Cats 101
October 28, 2011 9:55 PM   Subscribe

I am daydreaming about getting a cat. But I've never had a pet of any kind. What would I be getting myself into? Give me the skinny, in terms of cost, daily care, supplies needed, etc. (Point me to a good book on the subject if you know one!) If I were to do this, I want to be as well informed as possible.

Facts that are potentially relevant to any potential cat ownership:

I live in a 1 bedroom apartment in a building where there are other cats (including Henrik, next door, who is extremely curious and has managed to come visit a few times when my neighbor and I happen to open our doors at the same time).

I deal with depression. I understand cats can be good for people with depression.

I am soon to have a niece or nephew. It isn't likely they'd visit often (they live four hours away and we go to my sister's place more than they come here) but I wouldn't want it to be an impossibility.

My boyfriend and I are home often throughout the day (sometimes all day) but not always. I will be home less soon when I start taking classes at a nearby college. We have occasional multi-day trips away from our apartment.
posted by ocherdraco to Pets & Animals (54 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This is the best cat reference book I have, but it's a little weighty for starting out. Most pet stores and/or shelters will have more basic literature.

A healthy cat is going to cost you not much -- pennies a day, really -- although you need to account for vaccinations and licenses. Cats don't need much except a litterbox, food served 2-3 times a day, and modest levels of love/attention.

Individual cats, and to a broader extent certain breeds, have different personalities (from three to thirty types, depending on who's counting). Some cats are better than others at being by themselves, others need to have a playmate. It would be good for you to have some familiarity with cats before you adopt, so I suggest asking your neighbor(s) for some visiting time, which could include the cat visiting you once you're friends and if it's that kind of cat. This will give you a bit of a sense of what you're getting into.

Good luck! I always thought of myself as a dog person (nothing against cats, just never intended to have one of my own) until I ended up being an extended sitter for my brother's cat, and after he left, having a kitten sort of forced on me when the neighbors had a litter. Now Fry and I are best mates -- we even got over him biting me. I can't say he's a factor in my current level of dealing with my depression, exactly, but I do know it's therapeutic and very comforting to have this relationship.
posted by dhartung at 10:08 PM on October 28, 2011

My wife and I have had between 2 and 7 (currently) cats at any given time in the past 15 years.
The daily expense will probably be minimal, however you never know - like humans, animals can have chronic medical issues that they're born with or develop. You should be prepared to be willing to deal with whatever might arise. An "easy and normal" cat is just that. In contrast, we've got one cat with terrible vision problems that has cost thousands of dollars. You just don't know - any pet is a real obligation. Travel is another point - you can probably leave an adult cat fed and watered for two days without a problem. Beyond that, I'd get someone to check in and feed it, at least. The cat's personality will play a part here - some of ours are real loners but others crave attention and get upset when left alone for too long. You'll have to gauge that as you go.
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:15 PM on October 28, 2011

I find that people get the cats that they expect.
posted by desuetude at 10:26 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and it's dogs and depression, but this question just a bit down the page nevertheless has good advice as well.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 PM on October 28, 2011

My daily cat tasks, given I have 3:
* Wake up to cat digging into my armpit demanding to be fed.
* Feed cat: 5 minutes
* Clean litter boxes: 5 minutes
* Take out trash (I can't leave it with stinky litter, or my house stinks): 10 min
* Play prevent-the-human-from-tying-shoes: 5+ minutes
* After work cuddles, food, treats & playtime: 5-60 minutes, depending on cat mood.
* Go to sleep with cat lodged in uncomfortable position, but I wouldn't dare move her.
* Wake up 3 hours later when cat goes predictably nuts at 3am and knocks something over.
* Gush about how much I love my cats and the crazy things they do and how awesome they are -- annoyingly often.

Infrequent cat-related tasks include shopping for and hauling giant cases of cat litter and food, cleaning out yucky litter boxes, vacuuming endless cat hair, vet trips, and finding pet-sitters for any trip thats lasts more than 36 hours or so.

Regular Monthly Costs (for 3 cats, in Canada. I buy decent stuff, but in bulk): $20 for litter, $60 for food, $10 misc toys and supplies.

Vet Costs: Varies greatly. Over the last two years, I've spent, all told (again, 3 cats), $2500 for Kilo to have all her teeth pulled and a bunch of tests. $300 for the time Echo ate her toy and needed xrays. And $100 extra for Zulu's spay after she reacted badly to the stitches. Kilo was an extreme case, but these things happen and you have to budget for it. The others are pretty normal "extra" expenses. Also, about $50/year per cat for a checkup, plus additional costs for flea/worm preventions. Vet bills will be your primary expense.

Other costs: pet-sitters and boarding. Price ranges from $25 to get the neighbour kid to check in a couple times to up to $40/day to board a single cat.

Other things to consider: Emergency planning. This is me. Yesterday I carried my 40lbs of cat down 24 flights of stairs because a dumbass 8 floors below me had some sort of kitchen fire; that was not fun.

I think that's it -- there may be more, but all this is such a part of my daily routine and life I don't think about it anymore.

Good luck with your foray into the wonderful world of feline companionship (notice I didn't say ownership -- they own you almost as much as you own them!)
posted by cgg at 10:46 PM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Be forewarned that you may lose several minutes a day to mindless "you're the best kitty! who's the best kitty? you are!" conversations, spoken in a voice that you didn't even know you were capable of.

Be aware that you may develop a preoccupation with making sure your cat gets the best possible nutrition it can, and this may involve several hours of exhaustive googling and reading the arguments and counter-arguments on wet vs. dry.

Be cautious of the allure of buying the fancy toys at the pet store, only to find that your cat just needs a paper bag or a cardboard box and is entertained for months.

Be on guard for an unanticipated level of OMGLOVEOMG that may bloom between you and your kitty.

Honestly? You've got to feed it a couple times a day, clean out the catbox a couple times a day, make sure it can't involuntarily impale itself on any dangerous projectiles around your home, make sure it can be taken care of if you're on vacation, and make sure it's keeping healthy, but in general (because most cats are pretty healthy, just like most people are pretty healthy), it's not much work for the amount of reward. I have a cat "health insurance" plan where I pay a flat fee per year (around $350 total), and he gets a comprehensive yearly exam, teeth cleaning, and coverage for any emergency or unexpected illnesses or vet visits, too. Every cat has its own personality, but if you were to adopt a shelter cat whose personality is observed by the staff as such that it loves to be a snuggly people-liking lap-sitter, you might find that you've got a constant reminder that there is still some good in the world and it purrs like craaaazy.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:52 PM on October 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

Cats are relatively inexpensive and low maintenance--being gone all day, or for a couple days, isn't really an issue. My area doesn't require licensing, and vaccinations (which some vets feel are optional for indoor-only cats) run $30 a year (or $40 every three years, for older cats) at a local rescue that does vaccination and wellness clinics. I've been lucky and have only needed to take the cats to the vet for actual illness once or twice, and it ran about $50 each time.

