First-time cat companion advice?
May 14, 2007 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Before I get my new kitten, I have some first time cat companion questions. Advice welcome.

My friend's cat is pregnant. I have been thinking about adopting a cat for months, and now I have the solid opportunity. My friend will raise the kitten (in the company of its mother) for the first six weeks, and I will have the kitten after then. My friend believes that the best kitten for me (a first-time pet guardian and a resident of a 800 sf Chicago apartment) is a male kitten.

I have no idea if she is correct, but I do know my preferences:

I hope I can find a kitten who is as affectionate as I am - who loves to cuddle and enjoys a moderate amount of activity. What can I do to help ensure that the kitten I choose for a lifetime companion is of this persuasion? Is it true that male, altered cats are stereotypically the most friendly?

I want an indoor-only cat. I do not plan on ever releasing the cat outdoors, however, I will not declaw him, as I have read the previous threads on the subject. For the same reason, I will also have him altered as I understand the importance of preventing further cat population problems. Are any of my decisions in this aspect misinformed?

I find short-haired black cats to be the most beautiful cats. My friend's cat is a short-haired black cat, and the father is a short-haired tuxedo cat. I believe that means it is fairly likely that I will end up with a short-haired mostly-black cat, which is precisely what I want. Is it wrong to want a cat in a particular color?

The cat and her kittens will all be examined by a vet, of course. I will also take my kitten to the vet on the day of his adoption. What can I do to make the adoption day positive for both me and my kitten? Do I pre-arrange an appointment with the vet? What purchases do I need to make to prepare myself? What's the best kind of cat food and cat litter I can purchase? Is Arm & Hammer an OK cat litter? That brand is what was recommended to me by my friend, but she lives in a large house shared by more than one cat.

Due to limitations imposed on me by my apartment community, I may only have one cat. What can I do for my kitty companion to make sure he's not lonely without his brothers and sisters?

I am very lucky to have developed a small savings account for my kitten's health care, but I am wondering if the previous threads about pet insurance are still valid. In my situation, where I do have a savings account. Should I get insurance?

I'm sure I will discover more questions as I embark on this adventure, but if you have any general advice, I would deeply appreciate it. This is my first time on the pet companion track! I have had some lovely fish, but with all due respect to Buddha the Betta, I think this is a whole new ball game.
posted by MeetMegan to Pets & Animals (47 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
First off, congratulations! Cats make wonderful companions.

In my experience, male cats do typically seem more affectionate than females, but I've had some pretty cuddly females as well. The only thing I would warn you with regards to male cats is that they have a higher risk for urinary tract blockages, which are serious & scary (I have dealt with this firsthand). However, if you start your kitten off with *wet* food and filtered or bottled water, you will most likely be able to avoid this problem.

I don't think it's wrong to want a cat in a certain color. Either way, it's a kitten that needs a home, right? I have both a black cat and a tuxedo cat, and they are both totally adorable, IMHO.

You should make your vet appointment in advance. They will want you to bring a stool sample from the cat when you go in, to test the kitten for worms. Almost all kittens have worms, it is nothing to freak out about.

Before you bring your kitten home, you should have a litterbox, litter, food & water dishes, kitten food (and for a 6 week old, probably kitten milk as well), a few toys, and a scratching post. You also might want to get a kitty bed or kitty tower too to give your new pet something to climb around on. You will also want a cat carrier to bring your new kitten home and to the vet. Get one that is the right size for an adult cat, no larger. Cats like to be able to brace themselves against the sides of the carrier when being moved.

Don't bother with any catnip or catnip toys because kittens do not respond to catnip until after they're 6 months old.

You may want to get some SoftPaws for kittens, which will prevent your baby from doing any damage with her pointy needle claws. You can order them online or get them at any pet store.

To keep your kitten happy, you will want to have things for him to play with, and move them around daily when you go to work so he has new things to explore. Cats are typically very solitary animals, so they are often content to be without another feline companion.

Good luck!

P.S. Be careful not to set any precedents you do not wish your cat to get accustomed to. We learned this the hard way with regards to the cats sleeping in the bedroom. It is hard to get cats to change their behaviors after they get used to something.
posted by tastybrains at 11:28 AM on May 14, 2007

Six weeks is way too young for a kitten to leave its mother and begin a scary and wonderful new life on its own.

Stick with visits to say hello until twelve weeks. It may mean you miss out on a few weeks of uber-cute ickle titten, but you'll end up with a much better-socialised cat.
posted by holgate at 11:29 AM on May 14, 2007 [4 favorites]

Only going from my personal experience....6 weeks is a little young to separate the kitten and mom, BUT that's what happened with my kitty and he is, possibly, the most affectionate creature to ever roam the earth. I cannot keep him off of me. He thinks I'm his mom or something. He bonded to me in a weird way, I think b/c he was too little when I got him, but MAN if you want cuddling....good god.
posted by tristeza at 11:29 AM on May 14, 2007

Also start clipping claws immediately and often.
posted by tristeza at 11:32 AM on May 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, as for food, the best food is probably that which you would buy from your vet. Before my cats needed a special diet, however, we fed them Iams and they were pretty content. You may want to ask your vet for specific recommendations. A lot of the grocery-store pet foods are full of garbage that aren't so great for your cat - but at the same time, my childhood cat lived to 22 on a diet of Friskies, so you can take this info with a grain of salt.

