Should I get cats considering my/their living conditions?
May 26, 2008 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Cat lovers! Please tell me whether it is reasonable for me to get (a) cat(s) with the layout / options I have, or whether I should just abandon the idea for now.

I have recently bought a fairly small (~40sqm) top floor flat in a converted Victorian house (UK). I really really miss having cats, but I would also never get pets if I can't offer them acceptable living conditions. So I need your impartial advice. Here's the deal:

* I work 7hrs/day and am mostly home when I do not work (I live 5mins from work). I do travel, but usually only for long week-ends, and I have people willing to look after the cat(s) during those times.
* I have a lounge and a bedroom so 2 cats could get away from each other, but not that far away (they would still hear/smell each other).
* they would have access to the roofs of the whole block. Our family cat used to love the roofs, but she had unlimited access to ground-floor-outdoors too. (I have known cats with roof-access-only, but roofs aren't exactly a "going wild & running around" environment, so I dunno.)
* there is the possibility of letting them out the front door, but coming back in would be reliant on someone opening the door for them. Could I condition them to know I will be back from work at [time]? (ground-floor-people may be willing to open door if they hear miaowing but no guarantee, esp. over many years where tenants will change)
* lastly, assuming I fulfil cat-conditions, should I get one or two cats?

Thanks for any input. Please do tell me I'm insane/cruel/selfish if you think so and I shall get guinea pigs instead. (for them the flat will seem huge!)
posted by ClarissaWAM to Pets & Animals (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just FYI, the average life expectancy of an indoor cat is twelve years. The average life expectancy of a cat that is allowed outdoors is less than five years.

I think that 40 sq. meters (about 430 sq. feet) is enough space for two cats if you wanted them, and they'd keep each other company. Get two from the same litter, get adult cats rather than kittens (they're less rambunctious and less high strung), and they'll sleep most of the day and play together when they get bored. I think that your indoor space is sufficient for one or two cats, and that roof or ground access is unnecessary.
posted by decathecting at 1:05 PM on May 26, 2008

Yes, those conditions are acceptable for a cat. I would not recommend two however, since the smell, hair and overall level of activity - especially if you get young cats - could be a bit much for that small a space.

Most cats function well-enough on their own for long periods of time provided that you give the animal proper care and attention in the hours you're home. Also, cats are smart and will figure our your schedule pretty quickly, especially if you are the one providing them with dinner.

Good luck!
posted by willie11 at 1:05 PM on May 26, 2008

In your situation, I would recommend getting two cats from the same litter so they will already know each other. Two cats are better than one for a working person because they can keep each other company while you're gone. Get them spayed/neutered. Don't let them have roof access, or at least not to the whole block of roofs (that sounds like a recipe for disaster). Your small living space shouldn't be a concern at all, as long as they have a place to relax, a clean place to eat, and a quiet spot for their litterbox.
posted by amyms at 1:07 PM on May 26, 2008

Yeah, cats don't need a huge amount of space like dogs. And a place your size would probably be OK for them. The time away is not a problem if you get two of them--they will keep each other company.

Twice the cat is also not necessarily twice the mess. As long as you keep the litterbox regularly cleaned you won't notice the difference. Actually, multiple cats will probably make less mess, as they'll be keeping each other company instead of being bored and mischievous alone.
posted by Anonymous at 1:16 PM on May 26, 2008

Have you really looked at your flat with cats' eyes?

My parents' cat used to go over the garden wall but couldn't get back as the wall was 6 foot high on the garden side but 8 foot on the street side. She got back in by walking round the block down an alley to the other side of the house, where there was ivy that she could use to climb up onto our utility room roof. She would then sit on the roof outside the bedroom window at 4am demanding to be let in. Eventually, my parents put a ladder made out of terracing from the roof so she could get back into the garden and through the cat flap.

My point is that there might be a way off the roof that you've not noticed. You might need to make things a little easier, possibly with a little help from you and agreement from friendly neighbours. See cat ladders. Of course this will depend on how high you are off the ground (but I'm thinking Victorian conversion, you can't be more than 2 or 3 storeys)

And yes, you can train cats to know when you're home. You are of course the person who can operate the tin opener.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:25 PM on May 26, 2008

I understand that it's normal for cats in the UK, even in urban/suburban environments, to let outside. In the US, it's not, and we do not let ours outside at all. Too much threat from traffic or dogs. I know people who would live in similar conditions to those you describe here in the US and not have any problem with keeping one or two cats. If you keep them inside exclusively, then it's even better to have two - neither of them is never alone.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:40 PM on May 26, 2008

Please don't let your cat or cats outside. I came to post the same statistics as decathecting but I see I was beaten.

