I want a cat -- but should I? But I really want.
July 21, 2008 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Help me decide whether or not I should get a cat. This is more complicated than it sounds. (At least it is to me...)

I really, really want a pet. In fact, I might even *need* a pet. But I'm trying to decide I if I *should* have one. [Warning -- this is long. Sorry.]

* I grew up with animals. As a kid, we never had less than 2 cats, up to the (slightly chaotic) 3 cats, 2 dogs and a couple gerbils.

* I just turned 30, and I think it's making the feeling of needing something a bit stronger. That being said, I definitely don't want a kid yet. But that "awww can I hold him, he's so adorable, I want one" reaction some people get around little kids? Thats me around cats and dogs.

* I realize I probably shouldn't have dog, at least not yet. I'm not around enough during the day for it to be fair to the little guy. But once I own my own house, I'm getting two. Not yet though.

* I think getting an older, laid back cat from a shelter, one that would be much much happier lazing around on my couch instead of locked into a little cage, would be a very good thing. I want an animal who I can truly help (lets face it, the kittens will always get adopted; 8 year old Fluffy -- not necessarily so). Plus, I want a cat whose personality is already developed. All cats are neurotic to a point, but I'll be frank -- I don't want an animal who turns into a really neurotic, skittish, fraidy-cat who hates being picked up.

* Other important details: I have a stable job, don't travel for work or anything like that anymore, and understand the responsibilities and costs associated with pet ownership.

Now, the reasons against getting cat:

* I live in a very tiny condo, without even a balcony. 600 sqft, tops.

* Rental housing is next to impossible with a pet in this city (Vancouver). I currently rent a condo where pets are allowed, but having a cat is definitely going to make finding my next place much, much harder.

* My boyfriend is really allergic. Although he actually loves cats, they make him miserable. I realize there are things I can do to reduce the allergens in my house, but he will suffer when he visits. And don't bother suggesting he take anything. Been there, lost that battle, many times. He grew up with a cat, and had chronic allergies the entire time. He'd have a pair of cats himself if it wasn't for the allergies. He claims he's tried everything that's supposed to help, twice, and nothing works. I counter with the fact that medicines have improved in the last 10 years, but he ignores me. His words: "If there was something I could take, don't you think I would take it? Do you think I enjoy being miserable?" He may have a point.

* The cat would have to be okay being on his own every other weekend or so. I spend some weekends at the boyfriend's.

* I have actually already had a cat once in my "adult" life. I got a kitten when I was 22, before I was really ready to be able to take care of it. I was moving a lot back then, not really home much, and I'm pretty sure I'm partially responsible for this this particular cat being as neurotic as she is. (She was nuts to begin with, but I probably didn't help matters). My parents adopted her, and she's a little better now that she's living a consistent, predictable life with a big yard and 2 people who worship her, but she's still skittish and, well, nuts. I still feel guilty whenever I see her and realize she really doesn't know how to cuddle with people, although it's obvious she wants to. She likes her people, she just can't deal with them. Also my parents aren't taking any more pets (if only because this cat doesn't play well with other cats/dogs, either).

Also, it should be noted I'm tried the smaller, caged animal route. I had a perfectly nice, normal hamster for 3 years until he died peacefully in his sleep. They just don't do much for me though. It's hard to sleep on the couch with a hamster on your lap.

So -- opinions? Convince me either way, either that I really would be a good cat owner and I'm just freaked out due to an unfortunate experience that I've learned from. Or that no, a cat probably isn't the best idea right now, and the reasons why.

(Again, I apologize for the length... geez. Some people don't have this much anguish about about having kids, and all I want is a freakin' cat!)
posted by cgg to Pets & Animals (33 answers total)
The size issue is not an issue - I know plenty of cats who are very happy in well under 600 sqft. (That's not even remotely "very tiny" by my standards.)

Cats being alone every other weekend or so is not a problem.

All told, you have no reason not to get a cat - except for the fact that your boyfriend has serious allergies. Look, there are things you can *try*, but a lot of people are just plain allergic and there really *isn't* anything you can do about it. Making people you love miserable is a bad outcome for bringing an animal into your life, and - if you're anything like me - constitutes a veto point.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:37 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

My two cents: the boyfriend's allergies are a showstopper (if you want to keep the bf, that is.) The rest is lesser. You'd probably be a great cat owner; your cat would probably be happy; if you move and can't take your cat, you could probably find it a new home, and cats don't care too much.
posted by anadem at 8:39 AM on July 21, 2008

My rule of thumb with getting pets is that if you're not sure, don't. And it sounds like you're not sure.
posted by box at 8:41 AM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

I have two cats in 450 sq ft and they're perfectly healthy and happy. They make good use of the vertical space (bookshelves, windowledges, doorframes (...sigh)) and don't have any problems.

