Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pet Lover? Choosing a Cat for your Toddler

Everyone knows there are "dog people" and "cat people" whose personalities reflect which pet would better suit them. If you've decided you're a "cat person" and want to choose a furry feline pet for a companion for your little one, there are of course a few ground rules it's imperative to follow. First of all, what kind of cat do you want? A newborn, a kitten, or an adult? A newborn or kitten will be easier to "train" (well, at least as much as one can train a cat!) than an adult who's already settled into the idea that he or she is master of the domain.

Something to evaluate before you even step into the pet store: Do you know if your child may have any allergies that could be triggered by having a cat? Does anyone else in your family? No allergies? Then you're safe to proceed.

Where do you want to look for your cat? Online breeders may or may not be reputable; it's probably best not to take the risk. Check out your local pet stores, but only if they're willing to answer any questions you might have about a cat's health, disposition, and history. If they don't seem to know much about the animal's past, look elsewhere.

Another good idea is to find out if the cat was taken to the vet in the past (if it's not a newborn, of course); contact the vet's office directly and obtain medical records and any additional information. No one wants to be assured they have a healthy pet, only to come home and find the "new member of the family" infested with worms or fleas.

All right, so you've chosen a pet shop and your little tyke is excited about choosing a "kitty" to love. The next step, though not vital to owning a cat, will still be important. It's time to determine what kind of cat you are looking for. Long-hair or short-hair? Almost every breed of cat sheds, so be prepared to deal with this problem no matter what the length of hair. Do you want a Siamese, a tabby, or a black-and-white? Discuss this with other members of the family until you've decided.

There are major transitions within the home that will occur after you bring the little bundle of fur home. There will need to be a place for the cat to sleep and play; many places sell cat beds, pillows, or soft mattresses to cushion Kitty while she naps. Remember that, especially in the case of older cats, your new pet may not settle in right away. Sleeping in a strange home on a strange bed with unfamiliar food creates trauma in many felines. Over time, as your cat trusts you, this behavior should diminish. It's also possible that the first few days will consist of plaintive meowing. Patience is the key.

Routine vet visits are *always* a good idea. That way, even if your kitten or cat develops problems, they can be detected and remedied quickly. Some professionals believe you should not be in the room when your pet is being examined, or any discomfort or trauma they undergo may be associated with you (there are few things more dangerous than a vengeful cat!). Medicine and vet visits will most likely get expensive, so consider all these things before welcoming a cat into your home.

Be sure you have a family member who will offer to clean the litter box when it becomes necessary and once your cat learns how to "do his business," this will be a daily chore. You might enjoy having the child pick out a variety of toys for your pet; little toys and gadgets usually aren't expensive. The most expensive things you will need for Kitty? A supply of litter and cans or packets of cat food as well as dry food.

Keep in mind that you will be buying cat food almost constantly, and money may be wasted if your picky feline decides she doesn't like what's on the menu. Cats are fickle creatures but once he or she finds a favorite food, you can rest assured at least *one*
kind of cat food you offer will be eaten.

A cat is a wonderful pet, very loving and loyal and bursting with personality. Some people lament the fact that cats can't be "trained" like dogs, but some of us happen to think that a cat's stubborn independence is a beautiful part of its nature. Good luck on your search for that perfect family feline!

By L. R. Schaeffer