Feline Uncertainty
March 31, 2012 9:05 PM   Subscribe

I want to get a cat. I think. How do I know if this is a good idea? What does cat ownership entail? Is this too much? Feeling overwhelmed and in need of calm, soothing, authoritative advice.

After talking about it for many years, my man and I are seriously thinking about getting a cat. We have pretty much no idea where to start, or how to do this right. For some reason the internet, which is the alpha and omega when it comes to pictures of cats, has not been offering up too much wealth by way of advice for clueless wannabe cat-owners.

Facts about us:
- I've been a dog owner and a housemate to a cat-owner, but never had a cat of my own. He's been a housemate to a cat-owner but never had a cat of his own.
- We live in a decent-sized NYC apartment with no outdoor space.
- We are aware of and can afford the financial burdens of cat ownership.
- We travel with moderate frequency, probably 5 days out of every 60, for work-related reasons.
- Neither of us works from home, but both of us can work from home now and then, if we need to.

Are we well suited for cat ownership? Does the travel thing (non-negotiable aspects of both our jobs) ruin everything? Should we get kittens or adult cats? Should we get one or two, to keep each other company? What are some good resources for first-time cat owners, or — even better — for people who are trying to figure out if they should be first-time cat owners?

If we do get a cat/cats, I hereby promise to post copious pictures.
posted by firstbest to Pets & Animals (36 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My opinion is two kittens. Cats don't need a ton of space, but generally enjoy feline company especially when it's from the relative beginning.

I always used a catsitter when I was going to be gone more than 4 nights, to come every other day to check on food and water. Some of my cats were social enough to come out for the sitter, others weren't.

Really, if you can have two litter boxes and an ample carpeted cat tree, they're pretty well taken care of at that point.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:09 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cats can claw your furniture. They can puke up hairballs on the floor or on furniture – this is not done from malice, it's not something they can help. They will get fur on your furniture and clothing. Cats will sometimes wake you in the night for no good reason. You will have to get accustomed to understanding which surfaces your cat likes to jump or climb onto, and move breakables away from these surfaces, and not put breakables near the edges of shelves.

Can you handle a certain degree of domestic chaos along these lines?
posted by zadcat at 9:09 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also: I'd vote for adopting a young adult cat or pair of cats. Kittens are cute but chaotic, and the period of overwhelming cuteness is short anyway.

I'd never leave cats alone for more than 48 hours, but ymmv.
posted by zadcat at 9:12 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cats are easy and pretty adaptable. When looking at cats (or kittens, doesn't really matter), try to suss out which one(s) are the least anxious. I have a cat, in NYC. She will sometimes be alone for anywhere between 0 hours and 2 days. She sleeps a lot. So long as she gets attention when possible, she's fine. Two cats are generally better, but one laid-back cat will be fine. It's really no big deal if you and your partner are gone for 10-hour stretches at a time.
posted by greta simone at 9:12 PM on March 31, 2012

Are we well suited for cat ownership? Does the travel thing (non-negotiable aspects of both our jobs) ruin everything? Should we get kittens or adult cats? Should we get one or two, to keep each other company?

You're fine. That amount of travel is no big deal. If its five consecutive days, have someone stop by once. Adults may be a better idea for first cats as they're litterbox trained and calmer. Get two who have already lived together if you can. Two are not much more expensive than one and they keep each other entertained and happy.
posted by desjardins at 9:12 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Kittens are adorable but a hot mess to take care of. They will knock everything off of everything, meow at you at night, chew things, and make as much trouble as possible. If you are looking for a more sedate cat experience adopt two older cats. Ideally littermates; and you'd be a hero if you did that, since many shelters will not separate adult littermates, which means very few people will take them since people just want Wuggly Wovey Kittens. If you can't find adult littermates, some shelters have cages or rooms where they keep multiple cats--if you adopt two cats from these rooms you're guaranteed cats that get along with other cats (otherwise they'd be housed alone!). Of course, discuss personalities with shelter staff as well.
posted by Anonymous at 9:16 PM on March 31, 2012

zadcat makes good points. They can be destructive and you will quickly learn what to keep away from them. Do you have a lot of expensive, irreplaceable things? Leather furniture? If so, this may not be for you. I'd much rather have my cats than expensive rugs, though.
posted by desjardins at 9:17 PM on March 31, 2012

I had six cats until recently, which is a fraction of how many I've had in the past. Now I have only three. Cats are so easy. Clean litter box, food, water, toys. Spay/neuter of course. A dose of Revolution for the ear mites. One or two cats, even easier!

Please adopt from a shelter!!
posted by DeltaForce at 9:19 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Check your memail!
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:21 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are we well suited for cat ownership?