Also, cats have very different personalities by nature. I've raised both of my girls from the same age, and one is confident, neurotic, and dumb, and the other one is smart, skittish, and needy - they're just different critters.

If you're going to leave them alone a bunch, I'd recommend getting two. My eldest hates the kitten, but she also isn't as insane as she was the year it was just the two of us. This may be different for an older cat that's used to being alone, though - YMMV.

Can't speak to the allergies - that just sucks. It may, as noted above, be a dealbreaker for you.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:41 AM on July 21, 2008

I agree that the allergic boyfriend is the biggest issue here. Even if he never comes over to your house again, if he is seriously allergic, the cat dander in your hair and on your clothes could cause him problems.

If you and the boyfriend decide you can work around his allergy, the second thing I would worry about is finding a 'cat godparent'. It's something I wish I had done when I was a cat owner. Even if you own your own home, there is ALWAYS something that could happen (illness, disability, having a child with a severe allergy, or, as in my case, an out-of-the-blue opportunity to move to another country) that will make it necessary for you to rehome your cat. I did everything possible to find a new home for my cats, and was at the point of having to take them to the shelter, when I finally found someone willing to take them in. It was hugely stressful for me, moreso for the cats. Finding someone ahead of time who will agree to take your cat(s) in the event that it becomes necessary will help you sleep at night.
posted by cilantro at 8:48 AM on July 21, 2008

Tomorrowful beat me to it.

How about a small animal, a pet rat or a guinea pig? Would your bf be allergic to those?

Rats get to know you and are friendly (I cried when our Rattie had to be put down.) Guinea pigs are social and like people, too; in fact maybe too social to be alone as much it it would be while you work - they get pretty miserable alone. With either rats or piggies you could have more than one, though, to keep each other company.

Or a cockatiel? They're very friendly critters that love you madly, though they also get sad alone.

None of those would be quite as comforting as a cat, nor as cuddly (maybe the bf can provide that), but I don't think a cat would work with your life at present.
posted by anadem at 8:49 AM on July 21, 2008

Forgot to add - if you don't have any cat-loving friends to be your cat godparents, some of the cat rescue organizations out there will take your cat back if you can't take care of it any more. They tend to be extremely strict, though, about the initial adoption, and the allergic boyfriend and the weekends away would probably disqualify you.
posted by cilantro at 8:50 AM on July 21, 2008

How about a small animal, a pet rat or a guinea pig? Would your bf be allergic to those?

Also, it should be noted I'm tried the smaller, caged animal route. I had a perfectly nice, normal hamster for 3 years until he died peacefully in his sleep. They just don't do much for me though. It's hard to sleep on the couch with a hamster on your lap.

(I will note that rats, being very social and friendly and smart, are often a great small-pet option for people who don't usually go in for cage-size pets - their activity and often-crazy braininess can give off some of the bigger-animals vibes. But at the same time, the OP *did* specifically count out caged critters.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:53 AM on July 21, 2008

I'd say that if you see a long term future with the BF, then getting this cat is out of the question. There is no reason to value an animal over someone you love.

Also, have you looked into other pets? I've heard a lot of people keep birds.
posted by reenum at 8:55 AM on July 21, 2008

First let's talk about that boyfriend. Boyfriends come and go, but it's a commitment to have a pet. During a sad break-up, you're really happy to come home to the pet that loves you. A fiance or husband would be different story, but a boyfriend is not a reason to put off adopting a pet.
Boyfriend = irrelevant to decision.