As for litter, you are best off with a more natural litter like The World's Best Cat Litter (you can get this at PetCo). It clumps like Arm & Hammer, but it has less dust and it's flushable too.

Arm & Hammer isn't terrible as far as standard litters go. Tidy Cat litter is disgusting - it smells used right out of the package.
posted by tastybrains at 11:32 AM on May 14, 2007

Six weeks is way too young for a kitten to leave its mother and begin a scary and wonderful new life on its own.

I do agree with this - at least 8 weeks is best, if not a full 12. We adopted our kittens at 6 weeks only because they were in imminent danger (idiots left the mother cat & kittens outside and 2 of the kittens had already died). One of the kittens had an oral fixation because she had been taken from her mother too young, and thus tried to nurse on shirt-buttons, her bed, blankets, etc. It was kind of sad. She turned out ok though.
posted by tastybrains at 11:34 AM on May 14, 2007

Cats tend to have very different personalities, and I'm not sure that there is any good way to predict what they'll be like (by gender, etc.). I do think you're more likely to end up with a snuggly, friendly kitty if you snuggle and play with it a lot when it's young, though. Cats that are used to being carried, brushed, having their claws trimmed (especially important!) from an early age are much more likely to be ok with those things once they grow up.

I think you should make a vet appointment for adoption day, so call them ahead of time. Depending on how busy the vet is, I would think a week ahead of time should be plenty of time for them to schedule you in. I think pet insurance is probably overkill, but that's just me.

I use Arm & Hammer litter, and I've always gone back after trying other products. No cat litter is going to perfectly absorb all odors, so keep the box scooped often, but this is the brand I've found I prefer.

Random advice:

Don't feed kitty right when you wake up. Wait until you've had your shower, whatever... You want to avoid him associating breakfast with you getting out of bed, otherwise he'll learn to wake you up any time he's hungry.

Get a laser pointer. Most cats will chase those things around for hours.

Make sure you don't have any cat-poisonous plants. Here's a list.

I'm sure others will chime in. Good luck! You sound like you'll be a fantastic cat parent!
posted by vytae at 11:34 AM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Cats rock. I agree with tristeza. Play with the little cat toes often, even if not clipping. So it will get used to you touching them for clipping convenience.

And my cat loves a good paw massage.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:35 AM on May 14, 2007

And get two. One cat is nice, but two cats is pure comedy.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:36 AM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Will you be able to choose which kitty from the litter you get to take home?

If so, observe them play together (and playing with you) and you will likely see a range of curiosity, agressiveness, and affection. Make sure they react reasonably to being picked up.

Choose the personality that fits best. Or maybe from this experience you will just know which is the right one.
posted by Kevin S at 11:37 AM on May 14, 2007

I have a short haired fixed male black cat. He rules. Nothing wrong with wanting a certain color or type of animal. They exist for your entertainment, get the make/model you want.

In my experience it’s tough to train cats. I did the spray bottle thing to keep ‘em off certain furniture. the “squeeze the claws” thing to discourage the use of his claws when playing, etc. I even tried to toilet train him. It just doesn’t seem to take very well. Cats have brains the size of walnuts, most of which seems to be dedicated to eating plastic grocery bags. Somebody five posts down will tell me I’m wrong. You’ll see. The only thing more insane than cats are cat owners.

Just play with him as much as possible, don’t ever hit him when he does wrong (it doesn’t work to correct him) and show him that you’re his provider. He’ll be your BFF in no time. Cat’s don’t really love people, but they sure as hell get their cute on for people who feed them.

Toys: Balls of foil, balls of paper, a string with a napkin on the end of it. Anything crinkly.

Try to pick a litter and stick with it. Some cats don’t do well with change. That said, my cats have always adapted to everything we’ve thrown at them.

Just google for a kitty faq. There are some plants and foods they shouldn’t eat. Also, if you ever use string for trussing a roast, make sure you dispose of it properly so the cat can’t get at it. Growing up one of our cats had a piece of string slowly working its way out his smelly end over a period of a few days.

The combination of a kitten and a red laser pointer is probably one of the most entertaining things in the universe.
posted by bondcliff at 11:40 AM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

I second vytae's laser pointer suggestion. Exercise for kitty and hours of entertainment for you.
posted by NationalKato at 11:41 AM on May 14, 2007

Please don't flush used catlitter. Not only can it mess up your plumbing (if your plumbing is old/not strictly up to code), but various Bad Things carried by cats (e.g. toxoplasmosis) can be released into the water, where they can infect other creatures - here in CA, for instance, otters get toxo and die.

Nthing that 6 weeks sounds young; call your vet and ask, but I've always read that 8-12 weeks is better.

As cute as it may be now, be careful about the kinds of games you play with your kitten. Like, it's hilarious to have a half-pound ball of fluff chase your blanketed toes, or scramble up your bluejeaned leg. When it weighs 10 pounds, and has extremely sharp claws and teeth, it's not so fun for you.

