CHOOSING A CAT
R. Roger Breton Nancy J Creek
Making the Decision
So! You've decided you want a cat, have you? Before taking the plunge there are a few things to take into account. The first and most important of these is so obvious, so self-evident, that we hesi- tate to mention it, and wouldn't were it not for the fact that it is so often overlooked.
Your new cat will be a living, breathing, caring, cuddling, and fairly intelligent member of the family with many special needs and desires, not all of which are necessarily pleasant to fulfill. If you are not ready to meet the requirements of being a cat person, then consider a stuffed cat (polyester doesn't shed and kapok doesn't require a lit- terbox).
The lifespan of a cat is typically fifteen to twenty years, all of which will be spent as a member of the family: this is roughly the same length of time a human child would be in residence. A cat is, in many ways, a perpetual small child: it has certain simple but ex- tremely necessary requirements (food, shelter, etc.), gives and re- ceives love, provides pleasure and amusement, does certain household chores (better than "other kids" at pest control, but lousy at washing dishes), and, like most small children, minds when it wants to. Unlike a small child, however, a cat doesn't require a baby sitter, doesn't demand the latest in toys or fashions, and never needs ortho- pedic shoes.
In effect, a cat provides a maximum of pleasure to its people with a minimum of trouble, if only the people follow a few simple guidelines.
One extremely important thing to consider: never obtain a cat (or any other living creature) as a gift for someone else unless you are absolutely certain that the recipient really wants and is able to care for it. Many a Christmas kitten is discarded in September when the "new" has worn off and kittenhood is no longer evident. In a like manner, never obtain a cat as a status symbol, or for any reason other than love. Neither you nor the cat will be happy in the long run.
Choosing a Cat
When obtaining a cat there are several things for which to look: Is it the desired breed? Is it suitable for your lifestyle? Will it do well with other members of the household? Is it healthy? Is it friendly? What is its past? Does it wish to be a member of your household? And, last but far from least, are you ready to get your new cat?
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Before obtaining your new cat, there are a few preparatory steps to take. The first of these is paramount, do you have the needed arti- cles?
The minimum a prospective cat owner should have in the way of equip- ment is: food and water dishes, litter box, carrier, flea/tick sham- poo, food, and litter. Prepare your prospective pet's eating and elimination areas ahead of time, the less hustle and bustle that needs to be done during its first few hours in its new home, the better.
Place your cat's food and water in plain sight, but off the major traffic pattern of the household. A corner of the kitchen is usually satisfactory. Cats, while neat, are rarely Emily Post graduates, so place the food and water on a washable surface, such as tile or lino- leum.
By placing the food and water in plain sight, it will be easy for you to check for their presence at any time (and harder to forget to check), and will also instill in your cat the sense that eating is a public activity. This last is especially important should your cat be the indoor/outdoor type, which often has a tendency to bring home the occasional snack. Trust us, it is far better to find half of a mouse in the middle of the kitchen than behind the living-room sofa: the latter usually being discovered by nose.
Most soft plastic dishes (polyethylene or polypropylene) exude chemi- cals slowly, which your cat will be able to smell. This odor will turn off most cats, besides which the exuded chemicals are often harmful. If the dish has a slick, slightly slimy feel (as many plas- tics do), or has a detectable odor, don't use it.
Hard plastics, such as styrenes and their derivatives (Melmac, Mela- mine, and similar materials) are good choices. Inexpensive hard plastic dishes such as those designed for babies are excellent.
Stainless steel dishes are excellent, but do not use other metals such as aluminum, copper, brass, bronze, iron, or non-stainless steels, as they will often react with the food and water, producing oxides and other chemicals which your cat will then ingest. One drawback to stainless steel dishes are that they are light in weight. Only those with a broad non-tip base should be used.
Glass or non-porous or glazed ceramic dishes are best all around, as they are heavy and completely odor-neutral.
A simple rule of thumb can be followed here: buy only dishes that you yourself would not hesitate to eat out of.
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The choice of food for your cat may be based upon several criteria, the least of which is price. Commercial cat food comes in three types: canned (moist), soft-moist, and dry, all of which are suitable for feeding your cat. Do not feed your cat a diet of dog food or people food: both lack certain nutrients that are essential to a cat.
Canned food has the most flavor, the highest price, and the most offensive odors (to humans, not cats). As a rule, good canned food contains a well-balance mixture of protein, fats, carbohydrates, and minerals. Exceptions to this are the "premium" or "gourmet" foods, which are often balanced for taste rather than nutrition. Be certain the food you use as a staple (treats are a separate issue) has the words "total" or "complete" nutrition, which are governed by law (the word "balanced" is not).
Soft-moist foods have the advantages of minimal odor and long shelf life. They are good for about a day in the bowl, and should not be left out longer than that. Be aware that most soft-moist foods con- tain an abundance of preservatives to prevent spoilage, so labels should be read carefully.