This is what you need for a cat: food bowl, food, water bowl, water, litter box, litter. These things will cost you under fifty bucks, total, and after the first round, they'll run maybe twenty bucks a month. (I have eight cats, and using nicest dry food available at our Petsmart and fancy-ass litter, we still only spend about $10/mo per cat. This is in Ohio, so it may be more in costlier areas.) It's nice to also have cat treats, catnip, a scratching post or rug, and a couple of little toy mice or balls or whatever. Don't bother with cat beds--cats sleep where they want to sleep, and where they want to sleep is usually atop a pile of laundry. In my experience, this is not something you can fight.

Re: Cats and kids: Some cats love kids and are great with them--I've had a couple who were perfectly happy to be carried around like they were dolls, and wouldn't react if their tails and ears were pulled by accident. Some cats hate kids...but in my experience, these cats will just go Oh, fuck, a kid--quick, get outta here! and then they go hide under the bed until the kid is gone. YMMV on this, but I don't think that it's a big concern.

I would strongly recommend getting a cat from a rescue group or shelter where they really know the animals and can tell you something about their personality. Go in and spend time there, too, before deciding that you want to take someone home. No one's going to think you're weird if you want to spend an hour sitting in the cat room to see who you click with--and no one's going to think less of you if you decide that none of the cats there right then are for you. When you find one who's right for you, you'll know, and you should jump on it. Cats are great.
posted by MeghanC at 11:03 PM on October 28, 2011

i have several cats. they are easy to take care of because I have a rider with them. Dry food only except federal holidays and birthdays. I clean the two litter boxes daily and they agree to use the boxes exclusively. If I am watching tv, I get the remote and they get to sitwhere ever they wish. If I scratch under the chin, they agree to purr. No ass licking when I am eating or when guests are over. on Christmas, I get what is inside the box, they get the box. Any ribbons are theirs too.

I leave them for up to 84.3 hours (union rules) alone. Cost is minimal. The only thing the cat local union negotiated was extra treats when they catch or corner a mouse. Sticking paw in my beer to chase bubbles results in no beer for them and no treats for at least 6 minutes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:11 PM on October 28, 2011 [16 favorites]

Be forewarned that you may lose several minutes a day to mindless "you're the best kitty! who's the best kitty? you are!" conversations, spoken in a voice that you didn't even know you were capable of.

Or if you are inclined to make up nicknames for people/animals you love you may find yourself one day calling you cat Sir Dorks A Lot. Or Dorcus Aurelius. Oh wait, that's me

Basically I knew I wanted at least one cat, and I waited until I was financially solvent*. And then I got one. I was largely uninformed except on the broader points and I always had cats growing up. We learned as things happened.

Cats in other apartments don't seem to bother him, but none of them actually run into my apartment. Having a cat may curb this behavior. You can probably turn your cat-having neighbor into a checking-on-and-feeding-the-cat neighbor while you go on vacation.

Oh and if you get a kitten, be prepared to not sleep through the night for at least a month. Maybe more. IDEK it's a blur. You might want to go with a cat that's at least 6 months to a year, or older. Kittens are astounding cute, and astoundingly annoying.

*i.e. I stopped overdrawing my account and built up some emergency savings, I did not become Donald Trump.
posted by grapesaresour at 11:38 PM on October 28, 2011

agreed with everything so_gracefully says, except the cleaning of the catbox several times a day. Apparently our household is just lax with this, but we only clean the cat box once every 3 days or so. We live in a decent sized house so it isn't terribly noticeable if we skip a day or two cleaning it, even though we have 2 cats (once we do clean it though we completely toss what's in it and refill it, whereas when I had one cat I used to just scoop the clumps out of it and only completely clean it out infrequently). We spend about 30 mins every 2 weeks or so wrestling the cats to clip their nails.

I hugely recommend 2 cats. It's so much more fun to have 2 and the energy expended isn't that much different (costs fairly small, imho, but doubled). Also hugely recommend getting a cat from the shelter. And we just gave our first shot to adopting young adult cats (they're 1 year old) instead of kittens, and I don't think I'll ever go back - we are still working pretty hard on training them to stay off counters and other little behavior things, but they arrived quite well behaved and friendly, with defined personalities, and I love that.

p.s. don't know if anyone else has suggested this but what about cat sitting for Henrik for a few days? That should give you a pretty good idea of adult cat care. Kittens are much more attention-demanding, of course.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:07 AM on October 29, 2011

The only thing I have to add to the very good advice above is that living in a one-bedroom apartment will probably mean that your cat needs a lot more attention, and a little more rigid discipline than other cats who can burn off their energy occasionally. Especially when s/he is a kitten.

A friend who lives in a one bedroom apt and I both got our kittens at the same time. I live in a three-bedroom house with access to a large outdoor area. My cat is really perfectly behaved. Hers is a little insane. They are both friendly and snuggly, but hers will suddenly bite and scratch for no reason now and again. Hers runs around the room in circles at top speed for 30 minutes or so out of every five hours, knocking things off shelves and tables. Mine does this outside when I'm not there. Hers climbs the curtains. Hers scratches the furniture; mine scratches the tree outside. Hers meows at top volume in the morning when she decides her humans need to get up and feed her. Mine has never done that.

You can definitely avoid these behaviours with training and routines, but the point is: you will possibly need to employ some strategies. I have never had to even think about these problems because they never arose.

For what it's worth, here are my cat costs (in Australia, and AUD, which is pretty equal to the USD at the moment):

Initial adoption fees: $300, which included de-sexing, microchip and a couple of vaccinations
Further vaccinations and general vet check-up the first year: $250
Cat carrier: $80
Litterbox, toys, collar: $20 total ever so far
Litter: $15 a month - but we buy the cheap stuff
Food: $20 a week when she was a kitten and eating special kitten food and kitten milk
$10 a week now (good quality wet food, and various raw bones, offal, etc)
Cat flap: $200, but we got one that reads her microchip and doesn't let in other cats
Cat sitting services: $100 for gifts we have bought for friends who have fed her, visited her, or stayed with her when we have been away.

The biggest change to our lives from having her was that we have to plan trips away more in advance so we can make sure someone can look after her. Also that we don't feel good about staying out really late at night if we haven't been home all day. I'm sure it wouldn't hurt her to go hungry for a day, but we worry :)
posted by lollusc at 12:24 AM on October 29, 2011

Oh, one other thought: I also have problems with depression, and one way it has manifested itself when I am doing badly is by obsessive thoughts of something awful happening to the cat, being certain she will be dead when I get home, etc. It was especially hard when she was a kitten and just so tiny. I worried she would freeze to death if it got too cold, or that she'd fall into the toilet and drown. I just spend SO MUCH ENERGY fearing the worst and made myself so sad at those thoughts.

Of course, if I hadn't been worrying about the cat like that, it would have been something else, no doubt, but it's something to consider.
posted by lollusc at 12:29 AM on October 29, 2011

One more cost I forgot: worming and flea prevention medication is quite expensive: about $20 for a package with a couple or three doses in it, but you only have to use it every three or six months once they are no longer kittens.
posted by lollusc at 12:32 AM on October 29, 2011

First piece of advice: Look into adopting an adult cat! Kittens are highly adoptable, but people forget that adult kitties need homes too and they can be the most loving things ever.

