A friend of yours tells you that they’re about to get a cat. What’s the best advice you'd give them?

This is an easy question to answer. The best advice that you can give a person who wants to adopt a cat is to tell them that they should prepare properly. This means doing research on the budgetary requirements i.e. the cost of keeping a cat for the animal's lifetime. It also means doing some work on understanding cat behaviour which will include introducing a new cat to your home. It will be a strange place for their cat and they will need to be looked after carefully and introduced sensitively with tolerance and understanding. This is even more important if there is a resident cat. There can be some great complications under those circumstances.

Halle Bailey with her new grey tabby cat wearing an enormous collar. Photo: her Instagram page.
Halle Bailey with her new grey tabby cat wearing an enormous collar. This is not a Maine Coon! Photo: her Instagram page.

But above all, if a person wants to adopt a cat they must commit to a lifetime's care. They have to get their mind in tune with that concept before they go ahead. It's a mental process. True commitment means that they will have to be compromises in that person's life. Are they prepared for those compromises? I'm going back to the research point. If you research cat ownership you will see that high quality cat caretaking entails compromise. It means that it is harder to go away on holiday. 

Of course, you can leave your cat at a cat boarding establishment for the duration of your holiday. But you might not want to do that if you really care for your cat deeply. Boarding catteries are useful but they are not ideal places. Cats are stressed in these places. And what about long weekend staycations? What happens to the cat? A friend looks after her? Is that good, great or average? Can you do this with a Maine Coon? I think not.

I've just made a small point about compromise. There are other examples. There will be big decisions about whether your cat should be a full-time indoor cat or an indoor/outdoor cat. It depends on where you are, how safe it is. And it depends upon your attitude. How concerned are you about your cat's safety? Can you accept the possibility that he or she might be hit by a car? 

I accept that funnily enough because my cat insists on being an indoor/outdoor cat. And he's quite savvy about traffic. But I do accept the possibility that he may be killed by a car. I have tried to keep them indoors and I have tried to keep him in a garden enclosure. I have failed on both counts. It's a stress point for me.

But as a cat owner you have to worry about your cat. You can't really have a laissez-faire attitude about your cat because it can lead to carelessness which leads to negligence which leads to ill health which is has not been treated by a veterinarian. Humans govern the relationship. They make the decisions.

Sometimes new cat owners have this idea that domestic cats are independent and therefore ideally suited to being left alone all day as their work is demanding. This is not true. Domestic cats are quite sociable. They need their owner around as much as possible. They need to interact with their owner and play with him or her. Leaving your cat alone all day, month after month, year after year, is not anywhere near good cat guardianship. It does not work in my view. It is likely that the cat will suffer from separation anxiety and stress which can lead to ill health.

I'm being harsh but the point I am making is that before adopting a cat you have to decide whether your lifestyle is suited to that process. A lot of people live lives which are quite unsuited to owning a cat. Is yours suited? That's my advice and, if it is, to commit to lifetime care and understanding cat behaviour and anatomy combined with a good knowledge of nutrition. And make sure your budget covers the cost. It is said that good cat caretaking might cost upwards of $15,000 over the lifetime of the cat. In UK terms that means about £15,000.

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