Because it’s amazing the misconceptions people come into the shelter with.
- Cats are never a 100% easy, low-maintenance pet. They’re extremely high-energy (some breeds considerably moreso than others) and only know one way to burn off that energy: hunting. If you’re not actively playing with a young cat at least 15-20 minutes per day every day, they’re going to start looking for other targets. Like, say, your hands or ankles. A good way to remember to get playtime in is to do it before feeding the cat, and you should basically keep playing until the cat is exhausted–we’re not talking just until it loses interest (that means you might need a new toy), we’re talking flopped over and grooming because your cat’s so tired it’s ready to go to sleep. Your cat also won’t keep you up at night tearing around the house if you tucker it out before bed every night.
- Spay and neuter your cats. “But kittens are–” No. “But what if–” No. Just go do it. If you get your pet from a shelter, they’ll do it for you for free. Unspayed female cats run a heightened risk of ovarian cancer each time they go into heat. Unneutered male cats get so freaked out about territory that they’ll pee on everything and constantly try to expand that territory by escaping your house. I know kittens are cute, but spaying/neutering is way better for their health, it’s better for reducing the overpopulation, and it works out better for you as well. If you want your kitten fix, go visit an animal shelter to play!
- Get your cats from a shelter. Something like 25% of cats in the US come from animal shelters. Only one quarter. Looking for a fancy cat? About ¼ of the cats in animal shelters are purebreds. Typical start-up health-related costs for buying at cat at a pet store run about $500-600, but shelters will freely provide you with a spayed/neutered feline up-to-date on shots with a clean bill of health from a vet. Many pet stores and some breeders are also prone to irresponsible breeding and poor health practices. If you’re determined to get your cat at a pet store, seek out the ones that feature cats from local shelters. You’re not just saving one cat by adopting from a shelter, you’re saving the next one that got that empty cage and would otherwise have to be put down due to overcrowding.
- Exotic and unusual breeds often come with exotic and unusual challenges. Many purebred cats wind up with a host of physical and behavioral issues due to the bizarre breeding practices (as an example, many scottish folds are in constant pain due to a cartilege/bone deformation that affects 100% of the breed, sphynx cats have an incredibly loud scream/meow and need to be bathed once a week, bengals have so much energy that they often require several hours of dedicated play and leashed walking every day, and persian and exotic shorthair cats are extremely prone to breathing problems and polycystic kidney disease). Think hard about whether you’d be willing to put in this extra effort (and in some cases the extra cost for vet bills!) for a decade or more.
- Keep your cat inside. If you bring your cat outside, do it under controlled conditions–on a leash and harness. Letting your cat outside unattended introduces it to extreme dangers: other predators, vehicles, and of course diseases carried by other cats such as FIV and FeLV. It messes with the bird population in the area. And, even in a spayed or neutered cat, encounters with other cats near their home can send them into a territorial rage that results in, well. Cat piss all over the house. Domestic cats that exhibit anxiety indoors aren’t upset because they’re “meant to be in the wild”. There’s almost always another reason–too few escape routes in the house, not enough play, some sort of situation that’s stressing them out. Some breeds, like bengals, really do need a larger territory, but this can be accomplished by taking them on a walk. Yes, with a leash. It boils down to this: the average life expectancy for an indoor cat is about sixteen years. We’re talking the time it takes for a seven-year-old to get to grad school. The average life expectancy for an indoor-outdoor cat is more like five years, with a severely diminished quality of life all around. Which brings us to…
- Your cat’s gonna be living with you for a long time. Do the mental math: if you adopt a young cat or kitten, how old will you be when it’s fifteen years old? Twenty years old? That’s not out of the question. Can you see yourself still able to care for it? How many situations can you imagine that would make you want to give it away? If you’re coming up with a lot of possible reasons, you may want to consider instead fostering, volunteering at a shelter… or adopting an older cat. Many cats in their early teens are still extremely healthy and active and affectionate, and it’s not nearly as much of a time commitment in the long run. Sometimes you can’t control what happens twenty years down the line, but don’t be selfish and adopt a young cat if you already know for sure that you won’t be able to care for it for its entire lifetime. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see the cats at the shelter who had four or five amazing years with their human before the human decided to move and left behind an older, much-loved cat who, statistically speaking, will not get adopted.
- Cats don’t act out of spite. It’s amazing the stories people invent to explain their cats’ behavior, you wouldn’t believe. Cats are bright animals in many ways, but they’re not peeing outside of the litterbox because they’re jealous of your new boyfriend or because they’re trying to punish you because you won’t let them sleep on the bed. There can be associations there–maybe your new boyfriend isn’t a cat person and stresses the cat out without realizing it, or maybe your bed is the area that holds most of your scent and the cat is freaked out by not having that important part of the house as part of its territory–but it’s not spite, dude. More often than not it’s fear.
