On this page, I'll discuss a few other issues of importance to cat owners and prospective cat owners, including choosing a new cat, dealing with multiple cats in a household, relationships between cats and dogs, and the criteria for selecting a catsitter or kennel, if necessary.
Preparing for a cat
Cats are known for getting into things, whether it be be a hole in the floor that they can't get back out of, or eating odd things that may not be good for them. Take a close look at your home, and be willing to make some changes in order to keep your new cat safe.
We've all see the pictures of the cat playing with a ball of yarn. It makes for a cute picture, but cats can ingest that yarn, causing serious respiratory or digestive problems. Other common playthings that your cat is likely to pick up include string, dental floss, rubber bands, twist ties, sewing supplies, and fishing line; these are all items that can lead to serious, even fatal, problems for your cat.
I know that's not an easy thing to do, because it's uncanny, the way that one of my cats, Cutie, can come up with rubber bands and twist ties; it's been years that we've brought a rubber band into our house yet she comes up with at least a couple of them each month.
Yet these are common household dangers. Ingesting string, rubber bands, and thread, especially if the needle is still attached, can result in serious complications requiring immediate veterinary intervention, and which may result in death. If you're in the habit of leaving things where you've used them, this is a habit that you may have to alter once you've decided to take a kitty into your home.
Tie up drapery pulls and cords on window blinds, since, besides ruining them, your cat could get tangled in them. Electrical cords are another irresistible danger for some cats. Whenever possible, hide the cords from view, cover them, or spray them with a deterrent.
Cats like to nap in warm places, so get in the habit of closing the doors to washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers, in order to avoid the likelihood of trapping your cat in them when you turn on the appliance.
Use childproof latches to keep your cat out of any cupboard or shelf where you intend to store potentially hazardous cleaning products. Otherwise, your cat will find her way into even your highest shelves.
Burning candles can ignite a cat's fur when she walks by, so be careful with them. The same is true of space heaters. I can recall one cold, wintery, Michigan night when I was a child. We had a white cat in the house, and the oil heater wasn't doing a very good job of heating the rooms so my parents had an electrical space heater going. We later found that our cat had burned her fur, on both sides, as she turned around to toast the other side. Fortunately, the fur did not ignite, and the cat wasn't injured, but the potential was there.
Check your window screens, as some of them can be easily popped loose by a cat who is sitting in the window. When this is a downstairs window, your cat will escape outdoors. If it's an upstairs window, the problem could be worse.
One of the most common household hazards are poisonous plants, such as African violets, azaleas, oleanders, lilies, and others. Make sure your cat, if she's an indoor cat, has a good supply of cat grass to nibble on when she has the urge, and she should leave your houseplants alone. You might also spray the houseplants with a mixture of Tabasco sauce and water, bitter apple, or another deterrent. The safest choice is to not keep any poisonous plants in rooms that your cat has access to.
Also, it's a good idea to watch out for such things as mothballs, fabric softener sheets, batteries, and cigarettes; all of which can pose a threat to the health of your cat.
Possibly harmful foods include coffee grounds, onions, yeast dough, tomato leaves and stems, salt, macadamia nuts, chocolate, and alcoholic drinks. Keep these out of the reach of your cat.
Anyone who takes medications has dropped a tablet or pill onto the floor at one time or another. If you should do so, and you have a cat, be certain that you have picked them all up, and stored them in a place that your cat cannot gain access to, as the curious cat may well decide to try whatever she finds on the floor, or elsewhere.
Never self-medicate your cat without first consulting a veterinarian. Keep all medications out of reach, and contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control center if you believe that your cat may have ingested a medication.
Never treat your cat with flea products or dips that are intended for dogs, as they are too strong and could prove fatal. Carefully follow the instructions on any flea control product, and don't combine products without first consulting a veterinarian.
ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center
Toll free: 888.426.4435
Outside cats are always in search of a warm place in cold weather. Thump on your hood before starting your car in cold weather, as many cats have been killed by sleeping in a warm engine compartment.
Close any antifreeze containers, and put them out of reach, as the smell of antifreeze is attractive to both cats and dogs, and the ingestion of even a small amount of antifreeze is likely to prove fatal. Check under your car for greenish puddles on the ground, indicating that your car might be leaking antifreeze. Consider a pet-safe antifreeze product.
