Saturday, August 25, 2012

What you should know before getting a cat

Animal shelters are consistently overwhelmed with unwanted and abandoned animals. Often people don’t know what they are getting into when they pick up that cute little ball of fur. Before investing money, time, energy and emotions on the too hard to resist kitten or cat make sure you are prepared to take care of it for the long term.

Are you prepared to make a lifetime commitment for 10 or 20 years or is this an impulse, spur of the moment kind of thing? Cats can live up to 30 years, though most indoor cats live between 10 and 20 years. Make sure a cat fits within your lifestyle before you decide to bring it home.

How will the cat fit into your home? What type of environment is it? Is it cat friendly? Is it even safe for your cat? For example ivy plants are toxic to cats, as are many other house plants. Do you have other pets or people living there? Before you bring a cat home you need to know how everyone and every animal in the home will react. There is no point in bringing home a cat if it is going to cause problems with the other residents of the home.

Kittens grow up into cats. They don’t stay cute, they can become quite temperamental. They expect attention or don’t want anything to do with you. They control the relationship, not you. Cats want what they want and when they want it and don’t care about what you want or are trying to do.

Cats don’t take care of themselves, even outdoor cats need care. Many people have this idea that cats are very independent. However they still require someone to feed them and make sure they have clean water. They require attention of their people, to cuddle or pet them as well as feed them. They don’t clean their litter box, you do.

Cat hair ends up on everything, even if you get a short hair. There are some hairless cats, but most people have cats with fur. Long hair cats may require regular grooming from daily brushings to actually going to a pet groomer. Hairballs and the mess that comes with them are to be expected, even with short hairs.

Will your cat be an indoor or outdoor cat? Outdoor cats have a shorter lifespan than indoor cats. The average outdoor cat lives about 2 years, a well taken care of indoor cat can usually live 10 to 20 years or longer. There are a lot of risks for outdoor cats, not all of them obvious. Many outdoor cats just don’t come home one day. They may have been picked up by animal control, hit by a car, eaten by a dog or any number of negative reasons for not returning home. They also tend to pick up bugs, not just flees but hidden internal bugs and worms that can be harmful not only to the cat but other pets and people. Indoor cats tend to be healthier and live longer.

A question many people not buying a cat from a specific breeder forget to ask is “Where did this kitten/cat come from?” It may seem like a strange question but it can be a very important question to ask. It can affect a cat’s personality and health. There are good and bad breeders out there. Some take care of their cats and insure they are healthy and well socialized. Others have pens full of cats that they breed with the sole intent to sell off the kittens. They are not always so careful with the family lines, or overall health of the kittens, and don’t make any attempt to socialize them. There are many cats and kittens waiting in shelters for a good home. There is nothing wrong with them, they are often abandoned by people who were not prepared for the responsibility of a pet, or could not afford them anymore. Often when you go to an animal shelter or pet rescue center the cats and kittens have up to date medical care, and the cost will often include the spaying or neutering if they have not already been spayed or neutered. Many pet stores will also work with rescue centers and have rescue cats available, but you will not know if you don’t ask. Rescue kittens and cats have often been fostered and are well socialized. People will be able to tell you about the cat or kitten and the personality it has. Also it can feel real good to adopt a rescue cat or kitten, knowing you kept it from being put to sleep simply because there was no more room at the shelter.

Can you afford a cat?

Sure it seems like all they need is food, water and a place to go bathroom. The reality is that owning a cat or kitten can be expensive. There are a lot of things to consider. For example it may seem like a good idea to buy cheap food. The quality of food is going to directly affect the health of your cat from everything from its energy level to the quality of its fur. Cheap pet food will often be full of fillers, and are not usually the best choice. The cat will eat more because it is not getting what it needs, this means you buy more. The cat will often use the litter box more frequently as a result, causing you to have to clean it more often and buy more litter.

Then there is health care for your cat. Vets can be expensive. You may choose not to go to a vet, and your cat may become quite ill resulting in death or having to spend money on a vet visit and medications. It is much better to budget for vet checkups and unexpected vet visits. There are some quality pet insurance companies that will pay for unexpected vet visits or illness. However they usually require the cat to have a well documented medical record with consistent and proper healthcare being provided. There are many shots that may be expensive at the time but are real life savers.

Some people buy cats to breed them, not to have them as pets. If you are bringing home a pet then spay or neuter them. This is very important. There are too many unwanted cats and kittens being killed every day in animal shelters. Also it is not fun experiencing a female cat in heat. Many female cats are let outside or abandoned when they go into heat. Male cats will start spraying pee on things if not fixed in time. Spaying and neutering also prevents the difficult situation of finding homes for a litter of kittens. If you cannot afford to spay or neuter a cat then don’t pick one up until you can.

There are also unexpected expenses that are just part of owning a cat. They like to scratch things, and may destroy something expensive, even if you have things just for it to scratch. How are you going to deal with the claws? There are scratch posts and other types of cat products that can help. Proper clippers for cat claws are extremely helpful if used properly and consistently. Some people have the claws removed. Claw removal is often an expensive surgery that involves removing a portion of the cat’s toes. It is an amputation, not an extraction. This is not highly recommended by many cat lovers. Many people see it as a cruel operation and unnecessary expense when there are so many non-surgical options such as nail covers or nail clippers. There will be things pushed over and broken, for no apparent reason. And if a spraying issue develops there is the cost of consistent cleanings of furniture, walls and floors.