Does the travel thing ruin everything?


Should we get kittens or adult cats?

Eh. Whichever. Probably kittens.

Should we get one or two, to keep each other company?


Here's the thing about cats: give 'em food, water, a litter box, and a feather on a stick and they're pretty much self-maintaining. They'll need their shots, and they shed, and they like to climb drapes and knock stuff off of countertops and they always want to be on the other side of whichever door is currently closed, and other than that, they'll train you.

Leaving for 5 days? No problem. You can buy food and water auto-dispensers, and leave a key with a neighbor to check in on them. They'll be fine.

A dog is a Huge Commitment. Dogs needs walks and baths and training and time and effort and attention and on and on.

Cats are more like independent contractors. They have their own agenda. Sometimes it involves you. Most of the time it doesn't. When they want attention, they'll seek it out. When they don't, they'll go away.

They're pretty low-maintenance, really.

Please adopt from a reputable shelter and have them spayed or neutered.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:23 PM on March 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

I wish, when we adopted our then-kitten, that we'd been in a position to adopt one of her littermates as well. We adore her, but I do think her personality might've been a bit less weirdo. That said, I'm so glad we have her. As a kitten, she chewed things like a puppy, but she's grown out of nearly all her bad behavior and, 12 years later, we still sit around and coo at her and admire how pretty she is, etc. The only real surprise for us has been how much distinct personality she has and how hard she sometimes tries to communicate something to us. Do adopt from a shelter, which will likely already have the cat spayed or neutered and given some shots and health care.
posted by Occula at 9:34 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition, here are some tips that may or may not be common sense:

-They must always have clean water. Keep water bowls in a couple different places, in case one spills, or whatever. The water will evaporate too, so make sure there is enough.

-If your cat ever has trouble urinating, or seems distressed near the litter box (meowing, excessive pawing, etc), take your cat to the vet immediately. This is very serious. If they cannot urinate, they can die very quickly.

-Take it seriously if your cat is lethargic. Your cat may have a fever (the vet can show you to take their temperature using a digital thermometer and some KY jelly), or it may be something more serious. My rule of thumb is, it can never hurt to go to the vet to have it checked out.

-Make sure you have a good vet. It is very important to feel comfortable with your vet. It makes a big difference.

-Check out what is poisonous to cats. There's lots of information on this. Avocados for instance, are not good for cats. (A lot of cats actually like avocados.)

-If you can afford it, get higher quality cat food. Most importantly, free of corn. Best if free of all grains altogether (both dry and wet food).

-Rotate their food. They can develop food allergies if fed the same thing every day, day in and day out. Plus, giving them various flavors makes eating enjoyable for them. It's important that they have as much enjoyment as possible.

-Always remember that the cat is in charge.
posted by DeltaForce at 9:36 PM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also, yes kittens can be a handful. A joy, but a handful. There are so many wonderful, sweet, loving, older cats that really need homes.
posted by DeltaForce at 9:39 PM on March 31, 2012

Response by poster: All this advice is great! Let's say we do get a cat (or two cats) from a shelter. What then? Should we plan to be home with the cat(s) for the first couple days? What's involved in the first day/week/month of cat ownership?
posted by firstbest at 9:45 PM on March 31, 2012

On the first day, you will discover that your abode has cat-accessable spaces that you never dreamed existed, because hiding is the typical cat response to a sudden change in environment. (You will also get this joy should you ever move to a new residence.) General rule of thumb is that if the cat can fit its head through, the rest of the cat can squeeze through too.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:51 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

With two cats, seeing how they're getting along is the first part of cat ownership, even if they've been together at the shelter. Also, yes you should be home with the cats because it's such fun to see how their little personalities adapt to you and their environment.

I have two boy cats --one's almost five and the other is about eight months and they are super playful and people oriented, both of them. But cat personalities are all over the place.

You guys sound like great candidates for cat ownership. Personally I don't feel like cats should be outdoors at all and I live in NYC with two happy indoor cats.
posted by sweetkid at 9:52 PM on March 31, 2012

Ideally you'd be home a lot, yes. You'll want to get a sense of how the cat's going to fit into your place so you can work on any catproofing changes you need to make, but you'll also just want to hang out with your nice cat. Remember the cat may be a little freaked for the first day or two and their personality may blossom once they've settled in (this isn't always true – my present cat was a stray, adopted off the street, and within 10 minutes was treating my place like a five-star hotel and ordering up room service).
posted by zadcat at 9:53 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been a dog person all my life, but because of my schedule I couldn't realistically have one. I adopted a kitten (only one, should've been two) and, aside from a brief period of locking the kitten out of certain parts of the house during the day when I was away so he wouldn't completely destroy everything perched on a high surface, the only transition for me was that I didn't have a cat and then suddenly I did.

