Questions to ask yourself before adopting a cat

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Perhaps the most important moment in cat caregiving is before you start. It’s asking yourself a range of tough questions to check whether you are in a position to do justice to caring for a domestic cat companion. It is tough because instinctively you want to adopt a cat or a dog. Perhaps you’ve wanted a pet for a long time and you feel the time has come to take that big step. The moment might have come but this checklist might help to confirm whether it truly has.

Living with a companion cat is not always plain sailing. There can be downsides. For a start you are more anchored to your home. You’ll feel the difference. Overall, it is a positive experience for many millions of people but there can be tough moments. And it is expensive if you do a good job of it.

Basics

The first question is can you provide a cat with a basic level of good caregiving? Will you provide her with a balanced diet of good quality of primarily wet cat food with some dry for grazing at night? Will you provide her with a large scratching post or two; the largest you can find which happens to be on Amazon by the way. And will that super-large scratching post be in an environment which is at least somewhat suitable for a cat as well as suitable for you i.e., enriched with climbing structures.

And will you make sure that her litter tray is cleaned regularly? Will you do research on the best kind of cat litter and the best kind of cat litter tray? I have lots of articles on this website about these things by the way. Please search for them. I will guarantee you will find the answer!

Commitment

Do you have the commitment to care for a companion cat for the life of the cat? It has to be a journey that goes all the way to the end with all the ups and downs in between. The end of a cat’s life can be very difficult indeed. It is the most difficult moment of all in the relationship. This is because you have to decide whether to euthanise your cat if they are chronically ill. The decision is made in the best interests of the cat but it is very difficult to put aside one’s emotions which lead one to hang on too long.

You’ve got to make sure that you will microchip your cat, and groom your cat regularly. You should flea comb your cat every day perhaps twice a day particularly if they are an indoor/outdoor cat and more prone to pick up fleas from prey animals such as mice.

You’ve got to make sure that your home is suitable in terms of safety. Do you live in a home of multiple occupation where there are lots of people? That might be a safe place but it might not. Cats like calmness, routines and regularity. They don’t like strangers.

Can you guarantee to yourself that you will take your cat to the veterinarian when required? A lot of people put it off because of the expense and the difficulties. But there will come a time when you’ve got to do it and that means having a good cat carrier and a veterinarian not too far away who, ideally, you have checked out and discussed things with beforehand.

Cat sitters etc.

And you should really have somebody you can rely on to be a cat sitter when you are away. The truth is that owning a cat changes your lifestyle. If you are the kind of person who likes to go away a lot and be out a lot until late at night, you are probably not the kind of person who can be a good cat caregiver. This would not be because you don’t have the right sensitivity towards animals but just that your lifestyle is unsuited. There might come a time when it is suited. You might therefore delay adopting a cat.

And if you do want to use a cat-sitter that person must be utterly reliable because they take on an enormous responsibility; a greater responsibility than they possibly imagine.

Can you afford a cat?

As at 2023 in the UK, you should budget for around £50 per month for the average cat. This will cover regular costs such as food, insurance, litter and flea and worm treatments. In addition, you should consider the cost of neutering which may cost in the order of £50-£70 in the UK at the moment. Micro-chipping will cost around £30. Cat toys cost around £20 a year depending on what you buy or whether you make them yourself!

There will be a need to purchase grooming equipment which may cost around £20 and a cat carrier may cost upwards of £50. Then you need to consider buying bedding. This varies in cost enormously from cheap at around £10 to a nice piece of furniture which cost £200! I have one of those and my cat hardly uses it!

Smart scratching post
Smart scratching post. Photo: Michael.

Scratching posts cost around £30 if you buy a really big one and you must buy a really big one!

Cat sitters costs around £45+ for one night per day and around £300 for a week. Boarding catteries cost around £30 per day approx.

If you are going to take out insurance policy, I would suggest that you read my article on that topic. You can do so by clicking on this link. The best option is to run your own insurance policy by putting money aside monthly and ring fencing it. After a year you will have enough money to pay for a reasonable veterinary bill.

How much time can you spend with your cat?

I have already touched on this. You have to be around for your cat. Cats are said to be independent but there is a big misconception about cats’ independence. Domestic cats have become quite sociable. And if the owner is good at the job of caregiving, they will be a very close connection between cat and person. That means that the cat will like their owner to be around as much as possible. They don’t like being alone, and you must have heard of separation anxiety. It is very common. I think perhaps the biggest obstacle to deciding whether to adopt a cat or not is whether you have enough time to be with your cat. This question needs to be addressed objectively and seriously.

Where do you live?