Lawn and garden fertilizers and chemicals can pose a problem, as well. If you must use these products, make sure the chemicals have dried fully before allowing your cat outside; and consider that, even so, frequent contact with such products may prove to be carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to your cat.
When a cat gets paint or stain on her paws, and then tries to clean them by licking, these can also be a serious problem. Call your veterinarian or the National Animal Poison Control Center for instructions on safely removing these products. Do not use paint thinner on your cat.
Make sure that your cat cannot access areas where you have placed mouse traps, ant poison, mouse poison, or other rodent or insect control products.
We took Bird in as a stray, but she's been with us now for several years. Her first Christmas as a house cat was not at all uneventful. She often brings us things that she has found outside, and when she does so, she meows loudly she enters the house, so that everyone can come and see what she's got.
After decorating our tree in the upstairs living room, my wife and I went downstairs. Then we heard Bird, meowing as she descended the steps ... with a wrapped present in her mouth. She then devoted the rest of her evening to removing all of the decorations from the tree; until finally, probably in pursuit of one of the higher balls, she knocked the tree over.
She's a tiny little cat.
Christmas trees are often covered with potentially dangerous "cat toys." Tinsel, ribbon, ornaments, hooks, garland, and little blinking lights are awfully tempting to a cat.
A combination of taking some care in what you use to decorate your tree, and the use of a deterrent at the base of the tree, can help to keep your cat safe.
Be careful of leaving candy around where your cat can get to it. It's not good for her, and chocolate, in particular, can be especially toxic. Other Christmas dangers include pine needles, poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe.
Choosing a new cat
I'm not a snob. I have always had at least one cat, and my cats have been friends and companions, not show animals. Every cat that I have ever owned has been given to me by someone who didn't have their own cats spayed or neutered, a practice that's perfectly okay with me, or taken in as a stray.
I've had a few cats who were problematic, and I've made my share of mistakes as a pet owner, but I loved, and remember every single one of my cats, as they were my friends, as I trust I was to them.
The experts will tell you to buy a cat from a breeder, or to adopt one from a pet shelter, both of which are reasonable options. I'd like to propose a third and a fourth option: accept one from a friend, or take in a stray.
Taking in a stray
Strays are not like small homeless people who walk on all fours. They are probably not there by choice, and it's likely that they were abandoned, rather than that they strayed away from a good home; or that they are the progeny of cats who were dumped by someone who should never have had a cat.
Taking in a stray is a real challenge, but it is one that can be very rewarding if you are willing to follow through regardless of the difficulties.
Many strays were once house cats, often taken in as kittens and then dumped once they had grown into adults, or when their owner's situation changed so as to inconvenience them. Generally, these are house cats who are simply in need of a house, someone to love, and to care for them.
Depending on how long they may have been on their own, and their experiences, these cats can still be a challenge. There may be some trust issues that you'll have to overcome through time and patience, but once they have come to accept you as their caregiver, and your house as their home, the chances are high that you'll have a very good housecat. Although it's unrealistic to expect any cat to show gratitude, they may seem to; and at any rate, you will know that you have done a good thing.
Most strays who were raised with people will adapt to your household with ease. There may be a few problems during the transition period, but the end result is likely to be a well-mannered house cat.
Others are feral cats, born on the streets, who have never known human affection. These can be a real challenge, but if you have what it takes, it will be an interesting experience, and the results are likely to be different from any other cat you've ever had.
In my experience, it is unrealistic to think that you're going to be able to capture a grown feral cat, forcefully take it into your house, and turn it into an acceptable housecat. You can probably do that successfully with a very young feral kitten, but that's not the best way to go about taking in a feral adult cat.
Instead, you should first make friends with the cat, a process that can take months of patient work. During this time, you might think that you're doing all the work, but please understand that the cat is going through some huge adjustments on its own part.
During this time, you'll want to do everything you can to ensure that the cat that you're courting doesn't meet with an undesirable end before you can work up to the point of enticing her into the safety of your house.
Remembering that your house seems to be anything but a safe place to the feral cat, you will probably want to establish an interim home, which you might think of as a halfway house. This might be an outbuilding, such as a garage or shed, that you could make up a bed in, leaving a window or door ajar, so that the cat can get in and out without fearing entrapment. More than anything else, food helps.
If there are two keys to gaining the trust of a feral cat, they would be food and patience. Never let impatience talk you into trying to capture your cat against her will. You might scare her off for good, or she might decide to give you another chance.
