Cat prep 101
March 13, 2021 2:19 AM   Subscribe

I have some logistical, and also broader questions about getting a cat.

It's possible I'm overthinking this, but I am a habitual overthinker anyway.

Worries I have about getting a cat:

1) I would like to keep the cat indoors only, to keep it safe and also because I am not allowed to install a cat flap. However, I am still mildly allergic, and I have very occasional houseguests (like once a year) who are allergic, so I would like to keep my bedroom as a cat-free space. I worry that this leaves an indoors-only cat with a very small territory (only the living room and kitchen, I only have one bedroom) and that it will be bored, plus have limited places to go and hide if people are over and it needs its space. Really apart from the kitchen I can't think of where it would do that. I also worry that keeping it out of my bedroom 24/7 will be impossible to sustain.

2) Currently I work from home so it would not be a problem at all to ensure cat gets fed on the same schedule everyday. But what about when I start working from my office, travelling or socialising again and cannot feed it on exactly the same schedule from day to day? Is free-feeding dry food the answer? Should I get an automated feeder for wet food?

3) Again, see small space: I don't have a separate space to set the cat up in for when I first get it. Shelters recommend you settle the cat in in a room of its own, but I don't have one! Unless I use the kitchen for that purpose...?

4) Is it gross/unsanitary to keep a litter tray in the kitchen? That's the most private place I can think of to offer the cat as I'm not in and out constantly. Is it bad to keep a litter tray in the same place that I prep my food?

I grew up with cats but that was in a different country where pets are largely outdoors. We didn't actually get them, they were mostly cats who turned up in the garden and we ended up feeding them so they stuck around. They just used to turn up for food and cuddles when they felt like it and then disappear sometimes for days at a time. This is the first time I'd be owning an indoor pet and I am a little apprehensive that I am not cut out to be a cat-owner.

Any thoughts on the above, plus any advice for a nervous first time pet owner in a small apartment would be super-appreciated.
posted by unicorn chaser to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. I'm mildly allergic to cats but apparently if I live with them I get habituated. I take a daily Claritin and have for years (I have other allergies). We have kept cats out of the bedroom for long periods. Eventually they worm their way in. If you have houseguests, depending on how severe their allergies are, you can get away with vacuuming and opening the windows a few days beforehand. Otherwise, have them stay in a hotel :) My sister-in-law complains of horrid allergies to cats, which I realize is partly that she just disapproves of us, so it's nice she can't come in.
2. Feeding depends on your cat. Right now, we feed only wet food to our toothless elderly rescue and we feed her on a newborn baby schedule, because we are suckers and she is a tiny, precious, skinny little stick. My kid has a automated dry food feeder for their honking great boy cats. See what works.
3. We put the new cat in the bathroom. Easier to clean, small, safe, and we get to visit several times a day.
4. Litter trays are disgusting no matter where you put them, so the kitchen should be fine.

Good luck!
posted by Peach at 2:54 AM on March 13

For your 4), cats often object to having their litter tray near their food, so if there's any way to have litter and food in separate rooms, I'd do that.

Much will depend on the specific cat, and the shelter should be able to advise on what that cat is used to (type of food, type of litter, etc). The fact that you're thinking about all this suggests to me that you'll be OK - and if you start to investigate and take fright, you can always change your mind.
posted by altolinguistic at 3:10 AM on March 13

I also grew up with outdoor cats and now have two indoor cats in a tiny two bedroom apartment. Here's my experience. Though I have to say, a lot depends on your cat, so it may be a bit of trial and error.

1) We've had to adjust our living room to the cats, like keeping some surfaces clear, make sure they have hiding places and eventually we got a cat tree, which has been a huge success for sleeping and playing (and not ruining our furniture).

2) This really depends on your cat. We tried free feeding, but our cat would eat all of her kibble at once and then throw up, so we got an automated feeder. Most cats I know are fine with free feeding though.

3) We kept the cat in the bathroom at first, but she quickly adjusted to the living room, since it's such a small space. I wouldn't worry about this too much.

4) Since one of our cats is a picky asshole, we have 4 litter boxes in total (for two cats), one of which is very visibly in our living room. If you clean it often it won't smell (also wood pellets are the least smelly litter IME). Also, the cat won't care about privacy.

Our first cat is very active and social and would have probably LOVED to be an outside cat. Getting a second cat helped tremendously with behavioral issues. We also harness trained her and take her outside on walks sometimes. Again, your cat may vary. Our other cat hates to go outside and wouldn't even go if we left the front door open.

I think you'll be fine :) The fact that you think about all this stuff already makes you a better cat owner. Many people i know who got cats don't even think about half of this stuff. I'm sure you will make a great cat owner!
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 3:37 AM on March 13

Is there a breed of cat, like sphinx, that you are NOT allergic to?