If you can find the space, I do recommend two litter boxes; veterinarians actually recommend the number of cats you have +1 for the number of litter boxes in your living quarters but, honestly, we have three cats and nowhere to put four boxes, so we have three and our cats are fine. Just keep your box very clean and your cats should be fine.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 1:46 PM on May 26, 2008

I got my cats as kittens (litter mates) and live in a place maybe double the size of your place. If there wasn't another human living here, and my current kitties wouldn't be upset, I would definitely get two more cats!

I wouldn't let them outside though. In observing the cats I have had over the years, once they venture outside they are never content to stay indoors. Especially not content to stay indoors for 7 hours while you are at work.

My current cats grew up here, and don't know that their living space is smaller than it could be. They keep each other fine company and chase each other from one end of the apartment to the other. They spend a lot of time in the windows.

You may want to consider getting some vertical cat trees/steps for them to hang out on/climb on to make up for the lack of horizontal space.

If you do let them outside, its possible they would learn when you come home. I had a cat as a child that would meet me at the bus stop every day.

If you can scoop the litter daily, forget any delusions you have about keeping them off the sofa/counter/bed/whatever, accept that cat hair will be everywhere and on everything, then you should definitely get yourself two cats (two so they are never alone).
posted by miscbuff at 1:48 PM on May 26, 2008

They might 'tell' you they need you about in case they feel like something from the fridge or they need you to stand there and wait for them to frickin go through the door they just asked you to damn well open. But I assure you it'll be ok if you can't.

If they hate each other there is never enough space... But aside from that as long as you have plenty of spaces they're welcome to claim? A draw, basket, some lofty perch, a low shelf.. this jumper. It's all good.
Oh! Side note - we had a week of hell before we figured out that the constant irritation we were feeling was because they were fighting over a wicker basket! I threw the stupid thing in the cupboard and the dark cloud over our house lifted instantly. Later I brought it back out and put blankets in it so they would both fit... Sweet jeebus. I usually have two of everything for that reason. If it wasn't such a good basket... !@#$

Neh. The roof is for looking. Same with high windows. Sneakin' around and lookin' at stuff discreetly. They will only be ratbags where they feel it's safe ie. where things that could eat them can't sneak up while they're not looking. You know places like your hallway.
And also another thing to keep in mind is it wouldn't be fun for like a farm cat but a kitten raised on a roof top wouldn't give it a second thought. And then that cat may not be too impressed if you took it to a farm.

Ha ha! Why yes you can!! If that time is dinner time they will meet you at the door and carry your things up for you! (Some locations are kinder for this than others though?)

Lordy, some days I wouldn't wish two cats upon my worst enemy! It depends on their personalities as to what they would like best? But I kinda like friendly cats that aren't opposed to a bit of company. And if you have a pair that instantly triples their cute value! (Oh! Look at where the kitties are!) :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 2:11 PM on May 26, 2008

I just came in here to say that no matter what you decide, PLEASE secure your potential new friends from a shelter or animal welfare organisation.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:49 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for your input everyone.

I was pretty sure people would shoot me down - "how dare you, tiny flat, poor kitties" etc. I am glad they didn't.

Yes if I get 2 cats they will definitely be from the same litter & neutered. And I do not mind cat hair ONE BIT, and yeah I will make my flat as cat-friendly as possible - cat-trees etc.

I do stand by "cats need to have outside access" tho, whatever the statistics - I want a happy cat, not a record-breaking-old-cat.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:49 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster: turgid dahlia, yes I most certainly will!!!!
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:50 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I understand that it's normal for cats in the UK, even in urban/suburban environments, to let outside. In the US, it's not, and we do not let ours outside at all.

Huh? All over California many, many people have outdoor cats; it's considered quite normal, and in some people's minds better for the cat. Just because some may not like it doesn't make it less true. Indoor cats are common too, especially in urban centers. The important thing is to make an objective and thorough assessment of the risks, in this case of your roof---like Helga-woo says. Besides finding a way off the roof, what about birds of prey?

Our older cats accepted a new shelter kitten just fine, fwiw.

