DSH Jorja – photo ©copyright Helmi Flick 1
Before choosing a cat breed it might be useful to just check if a cat would choose us as a human companion. Choosing a cat breed is about a cat chosing a human. In other words suitability of a cat depends mainly on the behavior of the people keeping the cat. When we choose a cat, should we ask, “what is right for the cat?” I think we should.
It could be argued that too many people abandon cats. That surprisingly includes purebred cats. This may be because some people are unsuitable for a variety of reasons some of which are out of their control. Or the problem of abandonment may be part of the modern consumer society. A person might want a new kitchen, a new car, a new child and a new cat. They are all the same to some people, it seems.
All around me in the past and at present there has been and there is evidence of the unsuitability of some people to keep cats (it is very rarely if ever the other way around; the unsuitability of a cat to live with a person). When I was living in the middle of London, I took in my cat (some 15 years ago). She was abandoned by the neighbor. Clearly the neighbor was not suited to keeping cats. My other cat, Missie, was killed on the road (my fault ultimately as I bought a house near a road). Missie’s mother was a cat I had known and fed who was kept permanently pregnant by her keepers, also neighbors. They were also unsuited it seems.
Then, where I am living now, I feed a stray cat that comes to the flat. He either left his home or was abandoned. If he left he did so for a good reason, possibly to do with the person keeping him. He flinched when an arm was inadvertently raised and was nervous – bad indications of maltreatment earlier.
Nearby in another block of flats a very nice person (no criticism meant here) keeps a Bengal (see a video of the cat, here) on the third floor. He takes him to the garden once on a while and the Bengal tends to be a bit of a handful and he tends to jump over the garden wall – difficult situation. Perhaps too difficult and unsuitable. I think Bengals need space and stimulus and an enclosure is perfect. That means they are not suitable for apartment living.
When we chose a cat I think that ideally we should see things from the cat’s point of view. We should ask, “what is right for this cat”? And, “can I do what is right”?
Cats can look after themselves to a degree and sleep alot because in the wild they are very efficient hunters so they have plenty of time between kills to relax. But when domesticated and kept by people they adapt to a different way of life that requires input from the person(s), which in turn requires the presence of that person. A question is whether our home has outdoor space and whether we think it is OK for our cat to use the space. In the USA it is common to keep cats indoors, much less so in other parts of the world including the UK.
You might be the perfect cat keeper! That statement should probably be qualified, though. If you smoke cigarettes you can’t be the ideal cat keeper because of passive smoking. This is not saying that people who smoke are not good cat caretakers – lots are great. I am just saying that it is not ideal. The word ideal means: model of excellence or perfection of a kind; one having no equal.
I myself am not an ideal cat caretaker as I am too mobile and I live in a smallish flat in London. My boy cat Charlie goes out and I am frightened that he might get hurt. This is not an ideal situation.
A lot of younger people’s lives are too mobile and unsettled so once again a young couple may not be the ideal. Once again this is not a criticism of young people caring for cats – lots are great. But statistically older people are generally more settled in their lives which suites cats.
Also Some young people also indulge in smoking things like cannabis. This is a statistical fact. Clearly cannabis smoking people would make you a very poor cat keeper. Finally, if you take frequent holidays and insist on putting your cat in a cattery for the duration of the holiday that is not in my opinion and ideal situation. In all these qualified cases I would seriously consider not adopting any cat.
Having skipped through those obstacles, the question is how to use the available space that you have? The modern world is generally hostile to the domestic cat. That is why feral cats (cats that were domestic cats with 18 year lives) die within 2-3 years. Letting cats out into the garden is great for the cat and worrying for the person. It depends on the cat (and the person:). My cat is defensive, she asks me to go out with her and never goes more than 30 yards, great for safety and peace of mind. I have come to consider the idea of enclosures as a really good way of dealing with a difficult situation. A cat flap leading to a suitably sited cat enclosure of reasonable size is the best way to give your cat outdoor activity and entertainment; plus peace of mind for you. And they are not that expensive. Another ideal is an enclosed garden but the walls or fencing have to be high with hangover tops as young cats particularly can jump up to 7 feet vertically (depending on breed). Norwegian Forest cats are good jumpers and Bengals are athletic. Moggies vary but some are very athletic. Bottom line – enclosure is best. You can add to your cat’s outdoor activity by leash training and a walk around the garden or further afield. This takes time and effort and few (humans) achieve this.
Of course an enclosure of say 8 feet square (min, I’d say at least 10 feet sq.) is not pretty for humans (very pretty for cats). But I am back to the original argument. When you plan to keep a cat you plan to change your life and make sacrifices to reap the wonderful rewards of the relationship. Believe me the rewards of a warm relationship with a fine cat far outweigh the negative impact on the appearance of your back garden because there is an enclosure in it.
It is all about priorities and knowing what is better and more important in life. Relationships and experiences are far more important than possessions and appearance. And what is right for your cat is the right choice and it is also what is right for you. It is very good for ones self esteem to do the right thing unconditionally.
So what kind of cat is suitable for you, the perfect cat keeper? Choosing a cat breed is easy – almost any breed is the answer. If you simply want to look at all the cat breeds, go to this page and work your way down the breeds. The three pages contain all the breeds and some more. I have always taken in stray cats. There is a particular joy in forming a loving long term relationship with a stray cat. But a fancy pretty purebred is fine too (if your pockets are deep enough).