Dry foods have two strong advantages over other types: very long shelf and bowl life and an integral tooth-cleaning action during consumption. Most commercial dry foods are complete, well-balanced diets, though some brands, including at least one very popular nation- wide brand, contain what in our opinion is an excessive amount of dye. While shape is of importance to a cat, color is important only to people (people, of course, are the ones advertising is aimed at).
One last note on foods: do not automatically be suspect of a catfood that shows a high percentage of fat: cats require a lot of fat in their diet. A well balance cat diet would turn the "other pet" into a canine blimp.
Water is vitally important for your cat. Always keep a supply of fresh water to hand, especially if semi-moist or dry foods are being fed.
All tap water should be allowed to stand for a considerable time (an hour or two) before serving. This allows the chlorine we humans put in our water to evaporate, thus making the water more palatable to our furry friends. If you serve tap water immediately, don't be surprised if your cat decides that the bowl contains something not nice and prefers to take its water from the "other bowl" in the small room with all the porcelain fixtures, where the water has been standing for a while.
An important note here: milk is not water and should not be substi- tuted for water, even for kittens (after weaning, of course). Always provide plenty of water.
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What goes in must come out, making the litter box an absolute necces- sity. Any commercial litterbox is suitable, though covered litter boxes are best for both esthetic and effluvial reasons. Place the litter box in a quiet out of the way place, as cats like privacy when the need arises.
Be certain the litterbox is sufficiently large for your cat. A too- small litterbox will often cause an "overhang" problem. Your cat should be able to enter the box and comfortably turn around in it. This is especially critical with covered boxes. A rule of thumb should be the width should be at least as long as the cat (not count- ing tail), and the length about half again as long. Most boxes are made on a 3:4 ratio (three inches in width for every four inches in length), though some commercial boxes are as oblong as 3:5, while others are as square as 4:5. All are suitable if large enough for the cat.
An emergency or temporary litterbox can be easily made by placing a shallow cardboard box of the proper size inside of a large trash bag. After use, place the whole thing in another trash bag for disposal.
One cautionary note: if your new cat is a small kitten, don't get a litterbox with a "stoop" higher than the kitten can manage easily. Don't depend upon the kitten's ability to jump to get it in the box: remember it will have a full bladder or bowel, and jumping is not the recommended activity at such times. In a pinch, a brick or block of wood may be used as a stoop to assist the kitten into the box, allow- ing it to jump out, but a temporary low-sided box is a better solu- tion.
Any commercial cat litter, or even shredded newspaper, is satisfacto- ry, especially for the short term. Cleanliness is critical. If the box becomes filled with "cat exhaust," your cat will be reluctant to enter it (wouldn't you?). In such cases, the carpet may suffer.
If at all possible, obtain a small quantity of soiled litter from the breeder. This should be sprinkled over your new, fresh litter to transfer the home smell to the new box. If for some reason it is impractical to transfer soiled litter, watch your cat closely until you are certain it has recognized the box for what it is. Usage is the only certainty. If it starts to investigate a corner, pick it up and transfer it immediately to the box while speaking softly and petting it. After it has used the box, praise it highly: this is much the same approach used to potty-train a human child, but is faster and easier.
Do not attempt to travel with your cat, new or otherwise, without re- straint: the best restraint is a good cat carrier. Never attempt to simply hold your cat, especially a new cat who has not yet learned to trust you completely. Always remember that a cat is still an animal
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and cannot understand strange or loud sounds, rapid motions, etc. If you are holding it and it panics, you may suddenly find yourself with an armful of teeth and claws.
If you anticipate a lot of travel (vet trips count as travel), a sturdy plastic carrier is best, and can be obtained from any pet store and most breeders and veterinarians. An inexpensive cardboard carrier can be used for short, infrequent trips. A cardboard box with ample air holes can be used in an emergency.
If travel must be accomplished without a carrier or box, wrap the cat securely in several layers of towel or a heavy pillowcase until it is completely immobilized, then transport it with a hand firmly but gently holding the scruff of its neck to prevent biting in the event of panic. Talk constantly to the cat in a soft loving tone to relax it as much as possible. The chances of panic in this case are in- creased by the cat's inability to move its legs. Under no circum- stances allow a child to hold a cat so restrained, as the child may actually lack the strength (or nerve) to hold onto the cat in a panic situation: cats are surprisingly strong for their size and can often escape from the grasp of an adult, much less a child.
If the cat is ill or injured, especially with broken bones, call your vet immediately for advice on immobilization befor transporting it.
Choice of Breed
Of all the things to be considered when obtaining a cat as a general pet, the least important is the breed. After all, when choosing a friend, is it really important if he or she is blond or brunette? We do acknowledge that there is something special about an all-white cat, an all-black cat, or one with unusual markings. Likewise, each breed has certain characteristics that are often very desirable: one would attempt to take away our Abyssinian, Tut, at their own peril (and a dire peril it would be).
