Cats are increasingly popular family pets, and it's easy to see why. Besides being intelligent and entertaining, they are small, adaptable, and tidy. Cats also fit in well with the busy lifestyle of today's families: They don't need to be walked, and depend less heavily on human company than dogs do. They can nap contentedly while you're at work and the kids are at school, then come alive at dinnertime and playtime.
Here are some of the practical pluses that make cats an attractive pet choice for many people:
- They are scrupulously clean and odor-free -- if in good health.
- They can be left alone overnight or for a weekend if you set out extra food and water.
- They are quiet pets, and unlikely to disturb the neighbors.
- They require little living space to be comfortable and can get sufficient exercise indoors.
These qualities, along with their independent nature, make cats less reliant on their owners than many other pets. This makes them a particularly good choice for anyone who:
- Works long hours
- Has limited mobility due to age or physical condition
- Lacks the time, energy, or desire to go outside several times a day
No pet is ideal for everyone, and that includes cats. Whether you should bring a cat -- or any animal -- into your home depends on a number of factors. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you a "cat person"? Cats don't deliver the same "dogged" devotion as their canine counterparts. They won't fetch your slippers or run panting to the door to greet you. But if you would enjoy sharing your life with a clever, graceful, entertaining companion who considers herself your equal (at the very least), then a cat might be right for you. Spend some time around cats before you decide.
- What activities do you want a pet to share? If you enjoy active outdoor activities and want an animal to accompany you, a dog would be the obvious choice. If you prefer to spend your leisure time indoors curled up with a furry friend, a cat will fit the bill.
- Do you have enough time to devote to a cat? You'll need to make time each day to feed your cat, groom her (especially if your cat is long-haired), and keep the litter box clean, as well as to play and cuddle.
- Do you travel frequently? If you're often away from home for more than a day or two, you'll need to arrange for someone to check in on your cat and provide her with fresh food and water.
- Do you have the financial ability to provide necessary food, medications, and regular veterinary care? Cats are relatively inexpensive to feed and maintain, but your cat's daily necessities and ongoing health care will have to be factored into your household budget.
- Do you or anyone in your household suffer from allergies? If your allergies are triggered by cat dander (flakes of shed skin), having a cat in the house might make it more difficult to keep your symptoms under control. A pet that doesn't set off your allergies would be a safer bet.
- Are you allowed to have a pet in your current home? Some apartments and condos prohibit or restrict pet ownership. (You might be able to negotiate an exception by furnishing references and/or making a refundable deposit to cover any possible damage.)
If you and cat ownership aren't a good fit, you might want to consider another kind of pet, or put off pet ownership until your circumstances become more animal-friendly.
Kids and Cats
Growing up with a cat can be a wonderful experience for kids. It can teach them responsibility and empathy, and provide them with a loving friend and confidante.
Most kids under age 12 aren't ready to become the primary caretaker of an animal, however. You or another adult will have to take ultimate responsibility for making sure your cat's basic needs are met. Let your child help in ways that are appropriate for his age: A preschooler can help dish out the cat's dinner, while a 10-year-old can handle the daily brushing chores.
You can set the stage for a successful relationship by preparing your child for the new arrival:
- Talk to your child about cats. Read some age-appropriate books about cats and how to care for them. Talk about what you'll all need to do to keep your cat healthy and happy.
- Visit friends who own cats. If your child hasn't been in the company of cats, spend some time with feline-owning friends. This will help your child develop realistic expectations and show her how to handle and care for a cat.
- Explain the commitment you're making. Make sure your child understands that pets aren't something to play with for a while and then toss aside -- adopting a cat means promising to care for the animal for its lifetime.
- Give her a sense of ownership. Create the beginning of a bond by involving your child in some decisions: Ask her to suggest possible names for your new pet, or let her pick out food and water dishes.
Cats and Babies
If your child is still a baby or toddler, you might want to postpone bringing home a pet. Adopting a cat -- especially a kitten -- is like adding another baby to the family, and may increase your stress level accordingly.
Contrary to the old wives' tale, cats do not smother or suck the breath out of babies! This odd superstition probably originated as an early attempt to explain the tragic phenomenon of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
A cat who jumps into a crib and starts sniffing around the baby's head is simply expressing its natural curiosity about the newest family member. However, you'd want to discourage this behavior for commonsense reasons: It might frighten the baby, which in turn could frighten the cat -- leading to a potentially dangerous situation for both of them.
If you do bring a cat into a home with a baby (or vice versa), safeguard them both by never leaving them alone together, in the nursery or anywhere else.