are independent, do need lots of attention and care. They still need feeding and fresh water and if they use a litter tray, their litter tray will need to be kept clean etc.
So if you work long hours, are out and about for long periods of time, go away a lot on holidays, a cat/kitten won’t be the best choice for you to fit into your busy life. It isn’t fair for any pet to be left alone without their human owners for long periods.
3. Do you like a pristine home?
Make sure you consider the extra house work that comes with owning a pet, and if you’re house proud think about the amount of hair that a cat can shed. There are some great pet vacuum cleaners on the market that work really well. However your cat can also cough up unattractive fur balls and be sick over the carpet and floor, so be aware! You will also get pet hair on your clothes. I have one of those sticky clothes hair removers that I use everywhere – on bed linen, sofas and clothes!
Cats will usually shed more hair with the onset of summer and warmer weather. However if the heating is on during winter, they will still shed hair all-year-round. Regular grooming does help to remove cat hair, however doesn’t stop malting altogether.
4. Do you have enough space for a cat?
A cat likes its own space and territory and will require special, safe places in your home where they can retreat to and sleep. If you have more than one cat/kitten you will need some space for both cats to have their own spaces and areas in the house so there is no competition that can lead to fighting and stress.
We have three cats (we did have four) and a large house where they could all have their own bedroom/area to sleep and chill. Two cats in a one bedroom home isn’t going to work very well and can lead to territorial problems and stress for both cats – even fighting and aggression. Remember that you will also need to share yourspace with the cat. So that will mean living areas and/or sleeping areas if you allow your pet into the bedroom.
5. Do you have outdoor access?
Although there are indoor cats for a good reason – i.e. FIV infected cats – we believe that ALL cats should have access to the outdoors. It isn’t fair to keep a cat indoors as they are naturally inquisitive and curious and love to roam, wander, venture and even sleep outside. It’s in their nature to be outdoors and they live a more fulfilled life.
So, do you have outdoor access that is safe and secure? A garden or yard is perfect, or some people install “Catios” which are secure and enclosed and still give outdoor access to a cat.
Cat flaps should be installed so that the cat can come and go as it pleases. Some owners prefer to lock cat flaps at night. We tried locking our cat flap, however with our four cats it was difficult, as they all came and went at different times so we gave up! Also Dolly is extremely clever and actually unlocks the cat flap. Can you believe that!!!
6. Are you on or near a busy road?
Busy roads are a real threat to a cat and believe me when I tell you about the amount of fatalities I have heard about cats being run over, including my niece’s cat which was found in the middle of the road by my sister. A neighbour’s cat got clipped by a car and had horrendous injuries including a broken jaw. The vet bill came to over £5000. Heartbreaking.
If you live on a busy road, think seriously about getting a cat. A cat can be injured or killed by traffic. There are rollers that you can get to put on top of a fence to prevent them getting over a fence and these could be installed. However with a cat’s tendency to roam and be free, it’s never guaranteed that they wouldn’t reach a busy main road via another route, perhaps via a neighbour’s garden and hopping over other fencing or going through hedge and fence holes.
So please think twice if you live on a busy main road.
7. Can you afford the expense of having a cat?
In 2015 12% of pet owners admitted that they thought their pet would only cost £500 over their entire lifetime, whilst actually a cat can cost £17,000 in its lifetime. That’s a huge commitment for anyone.
Having and looking after any pet is going to be expensive. A cat/kitten is no exception. You will have to pay for:
- Cat food (twice a day)
- Bowls, toys, blankets, beds, scratching post etc
- Vet consultations (average £30 per visit)
- Vets bills in the event of illness or accident
- Regular medication if your cat becomes ill
- Pet insurance
- Regular worming and de-fleaing
- Annual vaccinations and check-ups
- Spaying and neutering
- Dental care
- Regular clean cat litter
- Cat collars
- Cattery charges when you are on holiday. On average, catteries or cat feeding can cost between £5 to £30 a night
All of these costs add up and in order to keep your pet happy, healthy and fulfilled and are quite an expense. Be aware that pet insurance increases in costs as your pet gets older. Some people do not take out pet insurance at all or stop paying insurance when their cat gets older because the premiums are too high. This means that if their pet is involved in an accident or becomes ill, the cost will be high in vet bills.