He has food and water dispensers and a large variety of toys floating around the house, and he seems pretty happy. I've been away for up to 5 days without any ill effects (other than aggressive cuddling when I come home, which is more annoying than you'd expect).

He ate a plant once. And I step on him regularly. And he occasionally miscalculates on the hardwood floors and slams into the walls trying to change direction mid-gallop. That, actually, is the most surprising part of having a cat around: a galloping cat is really, really loud. But it's better having this asshole creature in my house than not.
posted by socratic at 9:53 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

(I should point out that I step on him regularly because he's always underfoot, not because I want to step on my cat. Also, we usually end the day with him suckling my fingers. It's strange, but we adjust. He makes the rules.)
posted by socratic at 9:55 PM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We adopted two, similarly aged kitties (~7mos) from the shelter. They were not litter mates but have become inseparable in the short time we've had them!

Many sites I referenced suggested you keep them confined to a smaller area for the first few days so they can become adjusted to you, your noises, your smells and their new place (and each other!). So, we closed ours up in our bedroom with their food and litter box and toys and gave them some time to get comfortable there. Then we allowed them to venture out into the rest of our apartment. We still close ours up in our room with us for sleeping time since SOMEONE knocked over the TV the other night *ahem*. But, whatever -- they don't seem to mind at all!

I'd highly suggest you adopt two -- especially if you travel. They will keep each other company, relax one another and offer you two times the kitty cuddles!

And echoing what I read above: find your nearest shelter and adopt there! They are also a wealth of information regarding new pet ownership!

Oh, and also note that you may want to find two cats who are a bonded pair already. They can be harder to adopt out (since so many people get one cat only!) and are already suited to their partner cat.

Good luck!
posted by beloveddoll at 10:09 PM on March 31, 2012

Best answer: I'm from NYC. I've had cats and dogs, but more cats. Here are my tips...

- The ONLY vet office in NYC worth seeing is the Soho Tribeca Animal Hospital. Memail me for details about all the other vets in NYC my cat with a weight problem saw, and all the shitty care we received, but yeah - these guys are TOPS.

- See them about cats needing adoption. I got one through them, it was fated:))

- Cats are like Tribbles, once you have one - you have three. If you start out with two, you might be able to hold the line for a long long time.

- I've never gone wrong adopting vs buying a pure breed. But BREED does matter. For example, in NYC, my pure breed Silver Tabby needed monthly walk-abouts in a sherpa bag in the neighborhood or else he was INSANE. They are a very interactive breed. My other mixed tabby cats were FINE being confined to an apartment. My current Silver Tabby Mix here in LA refuses to stay indoors, and can break out of any window. As long as she gets enough outdoor time, she's super content staying inside the majority of the time. I've (thank god, temporarily) lost formerly indoor/outdoor cats who raced out the door of my NYC apartment. Get the right breed as a kitten. Otherwise, cat(s) will always want freedom. Unless they are naturally a "lap cat." Those exist. Whatever personality type you end up with (you never know what you'll get in the end) there is a work-around, but you MUST accommodate your new roommate(s). It's non-negotiable.

Speaking of which...


Back in NYC (where my cats could not go outside) they TRASHED a new ultra suede couch I bought within 3 months. In LA, my cats are somewhat (upon request, only) indoor/outdoor. I have leather furniture. I gave them a chair to trash, which they have, but my couches are pristine. Ditto all wood furniture. The only scratch thingy I have is one of those scratch boxes from Trader Joe's. All good 'cuz they go outside once in a while.

Cats WILL take out their lifestyle frustrations on your furniture. This is your fault, not theirs. Cats require adventure and unique experiences to be happy. They act out when they are unhappy. It's better if you can train them, but they will still act out on your stuff.

This is GOOD. Sometimes when cats act out, it's how you know they need a vet visit! Cats communicate differently than dogs, IMHE, that is my point.


Cats are awesome and you should get one or two! Just be informed:)
posted by jbenben at 10:10 PM on March 31, 2012

Best answer: Before you adopt straight-out you may want to consider just fostering a cat, kittens, etc. Many shelters need foster families, and if it doesn't work out for some reason, you can exit out of the arrangement gracefully.
posted by lilboo at 10:20 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd seek out a pair of bonded cats from a shelter. They will already have each other for entertainment, both during the day and while you are travelling. Second, kittens can be a tad (ok, a lot!) more insane than adult cats. And I say this as one of my 3, who at 5 is old enough to be well past kitten-stage, is currently tearing back and forth across the living room for reasons I as a mere human cannot possibly understand.

