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A buyer’s guide to getting a cat

By Sarah Elliott, BVetMed, MANZCVS (Medicine of Cats), MRCVS

 

According to Cats Protection’s CATS Report 2023, 73% of owners say having a cat brings them joy and 92% consider their cat to be part of the family. Cats can be amazing companions, but for a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship to flourish, it’s important to get things right from the start.


Are you ready to own a cat?

You might be surprised to learn that a kitten can cost anything from £150 to over £1,000. Rehoming a cat or kitten from a rescue organisation is usually less expensive than buying from a breeder.


When it comes to costs, it’s not just the initial purchase price that you’ll need to factor in. You’ll first need to buy a safe and sturdy cat carrier. Your kitten will need to be vaccinated, microchipped (compulsory for all cats in England after 10th June this year), neutered, and treated for fleas and worms. You’ll need to make sure your home is furnished with a cat bed, toys, a scratching post, at least two litter trays, and a separate food and water bowl. The PDSA have crunched the numbers, and they estimate that these initial costs will total just over £300.


Then there are the ongoing costs – food, toys and cat litter, monthly insurance, and yearly health checks. This works out at a minimum spend of between £60-£70 per month.


Don’t forget to budget for unexpected costs too. Some insurance policies don’t cover dental treatments, for example, or special medical diets. If you go on holiday or fall ill, you may need to pay a pet sitter or boarding cattery to take care of your cat.


As well as the financial implications, you’ll need to consider how much time you can dedicate to looking after your cat. While cats are generally independent creatures, they need reliable companionship with their owner, and a stable, predictable environment. They are likely to live for 14 years or more. Some cats will require more of your time than others. For example, long-haired cats require daily grooming and if your cat gets sick, you may need to administer medication at regular intervals throughout the day.

 

Should I get more than one cat?

Cats in the wild live solitary lives (unless it’s mating season)! When feral cats form colonies, it tends to be due to the presence of a large, reliable source of food in one place. While a few cats may enjoy the company of other cats, this is not natural cat behaviour and generally, cats don’t need friends.


Multi-cat households can be stressful environments for cats. If you are thinking of getting more than one cat, you’ll need to think about how you might prevent fighting, stress and stress-linked illnesses occurring. Kittens may seem to get on harmoniously for a while, but after they go through a period of ‘social maturity’ at around 18 months of age, relationships often fall apart.


You’ll need enough space for the cats to live separately from each other when they choose to, including space up high. There can be no competition over resources such as food, water, beds and toys. Remember, you have a legal duty of care to provide for your cat's needs, which includes their need to be housed with or apart from other animals.


Pedigree or moggie?

Perhaps you have your heart set on getting a kitten of a certain breed (and I must admit, I’m particularly fond of the Siamese)! But before you get too carried away, be aware that all pedigree cats are at higher risk for disease than the average moggie.


Moggies (or domestic cross breed cats) have not been purposefully bred to look a certain way, whereas pedigree (or purebred) cats have been selectively bred to have certain physical characteristics. This means their gene pool is smaller and they are more likely to suffer from inherited disease. For this reason, it is usually more expensive to insure a pedigree cat.


A paper published in the Vet Record last year uncovered notable variations in the disease rates between pedigree cats and moggies. The study looked at information from insurance claims for about 550,000 cats. Pedigree cats were found to be more likely to develop illnesses when compared to moggies, such as diseases affecting the heart, lungs and immune system.


Worryingly, there have been recent trends to produce ‘designer’ cat breeds that exhibit extreme physical characteristics. In these cases, breeders have exploited the genetic mutations that lead to dwarfism, hairlessness, or spina bifida to produce a particular ‘look’. Often these cats are unable to exhibit normal cat behaviours like proper grooming, climbing or jumping because of their inherited physical characteristics.


Unhealthy genetic mutations can be found in breeds like the Munchkin, Scottish Fold, Manx and Sphynx. Ultra-flat-faced types have been bred into certain lines of Persian and Exotic Shorthair cats, leading to the same sort of problems we’ve seen in extremely flat-faced dogs (breathing difficulties, eye issues and dental problems). It’s important to do your research and be aware of any health and welfare concerns associated with your chosen breed or type of cat.


Adopting a rescued cat or kitten

Adopting a cat or kitten from a rescue organisation means you will be matched with a pet that will be the best fit for you and your family. Rescue organisations have a wealth of information to share with you about cat ownership, and following adoption, many charities also provide support to troubleshoot any concerns while your cat is settling in with you.


Rescue centres are full of cats looking for homes.


Adopting a cat versus buying makes good financial sense too. For a nominal adoption fee, your cat will have been health-checked, neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and treated for fleas and worms. Many cat rescue charities also include temporary pet insurance cover, no matter the cat’s age or previous medical history.


The downside of adoption is that it may take a little bit longer to be matched with the right cat and to finally bring them home. But big decisions shouldn’t be taken lightly, and the time taken means it’s more likely that you and your new friend are going to get off to the best of starts together.

 

Cat or kitten?

While it is lovely to watch a kitten grow, it’s important to understand that caring for a kitten is a lot like caring for a baby. Young kittens need almost constant supervision, and your house will need to be ‘kitten-proofed’ to protect them from common household dangers. Kittens have lots of energy and are still learning how to interact appropriately with people.


It’s worth considering whether a fully grown cat might be a better fit, especially if you are older, have young children at home or lead a busy lifestyle. Older cats have an established personality, come ready house-trained and are likely to be a lot calmer and cuddlier.


The kitten checklist

If you’ve decided that a kitten is right for you, you’ll need to make sure that the kitten is well cared for and in good condition before you bring them home. If you are buying from a breeder or private seller, be wary of unscrupulous people online who are out to make a quick profit.


Kittens shouldn’t be separated from their mothers until they are at least eight to nine weeks of age. They should appear bright, engaged, and sociable. You’ll need to go and view the kittens with their mother in their home environment and ask as many questions as you can. Be aware that if you are buying a cat in Scotland, anyone breeding three or more litters of kittens a year is required to have a licence, so do ask this question.


There's not much in this world that's cuter than a kitten, but is one right for you?


If you are considering purchasing a pedigree cat or kitten, research the problems they are prone to and whether there are any schemes that are run to try to reduce the incidence of disease. The GCCF is the cat equivalent of the Kennel Club, and they have listed the recommended health screens for each registered breed on their website. Reputable breeders should be compliant with these screening test recommendations. Check the GCCF website to find a breeder and visit them in person and see how the cats and kittens are bred and cared for.


When buying online, it’s impossible to guarantee that the animals advertised are coming from a safe, reputable source. That’s why a group of charities including the PDSA, Cats Protection and International Cat Care have put together The Kitten Checklist to help you. If you are thinking about buying a kitten, use this checklist to get as much information as you can, to find a healthy, well-socialised kitten.


Links

If you would like to adopt a cat or kitten, here are a few of the major rehoming charities to contact:

 

Sarah Elliott, BVetMed, MANZCVS (Medicine of Cats), MRCVS, qualified as a vet from the Royal Veterinary College in 2007. She gained her membership of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in the subject of feline medicine in 2018. Sarah has worked in both private and charity small animal practice in the UK as well as in New Zealand. Before joining Cats Protection, Sarah worked as a veterinary surgeon at the PDSA. Sarah is now Cats Protection’s Central Veterinary Officer and is based in the Midlands. Her role at Cats Protection sees her producing veterinary guidance for the public as well as the charity’s network of over 250 branches and 37 centres, supporting other central teams such as Advocacy and Research.



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