Small house is fine for a cat, especially an older cat. Rental housing is a problem mostly dependent on how frequently you move
Housing = -

You are an experienced pet owner. You have the a stable lifestyle that allows you to take care of pet. You are prepared to bear the responsiblities and costs.
Owner Readiness = +++

You want a pet, especially an older shelter animal who doesn't have a lot of chances to find an owner to love him.
Intention = +++++++++++++++++

Side Note: I have tremendous empathy for the allergies. I had very, very bad allergies until I had 7 years of shots. While I was waiting for the shots to take hold it was a constant rotation antihistamines and the nasal steroids. The thing is not every prescription works for everybody. Next time he says, "If there was something I could take, don't you think I would take it? Do you think I enjoy being miserable?", please respond with, "Yes. By refusing to try new medicines for 10 years, you're acting like someone who enjoys being miserable."
posted by 26.2 at 8:57 AM on July 21, 2008

Don't, not if the cat has a chance of finding a better home (bigger place, more people, more stable, etc.).

But if you have to get one, get one that is on the way to the gas chamber. Pick up some one-eyed, three-legged, half-tailed old tom who's otherwise definitely done for.
posted by pracowity at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2008

I was in a similar position (minus the allergy issue). I went ahead and adopted a cat about a year ago and I haven't looked back. I picked up the most outgoing, demonstrative kitten I could find at the shelter, and he's turned into a great pal. I'm still a dog person (profoundly), but this cat has been a great addition to my home. He yowls at me when I come home at the end of the day. He likes to curl around my neck when I'm sitting at the computer. He plays fetch. He does this weird suckling thing that's sort of gross but endearing. Maybe I lucked out, but I'm much happier coming home to the little monster than I was without him.

He'll be getting a cousin soon. Not sure if it'll be a dog cousin or a cat cousin, though.
posted by socratic at 9:00 AM on July 21, 2008

We got a cat from a shelter two years ago - we went looking for a kitten and ended up with an 8-year-old, and we couldn't have done better: he's incredibly affectionate and perfectly at ease.

I'm allergic to cats myself (I'm asthmatic, though not severely, I guess). I was told that it's possible to adapt to a particular animal, and didn't really believe it. However... The first few weeks were miserable, and I really thought we'd have to give him back again. But I persisted, and I did indeed get used to him. Some tips:
- get a high-powered vacuum cleaner
- (for the bf): wash your hands after petting
- don't let the cat get too near you when you sleep
- brush the cat regularly if it will tolerate it (ours actively loves it) - you'd better do this rather than bf

But of course your boyfriend's allergy may be too severe, in which case it's a question of how much inconvenience he's willing to tolerate, I guess.
posted by hatmandu at 9:12 AM on July 21, 2008

Agree that if you have to be asking whether to get a cat or not, you're probably not ready. You may luck out and get a perfect, low-maintenance one, but cats do have varied personalities and temperaments and after the proverbial honeymoon is over, you may have second thoughts. I wouldn't go into something like this without being able to commit 100%.
posted by tinkertown at 9:29 AM on July 21, 2008

If you have any doubt, don't get one. I sounds like you really are a cat lover, but your uncertainty is not really fair to the animal.

You can always wait until circumstances a more favorable (and someday I bet they will be).

There might be opportunities in your area to foster cats while they are waiting for adoption. That would be a good way for you to get an idea of how it would work out for you to adopt one of your own long term.
posted by quarterframer at 9:30 AM on July 21, 2008

I think the boyfriend issue is a dealbreaker, aside from that I see no reason not to adopt two cats (keep each other company while you are at work/gone for the weekend). It sounds like the boyfriend is being unhelpful and stubborn. I don't believe that he has tried everything, and I would question why he doesn't want to try the medication. Speaking as someone with bad allergies and asthma, who is extremely allergic to cats - I have two cats and take medication every day, and enjoy their company without issue. Medications really have improved over the last ten years. The old allergy medications made me drowsy, which is not a nice way to live your life. The current ones do not, no side effects whatsoever. I still had to try a couple in order to find the one that suited me, but I was willing to do so.
posted by Joh at 9:43 AM on July 21, 2008

Look, the only thing worse than wanting a cat and not being able to get one is getting one, falling in love with it and then having to get rid of it. If you want to do a test run with foster cats, per quarterfarmer's suggestion, I'd say that's the way to go. But if your bf, who may someday be your live-in partner, is severely allergic to cats, it's unfair to him and to the a cat to put everyone through that.
And seriously, getting rid of a cat sucks. It's heartbreak like no other.
posted by 8dot3 at 9:58 AM on July 21, 2008

If you are definitely going to have a cat one day, that means this boyfriend either goes one day or he finds some medication that works. So, get the cat. But not if there's a chance you'd want to keep the boyfriend and not the cat. (Let's just hope he never finds out he got dumped for a cat, down the road. No need to hurt his feelings.)

