Springtime is traditionally known as "Kitten Season" and that's because this is the time of year when mama cats are giving birth. So maybe you have been waiting to add that little bit of furry fluff to your family and now you're ready. Or so you think.
But before you rush to your local shelter, breeder, or pet store, here are the top five things you need to do before you rush out and get that baby.
1. Research What Breed of Cat is Right for You.
Just like people, cats and cat breeds have different purrsonalities. Some breeds are active, inquisitive and into everything. Others are more laid back. Some prefer to curl up next to you..others are happy napping under the bed. Some breeds have more health issues than others due to breeding, others require more maintenance. It all depends on your life style and what will fit with it.
For example, that adorable fluffy Persian your friends have makes your heart melt, but there's more to a Persian than just a pretty face. Persians require daily grooming to prevent mats. They tend to have weepy eyes that have to be wiped every day. Persians are brachosyphalic. That means that cute little squished nose makes it difficult for them to breath. That could mean future trips to the vet because of upper respiratory problems.
As for purrsonality, Persians are very loving and sweet, but they don't tolerate a change in their living environment well. As a long-time cat rescuer, I have been on the receiving end of many Persians given up for adoption because when the family moved to a new home, the Persian stopped using its litter box. Why: because their environment changed. Or the cat was given away to a new home by its original owner and the stress caused the cat to have behavioral problems. Am I against Persians? Not at all, I'm just saying they are more sensitive than other breeds and require more attention. But if you have no problem with their maintenance requirements, and plan to keep your cat forever, then a Persian may be purr-fect for you.
If a longhair cat is your heart's desire, but you don't want the high maintenance, then consider a Maine Coon. They are big, beautiful, and as fluffy as they come. AND their fur does not mat so they require very little grooming. Maine Coons are loving, easy going and very healthy overall. They are one of the original American cat breeds and make wonderful family companions.
Maybe you're a short-haired cat person with an active lifestyle. The Siamese, Tonkinese, or Oriental might be the best choices for you. Long, sleek and very intelligent, these breeds are more like dogs than cats in some respects but you don't have to walk them...unless you want to because they will walk on a leash if trained early and many love to ride in the car. These breeds are curious and as kittens are into everything. These are true people cats who love to be in the thick of things during the day and then curl up with you at night.
But let's not by any means rule out the domestic mixed breeds. If you don't want to spend hundreds or maybe thousands on a purebred cat from a breeder, I recommend going to your local shelter. There, you will likely find cats and kittens of every size and description - even purebreds. Which leads me to point number two:
2. It's Purrsonality, not Pageant, Baby
When you finally go to your local shelter or breeder, ask them if you can sit down with the litter of kittens on the floor. You want to be able to just sit and watch them play and interact. That will also give you a chance to see which one or ones come to you without being coaxed.
One other point, if adopting from a breeder, you want to be able to see where the cats are living. If a breeder brings a kitten out to you and won't let you see the parents or where the kittens are being housed, leave, immediately. Likely they are being housed in unsanitary conditions and that could mean health and other problems down the road. A reputable breeder is always happy to show you their parent cats and where they're housed. You want them to be "raised under foot" in a clean house where the parent cats are family members, not a money making product.
Maybe you're looking for a longhair calico kitten, but it's the short-haired brown tabby that comes up, climbs in your lap and reaches up to give you a nose kiss. That's the kitten that will likely be your best friend for many years to come.
I remember one adoption day at the local humane society where I chaired cat placement, a woman and her daughter came in looking for that fluffly calico kitten. After months of asking, her husband finally caved and said they could have a cat. But of all the litters we had available, there wasn't a calico in the bunch, but we did have a litter of beautiful little tabbies...all male. One in particular had a beautiful face and great purrsonality. She was unconvinced. It wasn't what she was looking for, but I assured her this kitten would soon win her heart and her husband..who didn't really like cats. A month later, I called her to do a follow up on how the kitten was doing and the husband answered. "Oh Beau? He's great! He's the best cat ever. He's my little buddy and watches football with me," her husband said.