I know there are other things I could think of, but I'm already stupidly tired and I just got home from a week-long trip and KittyHeretical is trying to glom on my neck because she's happy I'm home, so the cat wins.

The cat always wins.
posted by Heretical at 1:16 AM on October 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

I second the suggestion to look into adopting an adult cat. Both my cats were adopted, and they both settled in to a new life at my place very quickly.

I'll also second everyone pointing out that cats are pretty damn cheap, as pets go. I have a dog and a cat, and the dog is much more expensive in terms of food/vaccines/vet bills. Unless your cat develops health problems, your only real expenses will be food/litter and the occasional thing like flea spray or worming tablets or what have you.

Remember as well that different cats can have very different personalities. My first cat was friendly, but not 'affectionate' - she never sat on anyone's lap and hated being carried around. The upshot to this is that she was perfectly fine with being left alone for long periods of time. Our current cat, on the other hand, is ridiculously affectionate and gets extremely lonely if he's left alone for too long (more than about 8 hours, say). Again, getting an adult cat is a safer bet because you can get some idea of the cat's personality before you adopt.

And finally, cats are awesome :3 If you want a pet, you should definitely get one.
posted by anaximander at 4:11 AM on October 29, 2011

Not to get too TMI but in a one-bedroom apartment, most cats are not going to appreciate a closed door if you want privacy (cat: "what's going on in there? Sounds interesting! Let me in!"). Cats can get delightfully, annoyingly, surprisingly underfoot and I say this as someone who adores cats.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:27 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cats are wonderful, but also complete assholes. They're not terribly expensive, people above have good numbers. In a small apartment, you will want a covered litter box which is cleaned regularly. You don't want to let them near string unattended, and you want to be careful about plants.

My rule to leave cats alone is 2 or 3 nights. More than that, but less than a week, I usually ask someone to stop in and check on them. About a week or more, I usually drop them off with a family member. (They don't love being left alone, but they are okay.)

Some cats like companions. Some cats do not like companions. You should try to avoid having one of each. Cats that grow up together are usually tolerant of each other. Small kittens are insanely cute and more annoying than anything, and also you will walk around without lifting your feet from the floor because you are paranoid that they will run underfoot as you aren't paying attention (this will happen!) and you will step on them and they will die (this probably will not happen!).

You will absolutely need to have a cat who is spayed or neutered. Most shelters include it in the cost. If for some bizarre reason you want to experience the miracle of a cat giving birth in your house, foster a pregnant cat (who will subsequently be neutered).

Also, you will notice your cat does something bizarre. It's impossible to predict what that thing will be, and you will make a worried ask mefi post about it. Is your cat crazy? (Yes.) Is this normal? (Yes.) People -- many of the same people on this thread! -- will respond saying that they knew a cat who did that, and who also did weird thing that is maybe tangentially like the weird thing you do. They will also berate you if you don't post photos. But the answer to any question about "why did my cat do that?" is because cats are weird.
posted by jeather at 5:49 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding wuggie -- there were a couple of trysts that I had to interrupt in media res to get up, stick my head out the door, and holler, "ZACH, SHUT UP!!!!"

Cost thoughts: the fancy science-diet stuff is al well and good, but the supermarket stuff really is okay too. One advantage I've heard people say about the fancy Iams diets and what not is that their cat's poo is less smelly (which is an advantage). But Friskies and what-not is just fine; in fact, some types of supermarket food is even acceptable for cats on certain special diets. Even the dry vs. wet is sort of a "six of one, half-dozen of the other" thing -- I probably could have staved off Zach's old-age kidney issues if I'd fed him more wet food, but the dry food kept his teeth in good shape (and the little putz lived until he was 18 even so).

Vet costs depend on your vet -- some vets may be really super-cautious and take an "any and all vaccinations always" approach, and others may not (we actually stopped some of Zach's vaccinations after 10 years because I knew I was never going to get a second cat, so he'd never be exposed to some types of feline diseases, so my vet figured "what's the point, let's save you some money").

The absolute best cat toy in the world is something called a "Cat Dancer," something which looks like scrap metal retrieved from the floor of a garage or something; I have not met a single cat who won't play with this thing. It costs less than five dollars. Most other toys are similarly cheap -- the only expense of toys will come from you wanting to spoil your kid. (And if they're like Zach, they'll play with their new toys for about two minutes, then ignore it for the rest of their life because the plastic pull rings from the lids on gallon jugs of milk are more fun anyway; seriously, those things make AWESOME cat toys.)

The cost isn't that much; the Final Illness can be a hit, but after as many as 20 years it's worth it. Take time to meet the right cat, too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:05 AM on October 29, 2011

I third the recommendation for an adult cat. One reason not mentioned is that kittens need more attention than adult cats do and you might not be interested in putting in that time. My recently-departed kitty Lukas was adopted as a kitten, and I left him alone all day while I was at school, and he developed into a very needy kitty who had to know where I was at all times and usually had to be on me at the same time. I didn't mind it most of the time but sometimes it was a bother when I just wanted to sit and watch TV and not be harassed.

In terms of the bedroom door issue that someone else mentioned, every cat I have known has gotten used to the closed bedroom door. The previously mentioned needy kitty took a long time to stop meowing at the door all night but he did stop. Other cats have accepted it as a matter of course. Yes, you can keep them out of your bedroom.
posted by cabingirl at 6:09 AM on October 29, 2011

Nthing the Cat Dancer!

I got my first kitty the day after my last day of my job in 1991 (recession then also). One of the best, best things that ever happened. She was advertised on a flyer at one of the bars around the corner. I called immediately, went to see her, and she came over that day. I would, though, suggest getting a kitty from a foster parent since they can give you insight on the kitty.

Everyone above has given great advice. I just want to add that you will absolutely need a good hand vacuum! It's great for a twice-daily swipe of hair, those little potted plant accidents, spilled litter, etc., etc.

I'd also suggest some sort of carpet cleaning machine, but you can think about that.
posted by jgirl at 6:16 AM on October 29, 2011

I'd agree with the above. A few other points:
- Start researching veterinarians before you've even got a cat. Having transitioned from a couple of not-so-great vets to a great vet has been an eye-opener as to what a difference there can be. Ask around.
- Practice the Buddhist principle of non-attachment with regard to any upholstered furniture you might have. My cats are actually good about using their scratching post and not tearing up the furniture, but they still have left a few claw marks in the leather chair.
- My cats probably go through $2-3/day of food, and they're getting the gold-plated fancy stuff you can only get from the vet.
posted by adamrice at 6:20 AM on October 29, 2011

Also, be ready for everything to be a bed, except maybe what you made for them to be a bed. Here's what is a cat bed in my apartment:

Record player
clothes/blankets left on the floor
wife's pillow, but somehow not mine
back cushion on chair
bathroom rug
back of couch
coffee table, including the shelf under it
dining room chairs
middle of the floor
shelves in closet/bathroom

Seriously, cats sleep everywhere. And once they've got a spot it's a bed forever.

