What Do You Need to Know BEFORE getting a Cat


Before you buy a cat there are lots of things that you need to know and this is exactly the point of this article – I hope you enjoy it!

What do you need to know before buying a cat? You need to understand that it is a big commitment and this cat may be with you for up to 20 years! You need to think about whether you can afford it and what you will do with it when you go on holiday. There are lots of other things to consider, of course, take a look at this article to discover them all!

Whatever the reason behind looking to acquire a cat you should really understand what you’re letting yourself in for. Cats are awesome, we all know this is a fact. Actually, cats know this better than us of course. So, before you dive in head-first, just make sure you know what you want and how it’s going to impact your life. Because they will impact your life and it’s a much better idea to be prepared for this rather than have some surprises in the future.

This article isn’t in any way meant to put you off making a great home for a kitten, it’s purely to let you know what you’re in for!

There are many other things you need to know and I shall go through these in this article.

Consider How Long A Cat Will Live For

The first thing you need to know is how much of a commitment you’ll need to make when you choose to have a cat. This isn’t something you should enter into lightly as some of these cats can live for over 20 years! That’s a long time and if you’re used to a care-free life where you don’t have to worry about anything but yourself then this decision will change that.

This shouldn’t put you off, I mean it’s not exactly rocket science looking after a cat but you may have to make changes to your life to accommodate it. Make sure you’re well aware of these changes and if none of them fills you with dread then do it!

Should I Buy The Cat From A Rescue Center?

If possible, yes! This should be your first thought and (okay I know I’m opinionated here) you should only really consider other options if this (for whatever reason) doesn’t work for you. There are several reasons why buying a rescue cat is a good idea:

  • Rescue centers are very careful to match the right cat up to the owner, they won’t let a cat go to the first person who turns up. They are also most likely to be open and honest about the cat/kitten’s past and what kind of personality they have.
  • A lot of the things that you will have had to have got done yourself (like being de-flead and de-wormed) will already be complete. Also, they will have been checked over by the vet (and you can get the results of this).
  • If, and hopefully it would never come to this, the relationship doesn’t work out with the cat then it is usually possible for them to take them back.
  • By taking a cat from a rescue center you are allowing another cat to be rescued by them! So not only are you giving a cat a home, you are allowing another cat to get a home – so really you’re saving two cats at the same time!
  • Most importantly, you are rescuing a cat from an uncertain future and giving them the life they deserved.
What Do You Need to Know BEFORE getting a Cat

So, did we get a rescue cat? No. Our story is a little more complex. I love cats, always have and always will and have always been around them. My wife though has always been allergic to cats and this presents a problem obviously.

When I first knew her, I had a Maine Coon and she was, for some reason, completely okay with it. It’s something to do with the long fur which keeps the dander down apparently. Anyway, it was the only cat breed that she could be close to so this meant we could have a cat together!

What Do You Need to Know BEFORE getting a Cat

However, the advice I always give and advice I would definitely follow if possible, please look at rescue cats first.

If you’re looking for a rescue cat and are based in the UK, you could do a lot worse than starting here with the RSPCA or here with the Cats Protection organization.

If you’re based in the USA, check here with the Humane Society.

Should You Buy A Pedigree or Moggy?

What Do You Need to Know BEFORE getting a Cat

You may have to have a particular breed as I had to 15-years ago. Or, you may just like the attributes that a certain breed possesses. Let me give you an example. If you’re looking for a caring, loving cat then you may want to look at the Ragamuffin or Burmese. Check out my article here that looks more closely at the ultimate loving cats.

If you want your cat to stay inside as you have an apartment and no garden then again, one of these breeds would probably be a better idea. However, there are exceptions to any rule of course and you may find the perfect ‘Moggy’ in your rescue center who just wants to spend their life as a lap cat!

Ginger cat with paws in front of face

Unless there is a particular trait in the cat that you’re looking for do have a chat with your rescue center and just ask them what they recommend. It’s quite possible that your perfect cat is just waiting for you to go and get them.

Do you have children?

Child with white Maine Coon

The photo above is our little boy Joe with Charlie, they’d be lost without each other. There are some breeds that are a little more child-friendly. However, if you get a young cat and socialize it with children (and ideally other animals) then you really shouldn’t have any problems.

When you visit your rescue center, take your children. Not only watch how your children react to the kitten/cat but observe how the feline reacts with your child/children. Do they act aggressively? You may not know (and it’s possible the rescue center doesn’t know all the details also) what happened to the cat in the past. Maybe it was particularly poorly treated by children and so is understandably wary now. This may be fixable over time but you may find the damage is already done and the cat never really trusts the child. So, if you can find a cat that is friendly to the child from the offset then it may be good to go for this type of cat rather than one that isn’t.

Should You Buy A Male or Female Cat?