Eventually, if you keep inviting your new cat into the house, she'll take you up on it.
After most of her siblings were killed, and her mom was run off by dogs, I began feeding Bird on a regular basis while she was still a kitten, yet it was more than a month before she'd take food from my hand, and a few months before she'd let me pet her. She's been a house cat now for seven years, yet she's still uncomfortable being held or hugged, loving it and hating it at the same time, but leaning toward hating it. She never, ever, tries to hurt me anymore, no matter how much stress my attentions are causing her, but she threatens me regularly.
She's a different sort of cat, but if I weren't afraid of hurting Cutie's feelings, I'd often name her as my favorite cat. She's not at all unaffectionate. She loves being petted, and is quite content to be on my lap, but she is uncomfortable with anything that seems like a restraint to her.
As a stray, I once saw her pick up a discarded porkchop, full of ants, pick it up in her mouth, shaking it to knock the ants off, and then eat it. Now she's the most fickle cat we have, demanding only the best cat food.
She prefers the comforts of home to the outdoors, and while she enjoys going outside during the day, she doesn't go far or stay out long.
If your objective is to have a cat like any other cat, you might be able to achieve that with a stray who was raised with people, but you are unlikely to do so with a feral cat. When taking in a feral cat, you have to be willing to accept her as she is, and then patiently work on any problems that need to be corrected, understanding that there may always be some quirks.
If you have young children in the house, or if your goals are unrealistic, it might be best to leave the feral cat where she is.
When adopting a stray; or any cat, for that matter, please make a commitment to go the distance. It is very unfair to take in a cat that has already been rejected and abandoned once, give her hope, only to reject her once again; just as it is unkind to teach a feral cat to trust if you are unwilling to live up to that trust.
Strays aren't for everyone.
Another reasonable option is to adopt a cat from an animal shelter. Thousands of healthy, but unwanted cats, are euthanized at animal shelters every month, so this is your chance to save a life.
Kittens found in shelters can become wonderful companions. As the environment in the shelter can be stressful, the kitten's true personality may not be apparent at first, so please be tolerant.
One shelter is likely to have policies that are entirely different from another, so visit the shelter's web site, pick up their literature, call ahead, or visit the shelter first, in order to know what you're getting yourself into.
Some shelters will tell you anything in order to get you to take a cat home with you, while others make adopting a cat every bit as complicated as adopting a child, and nearly as expensive.
Unless they are able to tell you that this is the case, don't expect to take a cat home for free. The fees imposed by animal shelters are often comparable to what you might expect to pay for a cat in a pet store, although most are perhaps slightly less expensive.
Additionally, some shelters are very intrusive, making demands that you may be unwilling to meet, and most shelters will insist that the cat be spayed or neutered before it leaves the shelter.
When you find a cat that meets your expectations, ask about its health, and about what might have been done for it while it's been at the shelter. Take the cat to a veterinarian soon after adoption; and follow the veterinarian's recommendations for completing the vaccination, worming and preventative health protocol.
If adopting a kitten, consider adopting two kittens, especially if the shelter has two kittens from the same litter, since cats benefit from feline companionship.
I've spoken to a lot of people who have opted to continue feeding their adopted cat whatever brand of cat food the shelter had been feeding, and several of them have told me that the shelter staff suggested the brand that they are using. Don't let an animal shelter tell you what food you should be feeding your cat. While it's true that cats generally don't do well with change, any cat that you've adopted from an animal shelter has already been through a great deal of change, much of it imposed by the shelter itself.
For one thing, cats are not often at an animal shelter long enough to become truly accustomed to whatever cat food the shelter is using. For another, while it's probably safe to assume that the shelter has been feeding a reasonably nutritious food, I can promise you that cost was a factor in their cat food decision, and if they were to get a better deal from another cat food manufacturer, they'd switch every animal in the shelter to another food without a moment's notice.
You, and you alone, should decide what to feed your new cat. Go ahead and mix the new food with whatever brand the shelter said they were using, to ease the transition, but you need to make these decisions for yourself.
Inquire about the reputation of any pet store that you're considering purchasing a cat from, as well as that of their suppliers.
As you would any new cat that you're taking into your house, whatever the source, you should take her to a veterinarian for a check up.
If you are determined to buy a purebred cat, do some research to figure out which breed is the best fit for your household, then buy from a responsible breeder who will guarantee a healthy, carefully bred animal that will be a member of your family for many years.