Also keep in mind my theory that all cats seem to come with a ghost cat to play with, or at least imaginary friends. It's the only thing I can think of to explain pouncing on an empty spot on the floor.
posted by theichibun at 6:27 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with everyone that the day to day costs of cat care are relatively low, however I would recommend thinking in advance of how you would cover any kind of emergency or potentially higher cost vet care that hopefully you will never need. I was quoted ~$3k for dental surgery for my kitty and it wound up costing around half that. Some people get pet insurance as mentioned above-- when I asked one of my favourite vets about it, he suggested opening a credit card and taping it under the kitchen table as a "just in case" measure.

I nth the suggestion for adopting an adult cat and while the cat dancer is a worthy toy, my cat thinks that da bird is actually the best cat toy in the world.
posted by tangaroo at 6:41 AM on October 29, 2011

I have a friend who believes in reincarnation. (I know... hard to believe I have a friend and even harder to believe I have one that I keep, even though she believes in reincarnation.) She says that just before a soul becomes human for the first time, it lives a life as a cat.

As an engineer, I instantly pull out the calculator to check population dynamics of both species, then stop myself. While she may be wrong, my personal opinion is that a cat lover is a highly evolved species compared to those who pimp pooches.

You should (for fun!) read Cat Scan by Rubert Byrne. Cute little favorite book with literature abstracts relating to cats and the people they own. Hard to find, but worth $4 to get the flavor of the relationship you are considering.

Having owned (been indentured to) more than 20 since the 1970's, my observation is that the calico/tortoiseshell cats have distinct and good personalities. Siamese (I've have 6 or so) are lovely, but not good choices. Short hairs make it easier to see the body, and visualizing it is important to tracking health. Long hair masks it and tangles.

If I were buying you a gift, it would be a 1-2 year old calico. Kitten are more fun than sex, but they leak and are destructive.

FWIW, and I know it won't discourage you, I am committed to enjoying other-people's-cats (OPC) from here on out. The downside of falling in love with the little beasts is that you usually, but not always, outlive them. They do have their downsides.

Not sure what girls think about men who love cats, but if it were bad, I'd still choose cats. Love 'em.
posted by FauxScot at 6:51 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

In my experience, the two biggest obligations are potential vet trouble and going out of town--you will potentially need to have the time, emotional wherewithal/energy, and possibly funds to deal with health emergencies or chronic illness (requires budgeting and foresight by finding a good vet, saving, etc.), and a plan for what to do when you travel (most folks I know have agreements with close friends to petsit each other's). Also, ther may be some catproofing involved--cats are quite sensitive it turns out to lots of common houseplants and flowers (lilies, ficus, aloe vera, that one houseplant whose name I don't recall right now that gets touted as the best bc it's totally unkillable), like immediate kidney failure-sensitive. They also have problems with lots of essential oils and common cleaning scents (pine sol, lavender). It works the other way too: if you have leather furniture forget about it, ditto anything you don't want ripped up or chewed, including walls (!). And some cats develop problems with peeing or marking territory which can become a big headache to try to fix. Just a heads up.

But as for daily maintenance, it really is super manageable. Food and litter is pretty cheap, even the good stuff, and as said above most cats don't give a rat's ass about fancy toys; they want old boxes, socks, stuff like that to play with (and will sit on your Very Important Documents when you need them for amusement, natch).

Be prepared to be uncomfortable in bed for the next 20 years; cats tend to be horrible bed hogs. But it's just about worth it though for all the soapy amusement their proud, headstrong antics cause.
posted by ifjuly at 7:45 AM on October 29, 2011

Be SURE the cat is spayed/neutered. They breed like... well, rabbits if not. Some cats come declawed. Many do not. If they have front claws, many people think it is pretty cruel to get them declawed. In general, I find it best to not declaw... the back claws will need clipping, so might as well throw in the front ones too. None of my clawed cats scratch furniture, but they do use scratching posts.

Visit your local shelter... make darn sure you are not allergic. I am alergic to a variety of cats, but not all. Just seems to be a case by case. And please please please get your kitty from a shelter.

My kitty plays with little 50 cent puffballs, milk caps, toes, a string-a fling, and toes. at night. most nights. But usually only if my GF ends up lightly kicking her.
posted by Jacen at 7:59 AM on October 29, 2011

Oh and if you get a kitten, be prepared to not sleep through the night for at least a month. Maybe more.

Yeah this is funny. I got my 2 cats when they were kittens and for at least the first month they woke me up several times a night because they would burrow under the covers and start biting my feet. It sounds annoying(and is annoying) but they're so darned cute it doesn't matter.

Cats are not a lot of work at all, especially when compared to dogs. I have 2 because when I'm working or away for most of the day I wanted them to have company. Mostly it's feeding twice a day and scooping the litter box, however one of my cats has had a couple bouts of constipation which have cost me roughly $1,000 in the past year. I've switched their food to the natural, grain-free stuff and it seems to be helping - so like someone else said, you might find yourself spending hours on the internet researching cat food! Just make sure you're okay with vet bills because it's really a crap shoot. My one cat has had the constipation issues and a UTI while the other cat has had no problems whatsoever. They're 6 years old and brothers. I grew up with 2 cats who were the same way; one had lots of problems while the other lived to be 23 and had none.
posted by fromageball at 8:01 AM on October 29, 2011

Long-time cat owner (I'm 43 and have lived with cats since my teen years). Seconding a lot of what people say here with a couple of specific comments:

- Definitely adopt from someone so you get a chance to know about the cat. I have adopted from shelters and from friend-of-a-friend who had kittens, both of which have worked well because I got a chance to deal with the cats before bringing them home.
- What has worked less well (but not badly, just something I wouldn't wish on a first-timer) is adopting off the street. I've done this twice now; once the cat wanted to move in and once I scooped a stray kitten. I love the stray kitten but she's the opposite of what my other cats have been personality-wise. Next time I will definitely adopt from a shelter.
- I've never adopted an older cat other than the one who moved in with me, but I'll probably do this next time because I'm not up to another round of kittenage. (I'm thinking about this broadly because all of my cats are older. They could live for another 10 years but I'm not counting on it.)
- Be prepared to take a break from travelling for a while if you adopt a kitten while you and the cat bond and establish ground rules, particularly if you adopt a kitten. It's not a "you can't go" but while you and kitty are adjusting to each other, you probably won't want to go out of town much.
- Adopting from a shelter generally means the shelter will have an idea of whether the cat is a loner or social. If you get a loner, be prepared for the cat to really be a loner. I've had long-term issues with a cat that didn't like (feline) additions to the family.
- Yes, if you have special friends over, your cat may put a cold nose in somebody's bits at an inopportune time. You can, generally, train them out of this behavior. It just takes a while. On the other hand, my mother had to give up a Siamese because it hated my father. (It went home to my grandmother and lived a long and happy life in the country.)
- Please cat-proof your house. There's a tragic family story about a kitten and a hot water heater that kept my mother from getting another kitten for most of my childhood. Also, I've had cats get behind refrigerators, under the cabinet, up on things they can't get down from, etc. It's an ongoing process.
- Please also neuter/spay or make sure the cat you adopt is already fixed. I've lived with a pregnant kitty and found homes for kittens. I can't say it wasn't fun in its own way, but I can't recommend it.