The 600sq ft and being away on a weekend is not an issue, depending on the cat. You need one that is not too needy. When it gets older, it could get more needy, easily.

About Vancouver rentals, I found a decent building that allows pets with a hefty pet deposit. And the company owns several tower buildings.
posted by Listener at 10:39 AM on July 21, 2008

It seems a bit disturbing how many people are telling you to choose an animal over human companionship, or that your boyfriend is a jerk for not wanting to be heavily medicated just to be comfortable in your presence.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:01 AM on July 21, 2008

I don't think you should get a cat.

Your boyfriend is allergic and your space is small and you talk about how you might consider moving soon.

Doesn't sound like you or your boyfriend or your cat would have a lot of fun together in that scenario.
posted by metajc at 11:12 AM on July 21, 2008

My boyfriend is really allergic.

Yeah, this is the only thing that sends up warning flags for me. if it is going to make your boyfriends righteously ill, I doubt it is a good idea, unless you get a hairless one (which you most likely won't find at a shelter), though even they have allergens because it is in their spit....
posted by gwenlister at 11:14 AM on July 21, 2008

If you adopt from a local humane society or shelter, be a bit wary. You never know what you are going to get.

About a year ago we adopted two cats from a local humane society shelter. The plan was to get one cat. My SO fell in love with a sweet kitty boy, but he was in the cage with another cat, a girl, and we were told they were a "bonded" pair. In the world of animal rescue, that means you have to take them both. All we were told about their history was that their owners couldn't take care of them anymore. That translates as these cats have issues. Needless to say, they are not "bonded". On a good day, they ignore each other. They've both been treated for upper respiratory problems and worms. The boy cat has been treated for urinary tract crystals and the cats now eat a special (pricey) dry food that treats urinary problems and hairballs. The boy cat has severe anxiety problems and started spraying in the house (both cats are fixed). After trying numerous behavior modification techniques (Feliway, Ssssst, isolation), we finally had to start him on Kitty Prozac. Every morning we hold him down and stuff a pill down his throat. It's been nearly a month since we started the meds, and he is still spraying, just not as often. We'll likely have to change dosage, or try another type of medication. Fortunately, the girl cat seems to be getting over her aggression problems (thanks Feliway!).

Adding to the fun are the cat allergies that I didn't know I had, so we spend a lot of time sweeping and steam cleaning the carpet. And, we don't let the cats in the bedroom to sleep (gasp). All in all, they are sweet cats, but they definitely could have been separated. We briefly considered returning the boy to the shelter, finding him another home or putting him outside, but we figured no one else would want a cat with emotional issues that sprays, and we are afraid he would get hit by a car or killed by coyotes outside.

My SO is an experienced cat owner (three previously) and even he is frustrated with these two. But, we made a commitment, so we carry on, determined to be good kitty parents. We wish we had been assertive enough to not be talked into two when we really wanted one, and that the people at the shelter had been a bit more forthcoming with background info on the cats, but we understand their priority is getting the animals out of their care and into homes (the adoption interview consisted of one question, "have you'd cats before?") It's a great feeling to be able to give an animal a forever home, but rescue animals come "as is", so expect anything and be prepared for a big commitment of time, energy and money if you decide to adopt. Good luck.
posted by socrateaser at 11:16 AM on July 21, 2008

Defiantly considers something like a rat. My brother had one growing up. She was cuddly and you can teach rats tricks. Also, I personally think she was easier to take care of than cats. However, you can't fall asleep with a rat or let it run loose as it might run away.

Also consider a rabbit (don't know about the allergies though). Rabbits can be litterbox trained and they are VERY cuddly.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 11:32 AM on July 21, 2008

just read the part about the small critters so ignore my point about the rat.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 11:33 AM on July 21, 2008

Help me decide whether or not I should get a cat.

The answer to that question is always yes.
posted by Mike1024 at 11:48 AM on July 21, 2008

1. The loved one's allergies? Pretty important. You'd have a cat and be missing the human companionship if you pick cat over partner's health.

2. If you're still planning to move around between living spaces a few more times before you start house hunting it's no impossible to transport and transplant pets, but they're not famously thrilled at such propositions, which frequently comes out in negative (but stress-soothing) critter behaviors.

