Whether you decide on a Domestic or a purebred, the next step is to become an informed consumer. Let's look at some of the general choices you have when seeking a feline friend—coat length, sex, age, energy, and personality traits.
Sleek or Fluffy
Cats wear coats ranging from the nearly naked fine down of the “hairless” Sphynx to the long, elegant fur of the Maine Coon. Domestics, too, display the full range of coat lengths.
If you're drawn to the look of a long, luxurious coat, keep in mind that it comes with a cost. A few semi-long and longhaired breeds are easy to maintain, but most longhaired cats require daily brushing to keep their hair from tangling or matting. Most cats are fastidious self-groomers, but they simply aren't equipped to keep long hair in prime condition. Long hair also tends to create more housekeeping—your vacuum and lint brush will get a workout keeping up with the hair a longhaired cat sheds. Finally, longhaired cats tend to be more prone to hairballs (see Keeping Up with Your Cat's Hygiene).
Blue Collar or Pink?
Many people have strong opinions about which sex makes better pets. I've had both males and females, and the truth is, the individual cat is much more important than its sex.
Regardless of sex, having your cat altered (females are spayed, males neutered) is probably the most important thing you can do to help your cat be a pleasant companion (see Spaying or Neutering Your Cat). Aside from helping control the population of unwanted pets, altering prevents a number of behaviors that are hard for humans to live with.
Kitten or Adult?
Most people think “kitten” when they decide to add a cat to the family. There's no question that kittens are cute and endearing, but they have some disadvantages, too. Young kittens need extra care, supervision, and a bit of training. Kittens are fragile little creatures, and they're vulnerable to many hazards.
Although most cats are easy to train to use a litter box, kittens—like all babies—do have accidents. At around 6 months, most kittens go through a wild stage and seem to have endless energy and springs for legs. A kitten is susceptible to disease (see Vaccinating Your Cat Against Infectious Diseases) and will need to visit the veterinarian several times for vaccinations and checkups and eventually to be spayed or neutered.
Most adult cats adapt quickly and become full-fledged, affectionate family members as easily as kittens do.
If you can't devote the time, money, and effort necessary to raise a kitten properly, consider adopting an adult cat (see Choosing an Adult Cat).
When you choose an adult, what you see is pretty much what you get. His size and coat are readily apparent. You can evaluate his personality. He's past the crazy kitten stages that require you to do major kitten-proofing in your home (see Kitty-Proofing Your Home). If you adopt from a rescue organization, shelter, or breeder, your cat will probably have been examined by a veterinarian, spayed or neutered, and brought current on vaccinations and other health care. If your adult adoptee is a purebred from a responsible breeder, you will get documentation of any health clearances she's had as well as her health history, and you'll be able to ask about her behavior, habits, and quirks. Cats retired from showing and breeding are often quite young and are usually very well socialized to people.
Other Traits to Consider
A cat is more than color, coat, and conformation, of course. I suggest you make a list of traits you definitely want, another of traits you definitely do not want, and a third of traits on which you're willing to compromise. If you're looking at purebred cats, cross off the breeds with traits on your “don't want” list, and do more research on those with traits on your “want” list. When you talk to breeders, tell them clearly what you want in a feline companion. If you're adopting from a shelter or rescue program, do the same (see Where to Adopt a Cat for more on adopting from rescues and shelters). The prettiest cat in the world won't be your best companion (and vice versa) if you can't live with his personality and behavior.
Contrary to far-too-widespread opinion, cats are not antisocial loners. Domestic cats are social animals. They need and thrive on companionship. A single cat who spends long periods of time alone can become bored, which sometimes leads to destructive behaviors. He can also become lonely and even depressed.
If you are frequently away from home for long stretches, consider getting two kittens or cats. They'll keep each other company and encourage each other to play and exercise. They'll also provide you with plenty of entertainment when you're there to watch. Kittens raised together usually become very close. Older cats might require a bit more care during introductions and an adjustment period, but most learn to get along and enjoy one another's company.
If you do decide to have a feline duo, be sure to make time to interact with each cat individually so that he becomes bonded to you and socialized to people.