We have acquired for our cats a variety of attractive cat beds - but you know what they like best? A cardboard box top, and a paper sack. Oh, and our bed. And the bathroom floor, which is heated (makes it hard to get out of the shower w/out stepping on cats).

Get lots of batteries for your digital camera, and get ready to contribute to cuteoverload.

Yay kittens!
posted by rtha at 11:43 AM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Cats have brains the size of walnuts, most of which seems to be dedicated to eating plastic grocery bags.

This is kind of important. The same kitten who will stick his nose up at seared tuna will eat the ends off all your Q-tips. You will need to try & kitten-proof your house, since cats love to jump, climb, and attempt to fly. Also, common things like Tylenol are extremely toxic to cats, so be very careful not to drop anything like that ... and if kittens ingest string it can kill them by getting stuck in their digestive tract, so keep things like that out of accessibility. For example, if you don't have a lidded trashcan in your bathroom, you might want to get one so your cat doesn't decide to binge on used dental floss.
posted by tastybrains at 11:46 AM on May 14, 2007

Is it true that male, altered cats are stereotypically the most friendly? In my experience, this is true.

What's the best kind of cat food and cat litter I can purchase? I'm inclined against buying food that is only available from a vet's office; it's typically expensive and if you run out of food you might not be able to get a replacement bag right away, leading to sudden diet changes and upset kitty tummy. I order Felidae Cat & Kitten formula and World's Best Litter from PetFoodDirect. You can set it up so they automatically send you a new order when you're running low. Wellness is a brand they sell that is often recommended on AskMe.

What can I do for my kitty companion to make sure he's not lonely without his brothers and sisters? You might make sure that you pick him up on a day when you will be able to stay home with him for a while (a Friday, perhaps) so he won't be alone while settling in. If you do allow him to do certain things, like sleep on your pillow at night, so he won't be lonely, keep in mind that he will continue to do this as a 12 pound tomcat.

Should I get insurance? Depends. How do you feel about potentially compromising your cat's care due to lack of funds? One of mine broke his leg in a very nasty way and had $3,000 in surgery. They could have fixed it for less, but he'd have developed arthritis in the leg. On the other hand, what level of coverage do you get with the insurance? This is going to come down to the specifics of the policy.
Ditto on the Soft Paws, early acculteration to claw clipping (and bathing, if you're ever concerned that this might be necessary), and feeding at night, not in the morning. And six weeks is too young, unless you want a 12 pound tomcat suckling on your blankets for the next 10-15 years.
posted by amber_dale at 11:54 AM on May 14, 2007

String and used dental floss? Psshaw! My kitten ate the cassette tape out of my copy of The Police's Ghost In the Machine.

J'Aurais Toujours Faim De Toi, indeed!
posted by NationalKato at 11:55 AM on May 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get TWO! To make it clear, get TWO! One more is 1/10 extra work and not much more expensive for food. They will keep each other from getting bored, they will amuse you to no end, and the kitten will not be lonely if you go away for a weekend or for work.

Having followed a few discussions elsewhere about male versus female being more affectionate, I think it's a draw. Females are less prone to UTI.

Get a STURDY and high Cat Condo, the cats will love it. It has to be study so that if they scratch on it, it should not move.

Start training the kitten as soon as you get it home, show it the condo and scratch on it to set an example. As soon as the kitten imitates you, give the kitten a treat. Bonito flakes, that can be found in petstores, are called kitty caviar for a reason. They can also be found in Japanese grocery stores for a fraction of what the petstore charges.
Can't train a cat? Check out Princess website.

I can only Nth the "wait until 12 weeks" advice. This is the period in which the mama cat socializes the kitten and the kitten learn from the other kittens what "ouch" means.

YoBananaBoy has the right idea about playing with the toes and extracting the claws. Do that from an early age and the whole claw trimming issue will be a no big deal. You can buy a scissor in the petstore for this or use a good quality human nailclipper.

Princess (and I) like the Natural Choice dry food and Trader Joe's for the wet. Well, she only get the wet as an occasional treat.

Good luck with the kittens. Cats Rock!
posted by Ferrari328 at 11:58 AM on May 14, 2007

Ooh, yeah, homemade toys (crinkled paper or foil, ping-pong balls, etc.) are good, but don't leave your cat unattended with anything that has a long string on it. My cat loved the yarn pompom on the end of a string that I made for him (I shoved the end of the string into the couch cushions and hung the pompom over the back of the couch so it would dangle), but one day he decided to eat the string end of the toy. I looked up and there he was with 2-inches of string and a giant pompom hanging out of his mouth. That was expensive vet bill, and we were very lucky that the string hadn't gotten knotted up in his intestines - that can be fatal.
posted by vytae at 12:02 PM on May 14, 2007

Response by poster: Two added questions: I have a one-bedroom apartment. Layout here. What's the best place for the litter box? There's not a whole lot of room in the bathroom.