Insurance for a cat can range from £10 to £30-plus depending on the age and condition of the cat. You will also need to factor in insurance excess payments which don’t usually cover treatment or consultation under £80-£100. There are also many exemptions when it comes to pet insurance that aren’t covered by a policy, such as dental care and pre-existing conditions. Some conditions that arise may only be covered for one year and capped. Always read the fine-print so you know exactly what your pet policy covers.
A main factor when cats – or any pet – ends up at a rescue centre is the realisation of the costs involved when owning and looking after a pet.
A big reason for the sad dumping and neglect of older cats is because insurance premiums sky rocket and get too expensive or cat owners don’t take out insurance at all because of the cost. So these poor cats are dumped and left when they become ill or develop ongoing conditions associated with old age, including kidney and thyroid problems. Cats are very prone to conditions when they are older, so be aware that you may need ongoing veterinary treatment for them should they develop an illness or condition.
8. Do you understand what’s involved in caring for a pet cat?
Every owner should look after their pet properly and consider the 5 Key Welfare Needs that are:
- Place: a suitable environment, clear of any poisonous or hazardous items and with access to their own bed where they can rest.
- Diet: a suitable healthy diet and access to clean water.
- Behaviour: the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns.
- Love: care, attention and companionship. You should also consider whether your pet will need to be housed with or apart from other animals.
- Health: protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
This responsibility forms part of the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006. Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act places a duty of care on people to ensure they take reasonable steps in all the circumstances to meet the welfare needs of their animals to the extent required by good practice. Read more on RSPCA’s website here
Of course with new cat and pet owners, you can very much learn on the job. However, it is worth considering all of these questions before entering into getting a cat so that you are fully prepared with the information you need to make the best decision for you and a cat.
9. Would you mind a cat scratching?
A cat’s claws can scratch furniture and scratch into rugs, carpets and sofas. Cats have a natural tendency to mark their territory around the home and also condition their claws, although this can be done outside in the garden. An ideal solution is to make sure they have a scratching post from the outset so they can scratch to their heart’s content. Be aware though that a cat may still decide to go off-piste on the scratching front!
NEVER EVER declaw a cat. This is not a solution to scratching and is extremely cruel and painful for the cat: declawing has been banned in some countries. To give you an analogy, declawing if performed on a human being, would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle. It will cause physical harm and back pain to your cat and also change their behaviour such as when using a litter box, aggression or biting. There is an informative article on the Humane Society website – the facts about declawing a cat.
Some suggest to clip the sharp very top points off the cat claws; however this could still mean that the claws will catch fabrics and materials and the cat can still scratch, so personally I don’t see much point in that. The key thing here is if you don’t want a pet that may scratch furniture, the sofa, the carpet etc then don’t get a cat!
10. Do you have pets already? Is it a good idea to introduce a new animal?
If you do already own other pets you should think carefully about whether it’s a good idea to introduce a new cat to the mix. If you aren’t sure how it will work out, then seek advice from your vet or a professional animal behaviourist.
A cat may take exception to a dog being introduced to ‘their’ home if they are not used to a dog and have been the only cat in the house, or are already living with another cat. I have known where two cats have been rehomed because they became stressed and anxious when the owner decided to get two new Labradors. This is really common because an owner doesn’t consider the cat and how it will react. So please think carefully.
If you have an older cat, think about whether it’s fair to introduce a new kitten to the household as some cats prefer to have you all to themselves. In fact, a cat at any age may take exception to another cat being introduced to the household and may hate it. If you are thinking about getting a pair of cats it generally does make sense to adopt two cats from the same litter.
I know a family who introduced a younger 6 month old cat to the household and they already had a quiet, older cat. The younger cat took over and became territorial and aggressive to the older, passive cat, attacking her and the owners. It was so bad they considered rehoming one of their cats.
So please think carefully when thinking of adding to your cat household as living with a consequence that doesn’t work well will turn out stressful for you and your cat.
I hope this helps with your cat decisions. If you do decide to bring a cat into your home, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s also worth remembering that there are many, many kittens and cats that haven’t had the best start or time in life, so please think about adopting rather than buying a cat. Get in contact with your local cat rescue centre who will be pleased to match you with your puuurfect cat friend.