For households with active children, especially small children, a mixed-breed cat has a distinct advantage over its purebred cousins. Children being children, they are often unintentionally cruel. The mixed-breed is usually a heartier, sturdier animal than the purebred, both physically and psychologically, and can often tolerate small childhood cruelties and indignities (such as being carried by the neck while dressed in doll clothes).
On the other hand, if your desire is to raise cats, the question of breed is paramount. In this case, the choice becomes which breed and which members of that breed to choose.
Choose a cat suitable for your lifestyle. If you are an outgoing individual and lead a fairly active life, you should choose a fairly active cat such as a Siamese or Maine Coon. Conversely, if you are a quiet or shy person, a Persian or Ragdoll might be a better choice.
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If your lifestyle or business takes you away from home a lot, choose a sturdy, self-sufficient cat such as an American Shorthair or Char- treux. If you are housebound or suffer from limited mobility, one of the tranquil breeds such as the Ragdoll or Turkish Angora, might be best. In the matter of personality, the selection of a specific breed of cat can be a good starting point in the overall choice of compan- ion.
Adaptability to Others
Like any other creature, individual cats vary widely in their response to adults, children, and other pets. As a rule, a cat will learn to accept all human members of the household, though many will express a definite preference for one particular human (and not always the obvious one at that). Most cats will also adapt to other non-human family members, such as another cat or "the other pet." The period of adjustment is usually from one to four weeks, though there are some individuals who simply will not adapt, particularly if a territorial dispute should occur.
When there are other pets, a new kitten will usually fair better than an adult cat, and a neuter better than a whole animal (particularly among males).
One other point: if a member of the family suffers from allergies or respiratory disorders, a non-shedding cat, or even a hypo-allergenic cat, may be a preferred choice.
Having the Decision Made for You
Occasionally, a cat may decide to adopt a human, rather than the other way around. When this occurs, the human is faced with two choices: fight or give in gracefully. A cat can be surprisingly tenacious towards its adopted "owner," often tolerating out and out abuse rather than leave or, perhaps, admit it made a bad choice.
To be so selected is an honor. Unfortunately, it is an honor that not all people appreciate. If you feel you simply cannot accept this honor, it is best to transfer the cat's devotion to another, rather than to drive it away. If drive it away you must, then one of the most successful yet humane methods is the white-vinegar squirtgun. Cats loathe the taste and smell of vinegar, and it will do them no harm.
If you can, take it in temporarily and try to find a friend or other who would be willing to provide a loving home. Your veterinarian may be of some assistance here, as he or she often knows of various adop- tion agencies or individuals who will welcome the animal.
As an absolutely last resort, you may have the cat taken to your city or county animal shelter. Be aware that most shelter cats are de- stroyed after a short availability period. While most shelters these days use a humane method of euthanasia, such as lethal injection, there are still some shelters in the U.S. that use decompression, a
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truly excruciating way to die (but very cheap).
Some shelters also ship excess animals to research laboratories. While we appreciate the bona-fide need for animals in medical research and recognize the valuable contributions such animals have given mankind (witness insulin), we are also aware that much research is profit or vanity oriented, such as that done by some cosmetics houses, and would just as soon that cats not be involved.
The best alternative to the "you have been chosen" problem is to meet it head on...and give in. Some of the all-time greats in catdom chose their own humans, and that scruffy-looking alleycat scratching at your back door may be but love and a bath away from being another Morris. Once the newcomer has been accepted, it should immediately be de- ticked (maybe), de-mited (probably), de-fleaed (almost definitely), and taken to the vet for a thorough examination.
One very important criteria for obtaining a new cat is to choose a healthy animal. A sick or injured animal may appeal to your sympa- thies, and may, in the long run, make an excellent and rewarding cat, but be prepared for extensive veterinary bills and special handling should the cat be seriously or chronically ill, injured, or deformed. We feel that any condition in which the cat is in constant pain might best be dealt with via euthanasia. A "special" cat, however, can be much like a special child: extra love for extra care. Your veteri- narian is the best one to advise you on making a rational and proper decision concerning the adoption of an unwell animal.
Normally, you should check a prospective cat carefully before making a decision to adopt, and reject any animal that is not "perfect." This is not always easy to accomplish, since adoption is primarily an emotional experience and love at first sight is common between cats and people (those who say you can't buy love have never been to an animal shelter).
The need to check the animal's health goes up with its cost. Reputa- ble breeders always offer a no-risk period wherein you may have the cat examined by your own veterinarian, and always offer a reasonable guarantee of good health, varying from two weeks to ninety days. Most states also allow recovery through the courts, regardless of time, should the animal have an undetectable chronic condition or birth defect (a queen that cannot carry, for example). We have found, however, that most courts limit recovery to a replacement or buy-back of the animal, and by the time the case comes to court most people have become so attached to their cat as to opt to keep it, even with whatever condition it might have.
