If you’re thinking, ‘should I get a cat?’ you need be aware of what it involves before you make the leap from cat fan to cat owner. Clinical animal behaviourist Inga MacKellar gives some advice on things to know before getting a cat.
Why should I get a pet?
Cats are ideal if you have a busy life and limited time to care for a pet, since they are extremely independent-natured animals and usually ‘do their own thing’.
‘A well-socialised cat can be a lovely companion, and there’s plenty of evidence that having a cat to stroke or sit on your lap can relieve stress and help lower blood pressure,’ says Inga. ‘Cats can live to 18 years old or more, so choosing to own a cat should never be a lightly taken decision.’
What you should know as a first-time cat owner
‘Having a cat can give you great pleasure, but you can’t determine until she’s in your care how sociable she’ll be,’ says Inga. ‘You can encourage her to want to spend time with you by giving her plenty of stimulation and interaction, but some cats are cuddly and others only like interaction on their own terms. So, if you’re banking on a guaranteed cuddly constant companion you may need to think again.’
If you’re rehoming a cat, especially an older cat, the charity or organisation you’re rehoming from will normally have a good idea of her temperament and whether she’ll be a suitable companion for you.
Cats are relatively simple and cheaper to care for in comparison to dogs. They prefer several small meals during the day. There are timed feeders or food activity toys that can do this, but you need to be prepared to deal with cleaning out her litter tray if she won’t have access to an outdoor area.
‘Cats are very clean animals generally, grooming themselves frequently throughout the day, but inevitably some cat hair will end up on your soft furnishings and clothing,’ says Inga.
‘They like to be in control of their own lives so will just nip out of their cat flap when they fancy.’ Also, allow for the cost of yearly vaccinations, routine worming and flea treatments and other vets’ fees or pet insurance.
Are there any disadvantages of having a cat?
‘Cats are highly bonded to their territory and hate moving around, so if you’re often moving home, a cat won’t feel happy or settled. Do you live somewhere your cat will have access to a garden, or somewhere she can explore?’ says Inga.
‘You’ll need to spend time and money to make her environment as cat-friendly and stimulating as possible with a cat scratch post, cat trees, hiding places, high shelves to sit on and toys to keep her active, amused and content, especially if you’re in a flat. If you live on a busy road, your cat may not be safe, unless you invest in cat-proofing your garden.’
What are the frequent problems cat owners encounter?
‘Cats are sensitive creatures. They may scratch furniture, especially if they’re bored or stressed. Both male and females may spray urine in and around the house when they’re anxious,’ says Inga.
And if your cat enjoys an outdoor life, she may go missing for a few days at a time or get into a fight. ‘Always microchip a cat with your contact details so she is more easily returned to you,’ Inga advises.
If you’re going to have an indoor cat, it’s important to ensure they have enough stimulation, such as cat trees and lots of high-up places where they can climb and sit. A lack of play for active cats can cause boredom and stress, so be sure to take the time to research cat games and activities you can do together.
How to choose a pet for the first time
There are good reasons to get a kitten. They’re irresistible and great fun but need your time and attention to litter train and socialise.
‘Think what kind of cat will fit best in your household,’ says Inga. ‘An adult cat from a rescue centre can be a good option. Staff will have a good understanding of which cats are sociable cuddly lap creatures, or those familiar with children.
‘If you opt for a kitten, buy from a reputable source. The early socialising process in the first eight weeks of a kitten’s life is crucial. Specific breeds like Siamese or very long-haired cats will need more attention than your average moggy because of their social personalities.’
Find out more about the most popular cat breeds and their characteristics.
Tips for first-time cat owners
It can be incredibly rewarding to bring home a new kitten or to rehome a cat, giving it a second chance of happiness. However, there are some things to consider when getting a cat for the first time, says animal behaviourist Nick Jones.
So, you’ve decided to get a kitten or rehome a cat and have found a potential match, but how do you prepare yourself and your home for your new pet?
It’s important to ensure you know as much as possible about your new pet before bringing her home and, ideally, why she was put up for rehoming. Rescue centres will have spent time with the animals in their care, getting to know their likes, dislikes and any potential behavioural issues.
You’ll also want to ensure that your new pet is healthy so check that any cat you’re interested in adopting has had a recent vet check, and be sure to look into your insurance options before bringing her home.
What should you know as a first-time cat owner?
A new kitten or cat will need your time and attention, particularly in those early days while they’re settling in. So, make sure it’s the right time for you to be an owner or to adopt.
Also, if you have any other pets, you’ll need to consider how a cat would fit in with them and whether the home environment is suitable. The important question you need to ask yourself is – is this cat or kitten right for our home and is our home right for them?
Bringing your cat home
Rescue cats can take more time than you might expect to settle into a new home, so the key for novice owners is to be patient. You might have a confident, relaxed cat that quickly feels at home, but equally you could have a nervous cat that needs a bit longer.
As a first-time pet owner, it’s important in those first few days not to force them to be friends with you. Given space, most cats will soon settle, especially when they realise that you’re the provider of good things, such as shelter and food. To feel more prepared before bringing home your kitten, check out some of our training videos.
Letting your cat out for the first timeYou should keep a kitty indoors for a minimum of two weeks before letting her out for the first time, so she has an opportunity to develop a sense of belonging and a bond with you. This is also the perfect time to gently start litter training. In those two weeks, you might want to gently and gradually introduce a little harness and lead to your cat to use for the first few trips out. However, if you have made the home a secure place where your cat feels relaxed and happy, you should be confident that it will return. Ensure your cat has identification and been microchipped before you let her out on her own. If you have adopted your cat from a rehoming centre these timings may vary depending on her background. You’ll want to check with the centre you got her from on how much time she’ll likely need to adapt to her new surroundings.
Top tips for first-time cat owners
- Ensure meetings with other animals in the home are calm, controlled and positive.
- Provide plenty of litter trays – cats usually like more than one.
- Cats are denning animals so provide suitable beds in quiet places away from the bustle of family life.
- If you have a nervous or anxious cat, try using a pheromone diffuser – a man-made version of the substance a cat leaves when she rubs its cheek on your leg or furniture – to help her relax.
- If your cat isn’t naturally curious about using a cat flap try taping the flap open and place treats on the other side to tempt her out.