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Choosing the Right Cat For You

The Humane Society of the United States

  • iStockphoto

There are lots of important things to think through before picking your new pal. The first step to starting a long and lasting friendship with a cat is, of course, choosing the cat—or, more to the point, choosing the cat that's right for you.

By definition, this is the biggest decision you'll make regarding your cat. And it's an important decision, because a cat—unlike an item of clothing, a video game console or a must-have electronic gadget—is a living, breathing being who will need your care and attention for the next 10, 15 or even 20 years.

There are so many cats out there, and so many kinds of cats to choose from, it can be hard to know where to begin. Here are some important areas to consider:

The answers to some of these questions may lie in your own lifestyle. Are you a couch potato who wants a cat to nap along with you? Do you hang on every fascinating word a kitty says? Is kitten-watching more fun than TV?

Kitten or adult cat?

Kittens are adorable, curious, playful and full of energy. They can also be exasperating at times, demanding lots of supervision and patience to keep them out of trouble. And a kitten is an unknown entity—you really don't know what kind of cat you'll end up with once they outgrow their kitten personality.

Adult cats are usually calmer, less bouncy, and less mischievous. With an adult, what you see is usually what you get, so if you are looking for specific qualities, consider cats that are a year and older. Read more about adopting a mature pet »

Family matters

When choosing a cat, keep your family in mind. Kittens and very young children usually don't mix well, as kittens can be fragile and youngsters kind of rough. Babies and toddlers tend to grab the closest part of a cat, be it tail, ear, or fur, and they can't resist giving the cat a great big hug. Always supervise any interaction between your youngster and your cat.

Personality

Cats, like people, are individuals. No two are exactly alike, whether they're from the same breed or even the same litter.

Some cats are very mellow and will tolerate any kind of handling. These cats are perfect for young kids or older people who want and appreciate this type of cat.

Other cats don't like being picked up or held and will only come to you for petting when they feel like it. Cats also have varying degrees of energy: some prefer to nap all day, while others are constantly on the go.

Personality can vary widely by breed, too. If you decide you want a purebred, do your homework so you end up with one that's right for you. Persians, for example, are typically laid-back and sedentary, while Bengals and other "exotic" breeds (created with wild cat genes) tend to be extremely active. Siamese have the reputation of being very talkative.

Short fur or long?

This is mainly a matter of preference and your willingness to devote time to regular grooming. Long-haired cats require frequent grooming sessions to prevent matting. Not all cats enjoy being brushed, though, and you could wind up having to take your long-hair to a groomer to be shaved down.

Short-haired cats don't require as much brushing, but it does help to remove loose fur, stimulate the skin, and distribute oils through the coat. A cat who likes being groomed will come running when they see the brush.

Purebred or mixed breed?

There are far fewer cat breeds than dog breeds. Most dog breeds evolved from the type of work they were meant to do. Cat breeds were developed mostly for companionship, so there are fewer personality differences between cat breeds.

If you have your heart set on a specific breed, make sure you research that breed thoroughly as well as the breeder (if you choose to buy a purebred). Some breeds are prone to certain medical problems, and there are many breeders who aren’t careful about their breeding programs, resulting in injured or traumatized cats.

In general, mixed breed cats tend to be healthier, since their gene pools are much more diverse. Read more on purebred pets vs. mixed breeds »

Special-needs cats

Many cats with special needs make wonderful companions. They might be older, deaf, blind or have an illness that requires regular medication. Their condition doesn't affect the amount of love and pleasure they have to give; it just means some extra commitment on your part to meet their needs for the rest of their lives.

Room for one more?

If you already have pets, you have to consider them as well before bringing home a cat.

The good news is that cats can get along with other cats and—despite the common stereotype—most dogs can get along with cats. But it's not necessarily easy to get them used to one another, and sometimes it can be impossible. Read more about introducing a new cat to other pets »

Some cats may be perfectly happy as an only cat and could really resent a newcomer. The more cats you have, the more potential problems you invite; the cats can become stressed and develop undesirable behaviors such as spraying urine, fighting or hiding.

Dogs and cats can become best friends, but some dogs with a high prey drive may not be able to resist chasing, terrorizing or even killing the new cat.

Birds and cats have been known to co-exist peacefully, but remember that felines are hunters by instinct. A cat may traumatize your bird by trying to get at them through the bars of the cage.

Be responsible

Once you've made a carefully thought-out decision, be an ideal pet parent by providing your cat with everything they need to live a happy and healthy life.

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