So remember, you want the kitten that 'gets you,' not necessarily the prettiest one in the bunch.
3. You Have Chosen Your Kitten, Now What?
Before putting down your money and walking out the door, take a good look at the kitten you have chosen.
A healthy kitten has clear, clean eyes, no weepy goop; and the ears are clean. The kitten should be playful, curious, be no younger than 8weeks old, and should weigh about two pounds.
Check its backside. If it has diarrhea, you'll see it on hits back end under the tail. Coccidea is an intestinal parasite common in kittens that causes diarrhea, but is treatable with a course of anti-biotics. A reputable breeder or shelter will have treated that condition before putting a kitten up for adoption.
Check for fleas or flea dirt, which looks like little black dust bits close to the skin and can be seen easily. Again, any kitten going up for adoption should be free of fleas.
Ask to see the kittens vet records. Your kitten should have had at least one round of the three required distempter shots and should have been dewormed and deflea'd.
If the breeder or shelter does not have that info, or will not give it to you, adopt at your own risk. I say that because you find you have fallen in love with that kitten and want it anyway, remember you will likely have some vet bills up front to get the kitten healthy. Which is point number three.
4. Get Your Kitten Registered With a Good Veterinarian
If you do not have another pet, then likely you do not have a veterinarian. Before taking your kitten home, make an appointment and go directly to your vet for a check up. Your vet will listen to your kitten's heart, check its teeth, gums, take its temperature, look into its ears and give it a good once over. If there is anything abnormal, likely your vet will find it at that initial visit.
Bring that copy of the vet records you received from the breeder or shelter and the vet will get your kitten set up on the rest of its vaccination schedule. Kittens should have three sets of distemper shots (FVRCP), two sets of feline leukemia shots (FELV) and a rabies vaccine, as well as another deworming. Your kitten should also be tested for feline leukemia, a deadly disease that kills cats within three to five years. Feline leukemia is also highly contagious to other cats. So you want your kitten to be FELV negative. Most breeders and many shelters test for FELV before putting kittens up for adoption, but many don't. So make sure your kitten is tested.
5. Bringing Your Kitten Home
Now that your kitten has gotten a clean bill of health from your vet, it's time to take your kitten home.
It's a good idea to prepare ahead of time by getting plenty of toys. Kittens love to climb and the older they get, the more climbing they will do. You don't want them climbing your curtains so I recommend investing in a climbing tree. There are many styles and sizes to choose from and if you go online, you can likely find one or more that's right for you and your home.
Of course you need a litter box and here again, there are many styles to choose from. Whichever you choose, make sure you put it where your kitten can find it. For the first few days, you should watch your kitten and take him to the box when he wakes up from a nap and after he eats so that he becomes familiar with its location. Don't keep moving the litter box to different locations because that can cause elimination problems. Decide ahead of time where it will be and keep it there.
As for what kind of litter to use, that's up to you, but I find a good scoopable is best and keeps the litter box cleanest, longest. Make sure you scoop AT LEAST ONCE A DAY. DO NOT go for days without scooping. Cats love cleanliness. If that box isn't cleaned out daily, you could very well start finding little poop deposits in places you don't want them, like in the corner of your dining room or on your bed. That's your cat's way of telling you its litter box is too full. You can avoid that by just sucking it up and cleaning out that box every day.
Feeding. Discuss with the breeder or shelter about what kind of food the kitten has been getting. They will often send you home with some of that food to get you started. If not, ask your vet what food he/she recommends.
If you decided to switch foods from the kitten has been getting, do it gradually by mixing the new food with the old. A sudden change in diet could cause diarrhea.
Now, you may have also purchased a nice fluffy cat bed for your kitten, but I can tell you from experience, your kitten will prefer to sleep with you. Remember, this is a baby and baby needs its mom/dad bonding time...so take your kitten into your heart and into your home and you will likely have a wonderful best friend for many years to come.