Raising more than one cat from the same litter won't be much of a problem. It gets trickier when you're trying to create a feline Brady Bunch, introducing unrelated cats to the same household.
Picking a new cat
If you already have an adult cat, a kitten might be the best choice for a second cat. A kitten isn't as threatening to the older cat's territory, and will be easier accepted. If your first cat is a female, her maternal instincts will probably ease the introductions greatly.
If you currently have no cats, but would like to have two, it's best to get a pair who have lived together before, either from the same litter, or perhaps in the same cage at the shelter. If you select two kittens, regardless of their actual relationships, they'll grow up together as playmates and shouldn't have any significant adjustment problems.
Another option might be to get one older cat (4-5 years of age) and a younger one (1 year), as the older one won't feel as threatened, while the younger will not yet have developed the need to dominate.
If you get two adult males, it might be best to have them neutered, as two unneutered males in the same household is unlikely to work, or to be a pleasant place for anyone to live. Once they are neutered, it won't matter; since if you bring them home together and introduce them, neither will have an established territory to protect.
If you already have a cat, you should take your new cat to the veterinarian before you bring her home. Have her tested for feline leukemia and other contagious diseases, and make sure that her vaccinations are current.
When you get home with the second cat, keep her in a separate room from the first cat, and close the door. Make sure that she has blankets or towels to rest on, her own litter box, a scratching post, and food dishes. Leave her alone for awhile to give her time to explore her new surroundings.
Your first cat will be well aware that there's another cat in the house, and you can expect that both of the cats will be sniffing one another out under the door, beginning their acquaintance.
The following day, bring out the towels or blanket that the new cat has been resting on and let the first cat investigate them thoroughly. A few hours later, bring the new cat out, and put the first cat in the room that the new cat has just vacated. The new cat can now explore the rest of the house, while the first cat becomes familiar with the new cat's scent.
After a few hours, switch them back. The next day, open the door and let your new cat decide whether or not she wants to come out and get acquainted, or whether the first cat decides to make the introductions. Don't force them together, but let them set the pace. If they have any serious fights, separate them and try again the next day.
Another thing that you can do during this transition period is to pet one cat on your lap, then change rooms and pet the other one, letting each get used to the other's scent on your clothes.
It might take them a few days to work out the feline hierarchy, with one of them taking on the role of the alpha cat. Let them decide, since your interference will simply confuse them. Don't worry if there are a few spats, even if there's some ferocious hissing going on. Unless it gets seriously violent, they're just testing each other out.
You might want to play a game together with your cats to help break the ice. A fishing pole toy, or catnip, can give them something else to think about. Once the relationship issues have been worked out, you'll probably find that your older cat will be much more active with a second cat in the house.
Three or more
Two cats are fairly easy to accomplish, since each will come to enjoy the other's company, but three or more cats can complicate matters. Overcrowding is the main issue, especially if your cats don't go outdoors, and it's quite possible that some of your cats may never do more than tolerate one another, and there may be some serious territorial disputes.
Watch for serious signs of stress, such as urine spraying, failure to use the litter box, or serious fights. Stressed cats may also fail to groom themselves, or develop food issues. Cats don't tolerate stress well, and sustained periods of stress can weaken their immune systems, resulting in illness.
When the cats are permitted outside, multiple cats will do better together, since they won't be as crowded. Of course, cats who go outdoors are exposed to other dangers.
A large house will also make for an easier multiple cat arrangement. The experts recommend having at least one litter box for each cat in the house. You should also add more cat furniture, so that each can have a territory to stake out as their own, along with catnip and toys. Each cat will require individual attention from you each day.
Adding a second cat is usually an easy thing to do, but if you are planning on having three or more cats, you'll need to plan carefully, and be patient while the cats work things out between them.
Cats and dogs
There is one good reason why I’d never take a dog into my house, and that would be Bird. When Bird was yet a small kitten, barely able to walk around, all but one of her siblings were killed by a couple of roving dogs, and her mom was either killed, or run off, never to return. It wouldn’t be fair for me to introduce a dog into our household.
Cats and dogs don’t have to be mortal enemies, although some dogs may never be completely safe to have around cats. Properly introduced, most dogs and cats can at least be taught to tolerate one another.
First, it’s important to understand some things about dogs.