What can kitty do when I have a party (I have annual St. Patrick's Day, mid-summer, and holiday parties)? Should he stay in my bedroom while my guests and I socialize in the living room, or should I consider him a guest, too? I don't know the etiquitte there.
posted by MeetMegan at 12:09 PM on May 14, 2007

You can put the litterbox anywhere there is room, but preferably someplace quiet and low traffic. I have seen people put covered litterboxes in their kitchens even, just keep it scooped frequently. If you can fit it in the bathroom anywhere, that is probably ideal.

When you have people over, you can give your kitten free run of the house. It will be your kitten's home too. Most likely, if there are a lot of people, your kitten may check things out and then go elsewhere until things quiet down.
posted by tastybrains at 12:14 PM on May 14, 2007

Do not spend tons of money on cat toy purchases. Your kitten will very likely find things lying about that amuse him - bottle caps, empty toilet paper rolls, toilet paper (they find it very amusing to unroll toilet paper from the spool), etc. You might pick up a couple of the balls that have bells in them just so the kitty will get used to the noise. (Warning: You *will* step on one of these balls on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night and it will be ouchy.)

Make sure that all your various wires (computer, mp3 player, cable, tv, phone) are tidy and hidden. Kittens love that stuff.

There will come a time in the first few minutes, hours or days with the kitten when he will happily jump up and attach himself to your legs with his claws. DO NOT MAKE LOUD NOISES when this will cause the kitten to DIG IN. Very calmly reach down and grab him. It's okay he just wants to be your friend and wants some attention.

It is okay to have a color preference (and black is a good preference because those are generally harder to adopt out) BUT it may be that you'll fall in love with another kitten that is not black. Cat genetics being what they are (especially if there's the possibility that more than one male was involved) - there may very well be a ginger cat in the lot. You won't know until the kittens have arrived. It's all good - you will find a kitty that you like.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:15 PM on May 14, 2007

The Berkeley Humane Society recently had a notice specifically encouraging people to adopt black or black and white cats on account of their being overlooked more frequently. (I have no clue whether that's generally true, or just a local phenomenon.)

The ASPCA has info on the recent pet food recalls, plants to avoid, and foods to avoid (many of which I found surprising when I read the list.)

A cat tree is nice so your indoors kitty can get some climbing and jumping (and they usually offer lots of scratching surfaces.) And cats like having hidey-holes. (This weekend I assembled a huge cat tree from this place for my two cats. I found their selection to offer a lot more bang for the buck than the boring things local stores wanted $100 for.)

Wherever you put the litter box, make sure it's not the same place as the food and water -- cats don't like excreting where they eat. And make sure you scoop it often (and wash the whole thing every once in a while.) If a cat feels the litter box is filthy, the cat'll find someplace else. And once a cat decides that someplace else is a litter box substitute, it can be hard to disabuse the cat of that notion. Ditto the recommendations against flushing clumping litter and the recommendation for a covered litter box with a filter.

The cat will let you know the appropriate party behavior. Some cats like strangers and crowds. Some cats hate them and would be hiding anyway.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:18 PM on May 14, 2007

I would make room for the litterbox in the closet of the bedroom.

Also, as to etiquette. It's your apt and your cat lives there. I would let the kitty make his own decision about how social he wants to be.

Do be sure to warn invited guests that you've gotten a cat in case anyone is allergic.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:18 PM on May 14, 2007

I got a kitten at 8 weeks from a barn - my friend's coworker lives on a farm and a pregnant cat waddled into the barn one day, and gave birth to her kittens.
Like tristeza said, he is the best cuddler on earth. I don't know if it was because I should have waited another month to keep him, but he STILL (a year later) thinks my earlobe is going to provide food for him. Every night he cuddles right up under my chin to sleep and greets me when I get home. He also is a single cat (and neutered, and strictly indoor) in a small apartment so I was concerned about keeping him occupied. Do you have a window your kitty will be able to look out of?
The cat-climbing tree is a good idea - mine is declawed in the front (I felt horrible doing it but I had to) so he wouldn't really use one, but he climbs on everything except the top of the fridge and he loves, loves LOVES these little puffy crinkle balls. I got a 4-pack of them for maybe two dollars and he's happy as a clam. He chases them around, lays down and bats them around, carries them around in his mouth and sometimes we even play fetch. (He also likes water, I sometimes wonder if he's a dog) I'd highly recommend those. I think they're just called crinkle balls - they're gold and orange (kind of foil-looking, but not) and I think 9 Lives makes them.
As far as the litterbox, I actually have a studio apartment so it gets real crowded real fast. I keep his litterbox in the bathroom. I struggled with him kicking litter out of the box repeatedly and stepping into scattered litter when I got out of the shower, and after 2 others I finally got him a litterbox with a tall "lid" on it so he can only kick it out through the front door. I also highly recommend that style.
For parties, it will depend on your cat's personality. Mine isn't afraid of anything, animal or human, and never hides, cries or gets scared. He cuddles with everyone and playfights with dogs. So for him, I wouldn't lock him up. But if yours is more of a typical cat (like I said, I think mine's a dog) he/she may just want to hide on his/her own. Also make sure none of your guests are allergic, that could help shape your decision too.
Congratulations!! You're a lot more prepared than I was to get my cat - I didn't even think I would and was a little scared at first. But it's a lot of fun and soon you won't be able to imagine life without him as your roommate!
posted by slyboots421 at 12:33 PM on May 14, 2007

i use a litter called swheat scoop which is made from processed wheat. while it may not clump as solid as clay (i used to use fresh scoop), it still clumps up really well. also, it's clay free, chemical free, fragrance free, and biodegradable and you can actually flush it down the toilet.

