all I know about cats I learned from Garfield
November 24, 2012 6:08 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to consider when working with Santa to put a surprise kitten under the tree on Christmas morning?

What supplies and things do I need to have to introduce a a young cat for (sort of) the first time into our family, and what actions will we need to take to integrate the kitten into our house?

tl;dr: Please add to this list:
Stuff to Have
kitten food
something to scratch

Stuff to Do
keep kitten in one room for X days
introduce dog and people to kitten in small doses
use litterbox from day one

Let me say upfront this isn't a gift for unprepared little kids and the creature in question won't be returned (it won't even be under the tree, it will probably be in my bedroom, there will be cat-toys or a framed photo or some other representation under the tree), so no worries there.

Background for those who would worry about the well-being of the cat in question: We are three mostly adults (kids are 18 and 17), and a very sweet, very old lab mutt. A few months back I suggested to my boys that we get a puppy to keep our old girl company, to give her purpose and energy. She fostered a kitten once, a long time ago, and she has welcomed various temporary dogs and cats into her life over the years, none of which we were primary caretakers for. She can't hear much and her vision is going but she's still up for a walk or a tussle anytime. Having another critter around would be good for her.

Secretly I also want to get another critter so that my kid1 has some solace when our sweet old girl inevitably dies. The studies done about the positive effects animals can have on people's mental health could have used him as a subject. She is his touchstone, she's been with him since he was 9, she sleeps with him, etc. Losing a pet is a normal rite of passage but this kid's been through a lot, I want him to have another connection before he loses this first, formative one.

So I suggested we get a puppy and the boys were up for it, and we went to the local no-kill shelter ... where the dog area was very sad. Lots of big, older dogs that don't play well with others. But they were more interested in the cats anyway. Further discussion says although I am a dog-person, they would prefer a cat. They are willing to negotiate as we all recognize that the nest will likely empty out over the next few years and the critter will end up being mine alone for the long term. Secretly I am ok with a cat but I want them to want it enough to convince me, as the responsibility will be shared.

Then a week ago kid1 and I went to the pet store to get dog food for the sweet old girl, and wouldn't you know it but the no-kill shelter has an adoption area there with a dozen young overflow cats ... and it was cage-cleaning playtime, so kid1 and I spent a half-hour talking with the volunteer and coaxing various kittens out from under shelves and ducking when they bounded unexpectedly across the room. OK, so they're cute. Kid1 connected with one young cat in particular,* who wanted nothing to do with me or the volunteer but followed every motion kid1 made, and ended up allowing himself to be petted. I took a picture with my phone which kid1 pooh-poohed but then quietly saved as the background on his phone.

So I am pretty much ready to cross over to the dark side, and just need some schooling on how to do that. Hopefully I've given enough background to convince the cat-lovers that even though I'm doing the Christmas morning cliche, this won't be the kind of surprise pet that ends up with a sad ending because nobody was prepared for the responsibility.

*Added bonus, the cat's shelter name is Presley, so you know his name will be Elvis. And a cat named Elvis is guaranteed to be a cool cat indeed.
posted by headnsouth to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Actually it sounds like you've got everything covered. I agree with your reasoning for getting the cat and that you understand that it will, eventually, become your cat. In the meantime, everyone will enjoy the cat.

Go for it! Can't really think of anything you're forgetting.
(Cat owner all my life).
posted by misery loves company at 6:15 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

About the only thing I can think of that you may also want to look into is setting up your first vet appointment, just so you know you've got that scheduled.

And yay kitten! You've got it under control.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you've got it covered. I'm assuming this isn't a very little only additional advice is to be patient with the introduction to the house... we always did 1. in the master bedroom's bathroom for a few days to a couple of weeks, 2. in the bedroom for a few more days, 3. then allowed out on their own terms...

Make sure you pay extra attention to the pup as well....

have fun!
posted by HuronBob at 6:21 PM on November 24, 2012

Response by poster: I'm assuming this isn't a very little kitty.