Also, some cats are ground level cats, while some prefer to climb. Make sure you get the right kind.
posted by kschang at 3:38 AM on March 13

About the allergies - there is a product called Allerpet that neutralizes the allergens in animal dander. It's a liquid that you rub on their skin. I had a cat and I also had friends with allergies, so I would give my cat a rubdown a couple hours before friends came over and it helped a lot. (I used this rubber brush thingy designed for that purpose that I got for like eight bucks at a pet store - it was hollow and had hollow rubber teeth with little holes, and I would fill it with some Allerpet and brush my cat.) I also had the idea to add a squirt to a mop bucket and mop the floors before particularly allergic friends visited. It worked well enough for one of my most-allergic friends to forgo his Claratin once when he visited, and he said that after three hours the worst he felt was "I'm starting to get a tiny bit stuffy".

It's recommended as a once-weekly treatment for when the pet owner is the one with the allergies, but the web site says you can bump that up to once every few days if you're especially allergic. So it's also not a daily thing. I only used it when my allergic friends visited and that was enough.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:45 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

1) We had four cats for several years, and at that time we decided to make our bedroom largely cat-free because they would come in at night and it was like a flying circus with them running all over us, chasing each other, jumping from furniture to furniture, etc. Plus one cat was a barfer, and I just needed to not have barf in my bedroom. It wasn't that hard to keep them out. Once in a while one would slip in if I left the door open too long carrying a load of laundry in, but I'd just go grab her as soon as my hands were free and put her back where she belonged.

As far as places for the cat to hide, not to worry for they are EXCELLENT hiders. They will go under and behind furniture, onto bookshelves, behind curtains, behind doors, etc. If you have a kitchen table with chairs they may like to hang out on one of the pushed-in chairs. Or if there is a side table in the living room you could throw a tablecloth over, they'd probably enjoy hanging out under it. Also, I was going to suggest a cat tree as one solution to keep your pet from getting bored. In addition to providing a place to climb they also generally serve the secondary function of being a scratching post for kitty to sharpen her claws. I just Googled cat tree with hiding spots and came up with several different models that have box-type structures for the cat to hang out in. The other thing you will want to do to stave off boredom is to provide toys. Our new young cats really enjoy murdering this catnip bird and chasing these fuzzy balls. And even my old lady cat (RIP) used to like to chase the red laser dot around sometimes.

2) We've done various methods of feeding over the years. One cat got very fat free-feeding on dry food, so we would feed her wet food in the morning before work and again when we came home. I've never used an automated feeder but if they work from a mechanical standpoint it sounds like a perfect solution to keep your cat on a schedule. Whenever I've left for a couple of days I would put down a big bowl of dry food plus a large water dispenser and they always did fine. When my older cat's health became a concern with leaving her alone for more than a day, we started boarding her at the vet when we'd travel.

3) We never bothered setting up a separate place for a new cat (it never occurred to us we needed to.) I think that would probably be more important if you lived in a vast house where the cat could hide and evade you for days, than in a small apartment where you'd always be close by wherever the cat was hiding.

4) We keep our litterbox in the coat closet. (Coats get hung on an over-the-door hook on the bedroom door.) It's basically a cat closet now. We keep the cat carrier on the top shelf, and litter supplies in a container on the floor next to the litterbox. You'd have to find a way to prop the door open enough for the cat to get in, or remove the door entirely and perhaps replace with a curtain. I've known a number of people to keep a litter box in the bathroom, if you have room. Or the kitchen should be fine too, if that is what works for you.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:49 AM on March 13

I think you should try fostering, first. Or even borrow a friend's cat for a week. The thing that jumps out at me about this is your ALLERGIES. You might feel mildly allergic to cats now, but allergies are malleable, the cat itself matters (how much dander), and you might have a 15 plus year plus relationship with a creature that makes you sneeze and feel terrible when you are at home... for 15 plus years.

You can do things to mitigate your allergies, like there are wipes for cat dander, some people give their cats baths, take a allergy pill a lot. But you have to decide if that's really worth it AND if your mitigation actually works for your allergies. Sometimes it doesn't.

You aren't going to mess up a cat too bad by limiting its access to your room - a living room and kitchen are likely enough room, unless your place is *really* small. Your questions on 2, 3, 4 can all be addressed, just do your best.