There really isn’t any difference in personality once spayed/neutered between the two sexes. The only exception to this could be if you’re considering getting more than one kitten from the same litter. If you’re thinking of this it could be prudent to get the same sex, although this in itself isn’t really relevant if you’re getting then altered (spayed/neutered).

So, my recommendation is to not limit yourself to looking for either Male or Female kittens. It may be you will be influenced by your children as they want a little ‘boy’ or a little ‘girl’ kitten but try not to be swayed by this as it (saying the obvious) immediately removes 50% of the available cats for you.

How many cats are you after?

If you’re considering more than one cat then it would usually be a better option to get them both at the same time rather than introducing a new cat later – in a year or two. The introduction of a new animal can be a stressful time for both the existing and new animal so if possible like I said – get them both at the same time and the younger the better. Having a couple of kittens running around the house causing complete carnage can be great fun and also, assuming they get along okay, they’ll keep each other company when you’re not around. However, owning cats will take up a fair amount of your time and can be expensive. You’ll be increasing the cost of ownership significantly if you opt for more than one cat (stating the obvious, I know!). I’m not saying don’t do it (that’s not what this article is about) but just be aware of the impact having more than one will have on both your time and wallet.

Your Responsibilities as an Owner of a Cat

It’s a commitment you’re making when you make the decision to look after a cat. You’re going to have to do things to accommodate them for potentially the next 20 years or so. Make sure you’re not only aware of what these responsibilities are but you’re prepared to undertake them. Not just you also. There will be sometimes when you just won’t be able to do these tasks so if you have a family you all need to ‘buy-in’ to this. Here’s a little example of the things you’ll need to consider:

  • Playtime – you should allocate a block of time to them every day to interact with them. Cats need your time and not interacting with them will increase their anxiety, possibly causing other problems.
  • Regular feeding – they need food, and quite a bit of it! These food sessions when they are a kitten should be little and often but the amounts will change to more quantity and less frequency when they become older. Mealtimes should occur, if possible, at the same time each day and you should observe how much they’re getting through and if you have more than one, ensure that they’re both getting their fair share!
  • Water – they should have a water-bowl down at all times in the same area where they eat. This bowl should be cleaned daily and refilled with fresh water. You want them to drink this water if possible rather than dirty water in puddles and ponds outside which may contain parasites. I will say though that from experience this doesn’t always work. One of my cats just won’t drink from the bowl, no matter how much we encourage him. Charlie only seems to want to drink from the kitchen tap. He sits on the worktop and looks at the tap (he’s never worked out how to turn it on) and waits for us to turn it on for him. Perhaps not the most hygienic option but we’ve left it a bit late to try and change things now!
  • Cat litter – depending on whether your cats will eventually go outside you may only need to do this during their kitten phase. However, you’ll definitely need to do it initially and this should be changed once a day. It will be smelly and unpleasant. Choose a clumping litter if you can, these are great and makes it obvious what needs to be replaced. Litter tray and litter could be an article in itself but do your research!
  • Brushing – now, this might not be so much of an event if you have a short-haired cat. If you do then they might not need grooming at all but I’d still recommend it once a week to ensure they are used to it. If they are long-haired then this should be performed every day. If you don’t then you’ll start to see knots appear in their fur and this can become painful for them as it starts to pull their fur. Now, this didn’t work out for us. Both our cats (recall they are long-haired Maine Coon’s) never took to grooming. Despite trying from an early age they both become really irritated by the process. The head-area is fine but as soon as you move South from there things get a bit dangerous and there’s a strong risk you might lose a hand. Anyway, more to this story but to cut it short we now have to take our cats to the vets every few months to get them groomed under sedation. It’s ridiculous so if you can avoid this and persevere when they’re younger (which might have worked for us) then do so.
  • Treatments – fleas and worming, you’ll need to do this every quarter typically but this may increase of course if you notice something during the grooming.
  • Annual vet check-ups – the best cure is prevention. You should visit your vets yearly to get your cats checked-over. They’ll use this opportunity to weigh them, check their ears and teeth and any other obvious problems. They’ll ask you how they’ve been and will also top up their vaccinations if required.

What problems might you face after you buy a cat?

It won’t all be plain sailing when you have a cat. There will be challenges so try and be aware of these so you know what you might be in for.

  • Toilet-related issues – when they are kittens they will need to be trained to use the litter tray. They’ll want to dig before they do their ‘business’ so if you see them about to do something somewhere they shouldn’t, try and place them in the litter tray before it’s too late.
  • Scratching – cats need to scratch things to keep their claws in good condition. They don’t know that your carpet costs you a lot of money. I’m not saying they’d care if they knew but they will try and initially use anything to serve this purpose. If not your carpet it’ll be your curtains, sofa or something else expensive. You need to give them a better option so acquire a scratching post for them.
  • Unexpected Bills – If you don’t have insurance (more on this later) and experience a problem with their health then you need to be aware that vet bills can become expensive (into the thousands) rather quickly.
  • Lost Cats – it’s sad but it does happen a lot. Particularly when moving to a new house, make sure you give them time to get to know all the local smells. Invest in a cat locator and make sure you get them microchipped.
  • Your Holidays – do you have someone who can come round and look after them? Is there somewhere they can go if not whilst you’re away? This would be the preferred option rather than putting them in a cattery.

