Choosing your cat

Now that you've made up your mind to get a cat, you have to decide what kind is best for you. Should you get a pedigree cat? A longhaired cat, or a shorthaired one? Male or a female? You may even be wondering if you should get two or more cats, just to double or triple your fun, or to make sure your cat will never be lonely.

Here are a few tips to help you choose your cat:

Pedigree or non-pedigree?

There are between 40 and 80 different breeds of cat and about 500 varieties, all very different. Just look at the ever-popular Siamese, Burmese and Persian, the Manx who has no tail, or the hairless Canadian Sphinx. Apart from the differences in their appearance, each breed has a distinct temperament and personality. The Siamese, for example, is well known as an extrovert, whereas the longhaired Persians are generally more laid back.

Buying a book or attending a cat show are great ways of checking out all the different breeds, and finding one which appeals to you. You'll see so many incredible, adorable cats you'll want to take them all home with you!

Most people don't choose a pedigree or purebred cat. For most of us, non-pedigree cats, or 'moggies', have all the attributes we're looking for, and come in a wide variety of different colours and coat types. Plus they won't break the bank!

Long or short hair?

Longhaired cats can be very attractive. But they need a lot of grooming to stay tangle-free and in good condition. Brushing every day can be a great time for you to bond, though, and most cats love the attention.

If, on the other hand, you just don’t have time to brush her every day, think about getting a shorthaired cat instead.

If you get a cat with a matted coat, you may need to take her to the vet to be clipped, because she might not enjoy being untangled. Your vet will be able to sedate her so she won't be so uncomfortable.

Male or female?

Male cats (or tomcats) are generally larger than females, and if uncastrated will tend to go wandering around the neighbourhood, getting into fights with other cats. They may also mark their territory by "spraying" with their urine or by leaving their faeces unburied. This is normal behaviour for them, but rather unpleasant for you.

Un-neutered female cats will come into season regularly and may become pregnant. While they're in heat, they can be very loud, and any neighbourhood tomcats will find them very attractive.

If you don’t want to hear the pattering of tiny kitten paws before long, it's best to have your cat neutered. You'll notice after the procedure that some of the unusual behaviour associated with being a male or female cat will stop, too.

One cat or more?

Many cat owners aren't sure whether it's best to have just one cat or more. This decision depends on the individual cat. Some cats prefer to live with other cats, while some much prefer to spend their time alone or with humans. If you already have an adult cat, you probably have a good idea of what she'd prefer.

If you are away from home for much of the day, you may want to get two or more cats so they can keep each other company. Kittens who've been brought up together generally get along very well, even as adults.

The number of cats you can have also depends on the size of your home. Just like people, cats need their own space and don't like to feel overcrowded. As a general rule, you should have at least one room for every cat you have, so they have space to retreat to if they want to be alone. You may also need a separate food bowl, bed, water bowl and litter box for each cat, as some cats don't like to share their haven!

Where to get your cat

Once you've decided to get a cat, start putting the word out among your friends and neighbours. One of them might have a cat or kittens for sale, or know of someone who does. Otherwise try your local newspaper,  shop windows, animal welfare shelter or charity. These last two usually have lots of cats and kittens desperately in need of a home.

Avoid dealers, who will have bought kittens from several different sources. They could have been weaned too early, and may have travelled long distances. Also, the risk of disease and stress-induced illness is greater for these kittens. As you can't be sure of the history and health status of cats in this situation, you should ask your vet for advice.

If you've decided to buy a pedigree kitten, then the best source is from a recognised and reputable breeder. You can find these breeders through other cat owners, your vet, ads in newspapers and cat magazines, or by visiting cat shows. Breed clubs can put you in touch with reputable breeders in your area.

What to look for

First, ask to see the kittens with their mother. This way, you can assess the mother's general health and temperament. Bear in mind that she may not be in tip-top condition as a result of rearing her litter, but most importantly, you can make sure the kittens haven't been prematurely weaned or brought in from somewhere else.

It's best to wait until the kitten is at least 7-8 weeks old before you take her from her mother. Breeders of pedigree cats often prefer to keep the kittens until they are 12 weeks old. Try to see a number of different litters before you make your decision, and only buy from premises that appear hygienic (but don't expect conditions to be sterile), and where the cats seem happy and in good condition.

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