I'm sure that your flat, with a few cat toys, something to climb and a warm lap would be heaven to almost any cat, especially to a slightly older one, and most especially to an older one sitting in a shelter right now.
posted by tula at 3:28 PM on May 26, 2008

A severely injured cat or one who catches a communicable disease from another cat is not a happy cat. Cats do not need outside access in order to be happy. If a cat has never been outside, he or she will never know the difference.
posted by decathecting at 3:28 PM on May 26, 2008

Just to chime in in support of outdoor cats. I grew up with an indoor cat, but since I was 12 all of our cats have been outdoor cats. They've loved it, and we have never felt that keeping a cat indoors is ok when there is a viable outdoor situation available to them. Cats are animals, and hunters, after all - to treat them like porcelain is to do them a great disservice. For the record, we did the outdoor thing with them in several different living situations - one totally rural (we lived literally in the woods), one slightly less (low traffic, bordering a golf course and park), and one in a more cramped condo complex. They've adapted well and enjoyed their time outside - and all but one lived to a ripe old age. (This is in the US, btw, and I've never heard of indoor cats being a US thing - more of an urban living thing, isn't it?)

Enjoy your cats :)
posted by AthenaPolias at 3:29 PM on May 26, 2008

I have two cats in a slightly smaller space (~350 sq.ft.) in New York. They're siblings and about four years old; I adopted them together so they would have some company while I'm at work/out/whatever. I think they're much more happy than they would have been if I had adopted either of them separately. They're completely indoor; people here have quoted a bunch of statistics already, and I didn't want to worry about them while I was gone.

Also, you might consider adopting two older cat siblings. Kittens might be a little rambunctious for a place your size, although with outdoor time they'd certainly have more room for exploring and playing.

One final thing to consider carefully: where will you put the litter box? Mine's in my bedroom for lack of a better place; it wouldn't fit in the bathroom, and I didn't want it in the kitchen or living room.
posted by kdar at 4:19 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I believe there is no reason, given your description of your surroundings, that you shouldn't get a cat or two if you'd like to.

Also, some people have said it already, but it is patently untrue that the U.S. is an indoor cat only type of place. The same can be said of Canada. I don't know why some metafites continue to perpetuate this "fact". Just because you don't like something doesn't mean you can claim it never happens.

Of the many cats we've had (all of them outdoor cats, in a mix of suburban and rural areas) have been outdoor cats and they have all lived quite long lives (from 12 years, on up to 21).. except for one sad little kitten, but she succumbed to leukemia. These same cats were quite capable of being indoors for a few days without going insane.

The anti-outdoor cat people remind me of the people who were outraged by the nine year old NYC subway rider that got a lot of media attention recently. This is clearly a matter of personal opinion.
posted by mbatch at 4:23 PM on May 26, 2008

I second adopting an adult cat from the shelter. If you really want two, it is not uncommon to find a pair of cats that lived together up for adoption.

If you do adopt an adult cat, I would stick with one. My shelter cat is an only pet. He quite happily lazes the day away. He does go outside for a few minutes a day. He comes readily when called and doesn't venture more than 10 feet from the door.

I adopted him in 2003. The vet estimated his age 5-7 years, so he's pushing around 10 now.
posted by JujuB at 5:00 PM on May 26, 2008

Kitties come in pairs. You'll have a much more well adjusted kitty when s/he has a companion. Siblings are fine but so is a pair of kittens/cats that have become used to each other yet aren't related.

I had two kitties in less square footage than your flat (RV/caravan) and they did fine. You can probably get away with one litter box but if you clean it DAILY.

Once my cats hit about a year old, I have no problem leaving them alone for a long weekend (three nights). I set up an extra litter box and put out large bowls with extra food and water.
posted by deborah at 5:13 PM on May 26, 2008

You have plenty of room for a cat! I know that some people feel very very strongly about getting more than one cat, but single cats are not necessarily unhappy. I mention this because while the apt is certainly large enough for a cat or two, it's a bit small for two litterboxes.
posted by desuetude at 5:29 PM on May 26, 2008

I live currently with two cats that have been together almost from kittens (about a year apart, same mother, different litter) in a 440+ sq foot apartment. They have one litter box, I just have to clean it much more than if I just had one cat.

Also, while two cats can keep each other company (if they are litter mates), you can also find solo cats that can work out. Some older cats do fine by themselves, and are harder for shelters to adopt out vs kittens.

So if you don't mind the extra work, two cats from the same litter (but a big litter box, litter robot or something similar). Or an older solo cat would probably just wants to sit in your lap when you are home, and maybe chase a laser pointer if it amuses them, but really is content to do just about that.
posted by mrzarquon at 5:50 PM on May 26, 2008

I do stand by "cats need to have outside access" tho, whatever the statistics - I want a happy cat, not a record-breaking-old-cat.

