There are a variety of ways to find a pet cat – buy a pedigree cat from a breeder; get a kitten or adult cat from a homing/rescue centre, get one from a friend or neighbour or buy one from a pet shop.
The environment from which you get your cat, its experiences and the care it received there can have a lasting effect on its health and behaviour. Therefore it is important to know what to look for and what to ask.
You should be prepared to walk away if you are not happy with what you see or with the answers to your questions, rather than take a cat which will not be healthy or happy in your particular home.
Here we will look at the different places where you can get a cat and what to look for.
Where should I get a cat from?
Many of us simply become cat owners because the cat chooses us – it turns up on the doorstep or in the garden and gradually works its way into the bedroom! Other people get a kitten from neighbours or friends whose own cat has had an ‘accidental’ litter. This can easily happen if owners don’t realise that their own ‘kitten’ was grown up enough to have kittens of its own – of course, the local tom cat has noticed! (Kittens can be neutered at 4 months old to make sure this does not happen). Because these ‘accidental’ kittens are often born into a busy household and they are the only cats there, they are often well handled and involved in all the day-to-day activity which prepares the kittens to be good pets (click here for information on choosing a cat and how its behaviour is affected by its experiences).
You can also go to a breeder for a pedigree kitten or visit a homing/rescue organisation for a kitten or cat which needs a new home. There are good breeders and there are excellent homing/rescue organisations; however, there are also those of poor quality which produce or keep cats in a way that is not conducive to health or to making good pets. If you understand what can influence the health and welfare of a cat or kitten and how its environment and its care can also influence this, you can at least make an informed judgement – hopefully, this new cat or kitten will be with you and your family for a long time.
What should I look for in a rescue organisation?
Although all homing/rescue organisations may mean well, not all do well for cats. In countries such as the UK, there is strong charity support for our animals, and thousands are rescued, saved and rehomed to a very high quality. Many of the organisations involved are highly professional and have taken on board the mental and physical health needs of their cats in the way they’re cared for. Sadly, however, there are some ‘rescues’ or ‘sanctuaries’ where cats are still kept in inappropriate conditions.
A homing/rescue organisation should:
- Only take in the number of cats it can care for properly
- Ensure that cats which are ill or injured have appropriate veterinary care
- Ensure that the cats are not at risk of catching other diseases while they are in the facility
- Ensure that cats are not stressed by the conditions they are kept in or, by the proximity of other cats or dogs. This can lead to behaviour problems and a reduced ability to fight disease as well as increasing the shedding of viruses.
- Ensure the cats are kept in such a way that they can relax and exhibit normal behaviour so that the right homes can be found for them
- Aim to match cats to owners with the aim of long-term harmonious relationships
- Ensure that every effort is made to find suitable homes as quickly as possible for the cats in their care
The way cats are housed within the homing/rescue facility is very important. The more cats you have in an enclosure, the more risk there is of passing on diseases. Viruses and other organisms thrive where there are lots of cats, bad hygiene and stressed animals. Cats don’t necessarily relish the company of other cats. While some may be very sociable, others will be absolutely terrified if put in a communal run with strange cats. They may not fight, but their behaviour is subdued and each one will sit as far as it can from the others, dotted around wherever they can find a bit of space of their own.
In countries such as the UK and USA, many charities have good facilities and resources and keep cats in individual units with a warm sleeping place and a run where they can stretch their legs a bit or see what’s going on. Cats that come in together and seem to get on very well (the one doesn’t necessarily follow from the other, and many a cat from a ‘pair’ blossoms when it’s separated from its companion) may be kept together, but assumptions are not made. In other countries there may not be the facilities available and cats may be kept in communal runs – here cats must be chosen very carefully for compatibility and numbers kept to a minimum. Hygiene must be excellent and cats give places to climb and hide if they want to get away from one another.
If you go to a poor-quality homing/rescue centre and see cats being kept in terrible conditions you’re bound to feel sorry for them and will want to take them away to save them from their current environment. But the problem with this is that you may take on a cat that’s been made susceptible to infection by being kept in a stressful situation and has potentially been exposed to lots of diseases. You could take home an animal with all sorts of health problems. This may not only be financially disastrous but emotionally it can be very stressful too as you try to nurse the cat through illness. Additionally, there is the potential risk of taking disease home to cats you may already have. Support homing/rescue organisations which are doing a good job and understand the complexities of disease control and the cat’s wellbeing. Just wanting to do good, or collecting lots of cats in the name of ‘rescue’, may meet a rescuer’s own needs but it is not necessarily in the interests of the cats. Caring for lots of cats, some with very complex needs, is not an easy undertaking.
In good homing/rescues, health and wellbeing are understood and staff house the cats in a way that enables assessment of an individual cat’s behaviour and personality as well as health. The aim is to try to match a new owner to a cat as successfully as possible, and this is not always easy. Cats will also be checked carefully for health problems and will ideally be neutered, wormed, treated for fleas and any other conditions that may have been identified.