Should You Get Cat Insurance?

Whether you buy insurance is ultimately up to you of course but be aware of the situation that may arise if you don’t. If your car becomes ill and needs surgery it doesn’t take long for the veterinary bills to get into the thousands. To be absolutely blunt, do you want to put yourself in a situation where you have to make a very difficult choice? What would you do? It would be very easy to make the sweeping statement that all owners should be forced to take out pet insurance but this creates another problem, of course, it would mean thousands of families wouldn’t own a cat as they couldn’t afford the insurance.

Also, depending on what conditions your cat has had in the past will impact how much your premiums are in the future. Fortunately, we’ve had insurance for both our Maine Coon’s and we have needed it. Now, are premiums are more than our car insurance but we have peace of mind.

If you can afford it, please get cat insurance. If you can’t one suggestion is to put money aside every month, just in case. Hopefully, you won’t ever need it but if you do, it’s there.

If you’re looking for probably the best insurer for a cat, look no further than PetPlan. In my experience, they have been the best and the cheapest, do check them out by clicking on the link to get a quote in literally less than a minute.

Costs of Cat Ownership

Make sure owning a cat won’t bankrupt you! If owning a cat will impact your life too much maybe you should consider waiting. Did you know the average cost of owning a cat other its whole life is approximately $16,000 (around £12,000 for our friends across the pond)? That’s quite a lot but could easily be a lot more.

There are some things you may have to buy as soon as you get your cat, which will cost around $400, such as:

  • Neutering / Spaying
  • Litter Tray and litter
  • Food and water bowls plus the actual food
  • Scratching post/toys
  • Cat carrier
  • Toys
  • Vaccinations
  • Microchipping

This cost could be a lot more. It depends on how excited you get when you start looking at cat toys! I ended up almost buying the shop only to find our cats were more interested in a piece of string and my fingers.

Microchipping Your Cat

The question is why would you not do this? If your pet gets lost some distance away it may be impossible to reunite it with you. All those years together would end at that point, the memories at an end. Your cat would most likely be found but with no way to associate it with you it would most likely be sent to the nearest rescue home and that’s the most favorable outcome.

Microchipping is a ridiculously easy way of permanently associating your cat with you. The process is painless, easy and cheap. The microchip is actually about the size of a grain of rice and is inserted under the loose skin of its neck. If your cat gets lost and is taken to the vets then a quick scan and 15 minutes later you’re on your way to picking your pet up again.

Just get it done and do it at an early age, you may regret it if you don’t.

Spaying / Neutering

I’ve got a great article actually all about whether you should get your cat neutered and you can find it here if you like (opens in a new window). I’ll save you the trouble though if you like and tell you the outcome. Yes, you should spay or neuter them!

Did you know that just one unneutered cat can be directly responsible for about 20,000 descendants in only five years!

There are so many positive reasons to do this and next to no reasons to not do it. I’m sure you’ll do further research of your own but do start by looking at the article that I linked to above, it gives you all the information you need really.

Playtime

cat in small box

It’s an important part of the cat’s life and also an important component of how you’re going to bond with your cat. If you have a family get them all to take part in this if they all want to bond, which you know they all will!

A few things to be aware of regarding the playtime:

  • You’ll need some space to play in. You don’t have to have a big house, just some space for them to run around a bit and chase things. Ideally not your toes.
  • Cat Toys. I was determined to talk about some good toys for them here and I could do but really each cat is different and a toy that one cat loves another won’t be bothered about. I’ve said this before but my cats are more than happy with either a piece of string or a laser pointer. They love climbing onto things. They’ve slowed down a bit now in their older age (they’re 14!) but they will still play. Sometimes as I come down the stairs one of them will be just sitting in his special play area, looking up at me all big-eyed, waiting for someone to play with. I drop everything at this point and spend some time with them. You never get today back so if you get an opportunity to play, take it. No excuses like ‘I’m too tired’, you can be tired tomorrow!
  • No fingers! One thing I will say about playtime though. Try not to use your fingers! This might be fun when they’re kittens but as they get older those little nips and scratches start to hurt, quite a bit. Then it’s a bit too late to try and train them not to associate your fingers as a genuine play-toy.
  • Scratch Posts – have at least one of these in your play area. Cats need to keep their claws in tip-top condition and they do this with regular scratching. Best to have the scratch post as the focus of this rather than your sofa. Or your leg.