This particular cat is 5 months but we're not guaranteed this cat, I'll start the paperwork next week but this cat may already have a home by the time we're approved as adopters. I don't want a geriatric cat but am ok with any age really, as long as it doesn't spend its life avoiding humans. Cuddly is best and I know that's hard to predict with kittens.

So HuronBob, start with a very small space (bathroom) rather than the full bedroom? We just have one bathroom in our little house (I bought a house with the empty nest in mind too...)

If I start the cat out with a litterbox in my bedroom, will it follow the litterbox somewhere else once it has free reign or will it want to pee in my room forever?

Also, we have some neighborhood cats that consider my backyard and deck part of their territory (which has been ok with me). Our potential cat will be an indoor cat ... but even so, is there anything I need to consider with that?
posted by headnsouth at 6:38 PM on November 24, 2012

As far as I can see, the only thing you've forgotten is, where's the kitteh picture?!? We must have kitteh picture!
posted by easily confused at 7:01 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Potential future feline family member.
posted by headnsouth at 7:14 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is it this one? That's a strikingly beautiful kitty -- do paperwork now! Good luck.

If you can possibly have your son pick out his cat, that would probably be a really good thing.
posted by amtho at 7:16 PM on November 24, 2012

Get two cats, so they keep each other company/use each other's energy/are less upset when the dog dies? But you seem to have everything. Don't forget the litter scoop, make sure you have shallow enough ceramic or metal dishes (a cat can use the dog's dish -- and might, for water, because it's special, different water -- but it's sort of inconveniently shaped), remember that kittens often don't respond to catnip, and be sure the cat has higher ground to retreat to from the dog.
posted by jeather at 7:59 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

- Hazards. Be sure your house is free of things that are deadly to cats: string/thread, lilies and other poisonous plants, etc.

- Hiding places - cats love little caves where they can hide out, especially high up, and it's helpful to provide attractive approved caves and to have a sense of where the good hiding spots are in your house. (under beds, in bookcase nooks,...?)

- Scratching surfaces - if you can swing it, get two up front, a sturdy vertical one and a horizontal one. I'd recommend a tallish (over 2') sisal rope-covered scratching post and a corrugated cardboard scratching pad. Stop the kitten scratching on forbidden surfaces immediately, take him to a permitted surface. Cats need to scratch, you want to give them approved outlets for it.

- Carrier. You want to get a reasonably big one, so he can grow into it. Put an old handtowel in the bottom of it. Once he's home, keep the carrier out as a fixture in the house, as a comfy safe cave for the kitten that is his territory. (This will save future heartache taking him to the vet.)

- Litter box. Again, for an adult cat you will want a *big* one. Plus clumping litter, a scoop for removing solids once a day or once every few days, and a trash bin near the litter box.

-Wet food. Ask your vet, but: male cats can be prone to urinary blockages which are very dangerous. (So if kitty can't pee, take him to the vet immediately.) Adding more water to cat's intake helps prevent this, so wet food is recommended over dry food.

-Trimming claws and brushing teeth - nice if you can get kitten into the routine of these while he's young.

-Neutering. Get this done ASAP if it is not already done when you bring him home. Boy cats can develop bad, smelly habits if they reach maturity intact.

-Neighbor cats. Should be fine; kitty will probably watch them with interest from a window. Use caution if you open screened windows that are low to the ground where the outside cats can jump up to confront him.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:05 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

LobsterMitten (I almost wrote LobsterKitten!) wrote everything (and then some) that I was going to recommend. The other thing I was going to recommend was covered by jeather - two kittens/cats. Cats are not loners and once your lab has passed on, s/he'll be lacking in a playmate.
posted by deborah at 8:17 PM on November 24, 2012

Oh, and - yes, the cat should follow the litterbox pretty easily. If he doesn't, bring the box back to your room and move it gradually - a foot or two a day. The main things you need for litter box compliance are a box that is:

-big enough

-kept clean (daily or every-few-days scooping, then monthly or so complete change of litter and washing the box: soap+water, rinse, dilute bleach, rinse well, dry, refill)

-in a space where the cat feels safe (so, safe access, no loud noises, etc)

Also - if the dog gets into the litter box, you can put it on an elevated surface the dog can't reach. Or get a covered one, but some cats don't like the hood.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:30 PM on November 24, 2012

Some cats are loners, so check with the shelter to see if they recommend any as particularly likely to be singletons, unless the idea of two kitties is especially appealing (if it is, get at least one other litterbox and scratching surface).