The Initial Examination
To make a preliminary check of a potential adoptee, start with its behavior and appearance. In behavior, the cat should be alert and responsive around strangers (you). It should be curious, cautious but
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unafraid, and should come up to sniff an outstretched hand. Use no incentives for this test: after all you're checking the cat's re- sponse to you, not to a Kitty Munchie. After making initial introduc- tions, the cat should permit itself to be petted and "skritched" behind the ears.
When offered a string or piece of crumpled paper, the cat should show curiosity and a willingness to play. A lack of interest may indicate an ill or jaded animal. This is not super conclusive, however, as the cat may be simply tired (which should show as yawns, cats not being especially bashful).
In posture, the cat should walk smoothly, with no sign of limping or favoring a foot, with tail erect and head high. A drooping tail and/or head indicate a nervous or possibly ill cat. The play of muscles under the skin, visible in shorthaired animals, should be smooth and beautiful. If possible, have the cat walk over obstacles, such as the lap of a person sitting on the floor, and observe the placement of feet and overall stride. There should be no hesitation or uncertainty in its movements even though the surface is irregular.
The legs and tail should be firm and strong, with no signs of scabs, lumps, or tenderness. The abdomen and groin should be free from lumps and swellings. Lumps, especially around the navel or in the groin, may be indicative of hernia. The ribs should be easily felt, but not obvious under the fur. If the ribs cannot be felt, the cat is proba- bly obese: if obvious, it may be undernourished.
The anus should be relatively clean and dry, free from discharge. It should be pink or pale brown: a red, swollen, or draining anus usual- ly indicates diarrhea and/or a parasitic infestation.
The genitals should also be clean and free from discharge. In males, a draining or swollen penis indicates a definite problem, possibly urolithiasis or FUS. In females, a discharge may indicate a gyneco- logical disorder. A reddish or slightly swollen vulva may indicate the imminent onset of estrus (heat): the latter is a normal condition for females in season.
There should be six to eight nipples (technically, there are eight, but one or two sometimes don't develop fully), all of which should be small and pale pink in males, slightly larger in non-pregnant, non- lactating females. In pregnant or nursing queens, the nipples will be considerably larger and pinker, often with a definite "breast." It is not unusual for nursing queens to have an irregular breast pattern, as each kitten picks a specific nipple for exclusive use, and any nipple not chosen will dry up and lose its breast. In either males or fe- males a tender or abnormally swollen nipple or breast may indicate a possible blocked teat, mastitis, or gynecomastia, all of which are problems.
The coat should be clean and glossy, free from fleas and other para- sites. It should have a faint and spicy odor, slightly stronger in males. A distinctly strong or musty odor may be a sign of problems,
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possibly a fungal infection.
The feet and nails should be clean and strong, with no encrustations and no soft or spongy pads. Beware of the cat with tender feet. Polydactylism (extra toes) is common and poses no problem unless you plan to breed the cat. Cats normally have five toes on each front foot and four on each rear.
The eyes should be clear and bright, free from cloudiness or dis- charge. A little easily-cleaned dirt in the corner is normal, but sticky or encrusted dirt indicates a discharge, which could be a sign of a blocked tear duct, conjunctivitis, sinusitis, or an upper respi- ratory infection. The haw (third eyelid) should be fully retracted. A visible or exposed haw indicates illness.
The ears should be clean and held forward, fully pricked or erect (except, of course, for the Scottish Fold and American Curl, which have unique ears). Beware the cat with a droopy ear or that shakes its head or scratches at its ear, it probably has ear mites. A dark or waxy encrustation or discharge in the ears may also be a sign of ear mites. While ear mites are relatively easy to control, it is a time-consuming process and is likely to spread to other animals in the household. The symptoms of ear mites may also be produced by other parasites or other forms of otitis.
The cat should respond to a sudden behind-its-head and out-of-sight clap of the hands by darting forward a few feet (getting out of dan- ger) then turning to identify the sound. A cat that promptly disap- pears is overly nervous.
White cats with blue eyes are often deaf. A deaf cat may make a very good pet, but must absolutely be kept indoors. Be prepared for a seemingly aloof cat, as it will not respond when called (the true test of a deaf cat versus an aloof one is a lack of response to the "cat- signal," commonly called a canopener).
The nose should be slightly moist and cool to the touch. It will seldom be as wet as that of the "other pet," and on occasion may be dry, especially immediately after a face washing, but should always be cool. A hot nose may be a sign of fever and, since cats rarely have a non-specific fever (unlike humans), may be a sign of severe disorder or illness.
The nose should also be clean and free from discharge or encrustation, either of which may be a symptom of upper respiratory infection. Obviously, since cats seldom use a tissue, there may be a small amount of residual encrustation, especially inside the nostrils where the cat cannot reach.