Cats, like people, will have drastically different personalities. Some are lovable, never leave your side, and are constantly craving attention. Others are aloof, more independent, and some would prefer you ignore them rather than shower them with attention. If you pick from a shelter, you can get a better handle on their personalities, and will be more likely to find one that matches your expectations. Kittens are a crap shoot, you really can't tell for sure how they'll turn out personality wise until they're a little older.

The biggest cost, financially, is vet bills. But since you've already been a dog owner, you probably already know this. There's the usual worm prevention and checkups, but something stupid things happen - like when one dumbass cat eats a toy and you have to spend $300 in xrays to make sure it all made it out the other end. And sometimes things are more serious - one of mine has extreme stomatitis and had to have all her teeth removed, which ended up costing me more than $2000 overall. Other cats just seem to keep on ticking and never get sick. You roll the dice and hope for the best, but have to be prepared to deal with the worst.

Cat hair management will become a part of your life. Some cats are pukers, and there's nothing more fun than stepping in a fresh warm pile with your bare feet. All cats need to be fed, and their litter boxes kept clean. Don't do the latter to your cats satisfaction and they will punish you. Sometimes they may pee in appropriate locations, especially when sick.

And yes, they will probably scratch your furniture. If you have laminate or hardwood floors, the sound of their nails on these floors may drive you nuts. They will knock stuff down off ledges just to annoy you, and quite possibly will wake you up with a paw to the head in the morning.

That all out of the way, cats are wonderful companions, entertaining as hell, relatively easy to "keep", and can provide you with over 15 years of (mostly) unconditional love. I like my cats more than most people, and wouldn't give them up for anything.

If all this sounds like a life you can deal with, then yes, by all means adopt a couple and join the ranks. You sound like you'd be a wonderful kitty parent. And remember, the answer to "why is my cat doing insane thing X" is almost always "because cats are weird."
posted by cgg at 11:11 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I got my current sibling cats as kittens. They were about 9 weeks old, and mostly litterbox trained already - one of them had the occasional incident, but this didn't last long. They were unbelievably sweet and funny when they were little - I'd only ever had adult onwards cats before, and kittens are just magical. I totally endorse multi kitten cat ownership. They have never been destructive, or difficult to live with, just sweet, furry, purring pleasure. The male is a little more cuddly, and the female a little more aloof, but are both easy to co-exist with, and gentle with all the family; and they are plain old moggies, although the vet insists the boy is part burmese.
posted by thylacinthine at 11:30 PM on March 31, 2012

The reason you do not yet have a cat is that a cat has not yet decided to have you as a human.

In order to get a cat you have to REALLY REALLY want a cat first. A LOT.

Once you do that then a cat will adopt and train you.

I love cats.

You need to learn how to pet them. they like being scratched behind the ears, rubbed on the jaws (cheeks?) stroked along the spine, and scratched where the tail meets the spine. You can also take your index finger and rub the bridge of their noses, and rub their foreheads. The goal is to make kitty purr.

The way it works for me:

A stray cat with a sob story picks me up on some desperate street corner and decides to move in with me. I spend a small fortune at the vet getting the kitty all sorted out. I buy cat food not made in china, get the litterbox situation all figured out (I don't use clumping cat litter...), then let the cat take over my life.

Cats like to be watched, figured out. Cats do not learn "commands" like a dog. The cat decides which loving request it would like to respond to. You on the other hand, have to try, try, try until you succeed in impressing the cat with you loving request for attention. All that goes out the window if your cat is hungry, or has decided that he/she is not the center of attention. At that point everything I have said can be thrown out the window.

Always check the basics when your cat seems out of sorts and demanding: Does your cat have the right food? (the right mix between wet and dry?) Is the litterbox clean enough? Does your cat just need to be put in cozy place, like right on the book you are trying to read, or on the keyboard of your computer?

I could go on and on like this, but really, the first thing to do is open your heart to wanting a cat. A cat will find you if you do. There are plenty out there looking for a good home.
posted by roboton666 at 11:41 PM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Be careful with house plants. Some plants (and fresh flowers) are poisonous to cats, including daisies, aloe, baby's breath, rhododendron, begonias, periwinkle, carnations, and many more. Here's a very long list.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:53 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It makes me happy to see someone considering a cat! There are so many cats that need good homes.

I've skimmed the thread and there are a couple of things that might not have been mentioned, or not mentioned in detail, regarding litter boxes:

Some cats are very particular about sharing their litter box with another cat, or about using the same box to both poop and pee. Some cats don't seem to care, but then inexplicably start caring.