Cats can and do add to people’s lives. Owning a pet can reduce stress, provide companionship and unconditional love. However it is a commitment on your part to take care of them. If you are unable to make the changes to accommodate them or cannot afford to provide them with the care they need it is better to walk away then to bring the cat or kitten home.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How to keep peace between cats

There are many theories on how to best keep peace between cats. There are some very successful techniques used, and some not so successful. When it comes right down to it, it depends on the personality of the cats. One technique may be the perfect solution, or completely fail even when you do everything correct.

A common key factor is space. Even cats that don’t always get along very well get along better if they have the space to get away from each other. They can have their own territories and a common area to interact. Forcing cats to always be together is not going to make them get along. If anything it would cause event the best tempered cats to become stressed and fight for space or alone time.

The most recommended technique on how to keep peace between cats is to get them together, as kittens. This way they grow up together, the home and people are theirs and there is no invading of territory. There may be some dominance issues as they get older but for the most part cats raised together tend to get along. However, as always this will depend on the personalities of the cats. Just like people there are social and non-social cats. It is also recommended to have the cats neutered or spayed before they go into heat or spray. Often cats that are neutered or spayed as soon as possible have more social temperaments.

If you are introducing a new cat to your home and you already have a cat it becomes a bit more tricky. The new cat will be seen as an invader and there is usually a time period that the cats will not get along no matter what you do. There are some techniques that can help and will often reduce the stress on both cats. Just keep in mind that if you have a non-social cat it will be difficult to introduce a new cat, no matter how much you want the new cat.

Take it slow, don’t just throw them together. They need time to get used to each other before they even meet. If possible keep them in separate rooms for several days. This way they can hear each other and possibly smell each other. This lets them adjust to each other a bit before they actually meet.

You want to find a way to get them comfortable with each other’s smells and if possible get them to smell like each other. For both cats you want to find a blanket or other item that they sleep on. Use the blanket or item to introduce the other cats smell to each cat. This helps them become accustomed to each other’s smells and the smell will start to belong. Leave the blanket or item from cat A with cat B to sleep on or use it to rub cat B with it transferring the smell of cat A to cat B. Do the same to cat A with an item from cat B. This helps blend their smells so they smell familiar to each other. Introducing items that smell like the other cat is also a good way to judge it the cats are ready to meet. If either cat reacts poorly or attacks the item they are not ready to meet.

After a few days, and if you don’t see a negative reaction it is time to let them find each other. There are several techniques used for this. What is important is that they are not thrust together. One method is to put the new cat into a cat carrier and put it into the room and let the other cat find and investigate the new cat. This should always be done under close supervision just in case either cat reacts in a negative way. That is when you remove the new cat to its room and try again later.

Another method is to let the door of both rooms open and let the cats discover each other gradually. Again close supervision is required – and speed if they don’t react well. However if they hiss and act out a bit but don’t actually attack each other leave them be. They are trying to establish dominance. The new cat has to find its place in the home and the other cat needs to protect its territory, and decide to let the new cat stay. If they seem to be getting along, leave them alone, but separate again if you are going out or going to bed. Each day let them spend more time together and eventually you don’t need to always be around or separate them.

You will want to have separate food and bathroom areas at first. This way you don’t have them fighting over them. The less “territory” they have to fight over the better. Eventually you should be able to have both their litter box and food in the same areas, and in some cases just go to one litter box and one food dish, play that by ear.

Another theory is to let nature take its course. Let the cats work it out on their own. Once they establish dominance things should calm down. The way this works is you bring the new cat in and let them find each other. If a fight starts leave them alone, this is how they establish dominance. Personally I do not recommend this as it is stressful and traumatic to everyone involved, cats and people. Often it establishes a negative response and behavior in both cats. Also serious injuries can be the result of this method, for both cats and people. The goal is to have peace between them, not live in a war zone.

Once you do have peace between the cats the next step is to maintain it. Even the most temperamental cats can have their negative moments. To keep peace between cats you need to give them space and lots of places to get away from each other. This can be accomplished with a variety of ways. There are many products available at pet stores that can helpful. The scratching posts with cat houses or the layered cat houses are wonderful. However you don’t have to spend a lot of money to give your cats what they need. Sometimes it can be as simple as letting one cat sleep on top of the fridge and the other on the couch. Boxes are great. You can give them their own box, with bedding, or even create hideaways for them with boxes, or other items. Give them their own toys, and a verity of things to do so they are not board, and bugging each other just to have something to do. Always keep catnip around. It is a good way to distract and calm down the cats, and if you put catnip in two different areas consistently you can help establish mini territories that they can go to and get away from each other.

Most cats will develop a positive or somewhat peaceful co-existence. Some don’t and you will have to accept that and remove one cat from the home or provide them with their own territories so they don’t have to interact. No matter how much time and effort you put into keeping the peace between cats it is really up to them how they react and deal with each other. Though, a positive and low stress method of introducing cats, and giving them time to get used to each other, goes a long way in developing a peaceful co-existence between cats.