The mouth is usually pink overall, with no coating on the tongue. In some individuals, the inside of the mouth may be pigmented, making assessment more difficult. The teeth should be clean and white with no excessive tartar buildup and the gums should be firm and pink. When lightly pressed with the tip of a finger (not the fingernail),
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the gums should be pale under pressure and promptly return to normal when the pressure is released. Abnormally pale, bluish, or red or dark gums, or gums the bleed when pressed or return to color very slowly, may be a sign of gingivitis, periodontal disease, respiratory distress, toxicity problems, or other illness.
Except immediately after eating, the breath should not be unpleasant. Bad breath, especially sour breath, can be a sign of mouth, respirato- ry, or gastric problems.
The palate should, like the rest of the mouth, be a healthy pink. It should not be cleft. Cleft palate is a common but serious birth defect.
The teeth, especially the canines and carnassials, should be firm and unbroken. When very gently tapped with a pencil, there should be no pain (evidenced by a sudden violent jerk of the cat's head): the presence of pain indicates possible abscesses. Missing or broken incisors are of no consequence, as long as there is no pain, since the cat doesn't use them for much and can get along quite nicely without them (the only "damage" is cosmetic, but we've never yet met a cat whose vanity required false teeth).
Once your layman's examination has determined that the cat is probably healthy, you should check into its past. Has it had its shots? Which specific shots of which specific vaccines? Obtain a copy of the shot record, if possible. Has it been tested for feline leukemia and the feline immunodeficiency virus and is it FeLV and FIV negative? If it is FeLV or FIV positive, you should perhaps think twice before bring- ing it into contact with any other cats you may have.
Also important is identification of any kittenhood illnesses, in- juries, etc. Basically, an entire medical history should be obtained whenever possible, as this will assist the veterinarian in his/her evaluation of overall health.
A casual check into its family history, personalities and sizes of its parents, longevity of its immediate ancestors, etc., will give a good indication of its ultimate personality, size, and lifespan.
Choosing a Veterinarian
Choose a good veterinarian. First and foremost, be certain that he/she is a fully license and certified Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). Avoid any "veterinarian" who is the least bit reluctant about showing his/her credentials. Like other doctors, most veterinarians proudly display their credentials on their office walls (and rightly so, considering the years of study and training they require).
In some areas, the local "vet" may not be a doctor, but rather a "natural" or "holistic" healer. Such people are not veterinarians and may not legally call themselves such. While some of you as individu-
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als may prefer a holistic approach to medicine (and such is certainly your right and prerogative), such choices are matters of faith, and entirely beyond the grasp of a cat. Use a licensed veterinarian.
The Veterinary Examination
If possible, arrange with your vet so that you may bring in the cat directly from the breeder, original owner, animal shelter, or wherev- er. Be prepared to leave the cat with the doctor overnight, if neces- sary, until a complete physical and all needed tests have been per- formed and the vet pronounces the cat fit. If the breeder does not have an FeLV and FIV negative cattery, be certain to have the appro- priate tests performed before mixing the new cat with your others (if there are no others, the tests should still be performed, but the urgency is gone). Obtain a fresh stool sample from the breeder so the doctor may check for internal parasites (worms).
With a little care, a healthy mature cat can make a wonderful addition to any home.
George or Georgette
One simple detail that many people overlook for one reason or another is a determination of the sex of your new family member. It really is rather simple. Be not embarrassed, the cat won't care that you looked at its "privates" (which are, after all, not private to other cats).
First, with the tail up and the suitable end towards you, the anus should be easy to spot. The fur stops short of the anus at the White- all line, forming a circular bald spot about the size of a shirt button.
In a male cat, the scrotum, containing the testicles, is directly below the anus. Except in white cats or white-and-colored cats with white rears, the scrotum is often covered in short, fine, black or dark brown fur. These "badges" are quite prominent in pale-colored cats, such as the Siamese. In neutered males, the scrotum may be smaller, but is usually still obvious. The penis is a little below the scrotum, and is usually completely withdrawn in its sheath. The tip is sometimes visible.
In a female cat, the vulva is directly below the anus. The anus and vulva together form an inverted exclamation point. Again, except in white cats, it is usual for the vulva to be covered or surrounded by short, fine, black or dark brown fur. The exact shape of this fur pattern will vary among individuals.
If you still cannot determine the animal's sex, or for final confirma- tion, ask your vet.
Heinz -- Perhaps the Best Breed of All
One of the most maligned of all cats is the mixed-breed, or Heinz (after the H.J. Heinz Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, famous for
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"57 Varieties" of pickles). If there is one thing the Heinz does not deserve, its the constant bad press.
What goes into the Heinz? Well, like all cats, it must follow the rules of genetics and environment. What a given Heinz will be like depends upon its basic stock, how many generations of interbreeding and crossbreeding there have been, and the environment in which it has been reared, with this last factor the most critical.