Once a cat starts to poop and pee in an unapproved place, it can be hard to get them to stop. So you want to avoid this happening in the first place, if you can. If you get two cats, you should get two boxes. If you get one cat, you should still get two boxes - but it's not as big a deal. (Just keep it in mind if your cat DOES start to have issues.)

Pick up some of that enzyme cleaner for pet odors so you have it on hand just in case. Get a waterproof litter mat if your litter box(es) will be on a surface that could be damaged by cat pee.

And you really should be cleaning the box every day. You might be able to get away with not doing this, but it's better for the cat if you do, and it makes it that much more unlikely that the cat will start to go outside the box. Those automatically cleaning ones have variable success. Some people find they work great, but others have cats who are freaked out by them. I have always just scooped, which is gross but you get used to it.

This is a lot of obsessing over the litter box, but honestly - I have grown up always having multiple cats, most of whom were with me until they died of old age. They've all been wonderful in their own ways, even the one who went all DEATH FROM ABOVE!! by trying to attack me from high shelves. Litter box problems are, IMHO, the most probable issues you'll run into, but you can reduce the odds of that happening by providing enough boxes and staying on top of cleaning them. That in turn reduces the odds that you will decide cats are not for you, and either return your cat to the shelter (sadly, it happens) or just decide against getting another in the future.

Random: Cats seem to love the type of fabric that laptop bags and suitcases are made out of. Of course, this fabric is often black. Put it in the closet if you don't want to tape-roller it off!
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:56 AM on April 1, 2012

They have never been destructive, or difficult to live with, just sweet, furry, purring pleasure.

When they are nine months instead of nine weeks you will understand. Just bought a new hard drive for my laptop because my kitties using it as a launching platform knocked it off a table one too many times.
posted by Anonymous at 1:59 AM on April 1, 2012

Also, toys with strings on them - like those that are fastened to a stick so you can go cat-fishing - should be put up when the cat is not supervised. They can get tangled up in them and strangle themselves.

Cats can also get tangled up in the strings that go to blinds. If your cat is messing with them or using that window, it's a good idea to get them out of the way. When I heard a horrible crash and wailing and found one of my cats hanging upside down with her leg caught in the strings, I hammered a nail above the window so I could loop it up and out of their way.

They tend to love toys that crackle or that are soft, rather than things like plastic balls. Catnip toys should be put away not for the health of the cat, but because they can become accustomed to it - it's just funnier when they haven't had catnip in a while.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:03 AM on April 1, 2012

Best answer: I also recommend two adult cats from the shelter.

a) You get a better understanding of their personalities.

b) You get a better understanding of their health situation. (I say this as loving cat parent/owner of a diabetic cat who I adopted as a kitten from the shelter, along with her sister who unfortunately developed cancer and died at age 7).

c) Two bonded/friendly cats will most likely be more relaxed and happy. It does not take any time away from you but gives you even greater pleasure to see them snuggle, lick each other’s ears clean, play together or generally to observe how they interact.

d) Ask the shelter staff what food they feed. Get it. At least for the transitional period. Some cats can be picky about food and might need a longer time to get used to new things. No one wants their cat to go hungry. Reading up on cats dietary needs and cat food quality is a good idea. Sometimes cats don't like one brand or the other, you might therefore want to buy small quantities at the beginning. Also keep in mind that dry food is easier to use when you are not at home all day or go on trips. So get them used to eating it as well. The downside is: one cup of dry wood equals 7 cups of wet food. Many cats won't overeat, but there are exceptions.

e) Ask the shelter staff what litter they use. Also get that at least for the beginning. But feel free to try other kinds/brands. Some cats are picky about the litter and it might make a huge difference to you regarding smell, how much is spilled/dragged around, how easy it is to clean etc.

f) Toys/Games/Play. The best case would be to go for a visit at the shelter/rescue and see which cats come up to you, how they interact with you - there are so many different personalities - , what they like to play etc.
Cats go nuts for simple things like candy wrappers, random strings, card boxes, light reflexions from mirrors, paper bags and so on. There really is no need to spend much money on fancy toys. Your cats will not miss them. This might sound a little opposite of what was said upthread, but I think cats need playtime just as dogs do. Take 30 minutes 2 times a day and play with your cats. Some cats are super smart and will enjoy challenges where they have to figure out how to get to the toy/treat, some cats only want to practice hunting. Some cats think they are too sophisticated to play and will give you a pity look for trying.

g)Scratching is an important part of a cats life and happiness. And yours, since long claws can ruin all your nice things. Get scratchpads and show them how to use them, where they are. It helps to play on/around a scratchpad to get cats accustomed. Some cats don't like to scratch vertically/horizontally - so have both possibilities. There are cardboard scratchpads, they are cheap and light.