- Cats aren’t dogs. Don’t play rough with a cat–they only know one mode of play, and that’s hunting. If you roughhouse with a cat, you’re teaching your cat that hands are things they should constantly be trying to kill. It’s amazing the number of people who’ll go “but he loves it!” I’m sorry, dude, you’re just winding him up and starting him on the path toward becoming an aggressive cat. Get a wand with a feather on the end and tucker him out every night before he gets his food. You might find he stops acting so aggressively toward you as a result.
- Take your cats to the vet. If anything goes wrong, better safe than sorry. Older cats–about eight years and up–should be going in about once a year for checkups/bloodwork, since many older cats can be prone to arthritis (does your cat get snarky with you when you pet near the base of its tail? often that means it’s feeling some pain) and kidney disease, both of which can be managed extremely well if caught early.
- Cats don’t attack for no reason. “But she started biting me for absolutely no reason!” Okay, there are plenty of reasons why a cat can seem to go from 0-60 in one second flat. Number one? You might just not be recognizing the danger signs. Cats flatten their ears in a sort of futile attempt to calm themselves down–when they lash out with flattened ears, it’s 100% a defensive thing, not an aggressive thing. A twitching tail is a warning–a thrashing tail means you’re in for it. So why is your cat lashing out? Could be as simple as you cornering it and not giving it ways out. Put up cat trees, play with vertical spaces in your home, and your cat won’t feel cornered all the time. Could also be that your cat’s been trained to see hands as things that have to be killed–play with your cat in an appropriate way! Sometimes cats just get overstimulated and lash out–it’s like having someone cuddling with you and finally you’re like “okay dude, okay, let me get up and go do something else for a while” and they just cling to you even more, so you freak out a bit. Back off if your cat seems to flip out a lot when you’re petting it–are you doing long, full-body pets? Might be too much for your cat. Try scritches under the chin or short strokes closer to the head. Better yet, hold out your hand palm down (not in a grabbing motion, in a sort of limp-wrist motion) and let your cat pet itself on your hand. They’ll point out where they like to be petted!
- You might have to sacrifice some of your house’s aesthetic for the sake of cats. If you want to avoid messes outside the box, you should have at least one litter box per cat, and often one extra. If your cats continue missing the box, you might have to keep your litter boxes in more exposed locations–by the way, those boxes should be cleaned at least daily, and all the litter should be emptied out and replaced twice a week for non-clumping litter and monthly for clumping litter. You should also have vertical spaces (shelving, cat trees) so your cats can traverse the room without getting cornered, which can result in aggression (similar to cage aggression) over time.
- Do not declaw your cats. If your cats claw up your furniture, consider providing them with alternatives–older cats really enjoy horizontal scratching surfaces that don’t make them overwork their arthritic joints, whereas younger cats need vertical scratching surfaces to work out a whole range of motion. Place cat trees and scratching posts near problem areas and lure the cats to the appropriate scratching surfaces using a cat toy. Play with your cats more often to prevent nervous scratching. If your cat has a habit of scratching people, consider point 10 about possible reasons why your cat might be lashing out. There are also soft claw tips you can have put on at the vet that work great! You should be clipping your cats’ claws when they get too long–that’s like using a nail clipper and doesn’t hurt them. Declawing cats is the equivalent of amputating a finger at the first knuckle, and can result in behavioral issues (in my experience, many declawed cats are very aware of their remaining defenses and so default to biting when they’re stressed–unlike a scratch, a cat bite almost always gets infected and can land you at the emergency room), and many declawed cats are in constant pain (we had one declawed cat at the shelter that needed a special ultra-fine litter because the coarse litter was enough to cause pain in his paws).
- Cats are affectionate, loving pets. When they’re properly socialized and in good health, getting plenty of appropriate play, aware of escape routes throughout the house, and accessing a clean litter box? Cats are the furthest you can get from ‘aloof’. They’re goofy, friendly little creatures that are ridiculously fun and interactive pets. With a clicker/treat setup, even a difficult cat can be taught to sit and stay within about a week. Some breeds of cat love to play fetch. Some cats are so loving that they’ll follow you from room to room just to be near you. The myth of the aloof, unpredictable little monsters that just sort of tolerate their owners is really rooted in folks who aren’t quite hitting the mark when it comes to caring for their cat. If you’re willing to put in the effort, cats are ridiculously loyal and adorable little buddies who’ll be with you for a long, long time.
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