To illustrate the point, lets assume a single-father litter of four marmalade (orange and white) toms. We would expect, then, that since they all have the same basic genetic makeup, they should be pretty much alike. Genetically, this may be true, but if each is raised in an entirely different environment, we will end with radically differ- ent cats.
Tom number one leaves the nest at an early age, and takes up residence in a copse. He must survive by his wits, in direct competition with skunks, raccoons, and the local feral cats. After, say, four years, we could expect him to be completely feral, effectively a wild animal. He would be completely untamable in the normal sense.
Tom number two also leaves the nest at an early age, but takes up residence in an alley. He also must survive by his wits, but does have constant exposure to mankind. After the same four years we could expect him to be semi-feral, cautious and wary around man. If a person were to show patience and kindness, especially in the form of food, he could be won over, but would never make a good indoor-only pet, as his roaming and territorial instincts would be fully de- veloped.
Tom number three stays in the nest for a full twelve weeks and is taken to a home as a gift for a child. Unfortunately, neither the child nor its parents really care for the cat after the "new" has worn off, even though it has a "good" home with plenty of food, clean litter, proper medical care, etc. We would expect this tom to become a housecat, aloof and somewhat cold with little interaction with his human companions: no love given, no love returned. While he may be friendly and not run when approached, he is definitely not a member of the family.
Tom number four stays in the nest for a full twelve weeks and is taken home by hard-core ailurophiles (such as your authors). We can expect him to become a friendly, loving animal, full of life and vigor, and constantly in the center of whatever the family is doing.
As we said, environment is all-important.
Assuming that you the reader are an ailurophile (if not, you're read- ing the wrong stuff), what can you expect your Heinz to be like? Almost anything, which is part of the beauty of the breed!
When a child is born, its adult appearance can usually be determined with some degree of accuracy by looking at its parents and grandpar-
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ents (cousins don't count, as they have other genes in their blood). This will help determine its physical appearance, but what about its personality? Again, look to its parents and, to a lesser degree, its grandparents. As any psychologist will tell you, child beaters are most often themselves beaten children.
The same holds true for kittens. Ignoring for the moment the physical characteristics, which are, after all, easily determined, you can look to its parents and grandparents for probable disposition (especially its mother). A shy, fearful queen will raise shy, fearful kittens, who may never become full-fledged pets, whereas a friendly, outgoing queen will raise friendly, outgoing kittens.
All these possibly inherited psychological characteristics pale, however, when confronted with environment. We once met a mean, vi- cious Abyssinian, a breed known for its loving disposition. Baring some gross physical ailment such as a brain tumor, only a human could have made that cat that way (it was always a housecat, never feral or semi-feral), and the human that destroyed the psyche of that poor animal was himself mean and vicious, no matter how polite and smiling he may have been.
On the other hand, one of your authors has spent years "gentling" various Heinz cats into pets for the elderly, and in all that time has had only one cat he couldn't gentle: a black and white feral female with a litter of very sick kittens. While the mother was unsalvage- able, the sole surviving kitten, Brownnose, is still in residence.
There are a couple of distinct advantages of the Heinz over the pure- breds. First, since they are mixes, they are not limited to any given colors or patterns, creating a broad spectrum of truly unique individ- uals.
Second, they are usually free (or nearly so).
It is hoped that those of you seeking a new cat will not overlook the obvious charms and beauty of the Heinz, as they quite often make the best of pets.
Kitten versus Cat
Choosing a kitten instead of an adult cat poses a slight variation on the selection routine. The first thing to remember is that a kitten is not a cat: it has differing needs, just as the needs of a human baby are different than those of an adult.
Age of Separation
The first thing to consider in choosing a kitten should be its kitten- hood: let it have one. Under no circumstances should a kitten be taken from its mother and littermates before it is six weeks old. Eight weeks is better and ten weeks is even better. Most reputable breeders will not allow the purchase of a kitten before it is twelve to thirteen weeks of age. Quite a range of ages: six to thirteen
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weeks. How is one to know which is best? Twelve to thirteen weeks is best, beyond doubt, but most people with an unwanted litter on their hands aren't willing to wait that long (to a breeder, it's not an unwanted litter).
During the first six weeks of a kitten's life it is totally dependent upon its mother (natural or surrogate). It is weaned during the sixth week. To remove such a kitten from maternal care at age six weeks is roughly equivalent to removing a human child from maternal care at age 2-1/2. Such a kitten (or child) is just not ready to make it on its own.
Immediately after weaning, the mother cat begins her kittens' life training. By eight weeks, the kittens have learned that food must be hunted and killed, that other cats are not always potential enemies, and has advanced in intra-litter social graces. By ten weeks, the kittens have learned the rudimentary basics of hunting and have begun to fine-tune and develop their social skills. By twelve weeks the kittens have developed a full set of social and hunting skills, lack- ing only practice to perfect them, and are ready to begin leaving home. In the wild, such sojourns are short trips, gradually increas- ing in length until about age six months, unless another litter comes along and they are driven out.
