You're a kitty!
January 17, 2012 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I really want a cat. I've been wanting a cat for about six years now. My life has certain complications that makes this decision somewhat difficult. Help me decide.

I want to be as knowledgeable and as well-researched as possible about what I'm getting myself into before I commit to anything. Here are the relevant details:

- I am allergic to cats. Not fatally allergic, but I sneeze a lot, my eyes water, and I generally feel kind of miserable. My research tells me that often people who are allergic to cats will acclimatize to their specific cat, and that it's possible to take some sort of anti-histamine in the meantime (and anti-histamines do work quite well for me). Is this true? I am willing to suffer a few weeks of sneezing, but I don't want to adopt a cat and have my condition never get better and have to return it to the shelter.

- My apartment is really small. It's barely a studio apartment, and probably around 400 sq ft. The kitchen is connected to the main room, which doubles as my bedroom and my office, and there's a tiny closet of a bathroom and a tiny cupboard of a closet. I plan on adopting an adult cat from a shelter to make sure I find one suited for this kind of environment, and I know that I can compensate for lack of total space by providing vertical play space, big a deal is this?

- I work a full-time day job, and I often volunteer or have other events during the weekends. My day job is, more or less, 9-5, and depending on where my clients are I may have extra commuting time, or I may have to stay late a couple of hours. I'm home at least several hours a day and at least one day on the weekends. Is this enough to provide a cat with the love and affection that a proper feline master needs? I understand that I will be travelling very little while we get acclimatized to each other. (I don't travel much as it is.)

- I've never owned a pet. My family had a guinea pig for a few months when I was 8, but that's literally it.

Beyond that, tell me what I would need to know to mentally or practically prepare for getting a cat. I would plan to get a litter box, a traveler, a climbing tree, and a bunch of toys. Do I need anything else? What kind of training might I expect to go through even with adult cats? What kind of food should I be looking into?
posted by Phire to Pets & Animals (61 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Given your schedule, I recommend that you do not get a cat. I recommend that you get TWO cats.

(others will chime in on allergies, etc)
posted by cyndigo at 1:54 PM on January 17, 2012 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Have you thought about where you will put a litter box in your tiny space? Someplace your cat feels safe and comfortable using it, where you don't have to move it regularly, and where it won't annoy you or gross out any guests you might have.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:57 PM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's great that you're thinking of getting an adult cat from a shelter!

Cats can be on their own for long periods of time so as long as you are home for a few hours a day (and you spend some of that time actively engaging with the cat) I think that would be all right.

My main concern for you is the litter box situation. You can take care of the "smell" aspect by cleaning it at least once a day (each cleaning shouldn't take more than 3 minutes) but do you have the storage space for the box? It probably needs to go on the floor, unless you have a genius vertical storage solution, and so it will be prominent.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:58 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As far as allergies go, I have little to no expertise on that. I've heard that there are certain kinds of dander and a person may not necessarily be allergic to all of them. In other words, some cats might make you sneeze, others won't bother you at all.

I had a friend visit for a weekend about a month ago. He is allergic to cats, and I have a cat. He bought some OTC Claritin and he was completely fine for the weekend.

I have a feeling your tiny apartment will be more like heaven to the adult cat that is currently chilling in a shelter right now. I wouldn't worry too much about the size of your studio. I also think that being home for several hours a day is plenty for a cat. They're really low maintenance. And some cats will be all aloof and stuff and not even care that you're home. Some will be like, "Where have you been!?" I would really recommend before taking home a cat that you spend a little time with any cat you're considering adopting. As much time as you can so you can get a feel for their personality. A friend of mine recently adopted a cat and she said she wanted a friendly cat. So she went for the friendliest cat in the shelter. She loves the cat but she complains about how much attention the cat wants. The cat wants to sleep under the covers with her, which she isn't a huge fan of. I think the best cats are the ones that like you and will show affection but don't mind taking a nap somewhere that isn't on your chest or as close to your head as possible. Seriously, I love cats and have had several of them. But some cats are too damn needy. I don't think you need a needy cat, given your schedule. You need a chill cat, whatever that might mean.
posted by smeater44 at 1:58 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not fatally allergic, but I sneeze a lot, my eyes water, and I generally feel kind of miserable. My research tells me that often people who are allergic to cats will acclimatize to their specific cat, and that it's possible to take some sort of anti-histamine in the meantime (and anti-histamines do work quite well for me). Is this true?

We didn't get a cat because I was allergic, but then we acquired a cat unexpectedly. (Took injured stray to vet; was told he'd have to stay with us for six months or go to the shelter because of post animal-fight laws.) During that time, I acclimatized to the cat. I rarely have allergy issues unless it's been a really long time since we've vacuumed (we try to get it done every two weeks). And on the occasional day when my eyes feel itchy, Loratadine gets the job done. This doesn't prove that the same thing will happen for you, though.

Nthing the litter box space issue. I've seen people fit covered litter boxes in the bathroom, and kitchen closets work pretty well.