Do you live in a tiny bedsit at the top of a block of flats or do you live in a detached house in the countryside? Will your cat be able to go outside? Will your cat be a full-time indoor cat? These are also big questions. Do you live in a terraced house opposite a very busy road? Do you think that cats be indoor/outdoor cats? Is it safe for a cat to go outside where you are living? A myriad of questions.

Cats can tolerate being full-time indoor cats because they adapt to it. But it is better that you adopt a kitten who only knows the indoor life. Some adult cats who have lived indoors and outdoors will find it tough to be confined to the indoors if you adopt a rescue cat. It is harder to keep a cat happy in a one-bedroom department as a full-time indoor cat than it is for a cat to be an indoor-outdoor cat living in a detached home in the countryside.

Do you have other pets?

This is another enormous question. You will find that cats in multi-cat homes are less likely to be content. They are more likely to get into fights or be stressed and anxious. The reason is straightforward: cats like to have their own space called a home range. If they are all confined to a home their “home range” will be heavily restricted and it must overlap with other cats. This can lead to agonistic behaviour. And cats can be timid or confident. Under these circumstances the more confident cats can sometimes bully the timid cats.

If you have a dog, will they get along with a cat? And vice versa. And if you have other pets, you’ve got the added expense. My neighbour buys cat litter on pallets because she has 10 cats inside our home. In fact, she doesn’t buy cat litter but some other substrate substitute as it’s cheaper. The point here is that it’s very expensive to look after a lot of cats.

Multi-cat home problems
Multi-cat home problems. Image: MikeB. The image is free to use under a Creative Commons: ATTRIBUTION-NODERIVS CC BY-ND license. Click on it to see a full-sized version and then right click on that image. Select ‘save as’. Please link back to this page. Thanks.

If you love animals then it can be quite natural to have several cats and dogs. But I think you’ve got to be the right sort of person to do this. I’ve seen how in it can be successful homes where a couple live on a farm for example in America and they have lots of animals including cats and dogs. That works really well because they can go outside. At the other end of the spectrum, you have a one-bedroom flat in London or a suburb of London with three or four cats living in it. That is likely to be unsuccessful for the cats. And if the cats are unhappy, so is the owner.

Who else lives with you in your home?

If you live in a flat or a house does your partner want to live with a cat? I have read many stories of couples arguing over the cat. Often the woman wants the cat and looks after the cat but the male partner does not. Sometimes, in extreme situations, when the relationship breaks up, the man harms the cat. Sometimes it happens surreptitiously, out of sight. And in divorce the cat can become the victim. In disputes between partners, the cat can become the victim and can sometimes be harmed. You’ve got to make sure that your partner is equally content and equally committed to looking after a domestic cat.

Can you live with a cat’s natural behaviour?

Remember that ‘bad cat behavior’ is actually natural cat behavior that is disliked by their owner.

You got to be able to accept their scratching. Even if you have a really nice scratching post, they still might scratch the carpet or furniture from time to time. Can you accept it? Will you work on that and do your best to make sure that they scratch their scratching post only?

Will you accept the fact that they might bring in dead mice and birds and make a mess of your kitchen? Will you be able to mop up the vomit from under your bed? Will you be okay with clearing up bits of mice that they’ve left behind after eating most of it?

Bad cat behavior leading to euthanasia
Photo: Flickr User MiuMiuKitty

Will you be okay with cat hair lying around the home, blowing down the hard floor of the kitchen in tumbleweed clumps? All domestic cats shed hair. Don’t think that there are some cat breeds that don’t. They all do and you’ve got to deal with it.

Finally, territorial behaviour is an issue with male cats particularly and sometimes females. If a cat is allowed outside, they may enter into a fight with another neighbour’s cat. This is more likely to happen when users move to a new home and your cat then encounters the existing neighbourhood cats. It depends upon the cat’s character but fights may happen at least of some sort and you got to deal with it. Even indoor cats can get agitated by seeing stranger cats outside the home.

And on the issue of neighbours, sometimes cats irritate neighbours. They might enter their gardens and they often don’t like it. They might pee on a neighbour’s flowerbed which that person has tended to religiously for many years. They might be upset. Can you deal with this? Are you diplomatic? Will you buy a garden enclosure? If you do, they are expensive!

What are your future plans?

If, for example, you might be thinking of moving abroad in the not-too-distant future that may affect your decision to adopt a cat now. Cats become as attached to their home as they do to their caregiver. Ideally you should remain in your home for the lifetime of your cat.

Why do you want to adopt a cat?

It’s a question worth asking. What will your cat give you during the relationship of about 18 years? Will it be mutually beneficial?

Lifespan?

If you adopt a purebred cat some have reduced lifespans. Most purebred cats suffer from inherited diseases because of inbreeding. You should be aware of this because it is liable to create more anguish than living with a rescue cat who is likely to be inherently healthier.

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