h) Catproof your house. Plants and electronic cords can be chewed on by cats and can potentially be dangerous. Secure things like expensive vases/artwork or heavy things that can be knocked over and potentially fall on and hurt the cats. Cats will try to climb up things, squeeze in, out, behind, between things. Where one cat is doing something, the other is nearby and watches, so make sure both stay safe. Check your windows, some cats will try to get outside. The shelter staff should be able to tell you if the cats are used to being indoor-only cats.

i) Sleeping is what cats do a lot of the time. Don't feel offended when they don't like the place you designated for them. But make sure there are several spots where cats can sleep. No need to buy special cat beds or houses. Sometimes they prefer a cardboard box and an old towel. But make sure they have safe places where they feel secure and are not disturbed. All beings feel sometimes weak, worn out, scared and want to curl up in bed. It is best not to drag a cat out of its safe place. They come out when they feel like it. Give them this possibility especially at the beginning when everything is new.

j) Check out how many vets are in your area and who is available at weekends, nights, holidays etc. Most likely you won't need a vet for a very long time as your cats should come perfectly healthy and up on shots/worm free/whatnot from the shelter. But it is much easier to look stuff like that up now than when in a worried/emergency situation. Also don't shy away from trying/changing vets. Not everyone is a good fit.

You don't say if both of you travel at the same time - 5 days alone can be a bit much for some cats. Some cats are fine but others might experience stress due to being alone, not having the same routine, etc. and can act out.
Give it a test run before you really leave town and make sure that someone comes over. Some cats will stay put and observe but ultimately relax when the temp caregiver sits down to watch some tv or does some other activity that the cat is used to you doing.

I am sure you know most of those things as you have had and loved dogs - sorry if this is too detailed/basic.
Cats are usually low maintenance, happy with what you already have, grateful for your attention, love and time and a lot of fun! You will enjoy it!
posted by travelwithcats at 4:26 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, I highly recommend watching My Cat From Hell. I've had cats all my life, and while I've thankfully never had any with the severe issues of most of the animals featured on that show, I've definitely been stumped by some behavioral problems I couldn't figure out how to handle. The host, cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, gives a lot of great advice about communicating with cats and understanding what they need, and I've learned a few things myself.

It's basically like Supernanny for cats. Which may not sound like much of an endorsement, but it is really fascinating to watch. Some of the owners are crazy, and some of the cats have problems so severe they seem impossible to solve, but there's always a happy ending. The turnarounds can be amazing, and are usually based on just a few relatively minor changes in the environment or behavior of the pet owners. They will give you a good idea of some steps you can take right from the start to have a smooth relationship with your new kitty(ies).

(My current cat is the most easygoing, low-maintenance pet I've ever had, so I am now thoroughly spoiled for all future animal companions. Doesn't keep me from enjoying the show; who knows what lies in my pet-loving future?)
posted by Superplin at 4:53 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lots of good advice above. I'll just add my brief instruction on how to play with a cat: never use your hands to play with a cat. Use a toy, a blanket, a string, a feather, anything else. Never bare skin. Do not train a cat to attack skin even in play. Hands are for love, only. Sometimes a cat will take it into her mind to play with your hands with teeth or claws even if you've been gentle: the correct response is to make a hissing noise and let your hand go limp. Don't jerk it away. Once the cat is distracted, withdraw your hand slowly; if she attacks again just hiss and go limp. Then ignore the cat for a few minutes. All of this is as important a rule as "if your cat is leaving mess on the floor next to a clean litter box, take her to the vet asap."

Also: be consistent with rules. Cats are simple creatures. You'll have much less trouble if you are consistent about what is allowed and what is forbidden. And never hit a cat. Hissing should be enough to check bad behaviour, though a spray bottle with water (only!) might be necessary early days when boundaries are still in flux. If a cat consistently misbehaves there is some problem not related to simple matters of rules and boundaries and it needs to be analysed objectively.

Anyway, it is hard to overstate how lovely it is to have a soft furry friend (or two, or...) who likes you because you are kind and caring in return, and no matter how shitty your day has gone there will be someone who is happy that you are home.

And because you will live longer than they will, there will also come those devastating moments of farewell, sometimes sudden, and sometimes drawn out, but those are part of the experience.

Finally: indoor only, please. Indoor cats live much longer, healthier, safer lives.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:01 AM on April 1, 2012

Best answer: What's involved in the first day/week/month of cat ownership?

We did this a few months ago, with two new cats.

We wanted two; I'd lived with a solo cat for ages (RIP!), and while I loved him to pieces, he thought he was people. Two cats keep cats cat-like.