Dogs are pack animals. As such, it is important to them that their role within the pack has been established, as this allows the dog to predict the reactions and needs of the rest of the pack. Without a clear, consistent role, a dog experiences a great deal of stress, unsure whether he is going to be punished or rewarded.
A dog’s owner needs to establish himself in the role of pack leader, laying down clear guidelines on behavior that the dog, as a member of the pack, can follow. Without a clear pack leader, the dog will be anxious, since, from his perspective, only a strong and definite pack leader can protect the pack, and keep it safe.
If none of the humans on the dog’s life are willing to assume the role of pack leader, the dog will assume that role himself, as a pack needs a leader to control where the pack goes, when and what the pack eats, and how the members of the pack behave toward one another.
When clear guidelines are in place, the dog can relax, knowing what behaviors earn what sort of attention.
Dog trainers often use a 3-second rule in training. This rule assumes that dogs will attribute positive or negative attention to whatever was happening within the three seconds immediately before the attention was given, so be careful that you give your dog attention when his current - not past - behavior deserves it.
Knowing your dog
When meeting a new cat, dogs will fall into one of three categories:
- They will ignore the cat entirely
- They will become excited and interested at first, then learn to get along with the cat, or become bored with it
- They never quit chasing the cat, and may even hurt it.
Dogs that fall into the third category should not be kept in the same home with a cat. Certain breeds of dogs, such as greyhounds, afghans, and some terriors, are particularly unlikely to behave well toward cats, although there are exceptions.
If you are going to introduce a new puppy or dog into a home that already has a cat, make changes to the cat’s environment in advance of the dog’s arrival, so that the cat doesn’t blame the dog for everything that she might see as going wrong in her environment.
You might move the cat’s food and water bowls onto a counter, or table, where the dog can’t reach them; otherwise, the dog will eat the cat’s food, and this is unlikely to set the stage for a peaceful relationship.
Dogs are also attracted to cat feces, so make sure that both the cat bowls and the litter box are well out of the reach of the new dog, yet still accessible to the cat.
If these changes take place gradually, the cat is more likely to adjust to them, and less likely to blame the dog for the upheaval.
If you’re bringing a new kitten or cat into a home that already has a dog, get the supplies for the cat in advance, and teach your dog that these things are off-limits.
Your cat will need to have some safe places where she can get away from the dog and watch what’s going on. This could be the top of the refrigerator, a dresser, or some high cat furniture. Once the cat has grown comfortable watching the dog from a safe place, she will gradually become curious and come down to investigate. Don’t rush this relationship, but let it occur at their own pace.
When you first bring your new dog or cat into your house, confine the new pet to a private room, allowing the pets to sniff one another out under the door, much as you would introduce two cats.
Don’t permit the dog to dig at the door, or to bark constantly. If you cannot control the dog from exhibiting these behaviors, this may not be a dog that should be kept in the same household with a cat.
The next morning, bring the towels or blankets that your cat had slept on into the dog’s area, and vice versa. Then put the dog outside for awhile, allowing the cat to roam through the dog’s area, investigating the dog’s scent and leaving her own. Be sure to return the cat to her own area before bringing the dog back into the house.
After a couple of days, put a leash on the dog, then open the door between the two animals. Don’t force the matter, but allow the cat to come out in her own good time, while keeping the dog leashed and under your control.
If your dog gets overly excited, return the cat to her private room, and close the door. You might have to try this step a few times over as many days, but eventually your cat will come out to meet the dog, and the dog will get used to the cat.
Until you are certain of their relationship, keep the dog on a leash so that he doesn’t chase the cat; because if your dog can’t chase her, she won’t have to run. Once the running and chasing begin, this is a habit that is difficult to break.
Don’t panic if your dog becomes excited. Distract him with treats, toys, or a trip outdoors until he can calm down. You can also ask him to comply with some obedience commands, as a way of taking his focus off of the cat and onto you. Be firm, and in control, making it clear that this is not a request, but a command. You are the pack leader who makes the rules, and the rule is that he not chase the cat. Reward your dog when he returns his attention to you.
Your dog should learn by your tone of voice, and through the consequences that he experiences. If he bothers the cat, he gets corrected; doing so firmly, but without anger. If he turns his attention back to you, he is praised; and do so profusely.
Don’t let your dog loose with your cat until the cat has quit running off, and your dog has demonstrated a lack of interest in chasing her. Gradually, they should get used to one another, and you can relax the rules a bit.
They may never develop a friendship, but they may learn to tolerate one another.