Good luck and bring pictures when you adopt!
posted by immlass at 8:10 AM on October 29, 2011

There's lots of good information and advice here. One thing I want to point out in addition: a cat (or dog, or rabbit, or bird, or whatever) is not a hobby to take up now and get bored with and suddenly end. It is cruel to take in a pet for a few months and then take it to a shelter just because you got tired of it. When you adopt a pet, you are making a lifelong commitment. You are this little creature's forever home, and you have to be kind and caring for the rest of its natural life, or your own, whichever comes first.
posted by bryon at 8:13 AM on October 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

@majortom1981.... (sorry!) I have a beagle, too. (Her name is Swamp Gas, Shark Bait, or Spawn of Satan depending on my mood, but my wife calls her Tippy, of all things.) Swamp Gas smells like gym socks, makes rude noises, barks at anything moving, and has to pee supervised.)

I do love the fact that I can put cat food and water down and the cat will survive a weekend away, but the dog... the dog has to be attended to like a 2 year old human. Still, we are best friends, and I'd take a bullet for her, but...... the cat is where my heart lies.

Engineers kinda like cuddly things, when we're not blowing crap up or damming mighty rivers.
posted by FauxScot at 8:22 AM on October 29, 2011

There is nothing quite as annoying as a yowling cat scratching at your furniture. You will think of me when you awake a 3 am to this sound, every day, for a fortnight.

(No seriously, be prepared. Cats can be damned annoying, not sure if that is bad or good comsidering your depression. On the other hand they are so annoying when hungry, I guess you'll never forget to feed them, no matter how bad you feel?)
posted by Omnomnom at 8:26 AM on October 29, 2011

Cats are pretty easy and great, but I find cleaning up after them is the biggest time suck. Cat hair will get everywhere, and litter will spread in the area around the box. Be prepared. You can get away with just having a vacuum and a dustpan, but I find that a Furminator cat brush and Roomba make life with a cat infinitely cleaner.

Here's a previous askme on controlling cat hair.
posted by hooray at 8:32 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with Bryon above. Be prepared to love the cat no matter what, because it WILL do things that will piss you off (peeing on the floor, scratching up a toilet paper roll, etc). I once knew people who got rid of a cat because it liked to chew up toilet paper rolls, and these people said that they later heard the cat was abused by its new owner, and the cat "got what it deserved". Please do not be this kind of pet owner. When you get a cat, you have to love it and provide for it for as long as it lives.
posted by Lobster Garden at 8:42 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

As an occupant of a one-bedroom with two cats, I can add that cats need to run around and have bouts of crazy-time play, even as adults. This sometimes occurs at 3 a.m., so if you are a light sleeper, this may be an issue. I think it's important for cats to have a mate, so they can entertain each other and make piles of cute cat fur. I brought Lloyd and Lucy, two unrelated kittens, home from the shelter, and they were instant best friends, despite Lucy's being neurologically impaired (cerebellar hypoplasia).

Also, cat's personalities change. My first cat, the late Curtis, was a half-feral kitten rescued from a yard in the woods of South Jersey. At first he hid under the bed and wouldn't come out for anything, but he transformed from a skittish kitten into a big fat momma's boy who got into bed with her and licked her nose (hold on a second, got something in my eye).

I do not spend a lot of money on them: $50 every two or three months for a bag of Science Diet and two refillable containers of clumping litter, all from PetCo. I don't take them to the vet often (last year, one of Lucy's teeth fell out, and the vet charged me $100 to tell me it fell out from the root).

As others have said, be prepared to clean up the regular vomit or pee accident or knocked off thingiemagig. This usually happens when I am leaving for work or otherwise not ready to pull out the bleach cleaner and paper towels. I've also trained myself not to leave paperclips, rubberbands, memory cards, or other little delectable out for their furry paws. Just as everyplace is their bed, everything is their toy. A empty box is a cat wonderland.

In short: they require a commitment of time and money, but they give back so much to your life.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:46 AM on October 29, 2011

Where to start! Lots of good suggestions above. I'm a vet nurse and can tell you what to expect on the veterinary side of things.

Cats are relatively low maintenance...unless they get sick. The health problems you are most likely to encounter over the course of your cat's life include:
cystitis (especially in male cats), hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and renal failure. Initial diagnosis and treatment of these problems can easily cost hundreds of dollars. If on-going treatment is required, you may end up spending hundreds to thousands more on tests, vet visits and medication. I personally think insurance is a good idea, but I have worked with some clients who have opened ISAs and savings accounts instead. Most of the conditions above apply mainly to mature cats (7 years+), but even if you get a kitten definitely take some time to consider how you would pay for an unexpected health problem or accident.

As for daily care, here are a few things I didn't see mentioned above:

-If you get a long-haired cat, be prepared to groom regularly. Not doing so can lead to fur matting - not fun for you or the kitty!

-There is a lot of debate over wet vs. dry food for cats but I think choosing an age-appropriate diet is more important. It doesn't have to be the most expensive stuff on the market or from the vet, but try to pick a type of food specifically geared towards your cat's age-group - especially if you get a kitten! The right food will encourage healthy development and keep your cat happy.

-I would also strongly recommend that you incorporate some sort of dental regime into your cat's life, whether it be brushing it's teeth (no, I'm not kidding!) once a week or offering it a few pieces of T/D once a day. It may sound ridiculous but I cannot tell you how much grief and expense you could save yourself just by making sure your cat's teeth are looked after. Obviously many cats will not tolerate something like a finger brush, but if you do get a kitten try to handle it's mouth as much as possible so that it will be more receptive towards that kind of contact when it's older.

Hope that's helpful.
posted by wigsnatcher at 10:04 AM on October 29, 2011

Learn to discipline your cat. For individual cats, what counts as "discipline" might change, but over the course of the cat's life, being able to establish boundaries and enforce them is really important to your happiness and sanity and the overall relationship.

Usually that means something like establishing no go areas or no-playtime times, enforced with a squirt bottle or a stern tone of voice (never ever hit your cat or use physical punishment--besides being inhumane, it's not really effective at straight discipline, causing more personality problems than it solves). We've successfully, for the most part, taught our cats that a dark apartment is a quiet apartment. This meant getting up at 3 a.m. to give them the hose for a couple weeks, but in general it's meant that night-time is quiet time.

Cats don't get trained so much as conditioned. The difference is that training sticks, while conditioning needs to be constantly reinforced. We've conditioned our cats not to wake us to be fed by refusing to feed them until 30 minutes after we're both up. The effect of this is that they don't wake us up because they're hungry. But overall, consistency in boundaries and discipline is the key, because if you slack off, they'll figure out that the rules are negotiable.