We got our rescue cats from two different shelters on the same day. Shelter cats are great because they've been socialized with both people and cats. They also made their way to the shelter from a rescue society that hand-raises found kittens, so they'd really come to accept people.

We'd spent a bit of time looking at cats, meeting cats, and we identified the cats that spoke to us. This can take a long time, or a short time. You have to look at cats until you see the cat for YOU.

We really fell in love with one, and thought he was the perfect cat. The other we were impressed by her beauty. She was a little younger than I would have liked--six months--and he was closer to a year, which means we got to skip out on some of the insane kitten-ness.

We were correct: he is the perfect cat, and she is beautiful. (She's also a total beast, but mostly in a good way. She's also a lil cuckoo. Try to weed out the crazies! No need for a crazy cat.)

So! We took them home. They each got their own room, with food, water, litter and a comfy cat hidey-bed. After a day of that, they individually got to explore the house.

After doing that, they became aware that there was clearly another cat behind that door. And so they had brief periods of introduction, then would return to their safe space.

Then we integrated really fast; faster than advised. But they were like, snuggling and cleaning each other within hours, so, it seemed fine.

Speaking cat language is really helpful. Cats approach sort of sideways when they want to be friendly. Tails up is alert and happy. Ears back, obviously, is threatened or angry. Blinking is love. A straight-on approach is hostility.

Food is also really important. I find it's best to feed cats like dogs--wet food twice a day, dry food on demand while they're growing. There are cat food awards, of course; Weruva and Orijen have been winning awards this last couple years. Lots of us believe in non-corn food, in high protein, actual meat-based foods. Most commercial cat food is high-carb, high-ash cat Big Mac food. Great food and mealtimes make cats alert, not fat, not future diabetics. Cats that get hungry and get exercise are, surprise, healthy cats. Cats that graze and eat garbage get complacent, chunky and dull.

Anyway! Cats like a slow and careful introduction to a house and to a person. Take your time with them; let them do their thing.

One thing that saved our lives was Ssscat. Our pretty little evil cat is a clawer, and did destroy two chairs. (Grr.) Since we put a couple of Ssscats out, and pointed them at the chairs, and they hissed at her with their motion detector a couple times, she has literally never gone near those chairs again. We also have one pointed at the couch, so they never go on there, and also it scares the living crap out of me at least once a week. Heh. These things WORK in most cases. They won't even go near that part of the living room.

We set boundaries from day one--we close the bedroom door at night and usher them out, and, CRAZILY, they sleep the whole night through and don't bother us. (It's amazing; um, your mileage will vary on THAT one.)

We also have two litterboxes; because they eat good food, they pee and crap a lot. They're just happier with two big boxes. Most cats like their pooping area to be neat. That's why they're attracted to litter, because they want to keep the area clean.

So we're about 5 months in, and they've really relaxed into living here. They wake up, and prance around asking for food until we give them breakfast, then they have a little nap, a little playtime, another nap, another playtime, then they start getting hungry for dinner, rinse, repeat.

This went exceedingly well. We haven't clicker-trained them, but they know that certain things mean certain things: "NO" means quit it, the shake of a treat bag means "come here right now," a loud clap means "get away from that," the ding of a food bowl means "yay."

Scratching posts and nail trimming has been important too. They scratch a lot, and they know where to do it. You can never tell what thing a cat will ignore and what it will like--they've ignored expensive toys and fixated on a $1.99 mouse that they want to play with every day. They hated getting their nails cut at first, but have come to accept it, due to friendly but forceful interventions. (Still working on tooth-brushing; that's a rough one.)

My point in all this is: boundaries and routines in the first week and month are important. Cats famously just like what they like, but they do learn. (And some things they never learn or unlearn: the little lady here seems like she'll always be afraid of people in shoes. Maybe she'll grow out of it, maybe not.)

But don't let them run amok. The cats know, on some level, that we're in charge. This is something that's important in dog-training, but I think it works fairly well with cats too, even though cats are famously attitude-ridden. If they are in charge, you'll regret it later. They know what the spray bottle is and what it means; I don't even have to use it now, they just see it and they go low and quit aiming for destroying whatever they have their eye on.

Most importantly, they know I'm a person, not just a big cat. And they know they're not people.