Almost any cat breed is suitable for an arrangement where the cat can be indoors and/or out, so the choice can be fine tuned at bit (note: people say Persians because of their long hair shouldn’t go out but a clean enclosure would solve that). Choices can be made. Preferences can be exercised. First and foremost is to make sure (if you have the choice) to select a cat that is well socialized.
I also think it is possible in a very general sense to categorize cats and I have done this on this page. To summarize, some “modern cat” breeds are rather special. I am first thinking of the exotic cats and particularly the wildcat hybrids. The great cat photographer Helmi Flick and her husband, Ken, provide some very useful advise based on first hand experience of living with a Chausie, a Jungle cat-Abyssinian cat wildcat hybrid. Read it before considering going down this route. I believe that special conditions need to be in place for the wildcat hybrid exotic cats. More garden space and more enclosure space would be appropriate, for example.
If you want a less demanding cat at the other end of the spectrum consider the Persians. These are docile charming cats. You can look at the indoor cats (but of course cats that accept indoor living are also suitable for outdoor activities too). I mention the indoor cats here. If you’re interested in the alleged intelligence level of cat breeds click here and come back. If you’re interested in the size of the cat breed and like large cats or small cats click here. Some cat breeds have genetically linked health problems. It is wise to know a bit about cat health before buying a cat from a breeder as you can question better. I’d always take in a stray or a shelter cat, however. Does rarity float your boat? Click here if it does.
Children pose particular problems and provided you have selected a well balanced and socialized cat the problems belong to the people and not the cat. It goes without saying that proper behavior towards cats applies to adults too.
However, children in particular will not know how to handle a cat; although they will usually love being in contact with a cat. On the subject of well socialized cats, you only have to go to a cat show to see cats that are amzingly tolerant of being handled. If you’re buying a purebred, a good cat breeder will make it her duty to ensure that her cats are well socialized and ready for a new home. The breeder should be questioned on this and check yourself. A good cat breeder will accept the return of the cat if problems arise, but assess human behavior first. When choosing a cat breed, evidence of good socialization is very important.
There are in fact hidden benefits for a child if there is a cat in the house. Cats and more particularly dogs can prepare your child better for the world in helping to build up immunization to disorders such as asthma (and allergies generally). Surveys have established that when a dog (and it is thought a cat) is in the home there is a lower incidence of asthma¹
Children need to be taught to handle cats gently. Rough play may result in rough play in response, from the cat. And that equates to scratches and bites. You may feel it is the cat’s fault and punish the cat. It is very rarely the cat’s fault. Check you own behavior.
A new baby to the household may be resented by your cat or the crying of a baby may frighten your cat. Try to minimize the impact on the cat and she will gradually become habituated to the noise
Lets say you have to time to care for cat and want the cat to be an indoor cat. When choosing a cat breed it is worth noting that some cats are more suitable than others for indoor living although all cats can adapt. But I think that we owe it to ourselves and our cats to do the best we can. I personally wouldn’t keep a cat indoors full-time, whatever the breed or mixed-breed. Cats love to explore outdoors and it provides some exercise, which manages weight. Overweight cats are a growing concern. If you’re stuck on an indoor cat and have enough space in your home, the classic indoor cat is the Persian. A close relative is the Himalayan (pointed Persian). Another fairly close relative is the Exotic Shorthair. Breeders say the Persian should be kept indoors to keep the coat clean. Some say the docile and accepting Ragdoll and her close relative the RagaMuffin should be kept in too.
There are purebred Persians and not so purebred Persians. The classic starting point is a rescue center (USA California- UK). Half Persians are not so glamorous perhaps but they are just as good and remember beautiful purebred cats got that way through careful and rigorous breeding, which can sometimes mean sacrifices in health. Between the traditional Doll Face Persian or the Ultra (Modern), people prefer (including me) the Doll face as they are more attractive and healthier (no tear duct overflow and facial staining requiring more maintenance). Persians require regular grooming.
Other cats destined perhaps for an indoor life (or at least a well controlled life) are the Sphynx, Don Shpynx or Peterbald – all nearly hairless. The Sphynx is meant to be one of the most intelligent of breeds so will need entertainment, challenge and company; something to bear in mind when choosing a cat breed.
I honestly think that the active, inquisitive and more intelligent (if you believe that) breeds are not suited to the confinements of indoor life. They’ll accept it and adapt but never be as happy as they would be if living a more natural life. If you think that you will be able to have an indoor and outdoor cat click here.
Alpha cats (meaning leaders – these are all wildcat hybrids, bar one, the Serval, which is a tamed wild cat. This sort of cat is bred as a first generation to 4th generation offspring. The higher the generation the more wild and more demanding): Chausie, Bengal, Serval, Savannah, Safari
Natural Cats (= evolved without interference of humankind, not a hyrid, not man made – the concept of “natural cat breed” is shifting sand so these are subjective judgements): ***Abyssinian***, Moggie, British Shorthair, **Chartreux, Kurilian Bobtail, Japanese Bobtail, Norwegian Forest Cat, Traditional Siamese
From choosing a cat breed to different cat breeds (a look at breeds from a different perspective).