Indoor cats are perfectly happy as long as they have enough food, water, and attention. It is pure projection to think that their "natures" somehow "require" the outdoors. Those who are talking about their happy, long-lived outdoor cats seem to have lived (in mbatch's words) "in a mix of suburban and rural areas"; sure, if you're in an area without much traffic, it becomes much more sensible to let the cats roam. My wife had cats that only came in at night back when she lived by a pond in the Berkshires, well away from the road. But in an urban environment it's not such a good idea. Do what you want, of course, but don't tell yourself being outside is the only way cats can be happy, because it's not true.
posted by languagehat at 5:56 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and like mrzarquon, we have one litter box for our two cats. Not a problem.
posted by languagehat at 5:57 PM on May 26, 2008

regarding indoor/outdoor. my cats are indoor only, as the areas I have lived just haven't been practical. One cat could care less and just likes chasing the flys when they get into the apartment. The other one does want to get out and go on adventures, so I've started leash training him, and that seems to give him some outdoor adventure time (and provide me with comfort knowing he isn't going to be hit by a drunk on capitol hill).
posted by mrzarquon at 6:00 PM on May 26, 2008

My cat is a 16 year old cat with outdoor access. I would say I live in a pretty urban environment in the biggest city in Canada. Inside, my cat is a tubby slob that lollygags about all day. At night, outside, he is completely different - alert, alive. One night recently, I called him in, and watched in awe as he ran towards me from almost a block away. His legs were completely extended with each bound on the sidewalk. He looked like a cheetah, and clearly he enjoyed running. How could I take that away from him?
posted by typewriter at 8:59 PM on May 26, 2008

I know lots of British cats, and I can only think of one pair of indoor cats, because they live in a first floor flat, and even then they are are being trained up to 'Mum's going to work now, you can stay in or go out, but if you go out, you're out for the day unless one of the neighbours lets you in'.

I've visited San Francisco, and it was noticeable how few cats there were out compared to your average street in London. So yes, in my experience, there is a difference in attitude towards outdoors/indoors over here. Also, we don't have the birds of prey, snakes, cougars, dingos, godzillas, etc that might do harm to an innocent kitty out in the wilds, so no worries there.

I think the indoor cat people are probably right, cats are probably perfectly happy and healthy living like that, and I think it will be fine if you choose to do the same. But it's not common in the UK, and be aware that the RSPCA advises that cats "must have access to a garden where they can play and climb" and Cats Protection also cautions against it. You might run into opposition and you might need to find a sympathetic vet.

Also, whatever you decide, get insurance.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:33 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Likewise, I know lots of British cats, and the only pair of indoor cats I know are FIV+. They seem happy enough though - I would say it's up to you, and your flat certainly sounds big enough!

/owner of theoretically indoor/outdoor shelter cat who currently lives under the oven
posted by altolinguistic at 3:44 AM on May 27, 2008

Sounds great. Get two. Invest in a really tall cat tree. A normal sized litter box will be fine for two adult cats. Also: most cats just lie about in the sunshine, so the roofs? Perfect! Sounds a bit awkward to let them out the front door IMO, but it's not unworkable, especially if you're on good terms with your neighbours.
posted by saturnine at 8:45 AM on May 27, 2008

It's also worth pointing out that people keep cats indoors not just to protect them from the outside world, but to protect the outside world from them - endangered small wildlife doesn't just exist in Australia, after all.

That said, make your own decision, but please do so with full knowledge of the cost-benefit analysis. My personal take on the issue is that it's as much a cultural sticking point as an ethical one. Some people honestly think that their cat will have a richer quality of life outside than they can ever provide inside, although it will probably be shorter due to the increased risk of car accident, disease, predation/attack, disappearance, etc. Some people believe that they can provide a rich enough life for their cat indoors (or on supervised excursions, like on a leash) that letting them outdoors is an unjustified exposure to danger (and very likely a threat to native wildlife species). Neither side is crazy; rather, they have different positions on quality of life. However, I do go a little nuts over people who tell me, "Oh, [outdoor kitty] is fine outdoors - nothing's happened yet!" about five minutes after telling me about outdoor kitty's littermate who disappeared under mysterious circumstances at a very young age. By all means, make the decision you think wisest, but please do so with a little self awareness. [That doesn't sound like it'll be your problem, ClarissaWAM; thank you for thinking this through so carefully.]

(And for the record, I was just fine with the 9 year old in the subway, who is not a cat.)
posted by bettafish at 5:11 PM on May 30, 2008

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