As for the amount of attention needed, our cat sleeps most of the day. He's active a little while after we get up and he has breakfast and after dinner. He seems to really turn on the juice between 11 PM and 1 AM, which is not the most convenient, but we usually roll with it.
posted by ignignokt at 2:01 PM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: I have a weird sort of alcove in my apartment that's too small for anything other than storing empty boxes and a printer I don't use, so I was thinking of rearranging things to open that space up for a litter box.

Other questions: Would it be a bad idea to have the litter box in the bathroom? Near a radiator? Near whatever climbing tree I set up?
posted by Phire at 2:01 PM on January 17, 2012


I owned a cat back when I was a little girl, and truth be told, I can barely remember it (besides his name and that he was a lovely Siamese), since my parents were the ones taking care of him, so when I got my kitten a few months back, I felt the same way as you.

- Now, I am not allergic to cats, but I have heard of people having success with allergy shots. So you might want to ask your doctor about it? I also would try taking some of the anti-histamines and going to a shelter where there are many cats? Then you'll know to what degree you're affected by them. There's also a breed said to be hypo-allergenic. This is the beautiful Siberian cat, so if your allergies are unmanageable whilst on medication, you could always try getting one of these. (although adopting from a rescue is always better, if you can).

- As for the rest: I live in a very small apartment myself, with a kitchenette on the main room, bedroom, bathroom, etc. all in all, it is quite tiny. I also currently have two cats, (the one I originally got and a little girl I got last month) and they seem to be doing very well, even with the reduced amount of space. They do have their own space (a small storage room) with their toys, litter boxes, food and a water, etc.) where they can go to relax, though they usually like to sleep on a basket next to the shower (go figure...)

- Due to your schedule I'd suggest two cats instead of one. With having two, they keep each other company and ensure that no cat is going to rampage through your house because it is bored.

Good luck!
posted by Trexsock at 2:02 PM on January 17, 2012

If you can find 2 adult cats that already live together (they will have them in the same cage) that would be perfect. Litter boxes only smell if you don't empty them.

No sure about allergies, but my ex-bf was allergic to my cat and he got over it after a few allergy filled months.
posted by katypickle at 2:03 PM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: As for training, any cat you get from a shelter should know how to use the litter box. You'll mostly need to train the cat to adjust to your schedule (like when to be awake and when to be asleep), and what things to avoid when you are home (you can teach a cat to not get on your kitchen counter when you are home -- but it WILL get up there when you are away).

As for your small space, your cat will adapt. My one concern would be about a cat that's used to being outdoors. An adult cat that's always been indoor-only should adjust just fine. So you might want to specifically look for a cat that was given-up by the owner so that you know it's history (rather than a stray).

As for allergies -- my husband has a mild cat allergy, and he lived with my cats for 14 years. He took one claritan a day and that was sufficient to deal with it. Do you know anyone with cats that you can spend the weekend with to see if this would work for you? You might adjust, but you might not, so it would be good to know if meds could help you before you brought the cat home.

The rescue or shelter might ask you if anyone in your home has pet allergies. Think about how you want to answer that question, because it is a screening question, especially for someone who has never owned pets before. When we got a new cat, we didn't tell the rescue about my husband's allergy--because we knew it would not result in the cat going back to the rescue. I'm not telling you to lie (although we did), but just to be aware of what that question means.
posted by OrangeDisk at 2:04 PM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: Would it be a bad idea to have the litter box in the bathroom?

The ol' litter-box-in-the-bathroom plan, eh? Well, I've seen it tried a million times, and I've even tried it myself, once or twice. Here's the problem, though. Cats scatter litter when they go. They rake it and flick it and track it on their paws. Even if you get a completely covered box, they still track it around. If you have the litter box in a closet or a garage it's no big deal, but -- for me at least -- getting out of the shower and stepping on litter nuggrets in my bare feet is the worst thing ever. Your little alcove idea sounds perfect.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:07 PM on January 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am also allergic to cats, but I have always acclimatized to any cat I've been around a lot, and now I live with two of them. In this particular case, I think taking Zyrtec every day for unrelated allergies may have sped it along.
posted by katillathehun at 2:08 PM on January 17, 2012

As far as cat allergies, a Maine Coon could work out well for you. My father and father in law both have fairly severe cat allergies, neither of them have shown any reaction to Maine Coon dander.

Shelters will usually know a bit about specific breeds, so if you ask them for something with a Maine Coon type of look (which is pretty distinctive), they would be happy to let you know when they have one turn up.

I agree, 2 cats is the way to go.
posted by hollygoheavy at 2:09 PM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: Some people get over their cat allergies and some don't. You might want to try fostering a cat for awhile and see if you get over it or not. Or if you officially get cats, make sure you can take them back (SPCA will, I believe) if you can't get over the allergies.