you can find it in better pet supply stores.

i would also recommend buying food from better pet supply stores. the ingredients are of a much better quality. i am currently feeding a brand called california natural but have also fed natural balance and wysong.
posted by violetk at 12:35 PM on May 14, 2007

Another nth to the don't waste a lot of money on cat toys advice. I've had kittens/cats for the past 20 years, and sometimes I still can't resist buying some cute feathery colorful toy for my kitty, but more often than not, it ends up covered with dust bunnies under the sofa. Cats like to play with you, they also enjoy an empty brown paper bag left laying on its side, or a cardboard box, or a wadded up ball of paper. St. Patrick's Day party-wise, your cat will let you know what he prefers. If he doesn't like the crowd, he'll hide - no need to confine him. If he's curious and wants to check out who's who, he'll wander among the guests and sniff them (and the ladies' purses, alway a cat favorite) and allow some of them to pet him.

All my felines have always been of the indoor variety, and I've never had any declawed (in fact, to be honest, I stopped trimming toenails a long time ago. Keep more than one scratching post handy and they'll handle their own pedicures.) One of the many joys you'll get out of your cat is discovering its individual personality. Like I said, I've had many cats over the years, and it's intriguing to see how one loves water and must sit on the edge of the tub whenever you shower, while another is quite demanding and will swat your ankles until you finally capitulate and pour some danged food into his danged dish. Our current kitty somehow decided that my husband was her personal property and is extremely jealous. All I have to do is walk over to where he's sitting on the couch and talk to him, and suddenly Tweak appears out of nowhere and stations herself on his chest.

Best wishes to you and your new furbaby!
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:35 PM on May 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another thought - some people might think it's mean, but I attach a birdfeeder to the window in the winter. The birds get a free meal for providing excitement and entertainment to my cats.

A nice place for your cat to perch by the window will be greatly appreciated. If he's not watching bugs, birds & squirrels, he'll probably be taking deliciously long naps in the sunshine.
posted by tastybrains at 12:40 PM on May 14, 2007

I've had, or lived with cats for 35 years, about a dozen adults total and roughly 20 kittens.

Try to encourage your friend to keep the kittens a bit longer. Six weeks is a bit early, in my opinion, and may cause behaviour problems for the cat later. Eight weeks is about perfect.

I'm a big fan of neutering later, also. Many vets seem to want to neuter early now, but I really feel that there are benefits to the cat, both in terms of health and behaviour, in letting them reach puberty. This is about six months.

Two, if you can swing it, is a good idea, especially for males. Cats tend to pair bond and if the other half of the pairbond isn't around, i.e. you, they get unhappy. A pair of cats who have bonded to each other keep each other company. Males will bond with males or females readily; stranger females (not siblings) don't seem to bond to easily in my experience.

Cats do need training. It's not difficult but the most important thing is consistancy. Always give them the same message. Your cat will be happiest if the rules are simple and don't change. A plant mister or water pistol is very effective to discourage bad behaviour. Treats work well as rewards.

Cats hate moving. Unlike dogs, cats do not visit well at all. When away, I'm of the opinion that it's far better to get a sitter than to board my girls somewhere. I have a reciprocal arrangement with a neighbor that works very well.

The best things I've bought for my cats are:

- Steel or ceramic food bowls. Plastic ones cause acne, believe it or not.

- Carboard scratching boards. If a cat ever scratches something they shouldn't, spray their face, then pick them up and put them on one of the carboard boards. They'll get the idea very quickly. These work so well at redirecting scratching that several of my friends have called them "cheating".

- A water fountain. I've got a Cat-It, but the Drinkwells work well too.

- Scoupable litter. Sweat is great. I like the pine pellets too.

Don't bother with:

- Motorized, automatic litter boxes. Every one I've ever seen has broken fairly quickly.

- Expensive cat toys: the best cat toy ever is a small piece of paper tied to the end of a shoe lace. Also cardboard boxes/paper bags are endlessly facinating.

Have fun! You're about to get one of the best possible kind of ambulatory bed warmers!
posted by bonehead at 12:45 PM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

A warning about SoftPaws -- they're supposed to naturally shed when the claw grows out, but on one occasion my cat got one grown in to her paw. We had to go to the vet to get it cut off using the heavy duty clippers, and her paw was cracked for a few days. The vet said he had seen that happen to lots of cats. I think I was more traumatized than the cat was, but even so, it set me back a fair amount of money. Now I just clip her nails when I notice they're getting sharp. She doesn't like it, but she tolerates it.
posted by katemonster at 1:02 PM on May 14, 2007

To follow up on what tristeza suggests, I advise you to not only start clipping early and often, but also to handle your kitten's paws as often as you can, to familiarize your cat with the sensation of it. I have handled cats whose owners have both done this, and also those whose owners failed to do so, and the varying temperments of the cats are notable. If you start handling your kittens paws sooner than later, you will save yourself a mess of grief (and a number of scratches, too).
posted by numinous at 1:21 PM on May 14, 2007

Lots of good advice above. I'll be brief [?] with mine, but first let me thank you for putting so much thought into your new pet. Too many people treat a companion animal like a piece of furniture, one that is discarded when it's no longer interesting. Makes me nuts.