This is not to say you shouldn’t take on a cat with an illness or disability. If the homing/rescue organisation can tell you about it and what the cat’s needs will be, and is able to give you a full picture on which to base an informed choice, then you can take it on with full knowledge of what needs to be done. A cat needing an owner who is prepared to be more of a carer will be very lucky to find a good home. It all comes down to knowing what you’re taking on. Many people who have the necessary time, energy and compassion get a great deal of satisfaction from taking on a cat that needs help.
Many wonderful cats and kittens come from rehoming/rescue organisations and find excellent homes with caring owners. Find one which is doing a great job and support it however you can.
In some countries, kittens in need of homes are kept in cages in the vet’s waiting room or on the premises. Staff will be able to provide all the associated health information to people taking on the kittens.
If you are interested in a specific breed there are breed clubs which have a welfare officer whose job is to try to rehome pedigree cats that are no longer able to stay with their owners. Contact the relevant breed clubs to find out more.
Once you have decided that you want a cat or kitten, click here to find out the questions to ask and what to look for in choosing your particular pet.
How do I choose a breeder to buy a pedigree kitten from?
If you decide you want a pedigree cat there are again a couple of different routes to go down, depending on whether you want an adult or a kitten. As mentioned above, many of the breed clubs have welfare groups that take in and rehome cats of that particular breed. They’ll have knowledge of the breed’s particular needs (such as daily grooming) so that they can find owners who’ll be able to care for them properly.
If you do want a pedigree kitten then you have to choose not only the breed you want (why not read out A – Z of cat breeds) (visit our advise page on pedigree cats – things to consider), but also a breeder who can provide a kitten that’s in the best of health and, equally importantly, that will make a good pet. Most people don’t just want a cat that has a certain shape, coat length or colour, they also want one that’s confident and well balanced. Although people tend to take it for granted that this comes automatically, that isn’t always the case. Kittens that don’t get the right exposure to people and the human environment in their first few weeks won’t make ‘good’ pets, or at least, not in the way we expect them to be – confident, gentle and interactive.
There are good breeders and bad breeders. There are those with the knowledge, experience and desire to make their cats’ health and welfare their top priority, and there are others who don’t really understand cats at all, and don’t really care or can’t be bothered to do what’s necessary to produce a healthy, well-rounded cat. And because a cat’s character and reactivity to people are formed almost entirely during the time in which it’s with the breeder, this is a heavy responsibility. If the breeder is knowledgeable about cat health, has a small number of breeding cats and ensures that the kittens have lots of handling and care, then they’re likely to provide new owners with a healthy, happy kitten. If, however, they’re simply trying to make money by producing lots of kittens as quickly as possible without investing the necessary time in their development, then they may well produce fearful kittens. Likewise, having too many cats and kittens crowded together means that those artful cat viruses will have a fantastic playground in which to do their worst.
‘Breeder’ is not a professional qualification. The description can be used by anyone who has accidentally or deliberately bred a litter of kittens, and the quality of breeder varies accordingly. Happily, there are breeders who are dedicated to their cats and are very, very knowledgeable, not just about that particular breed but also about cat health and the need for socialisation, and are dedicated to finding excellent homes for the kittens they produce.
Overcrowded, dirty and smelly environments with lots of cats and kittens are not conducive to health and do not allow the necessary time to be spent with each kitten. If the breeder has a range of litter ages and even breeds to choose from, or has different rooms full of cats, then look elsewhere. What you should be looking for is a home similar to your own, with a clean environment, a healthy-looking mother cat that’s confident with people, and healthy interactive kittens.
It is always best to see a kitten with its mother in the place where it was bred. This gives you a great deal of information about its health and welfare and the temperament of the mother. This cannot happen in a pet shop. Of course, there are good and bad pet shops. The good ones will have individual litters kept in a high quality, clean, warm environment with suitable food, litter facilities and water. Ideally, the kittens should already have been vaccinated so they are protected against disease. In a bad scenario many kittens of different ages from different litters (and thus probably exposure to different viruses and organisms which will be shared with the other vulnerable kittens) are kept in crowded and unhygienic environments, without being vaccinated, and perhaps not getting the appropriate nutrition for kittens. These kittens will be at high risk of illness and stress and are likely to become ill. What happens to kittens overnight when the shop is shut or if not all of them are bought? Are they getting a chance to rest while they are being displayed for sale? Is there any information about the health of that particular litter and the parents? If at all possible get your kitten from a good breeder, from a good rehoming/rescue organisation or from a friend or neighbour.
There are many advertisements in newspapers, local stores or on the internet that offer kittens for sale. The same amount of care should be taken in vetting these sources as any other in choosing a kitten.
A prospective purchaser would want a breeder to care enough about the kittens he or she has bred to want to talk to potential new owners, not just hand over to a 3rd party or dealer, so any advertisements from dealers should probably be avoided for this reason.
The Kitten Checklist
The Kitten Checklist has been put together by 20 animal and veterinary organisations, to help you make an informed decision when choosing a kitten. It will help you find a healthy, friendly kitten and avoid some of the pitfalls which can occur.