The thirteenth week required by most breeders allows them to be cer- tain that the kittens have their shots and are sound of body and spirit. The kittens' inherited maternal immunities wear off during the twelfth and thirteenth weeks, and if they are sensitive to some endemic disease or virus, the illness will develop at that time. In the wild only 30 per cent of all kittens born make it to adulthood.
Sexing a Kitten
Sexing a kitten is often much more difficult than sexing an adult cat, and even the best of us may occasionally make the embarrassing error. In male humans the genitalia are external at all periods during a lifetime, but there have been initial errors made in the sexing of newly born babies (really!); this in our own species, with which we are most familiar. How much greater the possibilities for error in a different species, and at that one where the obvious male genitalia are internal in the very young!
In a kitten, especially a very young kitten, the anus and the genita- lia are very close together. In six-week male kittens, the testes are internal and the scrotum is often undeveloped. In this case the penis (in its sheath) is the first "whatever" encountered below the anus, and is typically about three-eighths of an inch below the anus, ex- panding to about five-eighths of an inch by ten weeks. In appearance, the anus and penis resemble a colon: one dot over another.
In six-week female kittens, the vulva is seen as a short line about one-quarter of an inch below the anus, expanding to about three- eighths of an inch by ten weeks. In appearance, the anus and vulva form an upside-down exclamation point: a dot over a short line.
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In some kittens, especially longhairs, the genitalia are often hidden in the fur and are very hard to see clearly. This problem may be eliminated by wetting the area thoroughly and parting the fur so that the shape of the genital organ itself can be seen: a round dot for males and a short line for females.
By twelve weeks the male's testes have descended and sexing is as for an adult cat (just smaller). The dark fur around the genital area does not normally develop until puberty.
Cat versus Kitten
When it comes to selecting a new pet, the majority of people opt to choose a kitten over a full grown cat. The reasons for this are, we feel, rather obvious: kittens are cute, and kittens have not yet developed any bad habits (presumably).
Both of these reasons disregard several basic points in favor of adults. An adult cat has already made it past the deadliest time in a cat's life, the twelfth and thirteenth weeks wherein the mother's immunities cease and the kitten must make it in this germ- and virus- laden world strictly on its own merits. As said before, only 30 percent of kittens survive in the wild, with about half of those that die (35 percent of all feral cats) succumbing to post-weaning immune deficiencies. In housecats the odds are about twelve percent for death from this cause.
On a different but equally deadly basis, most adult cats in animal shelters are doomed creatures unless someone adopts them.
An adult cat is a mature cat, and has already proven its survivabili- ty. It is able to adapt to and cope with situations and things that could be harmful to a kitten. Kittens are often seriously injured or killed by such seemingly innocent entities as a swinging kitchen door, which can easily break the neck or back of a small kitten should it be caught between door and jamb.
An adult cat is often much better able to tolerate children, who, without intent, often smother, choke, or squeeze a kitten to death. An adult cat, being stronger, is able to get away from a serious situation, or survive simply because it can take more squeezing.
Psychologically, an adult cat is stronger as well. If a child is overly aggressive and should hurt a kitten, the kitten, being young and unable to understand will often develop a homophobia towards children or all of one sex of people. An adult cat usually knows better and can soon put that aggressive child in its place (cat scratches are a great object lesson and are rarely serious medically) without permanent hostilities setting in.
As an aside on the subject of scratches: the proper treatment is a thorough cleansing with soap and water, followed by the application of a mild antiseptic, such as hydrogen peroxide, mercurichrome, iodine,
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or an antibacterial ointment, and a covering of a light, breathable bandage to keep dirt out. Check the scratches again in six to eight hours. They should be well on the way to healing by then. In the unlikely event there is inflammation or swelling, or if pain still persists, foreign matter may have entered the wound and you should seek medical attention for possible infection.
It is important to remember that kittens are children in their own right, and therefore not responsible for their actions. They often bite or scratch without even being aware that they are doing so, thus inflicting unnecessary pain and injury upon their playmates, cat or human. Other kittens have a layer of fur to protect them, human children do not. Also, since such bites or scratches are unconscious- ly inflicted, there is no aiming or care exercised, and injury can occur to a lip or eye as easily as elsewhere. Adult cats usually place their scratches (or bites) exactly where they "belong": if they are near an eye, it's because the injury being done to the cat was severe, so it was giving maximum warning. Cats have an instinctive knowledge of the value of eyes, and an uncannily accurate aim. Except under a literal life-or-death situation, a cat will not attack the eyes, but may well place scratches aside an eye as a strong warning: it is in effect saying, "see, if you continue to hurt me I could blind you."