With regards to litter boxes, Littermaids are a godsend. Drastically minimizes smell and mess. Especially in small apartment space where you're going to smell everything.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:10 PM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have two litter boxes, one in the bathroom, under the end of the bathtub (I have a freestanding bathtub) and one next to a radiator. My cat has taken to pooping only in the one by the radiator and peeing in the bathroom almost exclusively for some reason, but when I had only the one in the bathroom, he was perfectly happy. (Having two litter boxes is a legacy of having a second cat stay with me for a couple of months.)

My guess is that if you can find two cats who know each other, they'll be thrilled to have a friend. One thing to keep in mind about two cats is that it makes your apartment feel a lot smaller--it feels smaller with one, but a lot smaller when you add the second. I'm sure my cat would like a friend, but it's not feasible right now, but he seems to get on with and without another cat, once he remembers what it's like to be not the only cat or the only cat. (I just came back from visiting my mother, who took the former spare cat, with my cat. They hated each other for a week, tolerated each other for another week and then spent the last week being friends. It took Edmund a few days to get over being home without another cat to play with.)
posted by hoyland at 2:15 PM on January 17, 2012

Two cats. Your little alcove area is probably fine - just change it every day. If you find that you don't mind changing the box, but you HATE taking litter to the dumpster every day, might I humbly suggest a LitterLocker? They're fantastic for this sort of thing, and the only way that my cats' box got emptied when I was gone on long trips and my roommate was taking care of my felimonsters.
posted by honeybee413 at 2:26 PM on January 17, 2012

I have two litterboxes (for three cats) and keep them both in the bathroom. I generally keep a broom in the bathroom and if I notice the litter, i sweep it off to the side and then sweep it up with a dustpan to throw out occasionally. i also have little mats under the boxes that help reduce the tracking a bit.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:33 PM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: Also - am I right in thinking that leaving the slow cooker on during the day is no longer advised with a cat around the house?
posted by Phire at 2:33 PM on January 17, 2012

my boyfriend was quite allergic to cats before we got our two. since it's been almost 8 years since we got the first one, he's completely acclimated to them, and it doesn't bother him anymore (other things do, just not cats.). he took claritin for a while to help, but he doesn't need it now.

as for the box in the bathroom, you could try putting a mat underneath the box to cut down on tracked litter. scooping doesn't take long, either. a couple friends have litter robots, which they love. they are pretty huge though.

i second getting a pair if you can find/deal with them. they do keep each other company. but one is usually okay on their own, if, when you are around, you pay enough attention to them. they sleep most of the time during the day anyway (and, if they're like my cats, most of the night, too).
posted by koroshiya at 2:34 PM on January 17, 2012

If you get two cats you may need two litterboxes. I have two litterboxes in a bathroom and that works out very well for my two cats.

My brother's ex used to be so allergic to his cats that she couldn't stay over at his place. Now she has two kittens of her own. She took Zyrtec for a while to deal with the allergies. Not sure if she's still using it. If cat dander is a concern vacuum frequently and wash your linens in hot water.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:35 PM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: I had a similar situation, living space and working and allergies; I had (and still have two cats). They were fine with me being gone a lot, though clingy when I was at home. I kept their litter box in my "living room" (which was also my bedroom), which while gross, worked out ok, because I kept the litter clean. I've never gotten over my allergies to my cats, so I take an allergy pills and make sure I vaccuum a couple of times a week and keep a "cat sheet" on my bed. They are great companions.
posted by backwords at 2:35 PM on January 17, 2012

Oh, regarding the slow cooker, your cats are likely to leave it alone. I use mine at least once a week and the cats are averse enough to hot things that they don't mess with it.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:36 PM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: to answer the question that popped up while i was answering, i have no issues with my cats and the crock pot. we did, however, train our cats that they were not, in no uncertain terms, allowed on the kitchen counters. you gotta be pretty vigilant about it in the beginning.

i should also add that we got our cat/s on holiday weekends, or at times when we would be home for a few days in a row, and had time to keep eyes on them while they acclimated.
posted by koroshiya at 2:37 PM on January 17, 2012

An high powered air cleaner REALLY helped us with the allergies. We got a big Holmes HEPA model in a tiny apartment. AMAZING!
posted by Studiogeek at 2:37 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I right in thinking that leaving the slow cooker on during the day is no longer advised with a cat around the house?

No, this is fine. We do this all the time.

Baked goods cooling on the counter, on the other hand, are liable to be nibbled.
posted by bonehead at 2:39 PM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Regarding allergies: My husband grew up with cats and dogs, and spent a lot of his childhood sniffling. Benedryl helps (for whatever reason, it doesn't make him sleepy).

He started taking Loratadine (generic Claritin) of and on to combat some mild seasonal allergies. And it seems to completely address his pet allergies. We got a cat, and I was terribly worried that it'd drive him crazy. But his nose hasn't noticed the cat at all. It's magical.

Regarding one cat vs. two: If I were getting kittens, I'd get two. But if you're getting an adult cat with a known personality, there are plenty who get along by themselves.

The Humane Society here has this personality test thing that they give their animals and the pet-seeking humans. Our cat was rated as a "leader of the bad" (confident and independent) and he does awesomely by himself. It took him 6 months and a cold snap before he decided that he liked to cuddle with us, though.