That said, within that overall relationship you have with your cat(s), everything everyone said above is true. You'll snuggle, you'll coo, you'll alter your routines to suit the cat's desire for play and affection. My wife and I "pay the toll" when leaving the apartment because Bergamot can tell when someone is putting their shoes on and blocks the door until rubbed roughly and effectively. Maggie gets five minutes after my wife's shower on the bathmat for a good working over. When the fireplace gets turned on depends largely on Maggie's desire to sleep in front of it, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
posted by fatbird at 10:46 AM on October 29, 2011

My cat has been very good for my depression. When I walk in the door after a tiring day at work she is underfoot demanding snuggles. If I crawl into bed to mope at inappropriate times of the day, she will sit on my chest and purr and maybe try to lick my eyelids if she doesn't get a response. In the mornings, I find myself explaining to her that as much as I would like to stay home and pet her all day long, someone has to go to work so there will be money for cat food - at 6 AM this seems like as good a reason as any to get out of bed.

If you are feeling unsure, it might be possible to bring home a cat without committing to it for life. I know many people will disagree with this, but the shelter our cat came from has a policy that you can return adopted animals within 30 days, no questions asked, and they will be put up for adoption again. This was helpful in persuading my husband that we should adopt a cat - he had never had one before and was skeptical (two years later, he and the cat adore each other.) In my opinion, it's better to give animals a second chance at finding the right home than for them to be stuck somewhere that's not a good fit. Just a potential option to be aware of, maybe reduce the anxiety of the whole thing.

Regarding baby visitors, or excessive noise at 3 AM: you can shut the cat in the bedroom or the bathroom for a few hours if you need to. Just make sure there's food, water, litter box, and something soft to sit on. It will be fine.
posted by beandip at 11:10 AM on October 29, 2011

Cat! Yay! I got my two cats while I was having my first real depressionstruggle in college. I complain about them a lot, and I frequently try to talk other college students out of getting a cat while still in school, but I would not change anything in the world.

One thing I would recommend that is kind of a selfish thing, but think about it anyway - male cats are often prone to urinary tract issues. My mom said that to me for years, and I went and got a boy cat in addition to the girl cat I wanted, and bam, about a year later we were in the vet at 1am with urinary blockages. And even now, two years later, he still has issues peeing outside of the litter box, which is a thing I have never experienced with any girl cat I've ever had (I've had cats my whole life).

Ways my life has changed since having cats:
- early early wake-up times for feeding (have since switched cats to 9:30am-pm feeding schedule, this helps a lot)
- late late at night wake-up times for attention (one of my cats, if disturbed after he has already settled down for the night, has difficulty getting himself back to sleep)
- I move around little things in daily life to accommodate cats' different personalities - ie, trying my hardest not to disturb cats after midnight
- I rarely go on trips anymore, don't go home across the country for Thanksgiving or Christmas, because the thought of boarding makes me sad and also terrified for my bank account. I am lucky to have roommates that can take care of cats for my once-a-year trip home, but if I didn't, I'd have to hire someone, which sucks.
- Fleas. Probably not an issue for you with a one-bedroom apartment, but one of my cats is allowed out maybe twice a month during the summer, and they both get Frontlined once a month, and the flea infestation in our house is absolutely out of control right now. A thing to think about if you ever move to a place where your cat *can* go outside (will sneak out eventually).
- No food gets left on the counter, no piles of clothes left on the floor, no cups or glasses left on the table, because boy cat will eat, pee, and knock over, respectively. Makes for a pretty clean house!

Anyway, it is a life-changing thing to get a cat, but when I take stock of my last three years with my kits, I wouldn't do it any differently. Hope you love your little fluffball!
posted by brave little toaster at 11:49 AM on October 29, 2011

I amen getting an adult cat. I've gotten both kittens and adults, and adult cats come "pet-ready" and just take some time to settle in; kittens need a lot of socializing before they're good pets. (I have also found if you add a second cat to an existing well-mannered cat, the new cat will copy the well-mannered cat in learning the house rules. It was a hell of a thing to teach the first cat the house rules, but all subsequent cats have learned by watching the existing cat(s).)

Cats come in basically two varieties when it comes to interacting with children: Good with kids, and hiding under the bed. Really, cats are very self-managing; if they don't like the situation, they'll leave. I don't let my cats sleep in with my kids overnight, but that's at least as much for the cats' sake -- a cat locked in with a curious toddler is not in for a happy time. (Also one of my cats still outweighs the baby by six pounds. I feel like small people should at least outweigh the cat before they're allowed to be friends.) But generally I just supervise their interactions as one supervises small children constantly anyway and I repeat "gentle! gentle!" a lot. My friendly cat is willing to be pet by curious toddlers and play chase a little bit; my scaredy cat runs away. Make sure the cat has a child-inaccessible place to hide (under the bed is fine) and it'll be fine. The immobile child likes to watch the cats. The mobile child is slowly gaining their trust and sometimes they will snuggle against him now. The cats seem to like to watch the children too.

Cats are pretty good at being home alone, but better if you have two to keep each other company. I understand that there's a minority position that feels like this is tantamount to leaving your cat with a feline serial killer, but cat-sitting is a *perfect* job for elementary school kids over the age of 8 or so. I hire neighborhood children to come in once or twice a day to feed my cats (and pick up the mail, etc.) when I'm out of town. It's much cheaper than boarding (and my cats prefer grumping around the house to boarding, though they're fine with boarding too), and the kid in question gets practice being responsible with a job suited to their age-ability and earns a little money. Also kids like pets. I have two little boys I hire, both are in second grade, to come pet-sit, and they both do a great job. Both are still supervised by their moms, who make sure they re-lock the door and everything, but as they get older they'll be able to handle it on their own. My cats are funding both of their book habits. :) (I live in a low-cost area of the country, but I pay $5/day for my young cat-sitters. Teenaged babysitters for small children cost $5/hour here, so that might be a good comparison number.)

For emergencies, we keep an Emergency Backup Cat Food bag on the high, annoying-to-reach shelf in the closet, in the smallest (8-lb.) size. This has been useful more than once when we've been snowed in, or everyone's come down with the flu, or I require hiding under a blanket for two days to cope with life. (Rotate it out once a year or so, if you don't forget to buy food more often than that, so it doesn't get stale.) Along with the Emergency Backup Cat Food, we have a small pet first-aid kit (never used, but it's there), a pair of "travel" bowls for food and water, and a disposable travel litter box (it has a peel-off cover that exposes the litter. My cats have used them in hotels when we moved, it was fine). This sets us up for both home emergencies and in case we had to evacuate anywhere (a real possibility when we lived in hurricane country; unlikely now but it's not like travel litter goes bad). I also keep their most recent vaccination records up with all that stuff, and I keep their carriers accessible (in the basement, which is both conveniently out of the way and where I need to confine them to a carrier in case of tornado) -- basically you don't want to bury the carrier under 8 zillion other stored things.

Cats are great pets. You will enjoy having one. Or two. Or six. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:13 PM on October 29, 2011

My relationship with my feline companion animal outlasted my first marriage. As much as she annoys me sometimes and I ask quite loudly on a daily basis "WHY DO I KEEP YOU?!" I can't imagine life without her.

Since I've had Wensleydale, my life has gone all over the place. My schedule has varied from being away from home up to 14hrs per day to being at home nearly all day every day. She's adjusted pretty well, though she's a particularly needy creature and clearly prefers it when I'm home - even if just to meowl in my face. It's never been a problem for me to be gone for periods of time.