An exception is, as with all animals (and a whopping lot of people, too), unintentional injury done in panic. Don't be caught holding a cat or kitten in your arms when the neighbor's dog decides to jump up and bite its tail!
More seriously, a badly frightened or injured animal is dangerous: never, never handle such an animal without protection and without restraining it first.
For many people, a cat is often a far better choice than a kitten, as its personality is fully developed and can be matched to that of the human quite easily.
In summation, don't immediately assume that because your pet is "new" it must be new.
Hair and Dander
Allergies are caused by allergens, which are almost always proteins. Common allergens are pollen, spores, hair, dander, oils, and saliva. Ragweed allergies and other hayfevers, for example, are usually pol- len-based, while a rash or other dermatitis (skin problem) is often oil-based. The vast majority of people who are allergic to cats are sensitive to either cat hair or cat dander (skin flakes). There is also a very small percentage of allergy sufferers who are allergic to cat saliva. Since cats groom themselves thoroughly, they are, in effect, covered in a layer of dried saliva.
People or anything else suffering from allergies usually do so because they lack some enzyme necessary to break down the offending protein,
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or lack the mechanism necessary to produce the required enzyme. Most humans are "allergic" to poison ivy because we lack anti-poison-ivy enzymes: the ability to eat or even handle poison ivy was not neces- sary to the survival of the human species and either never evolved or was lost.
For those who are allergic to anything, cats included, the first step should be a trip to a qualified physician specializing in the treat- ment of allergies. Most allergies can be safely and effectively controlled these days: medical science has made great strides in this direction, and people who could only suffer a decade ago can live quite normal, comfortable lives today. It is always better to fit the world around you than to be forced to live in a small portion of that world.
Should medical science fail and the individual be sensitive to cat hair or dander, the obvious solution would be to avoid cats. We feel this to be too great a sacrifice to ask of anyone if there is any alternative at all. Fortunately, there are several breeds of cats that qualify as hypo-allergenic.
In theory, such a hypo-allergenic cat would be non-shedding: the shedding of hair and the shedding of dander are related, and will be considered together. With only a single exception (the hairless sphinx breed), cats are fur-bearing animals, and fur-bearing animals shed: cats shed, period. The question is how do they shed and what do they shed.
Cats have four types of hair: vibrissae (whiskers), located on the cheeks, over the eyes, beneath the ears, and on the elbows; guard hairs, which are the longest and oiliest and give the coat its sheen and water repellency; awn hairs, which are almost as long as guard hairs and give the coat its density and color; and the short, extreme- ly fine down hairs, which act as an insulating layer to keep the cat warm or cool as conditions require. In a typical coat there are about eight to ten times as many down hairs as awn hairs and about six to eight times as many awn hairs as guard hairs.
Despite the vast preponderance of down hairs, almost all the hair a cat sheds is awn hairs and guard hairs. When an awn or guard hair is shed, it often causes a slight chipping of the dead skin around the hair follicle. These little flakes of skin are dander. A cat, like a human, may also suffer from a dermatitis or other skin condition causing it to shed skin flakes not related to the shedding of hair. Such dander is evidence of a medical condition, outside the norm, and should be treated as such.
A few breeds, most notably the Rex's (Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Oregon Rex, and Si-Rex), have few or no guard and awn hairs, and are classed as non-shedding or hypo-allergenic cats. Another and unrelated breed,
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the Sphinx, has virtually no hair (possibly a very short fuzz on parts of its body), and carries non-shedding to an extreme.
From an alternative line of attack, so to speak, those people who are allergic to cat fur often find that either the Abyssinian or the Egyptian Mau (the true Egyptian Mau, not the "Mau" or "Egyptian" cat of Britain, which is really a spotted Oriental Shorthair) may cause little or no allergic reaction. This is because these two breeds are "primitives," representing, as they do, the closest domestic breeds to the original African Wildcat. (Both the Abyssinian and Egyptian Mau claim direct and immediate lineage, with the Egyptian Mau's claim being slightly stronger.) Being primitives, they literally have a genetically simpler hair structure, containing less complex proteins. Evidently, as mankind bred cats for differing textures and colors, he also unintentionally altered the very structure of the hair and creat- ed his own problems (another example of it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature). People who are allergic to many things, including cats, are often not allergic to Abyssinians and Egyptian Maus.
If allergies are a problem, the breeds of choice should be the Sphynx, the Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Oregon Rex, or Si-Rex, or the Abyssinian or Egyptian Mau, all of which also have the distinction of being unique in appearance.
Do not seek the longhair version of these breeds, such as the Somali, as the very trait you seek would be missing. For a similar reason, mixed or partial breeds should also be avoided.
For people with only slight allergies, the difference between a shor- thaired and longhaired breed may be sufficient (we wouldn't be sur- prised if a really sensitive person sneezed at the very thought of a Persian). As the hair became longer and silkier, it became genetical- ly more complex as well, and more of a problem for our noses.
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