3. I think it would be worth thinking more about this part:

>>getting an older, laid back cat from a shelter, ...would be a very good thing.
>>I don't want an animal who turns into a really neurotic, skittish, fraidy-cat who hates being picked up.

Adopting older animals is a beautiful thing; I'm all for that. But expecting that they'll just do and be whoever you want it to be is just never going to happen and it's unfair to any incoming pet with an already-established personality. It's nothing insurmountable, but if you decide to adopt an older animal you'll want to spend some time working out how to help them like living with you before they're living with you. Older does not always = mellower. Personally, I'm endeared to and comfy with crabby old fart cats, but not everyone is.

If you're really jonesing right now to love critters or something smallish, consider volunteering at your local animal shelter or consider being a Big for a little.

You undoubtedly WILL be a good pet owner, one day, but I'm thinking don't get a cat. Not yet, anyway.
posted by mcbeth at 12:15 PM on July 21, 2008

Re: Allergies: certain types of long hair cats have different dander and do not always induce the same allergic reactions as short hairs. Ditto for lighter-colored cats. I only bring this up because as a life long cat lover, I recently came into a mostly-white persian, and am SHOCKED by the lack of allergies--i was planning to have to deal with them, but they just never showed up. A couple friends have also remarked that my cat just doesn't do it to them like most cats.

That said, it is a total maniac, and it's kind of hard to pick a cat that will be as laid back as it is in the shelter, which is an extremely high stress situation even for 'well adjusted' kitties. However, you might not mind an insane devil cat once you get it--they tend to love attention and do cute stuff all the time.
posted by shownomercy at 12:56 PM on July 21, 2008

Thanks guys... much appreciated. I'm going to wait on the cat for now (at least until I can convince the bf that he needs to at least *try* some of the new meds out there!) but I'm not waiting forever -- not being able to eventually have a pet of some sort is a dealbreaker for me, as well. They're just a part of who I am, and I've got without for (almost) long enough. I have thought about fostering -- maybe that's something I'll look into a bit more. Kinda like a trial run.
posted by cgg at 1:37 PM on July 21, 2008

I realize you already decided against going and getting a cat immediately, but ...

I'm in Vancouver too and have a cat. Its not as hard to find a place with a cat as you might think. Sure it limits the possibilities but having moved/looked for a place on three separate occasions since the end of 2006, I can assure you that you will be able to find something suitable that allows cats. Keep an eye on craisglist and if you are currently dealing with (or have dealt with in the past) a property manager, check with them for their listings as well. See if they can refer you to any other property managers that will have apartments allowing cats.

Allergies are a little trickier, but short hair cats, regular brushing (Use a furminator!), and a good vacuum on a regular basis will help, even if the bf doesn't want to try new meds.
posted by kirstk at 3:01 PM on July 21, 2008

Think a little more about a guinea pig. We have had one before and they really do split the diff between hamster and kitty. If you do decide to go that route get more than one (to keep each other company) and have a really big cage.
posted by konolia at 4:04 PM on July 21, 2008

If you decide at some point that you want a hypoallergenic cat, there's a lot of good and bad information out there about Siberians. I looked into it a bunch before we got ours, and I've posted some of it here before.
posted by daisyace at 4:21 PM on July 21, 2008

I'm a little late to this thread, but for whatever it's worth, I was in a similar situation to yours a few years ago. I really wanted to get a cat but had all kinds of reasons not to -- a smallish condo, uncertain near-future living arrangements, I wasn't necessarily home every day (but there were no allergies to contend with). I had decided that it would be unwise for me to get a cat, and then one day a sweet little kittycat showed up at my door and let me know in no uncertain terms that she intended to live with me. Several years later, none of the reasons I was hesitant to get a cat have turned out to be problematic at all, and both my cat and I are quite happy with the way things have turned out. I guess the moral of the story is that things have a way of working themselves out, be they worries or desires. I sincerely hope that your situation resolves as well as mine did!
posted by Balonious Assault at 10:09 PM on July 21, 2008

For the record, this is nonsense:

if you move and can't take your cat, you could probably find it a new home, and cats don't care too much

You sound like a thoughtful, responsible person, cgg, so I'm sure you didn't take that comment seriously. But I couldn't just let it sit there.
posted by tangerine at 10:11 PM on July 21, 2008

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