As for those periods of time, so long as we get a trusted friend/neighbor to cat-sit, I've been able to leave for days/weeks on end with the bare minimum of protest from the kitty. Both of my relationships have been bi-cultural meaning that there's international travel in which the haus is empty a few times per year. The Dale does not enjoy this, but again, she adjusts just fine. She shuns us for a day or so when we come home, but that's really the worst of it. We make sure she's got someone checking in on her every day and it's been fine. Cats are much more adaptable than dogs in this way. I've never had to check her into a kitty hotel or anything when traveling - she's been totally fine at home with a "babysitter."

Speaking of "babysitting..." I totally worried about how the cat would adjust to our baby when our son was born this past March. She's very needy and believes that I am her own personal mom, so I worried a lot about jealousy. I also just worried about her being around a tiny human. She's adjusted beautifully and spent the first few months guarding him like a hawk. Now that he can scoot after her, she's no longer interested in him and flees for her life (wisely), but she's very gentle and generally protective of him. Most cats do fine with kids, so long as the kids are taught to be gentle with them and not pull their tails and such.

We've lived in several 1BR apts over the years and while the kitty is clearly happier having more space to roam around and sulk in, she's just peachy in small spaces.

Mostly the keys to kitty happiness are lots of noms, clean litterbox, and snuggles. They're wonderful pets if you like the occasional purring mixed with indifference and scorn.
posted by sonika at 12:26 PM on October 29, 2011

Nthing adopting an adult for your very first cat experience. I've had all sorts over the years, kittens born in the house, kitten adopted at six weeks, and adopted adults. Pretty much across the board the adult adoptees were low-maintenance from the get-go and very loving even though they weren't raised with me. True, one had an "attitude" even though she was a rescue and about to be put down....I brought her home, she walked around the house rather haughtily, giving it a once over, then finally came back and settled in the middle of the living room as if to say "I guess it'll do." I love dogs, too, but cats seem to have much more individual personalities (yeah, I know every cat owner says the same thing, but it's true). And sometimes their quirky behavior is just the right antidote to take your mind of off a stressful situation or something that's bothering'll be fretting about this or that when you discover Felix perched atop your refrigerator, a place he's never been before and you can't figure out how the heck he got up there. "Felix! What are you doing? Are you goofy? Get down right now!" you'll half-laugh as you scold him. A funny distraction that's an instant pick-me-up.

Also, cats are much better at being left alone for long periods of time versus dogs. They don't need to be "let outside" or walked, and all they require is a sufficient supply of food and water. And toys. But most likely they'll ignore a lot of the store-bought toys and make their own, whether it be unrolling the toilet paper in the bathroom, or dragging one shoe by the shoelace around the house and ultimately hiding it.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:40 PM on October 29, 2011

Learn to understand cat language. Here's a brief primer:

"Meow" - I tire of you. Bring me a crumpled up piece of paper. It is clearly a more intelligent playmate than you are.
"Meow" - Your leather couch is quite comfortable. I believe I'll decorate it with scratches and hair balls
"Meow" - I've brought you a gift. For your convenience, I have already removed the head and tail.
"Meow!" - There are many ghosts in this room. I shall now have a loud and protracted discussion with all of them.
"Meow" - No, as a matter of fact, I don't know what time it is.
"Meow" - That sunny spot on the carpet seems to have moved. Can you re-position the sun for me?
posted by stubby phillips at 12:44 PM on October 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

Also regarding nicknames. Cats have nicknames for their people. My nickname was, "thing that opens doors for me"
posted by stubby phillips at 12:47 PM on October 29, 2011

More cat language:

"RRRrrr" - You may now scratch my head. When I've had enough, I'll indicate it by biting you.
"rRRRRr" - Move over. This is MY bed.
"rrrrrr" - You are adequate furniture. Please do not move for the next two hours.
"rrrRRR" - How much do you bet me that I can jump from This Spot to That Spot and do it gracefully?
"rrrRRr" - See? I made it.
"RRRRRR!" - I almost made it. Um, little help here?
posted by stubby phillips at 12:58 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm actually going to argue against getting an adult cat UNLESS you can spend quality time with it to get a sense of its personality. Shelters don't necessarily allow for that. In my experience (4 cats total plus taking care of lots of neighbors' cats over the years) their personalities are formed between, say, 3 and 7 weeks old. Lots of handling in that window may make for the lap cat of your dreams, and at least help ensure that it doesn't decide to spend the rest of its life under your sofa. The risk is that will not yet have been tested for Feline Leukemia or other fatal conditions at that young age, so you might find out at 12 weeks that it won't survive. Two of my cats were found in a dumpster at about 3 weeks, fed milk from a bottle, and I took them in at about 5 weeks, when I exposed them to lots of cat-friendly people. They are so trusting and mellow that now, 8 years later, they go from one guest's lap to another or sit with any group of people that comes over. I adopted a third from the vet at 10 weeks - turns out this adorable little aggressive bastard's personality was already solid as a rock. I took in my first cat ever from a neighbor at about 8 weeks though I met it the day it was born and handled it a lot in the coming weeks - he was as cuddly with me as could be.
posted by paindemie at 1:13 PM on October 29, 2011

My wife and I have 2 cats and a dog. The dog is more so mine and the cats are more so hers, lol. But we love all the pets. It sounds to me that you're in a good situation to get a cat. The biggest difference between cats and dogs is that cats are much lower maintenance. Make sure they have food and water, clean the litter box every other day and that's it. They are also pretty interactive. Maybe not as interactive as a dog(my wife argues the opposite) but they are lots of fun. If you go away for a couple of days, you can really just leave food and water and they'll be fine. Dogs need to be walked or let out which equals much more maintenance. So go ahead and get a cat! You'll enjoy it.
posted by ljs30 at 3:04 PM on October 29, 2011

All good stuff here.

Vet friend recommended medical insurance. He routinely has to euthanize animals because owners cannot pay for treatments which WOULD have been affordable had they insurance. Medical insurance for cats is pretty affordable.
posted by Thistledown at 3:16 PM on October 29, 2011

Get an orange kitten. They're the BEST! If you go for two, get siblings. As far as expenses go, you can check the thrift stores and Craigslist for cat carriers--$10-15 vs $80. Check out the humane society and ask around for neuter/spay clinics or shot clinics--they often have much cheaper prices even if you have to stand in line a while. For me it was $25 dollars a cat vs $130. Shop online for wormer and do it on your own schedule. Cat toys are fun to buy, but kittens will make toys out of dangly string, milk bottle caps, screwed up paper, hair ties, Q-tips--you name it. Also, spend money on the clumping litter rather than the cheap clay stuff. Clay stinks and doesn't last very long. The clumping is amazing if you keep it scooped. I used cheap litter for 30 years, and finally was given a couple plastic buckets of Tidy Cat by a friend who moved. It lasts six times as long, and doesn't stink. Much cheaper in the long run.

