Your child wants a pet, and you think pet ownership is a good way to teach responsibility. Besides, you're getting tired of the whining and pleading. How much trouble can a little cat be, anyway?
A recent study by the American Animal Hospital Association confirms what most of us have known since childhood: the primary caretaker for most pets is Mom.
Not much, if you want the cat. But a pet that isn't fully welcomed by the adults in the family can be a world of trouble. A cat isn't a baby, of course, but, like a baby, he depends on his human family for all his needs. A child can't be expected to assume that responsibility alone—it's not fair to the child, and certainly not fair to the cat. Children can learn a great deal from owning a cat, but only if an adult models responsible behavior for the child.
Try to include all family members in the decision to get a cat. Spend time together learning about cats. Read cat books or magazines. Visit a cat show. This is a great opportunity to teach children to be thoughtful and responsible when making decisions that will affect other living beings. And don't forget that children's interests change. The 10-year-old who is crying for a cat now will likely be passionate about something else next year—or next week!—but the cat will still need everything he needed when you brought him home. If you live with other adults, be sure they are comfortable with the idea of a cat in the house before you get one.
You also need to consider your other pets before you commit to getting a cat. If you have a dog, does he like small furry animals, especially cats? Dogs and cats can certainly live in harmony and even become loving friends, but not all dogs or cats appreciate contact with the other species. If you have birds or other small animals in your household, can you keep them safe from the natural predatory inclinations of a cat?
Beyond their households, cats are a frequent source of friction among neighbors. Unfortunately, a minority of cat owners just don't care if their cats annoy other people. But our responsibilities extend beyond our own family and pets to the communities in which we live.
The Cost of Owning a Cat
From free to thousands of dollars, kittens and cats come with all sorts of price tags. A feline face can capture your heart in an instant, and it's all too easy to underestimate the ongoing cost of responsible care. A pet brought home on impulse can prove very expensive!
The purchase or adoption price is a fairly minor part of the cost of a cat over her lifetime. There's no such thing as a free kitten! You will need to commit to spending at least several hundred dollars a year if your cat is to live a full and healthy life. An indoor cat typically requires only routine veterinary care once a year (see Vaccinating Your Cat Against Infectious Diseases), but advanced age, illness, or emergency care can add significant expenses for veterinary care, medications, or special diets (see Physical Changes in Your Aging Cat).
During their first year in a new home, kittens and some adult cats have higher veterinary expenses than they should during sub-sequent years. Kittens need a series of vaccinations to stimulate their immune systems to protect them from disease. So do some adult cats who haven't had proper health care in the past. Spaying or neutering is normally done around 6 months of age, although again, an adult adoptee might need to be altered. All cats need annual veterinary care as well.
Normal annual veterinary care includes a general physical examination, shots and boosters as necessary, and tests for intestinal worms, heartworm, and infectious diseases prevalent to where you live. Consistent preventive care will save you money in the long run—it's cheaper to prevent disease than to treat it.
Of course, health care isn't the only expense associated with cat ownership. Other routine costs include food and treats; litter, litter boxes, and scoops; toys; beds; climbing trees and scratching posts; and a crate for safe travel.
A Lifetime of Love and Responsibility
The cat you bring home will likely share your life for a decade or longer. As I write this, we live with Mary, our 17-year-old kitty. If you have never had a cat or if it's been a long time since you have lived with a cat, before you bring one home, please take some time to be sure you're ready for the reality of living with a cat for many years.
Cat lovers are always delighted to talk about their feline companions, so talk to people with cats. More important, listen to people with cats, especially those with the kinds of cat you think you might want. Include serious breeders, pet owners, veterinarians, and groomers in your search. The Internet offers thousands of cat-oriented websites, discussion lists, and bulletin boards. Some are devoted to cats in general, some to individual breeds, and some to health and behavior. Ask questions, and pay attention. You need to know if the breed you think is oh-so-gorgeous is talkative, a curtain climber extraordinaire, or shy around strangers. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of traits among the 40-some breeds of purebred and nonpurebred cats. This book will get you started, but there's much more information available than I can cover here.
Your public library and local book stores should have lots of books on cats, and several excellent magazines are devoted to cats. Some breed organizations publish specialized periodicals, and many maintain websites and will send you written information on request. As with any subject, some sources are more trustworthy than others, and opinions may vary even among reliable sources. Your best protection is to be an informed consumer.
If you've never lived with a cat or you're not sure you want to commit to one for the next decade or more, consider volunteering for a few months at your local shelter or for a cat rescue organization.
Does this all seem like a lot of fuss for a small furry animal? It's not! A cat is a living being with a mind of his own. He'll be around for many years, and you can't put him away on a shelf when you're tired of him. The time and money you invest in learning about cats before you bring one home will pay off in less frustration and heartache later. You might even decide not to get a cat right now, or not to get the kind you thought you wanted. That's fine! It's better to know that before rather than after you bring home a cat.
If you're ready, willing, and able to provide for your cat's material and social needs, then forge on. There's nothing quite like the squint-eyed gaze of contentment and the rumbling purr you'll get from a cat who loves you.