Cat litter: Arm & Hammer good, Feline Pine better (really kills the odor).

Socializing: Whatever kitty wants. You'll need to make crystal clear to every guest that kitty does not -- repeat, does not -- go outside. There's always someone being "helpful" who pushes the cat out the door.

Insurance: Probably not necessary at this stage. I'd like to get it for my 8-year-old cat, but I want insurance for me first.

Laser pointer toy: Absolutely! Just don't get it in kitty's eyes (or yours).

Food: Whatever you buy should have the AAFCO seal of approval on it. There's no point in buying the expensive stuff from the veterinarian; much of what you could get from there was on the FDA's list of poisoned foods with the cheap stuff and was made by the same companies, never mind the labeling.

Kittenproofing: Think of this as a child (hyperactive little so-and-sos that they are) coming into your home: anything that can be destroyed will be destroyed. Take commonsense precautions.

May you and your cat have many happy years together.
posted by bryon at 1:32 PM on May 14, 2007

You're already on the right path, because black shorthairs are the best cats. A couple of recommendations I'll add to the excellent advice above:

Sisal scratching posts and cat trees. I have one at each end of the house, and the kitties have stayed away from furniture and (most important) my speakers.

Innova Evo dry cat food. No grains, all animal protein. Our cats are indifferent to the taste but eat it, so they stay trim and fit. (In contrast, they love Science Diet, and rapidly pork up on it.) Dry food is wonderful from a cleanup point of view, but you have to make sure that kitty has a good source of clean water that he actually does drink from.

(And two cats really are much better, both for the cats and for their human companions. Maybe you can get two that look identical so no one will know....)
posted by phliar at 1:56 PM on May 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Be careful when clipping kitty claws...have a vet show you how. It's important that you do this right and not too short, because it can have some pretty serious and painful consequences for both you and your cat.

On a lighter note, buy some catnip and put a small handful inside an old sock. Knot the sock. Watch cat go nuts over a sock. (they do this I-love-you/I-hate-you thing where the front paws hold tight, but the back ones say "no way", kicking furiously. Quite ridiculous.)
posted by iamkimiam at 2:00 PM on May 14, 2007

The first weeks of a cat's life are critical -- this is where they pick up most of the habits they'll exhibit later in life. I agree with most of what's been said above, but here's some more things:

When he is small, be sure to pick him up a lot, handle him, pet him, etc. That way he'll get used to being touched. Be gentle, and always support his paws when you pick him up (cats do not like to be dangled). Most cats don't like being held under the back with their feet up like you'd hold a baby, either. Mustela's first suggestion here is how you should try to hold him: with his back paws on your hand or arm and his front paws on your shoulder. Many adult cats don't like to be touched on the legs, the head, or the back haunches, but if you give some gentle attention to these areas when he's young, he will probably learn to like it.

Teach him to tolerate nail clipping and hair brushing when he is small. The best way to do this is to wait until he's lying quietly, but not asleep, just sort of chilling out. If you're gentle, you should be able to get him to sit still for brushing or clipping during those times. Give him a treat afterwards, and soon he'll look forward to it. Be sure to use a cat nail clipper. They have sort of a half-moon shape rather than the straight blade. A simple one is fine, no need for anything fancy. Clip only the clear tip of the nail -- avoid the solid white and pink part where the quick is. Instructions are here.

Teach him to go on car rides from the beginning -- so many cats hate the carrier and will make a huge fuss every time. If you take him on frequent (non-vet) rides when he's small, and follow up with treats when you get back, he might be better about this when he's older. p.s. it is easier to get a cat into a carrier backwards (back paws first). They'll brace their legs if you try it the other way.

Good luck!
posted by vorfeed at 2:05 PM on May 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

One more thing: it is possible to train cats. You have to pick your battles and above all you have to be consistent. Our kittens are quite well trained by now (they're almost a year old) to (not) do exactly two things: 1: they do not bite (or play with) wires and cables, and 2: they do not bite/claw humans.

All destruction is the humans' fault for not kitty-proofing whatever it was adequately.
posted by phliar at 2:06 PM on May 14, 2007

I have had boy cats and girl cats and while there are the Devoted Girl Animal Owners who will totally agree with me, I will never get a schizo-ass girl cat again ever. Boy cats are so, so much better. Friendlier and cuddlier and less psychotic.

Also, lick their heads.

I know, it sounds completely crazy, but when they're kittens, they aren't really sheddy, and I swear to you, the grooming bonded those little turdbags to me for life.

And nth on the nail clipping and paw-handling.
posted by mckenney at 3:26 PM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

For example, if you don't have a lidded trashcan in your bathroom, you might want to get one so your cat doesn't decide to binge on used dental floss.

Or used tissues or tampons/pads.