Please don’t be tempted to de-claw your cat. It is an extremely painful procedure for the cat to go through, is unnatural and quite frankly cruel. Or how about this. If you extract your nails then you can get your cats extracted, fair? Crikey that sounded condescending. It wasn’t meant to be but I just don’t understand people who would do this. Don’t be one of those people! Be one of the good ones and sleep at night!

The New Home for your Cat

Maybe you’re moving into a new home and think this is a good time to get a cat or two? Well, why not! It’s a great idea, in fact – any time is a good idea to get a cat, as long as you know what you’re getting into.

Do remember that, maybe like you, they won’t know the area at all so keep them in for a few weeks (even a few months) until they are used to the smell of your house. Then, when you do let them out make sure they are microchipped and you have a cat locator.

Anyway, here are a few things to think about:

  • Use an artificial scent – an artificial urine scent should give your cat the same feelings of security as if they had marked the territory themselves. Spray it in an area designated for them and over furniture. It will help make them feel more at ease and reduce anxiety levels.
  • Keep them inside! Yes, I know I’ve already said this but it’s important. When you eventually let them out (and remember there’s absolutely no rush) just let them out for about 10 minutes. Just give them a taster and ideally do it when they’re hungry. Tempt them back with some fish or something they really like. Next time, let them have 15 mins and so on, just build it up slowly.
  • Get a Cat locator – if you lose your cat then there’s a good chance they are somewhere nearby. Possibly in a garage. Find them a lot quicker with a cat locator. I did a review on these a little while back and if you fancy taking a look a the one I recommend then this is it (click the link to read reviews on Amazon).
  • Safe House – I don’t mean somewhere that’s safe from the mafia, that would be crazy and out of place in this article. I’m talking about a safe environment for you kitties. Make sure they can’t get out of any windows and did you know that a lot of plants are toxic to cats? There are loads and they all seem to have Latin names that I’ve not heard of. Do the research or take a look here for a list.
  • Cat Flap – You can get some awesome cat flaps these days. A colleague of mine has one at work. It has a sensor on it and works with a special tag the cat wears around its neck. The cat flap will only open for your cat so if any strange cats from your neighborhood try to get in they’ll be out of luck! Also, and being a bit of a nerd, I like this, it works with an app on your phone. So, you’ll get an alert every time your cat goes out or comes back in and records it so you can see how many times they’ve been out. Reading that back makes me feel quite geeky actually. Still, I like it.

Cats and their relationship with Other Pets

cat with small dog

Now then, this can be a bit tricky. But you shouldn’t let it necessarily deter you. How sociable you cat is will depend a lot on how young it was socialized. Assuming it was socialized at all, of course! The ideal situation is for it to be introduced to children and other animals at an early age. If this isn’t done then yes, it can be a problem. You might find it difficult to get them all to get along. This is especially a problem with rescue cats. However, there are many cats at these homes who are either young enough still to be trained or have been socialized at an earlier point.

So, although you shouldn’t let this put you off you should know that there may be challenges ahead if you haven’t been careful. One of the worst things that can happen is if you get a new cat, start bonding with it but are unable to keep it as it doesn’t get along with your existing pet.

Also, spare a thought for your existing pet. How will it feel not getting all the attention suddenly?

Maintaining their Health

There are lots of simple things you can do to keep your cat happy, give them the best possible life and give them every chance of a long life.

  • Play with them – and do it regularly and frequently. Actually, if you can play with them at every opportunity your cat will bond with you in a way that is very special. It will keep their anxiety levels down and as an added bonus, it will keep your stress levels down also.
  • Diet – give them what they need, not what they want. Well, treats are allowed sometimes. Do remember that cats are lactose intolerant so are unable to process the lactose in milk. This will most likely make them ill, causing stomach pains and diarrhea. Cat milk is acceptable of course if you can source it.
  • Insurance – as discussed earlier.
  • Annual vets check-up – This gives a greater chance of finding any problems before they come serious and is an opportunity to boost vaccinations and chat about your cat’s health and any concerns.

Final Thoughts

I’m almost sorry to have finished this article. It has taken me a long, long time to write but I’m not complaining. I love cats (as you may have guessed) and enjoy writing about them. When I was a kid I genuinely used to dream of having a white cat one day, I wanted one so much. It’s like cats are part of me in some way.

I do hope that you’ve found some interest in this article. If you have any thoughts, I’d genuinely love to hear from you, please drop us a comment below!

Jane

I'm Jane Pettitt, co-owner of Pets Knowledge Base with my husband, Matt. I have a grand total of 50 years’ experience as a pet owner. It all started with a guinea pig called Percy when I was 5 years old and since then I’ve lived with two more guinea pigs, a hamster, mice, a rabbit, a tortoise, a dog and 11 cats. I’ve learned so much about pet care during this time and many of my articles are based on my personal experiences and those of my family and friends .

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