Have fun with your new kitty, and don't forget to post a picture.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:10 PM on October 29, 2011

First, kittens are adorable but they are a hell of a lot of work up to the first or second year. They have constant energy and will fuck up everything they can--wedge themselves behind cabinets, knock things off tables, destroy paper towels, chew up cords, and meow incessantly at you when you're trying to sleep. It's cute and all but when you're beat down and just want to sit with your cat it can be very tiresome. Especially when depressed, because the last thing you want to do when you're depressed is wake up to find you're going to be late for work because your Ziploc bags are all over the floor and the cat is trying to eat them. Or when you're short on sleep and the cat will not let you sleep. That's pretty awful. Seriously, kittens are work.

So if you're just looking for the straight-up companionship-with-some-play part of getting a cat, I'd get an adult. If you must get a kitten, try to get two. I adopted an approximately 6-month old cat off the street two months ago. I love her to bits but she is an awful pain in the ass. I got another cat about her age a few weeks ago and it has significantly cut down her naughtiness because she's not as bored during the day and spends more energy wrestling with him instead of thinking up new ways to destroy everything.

Also, I have found the cats to help a bit with my depression. Not only in "Aww, cute fuzzy thing nearby!" but because if I'm in a serious funk they get me out of bed in some kind of routine--if nothing else, every day I must at least get up out of bed to feed the cats and clean the litter.
posted by Anonymous at 1:39 AM on October 30, 2011

Schroedinger makes a good point about cats giving you a routine; I can second that cats also will sometimes annoy you into sticking to that routine.

I gave Zach a lot of credit for helping me get through that first few days after 9/11, when I was occasionally slipping into these weird catatonic anxiety states -- sitting and quietly freaking out about oh no what's going to happen next when is the next thing going to go bad i don't know what to do everything's different and ...And Zach would come over in the middle of that and holler at me about "hey, moron, you need to feed me," and that snapped me out of it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:25 AM on October 30, 2011

I never thought of myself as much of a cat person. I grew up with dogs, but knew that my schedule really couldn't work for a dog, so I figured I'd get cats. When I got my kitties, I was living alone in a mostly unfamiliar city. I got a pair of littermates (females, so there wouldn't be issues with spraying). I was honestly concerned that I'd forget to feed them or otherwise not treat them well, but they make very sure that I don't forget that. :) I remember the first night they were with me, I picked them both up and carried them to the bedroom and tossed them on the bed and patted them as I went to sleep and told them that I'd try to take very good care of them. And pretty soon when I'd fall asleep in my chair in the living room, they'd curl up on or near me and fall asleep too, so that was great. It's great not just to have something to love and something that seems to be fond of me, too, but also to have something else moving around and living in my home. I'll be sitting at home - reading a book or noodling around online - and a cat will wander through, and it's just something that (to get a bit feng shui about it) keeps the energy moving around in the house. When I sleep somewhere other than at home, I miss having a cat curled up above my pillow (between the pillow and headboard, aka "the cat trough", in my house) when I wake up.

I've had one litter box for two cats but when I moved to a larger space, I got a second box. I used the scoopable litter and scoop it up once a day or so - with two boxes, sometimes I can skip a day, but it starts to smell and one of the cats bugs me about it. I'm lucky in that my cats can handle free-feeding, so I just make sure there's plenty of dry food out for them at any given time and refill it occasionally. I sometimes give them wet food as a treat. I have a squeak toy (it's a nun who I now call "our lady of the blessed tuna") and whenever I'm putting down wet food, I squeak it and the cats come running over all excited. This means I can also use it to call them when they're skulking around in some part of the house or other.

If the cat tolerates it, pick it up a whole lot and pat it and get it used to the idea that you peer in its ears and look between its toes and otherwise poke all its parts. This makes it easier, later, if you want to check if the cat is injured or when you need to trim its claws.

Regarding neices/nephews: It's possible that a cat's response to strangers in the house may be to hide. Nothing personal - some cats are just more sociable than others. I have three cats, now, and one of them is shy enough that people have spent days house sitting and not seen her. (She's sociable and pushy for attention when it's just me and my girlfriend in the house, though.)

For multi-day trips, it depends on the cat(s). If your cats are okay with free-feeding dry food, then you can just leave enough food and you're okay assuming the trip is short enough that the litterbox won't overflow. If I go away overnight, I just put out a bit of extra food and water. If I'm gone for more than one night, I ask a friend of mine to stop in and scoop the litterbox, and check the water and food levels. I usually put out an extra food bowl and leave the toilet seat up so that if there's some reason the person misses a day or something that the cats are at a very low risk of going completely without food or water (particularly if, say, one of the cats fouls the water dish by puking in it).

My cats love the cat scratching pads made of corrugated cardboard. I've got some little felt mice they love, and a couple of slightly larger stuffed things that have catnip inside. When they were younger, they *loved* little squished-up tin foil balls.

One thing to consider is getting two cats, that have spent time together so you know they get along. The reason for this is to 1. reduce the social pressure - if you're not home, the cats can bug each other if they want company, and 2. to reduce the possible depressive "oh god, my poor cat, it's stuck alone and I'm a bad cat owner" feelings, if you're prone to that sort of thing. I know plenty of single cats who are just fine on their own, though, and prefer to not have more people around.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:08 AM on October 30, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all of these great answers, everyone! I will ponder some more.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:25 AM on October 30, 2011

If you have a soon to be nephew, consider a cat that likes to be touched and picked up. I volunteer at an animal shelter and people RETURN CATS because of this. We spend a lot of time socializing cats and helping owners encourage positive behavior, but some just don't keep up thus resulting in an unruly kitty.

Being a lifelong cat lover - I find that if you play with them like a kid, you'll end up with a friendly, carefree cat that everyone adores.

So what I do ... I pick up my cat all the time, put her on things (like bookshelves), carry her over my shoulder, lift her up to regions of the house she can't jump to yet, leave drawers open for her, dress her up, etc.

To discipline your cat - I never hit or yell (they don't understand that well). I blow in her face. Now if she even hears a hard "blow" she knows to stop. Using water squirts will just make your cat terrified of water.

Also, you want to make sure you touch their paws as much as possible (so you can clip them without much fuss), and get him/her used to taking a bath. Be sure to leave the carrier out - it'll save you so much trouble when it comes time to go to the vet.
posted by Quakers at 8:15 AM on October 31, 2011

Well, let me give you the perspective of myself, someone who has a geriatric, diabetic cat.

I've had my kitty, Rani, since I was a freshman in college. I am now 33. She originally stayed with my mom and dad. But, when they moved overseas, I rose to the occasion and took over her care.

At first, I was able to leave Rani home when I took short trips (3 days at most). But, over the last year, she's developed diabetes. This involves giving her shots twice a day, 12 hours apart. So, as a result, I need to be here every day for those times. Sometimes I'm a few hours late coming back in the evening, but I can never leave her for more than 12 hours without getting her boarded at the vet. This boarding is expensive ($30/day). As a result, if I ever take a trip, I need to add that cost to my travel budget. Plus, the meds and needles are expensive.

That being said, I wouldn't trade Rani for anything in the world. She's irascible and prickly, but hearing her purr in bed with me at night is extremely soothing.

I say get a cat, but be aware that it's kind of like having a kid when the cat gets super old. Good luck!
posted by reenum at 12:26 PM on October 31, 2011

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