Regarding the crockpot: Try it once or twice on a weekend when you're home. You'll get a good idea about what things he's most likely to mess with. Kitty Stardust is right that cats generally stay away from very hot things (although ours is very curious about the iron and its strange steam sounds).
posted by katieinshoes at 2:41 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am allergic to cats, except when I live with a cat. But I do find I acclimatise better to kittens than to grown cats. When I have had a kitten in the house, I am not allergic at all, even from the start. With a grown cat, it takes a month or two, but antihistamines work fine in the meanwhile. (I have to take them every day, and even then my eyes and face are always a little itchy). Once the couple of months passes, I can stop taking the antihistamines, and have no problems with itching, even when I rub my face in my kitty's beautiful soft belly. Sigh.

I think the biggest concern with your small space and lack of being home is that your cat will probably sometimes be bored. This means you will have more problems with discipline than people who have more space and more time. When my kitty is going mental for no good reason, we put her outside and she runs it off, or we play with her a lot until she is exhausted. When the cat belonging to my friends in a 1-bedroom apartment goes mental for no good reason, she shreds the curtains and the furniture and knocks things off shelves, and they often aren't home to stop her. But make sure you have old furniture, or coverslips, and play with the cat as much as you can, and I think it will be worth it anyway.
posted by lollusc at 2:41 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Edit: "leader of the band." He is not a bad cat.
posted by katieinshoes at 2:42 PM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: True story: I am horribly allergic to cats, to the point that my eyes completely shut with goop while I sleep, my sinuses close up to the point of turning me into a mouth-breather, and I sneeze every 30 seconds. So allergic that when I went to the allergist to inquire about shots, the allergist said NO WAY, that I was so allergic that I'd have a reaction to the shots!

Despite all of that, I have been wanting to adopt a cat for years. And so last month, I said the hell with it and adopted two cats. Am I still a sneezy, stuffy, eye-rubbing mess? Sure am. I don't believe I will ever "acclimate" with these two guys. I think for the next 15 years I'll need to invest in huge stockpiles of pseudoephedrine and Claritin to get by. But I love them and they're mine and I'm willing to put up with the allergies in order to have these two cute cuddly furballs in my life. I don't regret my decision at all.

One thing that has made things tolerable for me is to make my bedroom a 100% cat-free zone. If I ever feel really overwhelmed with allergy feelings I go to my room for a few hours. I wish I could let them in to sleep with me but it's better this way, in the long run. If you have a room that you can keep off-limits to cats, your allergies will thank you.

And so, if I can do it, so can you. DO IT.

And yes, it's fine to put the litter box in your bathroom (I find it makes me more diligent about cleaning it because I go in the bathroom plenty myself). And definitely get two cats rather than just one-- they will keep themselves entertained while you're away at work.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:45 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I might also mention that while I've lived with many cats, have two of my own right now, etc, my mom's ginger makes me break out in hives. She's the only cat I've encountered that does that to me. An antihistamine clears it right up. Your level of allergic reaction will really depend upon the cat in question.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:45 PM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: Looks like I'm getting a cat. I will report back with pictures once I've had time to investigate the local humane society.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by Phire at 2:46 PM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just an FYI, two people I know with mild cat allergies suddenly became extremely allergic (hospitialised/carrying epi pen level of allergy) after extended exposure to a cat. I like the idea of fostering a cat, letting the shelter know you may have to return the cat but at least in that time you will be covering its expenses and if your allergies are okay you will adopt it. Good luck!
posted by saucysault at 2:46 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is a product called "allerpet" -- it's a liquid you rub on your cat about once a week, and that neutralizes the allergens in the dander. I wasn't allergic, but a lot of my friends were, so I used that on my cat before any of them came over, and by all reports it helped a hell of a lot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:49 PM on January 17, 2012

I've lived in a 400 sq ft studio with a cat and it was not a problem at all. I'm not allergic, though. I recommend a scratching post with a perch at window level.
posted by desjardins at 2:52 PM on January 17, 2012

when i first graduated college and had moved to nyc, my bf (at the time) and i shared a tiny, tiny 1BR apartment. i am a dog person but we really wanted a pet. we got two cats, stray brother and sister that his mom had found. i grew up allergic to cats (sneezing, itching, runny eyes) but i really did acclimate to them and my symptoms were practically non-existent.

i had my cats for over a decade (i got them in a break up), including several moves (one cross-country). i often left them alone for the weekend (just fill up food and water enough for a few days) and they were just fine. compared to my dogs (which i have now), they were really super easy pets.
posted by violetk at 3:10 PM on January 17, 2012

Given how long you'll be away from home, you ideally should get two cats. They will entertain each other. But if you aren't interested in two cats in such a small space, specifically ask around for a cat who's history or temperament indicates that they'd rather be solo. There are cats who want to be only cats--find one of them. Some cats are more social and would not want to be alone all the time.