LobsterMitten's list is great. I would add two things to it: water fountain and harness.

Cats drink more water if it's moving than if it's just in a bowl.

And while the intro period is bound to be funny or even somewhat discouraging, loads of cats enjoy the increased outdoor freedom and travel options afforded by a harness. But even if the one y'all adopt doesn't like it, they are a great boon for transfers into and out of the pet carrier and make for a convenient extra restraint point when driving.

A preemptive bottle of feline enzymatic cleaner won't hurt. Nor would some Feliway spray or a diffuser, just in case.
posted by batmonkey at 9:10 PM on November 24, 2012

Also about the litter box: you want the litter to be reasonably deep, once he is a full-size cat. Like about 4" deep. That way when he pees, the liquid will solidify before it has a chance to reach the bottom of the litter. This makes it easier to scoop and keep clean.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:15 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Automatic cat feeder, in an area where the dog can't get to it. Starting the cat with this from day one will get rid of so many cat-human issues and letting the cat eat at his own pace without the dog around may help create a cat which is more chill about food. I like the kind that has several dishes and reveals a new one for each meal because they offer finer control over how much and what the cat eats and they also seem a bit harder for the cat to break.
posted by anaelith at 5:27 AM on November 25, 2012

I brought a dog into my home with an older cat. She benefited from having a space that she could get to and the dog could not. Make her a cave from an apple crate or cardboard box, with padding, and put it somewhere warm and cozy.
posted by theora55 at 6:38 AM on November 25, 2012

Get two littermates and you will all be very happy indeed. Your old girl won't always be pestered by a kitteh wanting to play and the two may cuddle together with the doggie and be ultra-cute and adorable.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:08 AM on November 25, 2012

No collar mentioned, a good kit rep gift under the tree. Also a pet ID tag.

Double yes on the harness, get him used to it & a leash for walks & vet visits.

Verify no hidey holes he can get stuck in.
posted by tilde at 10:47 AM on November 25, 2012

A Feliway diffuser can be a big help to get kitty feeling happy sooner.
posted by biscotti at 1:22 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

If possible, put the litterbox somewhere the dog can't get to it. Dogs are never too old to discover the taste sensation of fresh cat poop.
posted by MsMolly at 2:31 PM on November 25, 2012

Response by poster: Lots of good advice and things I would never have thought of (dogs eating cat poop?!) Never heard of Feliway before. You guys are great.

Yes amtho that's the one. I went back and filled out an adoption form today ... then came home and talked with the kids, who said "we think [our old sweet girl] would be much happier with a dog buddy than a cat buddy."

So the process is still in process. Everyone needs to be all in, we'll know in a month! Thanks for the advice everyone.
posted by headnsouth at 3:38 PM on November 25, 2012

Obviously the adoption people are okay with you and your boys meeting any prospective feline family members; you might give them a call and ask if your dog could also pre-meet a particular kitty, just to be sure both cat & dog are okay with each other ahead of time. (And that is one adorable little kitten!)
posted by easily confused at 5:43 PM on November 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for all the cat advice. Turns out we are dog people after all. Through a friend of a friend we learned of a puppy mill that had been shut down & a number of puppies were born to a mama-dog that had been rescued. They were being fostered 2 blocks from our house and both my boys were immediately smitten. So just in time for Christmas we are adopting a small doglike creature from this organization. Our sweet old girl is not yet in love but they eat side by side and the new dog bounds after the old dog out in the yard, so it's just a matter of time.

The only remaining dilemma is what to name our very own Santa's Little Helper.
posted by headnsouth at 4:03 PM on December 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

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