They also like to do this thing where they bat at the toilet paper roll to spin it around and unroll it. Therefore, you might want to hang it so that the end's against the wall, so when s/he bats at it, it'll just spin and not unroll.

Teach him to go on car rides from the beginning -- so many cats hate the carrier and will make a huge fuss every time. If you take him on frequent (non-vet) rides when he's small, and follow up with treats when you get back, he might be better about this when he's older.

Seconding this. If the only car rides are to go to the vet, your kitty will associate the car with going to the vet. But, if car rides are mostly for non-vet things (for example, going for little walks on a leash--I've seen people doing this; I think being on a leash is one of those things you can get your cat used to) then that shouldn't happen.
posted by Many bubbles at 3:40 PM on May 14, 2007

About catnip: some percentage of cats lack the Catnip Appreciation Gene. We have three cats: two go bonkers for it; one is "meh".

Also, it may take a while for catnip appreciation to kick in; I think in kittens they may need to be 4-6 months old before they're able to like it.

If you've got plants in your house, make sure they're not poisonous to cats - common ones (like dumb cane) can make your cat awfully sick. A cat will try to eat your plants, whether out of desire for something green, to get your attention, or to annoy you. Buy a little bag of catgrass seeds at any pet store and grow your own kitty grass.
posted by rtha at 3:57 PM on May 14, 2007

Best cat post ever can be made by you with the investment of about 20 dollars.

You'll need the following:

2x4 that is about an inch short of your ceiling when stood on end.

Scrap Plywood, about 1' x x'

2-4 Angle Brackets.

Enough scrap carpet to wrap around the pole and around the scrap plywood, this is the most expensive and critical piece, pick something heavy duty...we prefer berber, hard to shred. The idea is to get 2 pieces, 1 as long as the 2 x 4 and wide enough to wrap all the way around the 2 x 4, the other enough to cover the scrap plywood top, bottom and sides.

2 - 2inch in diameter rubber floor savers (furniture coasters).

1 - 4" or 5" 3/8" thick bolt.

2 - Washers to go with the bolt.

2 - Nuts for the bolt so you can lock it down.

A drill, a screwdriver, some wood screws, a hammer, carpet tacks or nails, utility knife (caution!). Crescent wrench set or some pliers.

Step 1, pick your location for the post, we put ours against a wall alongside a window that doesn't open and can't be escaped from and where furniture or other breakables (floor lamp, TV, small children) can't be used as a flying cat landing pad.

Step 2, Measure floor to ceiling, and subtract 1.5 inches or so, cut the 2 x 4 to length. Test fit.

Step 3, Measure how high you want the cat platform to be. We have ours rather high off the ground, but there are numerous chairs that the cars can leap off on to. Generall 5ft up is fine.

Step 4, Take the angle brackets and the plywood scrap and mount in a sturdy fashion the scrap plywood to the width of the 2 x 4. This may take some fiddling, but the idea is to have a platform that can support a jumping cat for years. YMMV on mounting techniques.

Test fit in the final location.

Step 5, Drill a hole dead center along the long axis of the 2 x 4, use a 3/8" bit or equivalent to the bolt you selected. The post is held up by compressing the pole between the ceiling and floor.

Step 6, Mount the rubber pad to the opposite end of the cat pole with some of those fancy screws I had you pick up.

Step 7, Cover the whole damn thing with the scrap carpet. This is the hardest part, take your time and grab a buddy unless you have a tack gun. Use long carpet tacks or staples.

Step 8, Take that bolt, put a washer on it , take the two nuts, put them on it. Insert the bolt in to the hole you drilled in the 2 x 4.

Step 9, Grab a buddy and put the pole where it's going to endup going. Place the other rubber pad underneath the bolt head and rotate the nuts on the bolt until it compresses the whole apparatus between the ceiling and floor. You have to be careful where you place this, it should be up against the wall, and you want to make sure you don't put a hole in your drywall ceiling. Bad. Very Bad.

Step 10, Test and make sure the thing is stable, if worried, you can strap it to your wall but we've never experience a problem.

Step 11, Introduce the cat and watch it go nuts going up and down the damn thing and resting there while it watches the world and the puny humans walk by.
posted by iamabot at 4:30 PM on May 14, 2007 [8 favorites]

From a more practical perspective, now that I read that...ask your friends for some cardboard boxes. Cat's are like 4 year olds, they love cardboard forts.

Also, consider removing, hiding or purchasing a toilet paper roll shield. Our n00bcat has a habit of going kill bill on toilet paper rolls.

Handle your cat, get it used to being held, carried touched, poked, prodded (especially the paws), inspected, investigated, and validated as the real deal. Have other people do it. The more your cat is used to being handled the better it's going to be when it comes time to trim claws, visit the vet, have it looked after by a stranger.

Consider 2 cats, we went with 1 cat initially and are really glad after a year that we rescued another kitten. The work load isn't really much more at all and they keep each other out of trouble with the exception of an occasional midnight dash from room to room at breakneck speed.
posted by iamabot at 4:36 PM on May 14, 2007

Cats have different personalities. Some are naturally more affectionate than others. But in my experience, cats learn affection from you. Don't chase the cat down to pet it, let it learn to come to you, or at least approach it in a gentle manner. I have found that even with the cat I have now had for many years, if I am busy and don't pay a lot of attention to her, she stays aloof. If I make sure to always pet her when she comes near, I can hardly keep her away from me. My teen daughter, on the other hand, likes to sort of force herself on the cat. So the cat runs away when she sees her!