Also, I am anecdata that you will likely acclimate after a little while. I've noticed I'm more allergic to dark colored kitties, fwiw.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 3:16 PM on January 17, 2012

Anecdata: I have cat allergies and cat asthma, and bumbled into living with a cat. I like cats, and although my allergies were livable, my asthma got worse to the point my allergist refused to treat me any longer if we didn't re-home the cat. (In retrospect, yes, my allergist was rotten.) I am given to understand by other non-rotten allergists that this is not an uncommon scenario with asthma: instead of acclimating, the patient experiences worsening symptoms in the unrelieved presence of the trigger.

So if you have any asthmatic symptoms, run this past an allergist to ask about the likelihood you'll get worse, because, duh, asthma can kill you. (Admittedly, anaphylaxis kills, too, but I haven't heard a lot of stories of that with cats. Peanuts, bee stings, but not so much cat or dust mites.)

(Our cat lived happily ever after in his new home. I wish it had worked out differently, but for our sake, not his.)
posted by gingerest at 3:52 PM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: I was a little allergic to my Waffles when I first got him, but quickly learned to never rub my eyes with my fingers - the dander would make them itch horribly. And occasionally, when he'd give me a playful scratch, it would swell up a bit, but an hour (and some neosporin later) I was fine. That was about it.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:00 PM on January 17, 2012

Having gotten a cat well before it was appropriate to, in college, I can't recommend living in a studio space with one.

I personally hate being woken up by cats for feeding in the morning, and I close my cat out of my room at night as a result. My cats are the sort who like to casually knock things off of dressers and desks to get attention, and feeling like yelling at them was not the most pleasant way to wake up.

There was no way to shut a cat out in a studio apartment, and depending on the cat you really might want to shut the cat away for a while for various reasons (other allergic guests; cat gets really in your face during sex or something; etc.). Conceivably if your litter box was in the bathroom you could put the cat in the bathroom for the night, but they might not dig that.
posted by gusandrews at 4:03 PM on January 17, 2012

Female cats produce fewer allergens; it's possible that lighter-colored cats produce less allergen than darker ones (though that doesn't seem to hold true in all studies). To play it safe, get a female cat.

My own girl cat is perfectly happy being at home by herself; if you just want one cat then you can find one that is happiest being an only cat - especially with allergies, don't feel you MUST get two cats. When I am away, Anastasia entertains herself by watching birds and squirrels and playing with her cat toys. A kitty perch placed by a window goes a long way toward making kitties happy, in my experience. When I lived in various small city apartments with cats, window perches were coveted kitty lounging spots. It brightens a cat's day to be able to watch people, birds, insects and so on come and go.

The shelter where I got my cat does the same temperament tests that Katieinshoes mentions; my own cat is a "Personal Assistant" (medium energy and very affectionate). I can't say enough good things about picking a shelter that a) keeps the cats in enclosures (not small cages) and b) does temperament testing. You have a far better chance of finding a cat you like, and want to keep, this way.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:17 PM on January 17, 2012

I have two cats, one of whom I appear to be more allergic than the other. I also have mild asthma. At one point I would have sworn I'd never get a cat because of my allergies, but my grandmother's retirement to a nursing home necessitated that someone take them in.

My cat allergies can be bothersome, but it's usually not a big deal. I did acclimate to them more than I thought I would. We have a small HEPA filter in the bedroom, and I wash our bedclothes regularly. (They are not going to stay out of the bedroom, they're both codependent little sissies.) My asthma hasn't significantly reacted to the presence of either of these lunatics.

On the other hand: I have had a big upswing in the number of sinus infections I get per year, since we got these cats. It's definitely related. If I slack off at all with my antihistamines/decongestants/warm showers, I am running the risk of getting one. Worth keeping in mind.

My ENT/allergist definitely doesn't like that we have cats, but he also understands we don't want to rehome them. He told me to keep up with my Zyrtec/Benadryl regimen, clean often, and minimize their presence in the bedroom.
posted by Coatlicue at 4:27 PM on January 17, 2012

Anecdotally, feeding a high quality, high protein diet can lessen allergens in cats. For instance, I have a couple of cats, and a couple of friends who are allergic; for whatever reason, my cats (males) don't provoke an allergic response, and these cats are standard issue domestic shorthairs from the shelter. There are breeds also reported to be lower in allergens: Maine Coons mentioned above, but also Norwegian Forest Cats, Siberians and possibly Abyssinians. A HEPA filter in the space can also be a major help.

Your place is plenty big for a pair of cats. Ideally, set up two to three litter boxes. And thank you for adopting adults!
posted by vers at 5:13 PM on January 17, 2012

Talk to the shelter about the possibility of fostering cata, and finding a cat that is least allergy-provoking.
posted by theora55 at 5:30 PM on January 17, 2012

Two notes from an allergic cat lover:

Only some Siberians have less of the Fel D 1 that triggers most cat allergies; it looks like you're going with the shelter route, but it's something to keep in mind if you end up getting one from a breeder. A growing number of Siberian and other breeders now offer Fel D 1 testing of their litters. Also, if you're allergic to dogs as well as cats, getting Siberians probably won't help because even the super-low-allergy ones still have the protein that triggers most dog allergies.