As for the long run: some days the cats and I barely interact! Cats have a lot to do in the day. They're doing their things, except at meal times and litter cleaning time. Some days it's a cat lovefest. That's the joy of cats: they're extremely low-maintenance... except when they're not.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:53 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good news on cats (and dogs too) you don't have to be perfect owners. Keep their litter boxes clean, feed them good quality food, fresh clean water, pat them on demand and worship them as they feel they deserve and all will be fine. You've owned dogs so you know that sometimes you have to adapt your life and routines a little around them. Like others here I'd recommend getting 2 slightly older cats if you are nervous about having a cat as they will train you up in no time.
posted by wwax at 8:52 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

- I've been a dog owner and a housemate to a cat-owner, but never had a cat of my own. He's been a housemate to a cat-owner but never had a cat of his own.
- We live in a decent-sized NYC apartment with no outdoor space.
- We are aware of and can afford the financial burdens of cat ownership.
- We travel with moderate frequency, probably 5 days out of every 60, for work-related reasons.
- Neither of us works from home, but both of us can work from home now and then, if we need to.

Here are the things to have:
- Litter box and litter
- Basket with a blanket or another comfy place with a pillow, preferably by a window. Cats like to be on high things and by windows so that they can survey everything. If you have a window with a good sill, make sure the sill is clear
- Food dish and water dish
- Food (not to be argumentative, but... switching the cat's food so it doesn't get bored? It's a cat. I will switch MY food so I don't get bored, but unless the cat is having a health issue, it gets the same food)
- Collar with a tag (cat's name and your info)
- High-tech chip somewhere in your cat's body (in case it gets lost -- the shelter puts these in)
- Flea collar if your cat is going to be going outside
- Kitty brush (good for bonding but not all cats like it)
- Kitty toys (like a feather at the end of a stick or some mice; just go the store and buy a few)
- Cat box/carrier

Some things to know:
- Some cats run around at random. This is normal...
- Some cats meow a lot and some don't. These are both normal...
- Cat might ignore you at times. Normal...
- Cat might get all up in your business and bother you and will probably come sit on top of your projects, e.g. on your keyboard or on the book you're reading. Normal... (They just want attention. Feel free to give them attention or to pick them up and move them somewhere less annoying)
- You can train a cat not to do something by squirting it with a water bottle. Be gentle with this and don't mess with the cat. Just give it a verbal warning, then squirt it once. This is for important things where you seriously need the cat to stay away.

You will get to know your cat and what her baseline is. Deviations from this are what you would watch out for.

Most cats are super low maintenance. You need to meet a cat's basic needs, and then it will largely take care of itself. Cats are like tiny, inscrutable adults. Dogs are like children.

When you first bring the cat home:
- Put it in the box and ignore the noises it makes in the car (unless they actually are alarming noises)
- When you get home, have everything ready for it -- water, food, litter, etc.
- Close anything you don't want the cat to get into
- Open the box and let the cat out. Watch to see if it wants to be near you. If it seems like it wants you to pet it... then pet it. Otherwise, I would let it explore on its own. It will probably find the food and water. Not sure about litter, so I would just set it in the litter box and if it poops somewhere else, move the poop to the litter box, etc.
- Offer it a treat
- Let it approach you quietly. Don't move quickly or threateningly.
- Feed it twice a day and change the water once a day

How to pet the cat:
- Let it come to you.
- Put your hand out and gently touch it on the head or back
- Feel the skin behind its ears and gently scratch the fur under its chin
- Let the cat move its head and body around to get the best feeling

Traveling totally isn't a problem, afaik. Just have someone come in once a day to do the food/water and maybe sit with the cat. Some cats like company and others only like their own humans, so ymmv.

posted by ramenopres at 7:54 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went from 0 to 2 cats in October, and will never regret it. (Mine were 6 and 18 months respectively, and still quite "kittenish".)

There's some great advice above. Yes to starting them off in one room with food/litter box/scratching thingy; see if you can get the same food and litter they're used to in the shelter, if only for the first few days. But whether or no, put the cat in the litter box when you get home; they'll work it out.

One of my cats, Mystery, is a Hiding Cat. If one of yours hides when you get it home, here's what to do:

- Let the cat hide and don't try to get it out of wherever it is. Cat needs to feel safe and to know that there are places it can go to be undisturbed.
- ...Unless cat is calling or scrabbling to get out. Then rescue it. Otherwise...
- Have food and water near the hiding place where cat can smell them.
- If you don't see the cat for longer than 12 hours, check that the food and water are being consumed.
- If your other cat is a non-hiding cat, pet and play with this one where the hiding cat can hear.
- If hiding cat makes eye contact with you, give them a slow blink. This is Catspeak for "friend".
- Cat will come out when cat is ready. At that point, give cat treats and gently pet it without too much fuss.
- Do not worry if cat goes straight back into hiding. Repeat as above.

Mystery, in her 5 months with me, is now very loving, much less shy and hardly ever hides any more. I wish you all the best with yours!
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:46 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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