Have fun!
posted by The Deej at 5:03 PM on May 14, 2007

Nthing 6 weeks being too young. I am an experienced cat person, and last July, I got a 4 month old. I went to visit the kittens and talked extensively to the woman who owned the mom and to her teenage daughter. I asked questions about their personalities and I watched them interact, and because they'd had them for 4 months, they knew them well. That's 4 months that he had with mommy cat, and that's always good for their stability. Cats taken away too soon are very often nutty, sometimes mean. They often don't like being picked up and are skittish. The payoff for waiting is that you'll most likely get a much more calm and stable cat. The kitten I got (who is now 14 months) is extraordinary, was still tiny and adorable when I got him, and I knew the personality I was getting, because the owners of the mom had been around since birth.
posted by FlyByDay at 5:45 PM on May 14, 2007

Be aware in advance that kittens are crazy. Very cute, but very short attention span. (Esp if he's left alone a lot during the days.) He will chill out when he's older. Also, cats sleep a lot - don't be alarmed.

Be vigilant about him not having access to string/dental floss/tinsel/etc. It really can kill him, or cost you hundreds of dollars to get out of him.
And do get cable protectors for your computer, stereo, etc cables and power cords - kittens really will go to town on these.

Some cats really prefer to drink moving water rather than stationary water. There are water bowls with a "fountain" built in that you can get if your cat is like this. (someone linked one upthread)

Nobody has mentioned it, but some male cats "spray" (pee to mark territory) when they hit puberty. Neutering stops this, almost always. Talk to the vet about the best timetable for neutering, and what to do if your cat starts spraying.

Some black shorthairs are Bombays -- look for brilliant green or yellow eyes and a very shiny coat. The Bombays I've known have been the most cuddly, people-focused cats I've ever known. Wonderful personalities. So I think looking for a black one is a good plan.

Have fun - I'm very envious. :)
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:59 PM on May 14, 2007

Yet another Nth for not taking the kitten away from its mother too early.

We have three cats. The first one had its mother taken from it (not the other way around) waaay too early and is just vicious. She's not entirely standoffish, as she will, on her own terms, enjoy a bit of cuddling, but watch out if you want to just pet her. I sometimes consider getting her declawed, as she certainly has no concept of it being bad to scratch people, despite plenty of negative reinforcement from the squirt bottle.

Of course, since she refuses to be touched, it's basically impossible to clip her claws or use soft claws. To do either would require sedation, although I think our vet would probably provide some pills if we asked.

To temper the horror story, though, our other two are exceedingly nice. The big male was a stray, while the little black female used to live at our vet's office. She's something of a biter when she gets too excited, though. She hasn't done much of that since we got her, since there's much less commotion here than at the busy vet's office.
posted by wierdo at 7:01 PM on May 14, 2007

Black cats are wonderful. I socialized my Evel when he was tiny by zipping him up flat against my belly inside a leather jacket, with his head sticking out facing me, and taking him for walks around the Lower Haight. He got used to noise and people while feeling very safe, and is still the mellowest, friendliest cat you can imagine. Good luck with your new kitty.
posted by Scram at 8:59 AM on May 15, 2007

Go visit, often, starting when the kittens start crawling out of the box... After you've visited a couple of times you'll be able to tell which kitten's personality meshes with yours, and you'll think he or she is the most beautiful cat in the world no matter what s/he actually looks like. (Do note that one visit is not enough to tell if a kitten is naturally grouchy or just worn out from playing, young things get tired quick.)

Leaving the cat carrier open in your house somewhere where you cat can get to it (under the bed is good) helps keep him/her used to it for when you need to go to the vet.

You want the same type of cat food and litter that your kitten is used to using, at least at the beginning. Later you can try switching to different types, but keeping some things the same is a good way to making moving easy.

Cats love being up high. If you don't want to spend a lot of space on a cat tree, an upside-down L shape of stiff, thick foam makes an acceptable perch when put on the back of a couch (bonus if your couch is in front of a window). Also keeps kitten claws from digging in when they sit back there anyway (which they will).
posted by anaelith at 3:18 PM on May 16, 2007

Response by poster: As an update: My friend's cat had a "false pregnancy" so I ended up waiting to find the perfect kitten at the Anti-Cruelty Society.

I found 12-week-old Coal, who is just the most precious thing on the planet. Everyone who advised not to adopt until 12 weeks was absolutely right.

All of your advice was extremely helpful. One thing I wish I would have known: don't buy tissue boxes that have the open cutout in the top/side! I came home from work one day to find tissues strewn across my entire apartment! I know buy the Kleenex (R) brand tissues, with the plastic tissue guard in the top. That seems to thwart his efforts to pull multiple tissues out.

He's been a very happy kitty, despite his early illness. Here's a current picture of him.
posted by MeetMegan at 1:06 PM on December 18, 2007

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