Also, even if you are only mildly allergic to cats now and can control it with Benadryl or Claritin equivalents, you may become more sensitive to other things that you're mildly allergic to, develop entirely new triggers, or go up the hypersensitivity ladder. I have a coworker who is mildly allergic to dogs and has four cats; as a result, she is violently allergic to most perfumes. I'm heavily allergic to cats, and when I lived in an apartment that shared an HVAC system with cat owners, and as long as I lived in that apartment, food allergies that I'd grown out of 20 years ago came roaring back with a vengeance and spring pollen season was an absolute misery.

Which is not to say that you shouldn't go ahead if you have a good home for them lined up in case things go badly. KITTIES!
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:51 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and one thing that's especially helpful if you live with cats in a small space: NEVER feed them first thing in the morning ... once they associate "waking the human" with "tasty breakfast," you'll never sleep in again.
posted by cyndigo at 6:13 PM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Litter box problem: look into getting a "litter box cabinet". I don't have one yet, but they look nice. I think one might be even nicer up on a table of some kind.

Allergy problem: look around the web; there are a lot of discussions of different techniques. Definitely be careful at first, then you can gradually relax as you acclimate.

Air purifier worked awesomely for me. Also, my favorite invented technique is having two pretty, flat sheets which I keep as the top layer on my bed, over the quilt; I can change the sheet every day or two and it's easy to wash, quick to dry.
posted by amtho at 6:49 PM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: 400sq.ft is big by European standards; I live in a 450sq.ft space and had an indoor cat in my previous 350sq.ft apartment. He was fine! Currently I have two kittehs in my 450sq.ft place now and they're very happy. My older Maine Coon is MUCH happier now that he has a new playmate, so yes, two cats can be better than one. I'm away from home about 10-11 hours/day, five days a week (2 hours of commute + 7 hours of work + 1 or 2 hours at lunch, this is France). I leave out high-quality dry food – Orijen brand, which is made for cats as obligate carnivores (real meat, no grains, necessary vitamins etc.). Both are in fine health, and with food out all day, refilled as needed, they never bug me to eat.

Ditto to the "no kitchen counters" training, as well as "no table scraps", at all, ever. No matter how cute they look and how sweet their mewing is. Instead I give mine wet food as a treat in the evenings when I prepare/eat dinner. That way they get excited about the wet food rather than, say, the raw chicken breast I'm slicing or the take-home sushi I would like to reach my mouth before being stolen by ninja cats.

With having two, they keep each other company and ensure that no cat is going to rampage through your house because it is bored.

While this is true in that the destructiveness of rampaging is decreased (i.e. you won't come home to anything broken), you do still get rampaging multiplied by two :) Mine like to play a game of "dash around the apartment without touching the floor" (which roughly equates to "bounce off the furniture"), so I often come home to cushions in strange places. My youngest one taught herself how to throw her toys, so I also sometimes come home to cat toys on bookshelves. I have a small scratching post and a large cat tree that they both love; the multi-level ones that have a spot where a cat can hide are great, even if they take up a little space. One will get in the hidey-spot and they'll share swats with each other. It will save your furniture from being used the same way.

I get by with a big covered litter box + a smaller one in an otherwise unused spot beneath the counter in my kitchen, so I'm jealous of your alcove! With two cats, the ideal is supposed to be three litter boxes, but I have no room for that. Two seem to be fine, the main thing is that the cats be OK with whatever setup you have. Mine get along well, and both use the big box, the little one is used when they both want to go at the same time (which does happen occasionally). I also got a litter box pad for outside the boxes, it has ridges that pick up stray bits of litter – definitely worth it.
posted by fraula at 12:51 AM on January 18, 2012

Congrats on your decision to get a kitty/kitties! I wish I could too. I also thought I might chime in to remind you that it's a good idea to set some money aside for vet bills and other kitty necessities, as you say you do not have a lot of pet experience. Remember that high quality food can help keep your cat healthy (and save on vet bills in the future).
posted by Concordia at 4:06 AM on January 18, 2012

I've never owned a cat, but I have been allergic all my life.

You might find that some antihistamines don't work for you, or stop working. There are many options (Allegra, Claritin, Zyrtec are all OTC and in generic versions these days; there are also more classic ones like Benadryl).

Of course you might be lucky and acclimate (I do, but only somewhat.). And isolation (wash hands before touching your face or anything that will touch your face, keep that cat off the bed and definitely away from where your head will be while you sleep, etc) will help. Same with thorough cleaning. Some people can react to perfumes in cat litter, so you might seek recommendations for brands less likely to set you off.