So if you can handle the allergies, the only other thing to consider about getting a cat from your description: don't get a kitten or younger cat. Adopt an older cat who will be happy on its own, in its own space. If you are single, you are going to be out a lot, and younger cats do need a lot more socialization and attention; generally its better to have a pair of cats than just one. But older cats who just want to chill in the sunlight and get pets from you would work out well as a single cat, and there are many older cats looking for a home.
posted by RajahKing at 7:15 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]

I keep the cats out of my bedroom, and it's fine - they occasionally rush the door and get in, but it is not part of their regular territory. Foodwise, they get a (measured) scoop of food in the morning, and another (or canned food) after work. For weekend trips, they have an automated feeder for dry food. Longer than that, and I get a sitter to feed them once a day.

For the litterbox, I'd vote for a bathroom or closet - they don't need much privacy, and litter is messier than I like in the kitchen.

I adopted my first cat in a small apartment, and agree with RajahKing that a chill adult cat who wants to be an only cat is a great choice in that situation.
posted by mersen at 8:32 AM on March 13

Of all your problems, your allergies and the size of your apartment are the two that might be snags. (Most cats can free-feed with dry food and if the wet food schedule is sometimes delayed, not a big deal. And the idea of giving a new kitten it's own space is more about not overwhelming it, but in a small apartment it should be fine).

For allergies: some breeds are better than others. Russian blues fur produces less dander, for example. So if it proves to be a problem for your own comfort, you may want to look into that as an option.

Space: I would not want a litter box in my kitchen (and as has been pointed out, the cat will unlikely want it near their food/water). You might get lucky and get a cat that doesn't mind a covered box + doesn't spray litter every where in the process- or you might end up having no reasonably way to prevent litter tracking in your kitchen. A bathroom, closet, or hallway would be better.

As for if it's enough space, while Metafilter is full of people who have had luck with cat(s) in small spaces, I have had the opposite experience. I lived in multiple apartments with two cats, and their happiness tanked when I briefly lived in a small 2br (where the roommate kept them out of their room). And they had a giant cat tree, toys, etc. One was basically fine with this, but the other really needs to be able to occasionally run around a space like a nut.

So I agree with the suggestion to foster or to get a cat who is somewhat low-energy.
posted by coffeecat at 10:08 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Get an older female cat, it will be a little more chill, and it won't pee everywhere. When you meet, interact with her, scratch her head and back for awhile -- if it puts up with petting for a minute or two without freaking out that's a good sign. She won't need a lot of space. Cats like boredom.

Our girl self-moderates dry food pretty well but we give her wet food every couple days as a treat. YMMV. But you might stick to dry at first, sometimes our cat gets addicted to wet food and won't eat anything else. And settle on a brand, they often don't like variety.

Get a permanent plastic litter box with a lid, it'll prevent her from scraping litter everywhere and cut down on a smell a bit. Line it with a trash bag. Our cat doesn't really need privacy, the litter box can go anywhere. I'd recommend somewhere where you can't smell it much and where you can't accidentally close the door on it.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:36 PM on March 13

1) your worry that the cat will be bored . . . This is where you bond with your pet. Cats are social animals and crave attention from their owners/guardians/humans. They need exercise too. The way you bond with your roommate and give him exercise is through play. In addition, tired cats are well-behaved friends; they are less likely to attack your ankles! Cats need 15 minutes of exercise daily. It doesn't have to be 15 minutes in a straight shot. It could be 10 minutes in the morning before departing for work and then 10 minutes in the afternoon when you return from work. Make it a routine; pets love routine. Give your roommate a little food reward (a kernel or two of food) for interacting with you. The toys you're using for play are interactive (stick + string, stick + feather, or stick + string + feather/mouse) rather than a solo toy (one that you'd put on the floor and then walk away). Although a toy costs $5-15, you might have to spend $100 on toys before you find the one toy that your cat wants to use.

If you pay attention to your little friend, he will shower you with attention in return.
posted by dlwr300 at 7:22 AM on March 15

Great advice in this thread! I think you're totally safe with the size of apartment you mentioned. You might think about giving the cat some vertical space via a slim and tall cat tree, but it's not a necessity.

I had cats as a kid and got my current kitty this past year, and there has been an absolute revolution in litterbox technology in the interim. Definitely get liners for your cat's litterbox (makes cleaning way easier), pine pellet litter (smells better and is just less dusty) and a litter genie. Same concept as a diaper genie - you scoop the cat's poop into the top of the can, then it gets sealed in a separate bag below - and it cuts way down on the smell. I work in the same room as my cat's litterbox all day and I never notice it.

Good luck! You're giving a lot of thought to your potential new cat's needs, and as they say, love is paying attention. It sounds to me like you'll be a great pet parent.
posted by abry0 at 5:21 PM on March 16

« Older Indent in my face   |   Non-surgical gender affirmation procedures in NYC? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments