CAT'S CORNER

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Choosing Your Cat

Now that you've made up your mind to get a cat, you have to decide what kind of cat. Should you get a pedigree cat or a non-pedigree cat? A longhaired cat, or a shorthaired one? A male or a female? You may even be wondering if you should get two or more cats, just to double or triple your fun, or to ensure your cat will never be lonely.

Here are a few tips to help you choose your cat:

Pedigree or non-pedigree?
Long or short hair?
Male or female?
One cat or more?
Where to get your cat
What to look for

Pedigree or non-pedigree?
There are between 40 and 80 different breeds of cat and about 500 varieties. Characteristics vary enormously among breeds. Just look at the ever-popular Siamese, Burmese and Persian, the Manx who has no tail, or the hairless Canadian Sphinx. Apart from the differences in their appearance, each breed has a distinct temperament and personality. The Siamese, for example, is well known as an extrovert, whereas the longhaired Persians are generally more sedate.

There are many books available describing the characteristics of different breeds. On your fact-finding mission, you can check out the peculiarities of every breed. Attending a cat show is a great way of checking out all the different breeds and using the opportunity to see which breed appeals to you most. You'll see loads of amazing and adorable cats, some of which you might want to take home with you.

Long or short hair?
Longhaired cats can be very attractive. However, just like people who have long hair, they need a lot of grooming attention to keep their coat tangle-free and in good condition. Part of the pleasure of owning a longhaired cat involves brushing her every day. Most cats love to be brushed, and will purr while you brush them.

If you get a cat with a matted coat, you may need to take her to the vet to be clipped, because she may not feel particularly happy about having her coat untangled. You vet may sedate her so she won't be so uncomfortable.

Male or female?
Male cats are generally larger than females. Uncastrated tomcats tend to go off wandering around the neighbourhood, and can get into fights with other cats. They may also mark their territory by "spraying" with their urine or by leaving their faeces unburied. This may be normal behaviour for them, but rather unpleasant for you as their owner.

Un-neutered female cats will come into season regularly and may become pregnant. While they're in heat, they can be very loud. The neighbourhood tomcats will find them very attractive.

Unless you intend to breed from your cat, it's best to have him or her neutered. Once they're neutered, there's less noticeable difference between male and female cats.

Here's something interesting: If you already have an adult cat and plan to get a new kitten, you may find that the new kitten is more readily accepted if he or she is of the opposite gender to your adult cat.

One cat or more?
Many cat owners aren't sure whether it's best to have just one cat or more. This decision depends on the individual cat. Some cats prefer to live with other cats, while some much prefer to spend their time alone or with humans. If you already have an adult cat, you probably have a good idea of what she would prefer and how she would get along with another cat.

If you are away from home for much of the day, you may want to get two or more cats so they can keep each other company. Kittens who've been brought up together generally get along very well, even as adults.

The number of cats you can have also depends on the size of your home. Just like people, they need their own space and don't like to feel overcrowded. As a general rule, you should have at least one room for every cat you have, so they have space to retreat to if they want to be alone. You may also need a separate litter box for each cat, as some cats don't like to share their litter box with others.

Where to get your cat
There are a number of sources for finding cats. Once you've decided to get a cat, start putting the word out among your friends and neighbours. One of them might have a cat or kittens for sale, or know of someone who does. Litters are often advertised in newspapers and shop windows. A great place to get a cat from is an animal welfare shelter or charity. They usually have many cats and kittens who desperately need a home.

Don't buy from a dealer who will have bought kittens from several sources. They could have been weaned too early, and may have travelled long distances. The risk of disease and stress-induced illness is greater for these kittens.

As you can't be sure of the history and health status of cats in this situation, you should ask your vet for advice.

If you've decided to buy a pedigree kitten, then the best source is from a recognised and reputable breeder. You can find these breeders through other cat owners, your veterinarian, ads in newspapers and cat magazines, or by visiting cat shows. Breed clubs can put you in touch with reputable breeders in your area.

What to look for

First, ask to see the kittens with their mother. This way, you can assess the mother's general health and temperament. Bear in mind that she may not be in tip-top condition as a result of rearing her litter, but most importantly, you can make sure the kittens haven't been prematurely weaned or brought in from somewhere else.

It's best to wait until the kitten is at least 7-8 weeks old before you take her from her mother. Breeders of pedigree cats often prefer to keep the kittens until they are 12 weeks old. Try to see a number of different litters before you make your decision. Only buy from premises that appear hygienic (but don't expect conditions to be sterile), and where the cats seem happy and in good condition.

Healthy kittens are usually curious, and will show interest in strangers. Choose a kitten that is lively and playful, without being too aggressive. It's best not to choose a shy kitten that avoids contact with humans and other kittens. The socialisation period in cats is believed to end at 7 - 9 weeks of age, so it's important that your kitten has been well socialised before she comes to live with you.

Choose a kitten that is active and looks healthy and clean. There should be no discharges from the eyes or nose. Make sure the ears are clean and the gums are a healthy pink colour. Check for any signs of diarrhea under the tail or on the back legs. The coat should be clean with no areas of irritation. Don't think a kitten with a potbelly is cute; she may actually have worms. Also, an undersized kitten may have a medical problem. Check the vaccination and worming status of the kitten you choose, and make sure you are given any relevant certificates.

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