There is one thing, however, that is the biggest determinant in how much I will react to a given cat: hardwood floors. If you have those, or could get them installed, it'll make cleaning much easier and more effective.
posted by nat at 5:32 AM on January 18, 2012

Not sure if anyone else has mentioned this, but if you were to get two cats, each cat needs a litter box (plus one more in my opinion, but YMMV). I don't know that this is the case with all cats, but with ours, our older cat dominates the litter boxes in general, so if there's another one open to use in a different area, the other younger cat can get to the other one to use it if need be.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 5:45 AM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: I can't speak to the allergy issue, but can speak to the waking-in-the-morning-demanding-food thing. As others have mentioned, in a studio you can't escape their demands. I recommend these automatic feeders at least once a year in Ask MeFi. The feeder just goes off without your intervention, so the cat never associates you with the morning/evening meal. My two cats now free feed on high-protein food (Innova EVO), but my original shelter cat had serious food issues and could not be trusted to free feed.

For more background: my first shelter kitteh was in a small studio space, and it was fine. Kitteh was a little bonkers at first, because she was an outdoor semi-feral picked up by a shelter and suddenly forced into indoor life. There was some minor biting and scratching (of me more than my belongings) and honestly she may have done better with a second cat as company. Still, things settled down within 4-6 months and I loved her dearly.

As so many others have said, if you get an adult cat that wants to be an alone cat, you'll have much much less of a chance to have those sorts of behavioral issues. With my first cat I did pretty much what everyone here is recommending NOT to do (take formerly outdoors adult cat and rehome alone in a studio), and although it was rocky at first we totally figured it out within a few months.
posted by lillygog at 8:30 AM on January 18, 2012

When I first met my wife-to-be and she told me she had a cat I said to myself "This relationship is doomed." I was very allergic to cats. But then she said he was 10 yo and I thought "Okay, that's good. How long can he live?" Amazingly, Statue was the first cat I wasn't allergic to. We got married and he lived to be 17 and I was crestfallen when he died.

Cut to the present: we are now on our third cat. And all remains well. I do take Claritan and I do get allergy shots.

Love has a way of conquering all. ;-)
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 8:50 AM on January 18, 2012

Response by poster: I've talked to the Humane Society and gotten the low-down on their adoption process. I'm going to go visit after work today to see if there are any kitties I get along with, and then go get outfitted with all the gear I need to take care of them before I go back for the final adoption visit.

I will definitely ask for a cat with a low-key temperament. There's one cat described as "shy" on the Humane Society website that I've totally fallen in love with, but she's housed at a location that I really can't get to very easily, boo.

I'm only going to get one cat for now. I know it may prefer having a mate around, but I really don't have the mental overhead to take care of two cats. As much as people say it doesn't make a huge difference whether I'm taking care of one cat or two, it sounds daunting enough psychologically that I just don't want to get into it right now. Let me practice keeping one living thing alive first.

Thanks a ton to everyone who's chimed in with advice on how to deal with allergies. I will try amtho's sheet trick first along with antihistamines, and if that doesn't work, graduate up to air filters and more drastic measures. I have hardwood floors (I shed a ton, too...) so hopefully that'll help make the transition easier.
posted by Phire at 9:43 AM on January 18, 2012

I had one cat and had a schedule very similar to yours, and he seemed fine. So while he may have had a fun playmate if I'd had two cats, he wasn't endlessly depressed at being an only cat by any means; so don't fret about not being able to get two cats just yet. Just make sure you give him some concentrated attention during the evenings and that'll be fine. (Which probably won't be hard because you'll love the little putz anyway.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:54 AM on January 18, 2012

Yeah, in your situation it is absolutely fine to start with one cat. I have two cats, and they barely interact with each other at all, so there is no guarantee they will be best buddies anyway.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:04 PM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: I had one cat and then moved in with someone who had a cat... and I found a BIG difference between one and two. Both are needy, neither interacts in a pleasant way with the other so they don't actually "use up" their affection quota during the day; I just get a double dose.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:22 PM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: I'd like to chime in to agree that one cat is plenty for a newbie owner in a small space, and one cat can get along just fine without being a neurotic mess. It's good that you're looking at adult cats, since you can get a good gauge on their temperament. Look for cats who've been raised / fostered solo.

Not every cat needs a catfriend. Cats are by definition solitary predators and many are not very social creatures unless they've been raised all their lives in tandem with other pets, and sometimes, not even then. My former roommate had a cat who was very much a one-cat-household type of cat. Super defensive/territorial (despite being a neuter male) and would not get along with other cats at. all. In fact we had to re-home a foster cat who'd been living with him for over 2 years because the fighting and aggression just would not stop. Two adult cats constantly aggressively wrestling and fighting and engaging in dominance behaviour (holding the other down, neck biting, etc.) to the point where one had developed an OCD fur removal habit? That's not cute or playful, that's stressed-out and unhappy.

I don't want to even get into the number of times I've heard about introducing a 2nd cat leading to litterbox behavior issues (territorialism, etc). Most behavioral books recommend at least 300-500 square feet of space per cat to avoid this kind of thing. Yes, folks get by with less, but between your allergies and space concerns, I think the folks recommending 2 are being... hopelessly optimistic, to say the least.

Our own cat was raised in a foster home with an older cat, who he seemed to get along with, or at least they were both "meh" about each other. Since we re-homed him, not only is our cat violently aggressive towards any other cats he meets and/or sees in our neighborhood, he has tried to attack his former "buddy" several times when we took him over to his former foster home to see if maybe they could cat-sit for us. Nope. Sadly, our guy really seems to prefer to be a solitary cat. He has a really sweet and social personality towards we humans, but towards other cats he's a real menace. The way he acts, I doubt it would be worth our while to bother trying to introduce another.

The way you keep your cat interested and engaged in a one-cat household is to try to work a daily play routine into your schedule. All animals love routines. This can actually be pretty easy, since domestic cats are "crepuscular", meaning: most active at dawn and twilight hours. So for example our guy is zoomy and full of Kitty Crazies in the mornings before we leave for work, then again between about 6 to 9 or 10PM. So that's when we have our Crazy Cat Hour, get out the toys, get the clicker, teach him tricks, or just give him a handful of treats inside his specially engineered cardboard egg carton for him to remove. It's more fun than surfing the web, anyhow.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:26 PM on January 18, 2012

Putting a radio station on that stays calm - no crazy commercials or sudden mood changes - can help keep kitty company during the day.

Make sure you have a good vacuum/dust buster.

My allergy cocktail of choice is Zyrtec daily and Benadryl when it gets bad.

You can harness train some cats so they get more exercise/air in addition to all the play you'll be giving it. Takes them a bit to get used to the idea, but the near-freedom becomes a heavy draw.

May the perfect kitty find you!
posted by batmonkey at 7:28 PM on January 18, 2012

I disagree with periodically letting the cat outside, even on a leash. If he likes it, he'll constantly be scratching/yowling at the door.

In the same vein, be sure to nip any bad behaviors (hers or yours) in the bud. You don't have a bedroom door, so she's definitely going to wake you up. If she wakes you up because she's hungry or wants to play, DO NOT IMMEDIATELY FEED OR PLAY WITH HER. Go through your morning routine, etc, and then feed/play with her. Never associate food/play/outdoor time with a negative behavior because you will never get rid of the annoyance.

I wish I'd known this when I got a cat in a studio apartment. We have a 3 bedroom now and nearly ten years later, he's still annoying. (PS: Getting a second cat did help a bit, and we didn't make the same mistakes with that one.)
posted by desjardins at 9:29 AM on January 19, 2012

Oh, here's a tip about hacking the cat-waking-you-up-early thing -- what I did was just shift schedule so my cat's daily meal was a dinner, rather than a breakfast.

I figured that if he was going to be bugging me for two solid hours before mealtime, it'd just be easier for that two hours to happen at a time when I was already awake anyway. So I started feeding him in the evenings -- he'd start bugging me at about 6 pm, and I'd feed him at 8. And in the mornings, he was considerably more mellow. He'd still come up into bed and "visit," but he'd actually wait until I was just about to wake up anyway, and all he'd do is come say "hi" - no batting at my eyes or poking me or anything.

(In fact, most of the time he'd just jump up, give my outstretched hand a couple of headbutts, and then flop down next to me and lay there chilling out next to me, with his head nestled in my hand so I could scritch him as soon as I woke up. It's one of the things I miss most about the little putz.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 AM on January 19, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, so, update.

I went to the shelter last Thursday and adopted Lady Tabitha from the shelter. (Lady is the name I've given her, Tabitha was her name from her previous owners.) She's ten years old, and gorgeous, and cuddles with me in bed, and I loves her.

Unfortunately, Lady refuses to eat. Straight up. She's been drinking water and using the litter box, but when we were closing out our third day of no eating, I took her to the vet. He could not find anything wrong with her, and suggested I try syringe-feeding her for a few days before we ran blood tests and other sorts of diagnostics.

So now she's less of a fan of me and tends to run away from me. Or grumble at me from the bed, whichever. But at least I know she's getting some food in her.

I've gotten half a can of food in her since taking her to the vet yesterday. Guess we'll see whether she's eaten when I get home tonight.

Thank you to the many people on Twitter who were patient with me while I freaked out, and who offered advice and support. Thanks also to everyone in this thread for your excellent advice. Even though the process has been a little more harrowing than expected, I'm so glad I made it.

Oh, allergies: they're kept well in control with Loratidine. I had some overspill effects the first day, but other than that they're fine if I take them every 24 hours. Hopefully I'll be able to wean off them eventually, but eh, no skin off my back if I don't. Yay!
posted by Phire at 3:25 PM on January 23, 2012

Ooh, sorry that she's not really eating right now.

A half a can of food is actually not bad (do you mean a half of the 6 ounce cans?) is plenty since yesterday. And good for you for rolling up your sleeves and just doing it.

Memail me if you want a few "getting my cat to eat" tips - my cat's last illness (something chronic, yet managed) sometimes can involve appetite loss, so I bookmarked all sorts of "how to get your cat to eat" advice if you want.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:42 PM on January 23, 2012

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