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Well, let’s get things straight right from the start — YOU don’t choose your cat, THE CAT chooses you. Oh, you may go to the breeder, rescue or adoption agency and say, “That’s the kitten or cat for me.” but if that kitten or cat doesn’t agree, it won’t be yours; at least not right away. We’ve got a 15-year old black domestic cat, and it wasn’t until last year that she started treating us as something other than her food providers. But it’s all still on her terms (we also have a black and white domestic that thinks she’s a dog — go figure).
Cats are usually independent creatures who can show little remorse about hurting your feelings; who can be wonderfully friendly and cuddly one minute and immediately aloof and stand-off-ish the next; or who can treat you like it has never seen you before in its life.
Yet, we love cats. As kittens they romp and play with everything. They are totally flexible and contort into unbelievable positions; they’re not hurt when they fall off of shelves (God knows how they got up there), or run headlong into the wall; and they fall instantly sound asleep in the oddest places. Between kitten hood and elderly is when they can become Mr or Mrs Independent. They will demand food and let you know if you forget to clean the litter box. They will give you some time to pet them, and they will warm your lap; now and then. As they grow older the occurences of fond socialization increase — still on their terms. Yet, we love cats.
All cats have an “intuition,” “sixth sense,” or “secret” not available to us mortals. There are probably more cat myths than myths about any other animal. While dogs became companions, cats held out for their independence, and were either respected and loved or suspected and condemned, because of it.
Now we’re sure that there are many exceptions to the rule, but if you’re planning to be a cat person be pre-warned — CATS CAN (WILL) BE INDEPENDENT. You will most likely be required to interface on their schedule; they will set the expectation. But, you will love cats. For, as much as they show their independence, they will also show their affection. And, its worth waiting for.
The whole package, soup to nuts, your cat’s life will provide you with endless memories. They will amaze you, infuriate you, comfort you, and confound you. But they will bring joy to your heart.
In this article we will introduce you to cats, discuss the various breeds, help you determine which type of cat would pick you as its care giver, and provide book suggestions and links to various cat web sites.
A Short History.
It is likely that cats and man have interacted since the beginning of time, but it probably wasn’t until the time of the Pharaohs that cats and man began their domestic journey. The recorded existance of the Egyptian Mau
goes as far back as 1400 B.C. As you will see this journey probably played a large role in determining our current cat’s personality, mystery, and attitude.
So, as cat populations decreased, rat populations increased — then came the plague. Not that we’re blaming the plague on the maltreatment of cats (or on their ability to “get even”), but……. It wasn’t until the 1600’s that Europeans realized the error of their ways and accepted cats back into favor. No where near the level accorded to them in early Egypt, but certainly better than pre-plague. By the 18th century they were being “showed off,” and handed ribbons of various colors. They again joined man in the relentless purge of mice and other rodents, and slept warm and cozy by the hearth of many homes.
The Pharaohs, and other nobility, first used cats as the ultimate mousetrap (and they still are today). Because cats were so good at this job, and help to keep homes and business rodent-free, they soon became treasured; then anointed. They became a revered animal to be worshiped and protected. It was even against Egyptian law to export a cat.
When Moses parted the Red Sea and led his people to the promised land some of these protected felines may have, unfortunately for them, made the trip. The Roman legions also catnapped a few for their use in Roman pest control (Kitten-X instead of Terminex).
In any event, these royal cats began their tour of Europe. And, here’s why their departure from Egypt was so unfortunate. Europeans believed these kings and queens of pyramids were actually harbingers of evil. They were “black magic”, in cahoots with witches and the devil, and brought nothing but bad luck. So instead of the reverence they’d grown accustom to, they were persecuted. When a witch was burned at the stake, so was her cat. The cat population, and their self-esteem, took a beating.
With such a background its really no wonder that cats turned out the way they did. Royalty to ruin to humble acceptance. We’d be a little stand-off-ish too. Choose our friends carefully. No love at first site for us. Cats may have become more tolerant of man, more apt to allow greater liberties; but, on their terms only. It may be that today’s cat has evolved to understand us better than we understand ourselves.
What’s It Like to Be Owned by a Cat?
Most cats will be use to other cats and/or animals (kittens from a litter, or adult cats that lived with other cats or other pets). Even better if it has “socialized” with humans. In any case, you do want to get your cat used to people and its new environment. Have several people handle it in a non-threatening way. Children can make good “socializers” as long as they are careful. Let the kitten or cat get used to the noises around the home. Gradually introduce it to radio, TV, vacuums, or any other loud device that is normal to the household. Train your cat in a loving and caring method.
Don’t hit it. A cat will usually associate that type of behavior with the giver of the punishment and not with the situation that caused the punishment. The goal to a rewarding, sharing relationship is trust — your cat must fully trust you.
Cats will usually bond to whomever (whatever) they are in contact with the most, so the more time you can spend with your cat the better. Once “bonded”, the cat will begin to “share” itself with you. A cat is very expressive and you can usually “read” its mood through a combination of vocalization and body language. Purring (it likes what’s happening), meows or reasonable facsimiles (attention getters), or hissing (take cover). Its body and facial expression will show contentment or desire to “snuggle” as well as fear and aggression.
Most cats, especially kittens, have been litter trained before you get them. But, they are in new surroundings and will not immediately know the location of the “box.” Take them to the litter box, watch them carefully for the first few days, and confine them to the area of the litter box when they are alone. They will soon figure out the location, and there shouldn’t be any further problems. Cat urine is very strong and hard to remove, so make sure your cat is completely trained. The location of the litter box is important. You don’t want it in the middle of all the “action,” it shouldn’t be “out of sight, out of mind” (it has to be cleaned or your cat won’t use it), and it must be “private!”
Your should feed your cat or kitten twice a day. Your cat will let you know what kind of food it prefers — dry, semi-moist, or canned. We leave some dry food out during the day (for snackin’), and feed them their “preferred” brand of canned food around supper time. Never feed them cold food from the refrigerator — allow it to get to room temperature. Cats shouldn’t eat dog food and dogs shouldn’t eat cat food; their individual vitamin and protein requirements will not be met.
Cat toys are great for two reasons. One is they provide entertainment (for your cat and you), and secondly they help to keep their teeth clean, especially the harder chews or balls. (However, never get a toy that is harder than a cat’s teeth.)
Your cat and you and your family will soon become used to each other. They will quickly get over their initial fears of a new location, and will bounding here and there as they investigate their new surroundings. You’ll have great fun watching kittens playing with just about everything they come across. As they grow toward adulthood they will retain their kitten-like antics as they become more and more sociable with their humans. Like a human’s growth you will recognize the different “stages” of your cat’s life; all revealing new revelations about your cat. Independent and self-reliant, but great companions.
What Kind of Cats Are There?
One of our greatest needs is the need to organize, and so we have organized cats (or tried to — it’s an ongoing struggle). The cats really don’t care, but we do. Cats have been “organized” into many different categories beyond their scientific, genealogical groupings. This is because only a few people in the world can really understand genetic labeling, or for that matter, Latin. So, the everyday cat lover had to create their own “organization system.” And, because it is not a scientific effort, it is not purrfect.
There are several cat “Associations” around the world that help provide help to cat owners and breeders, set breed standards, and hold shows. The two that we use in this article are:
Basically, all cats are first divided into two groups. Longhair or shorthair. Oh wait, what about the two “hairless?” — eventho they actually have hair — the Peterbald and the Sphynx Close to 50 cat breeds are divided into these three groups.
There are more breeds of shorthair cats than breeds of longhair and hairless combined. This is probably because most of the cats didn’t need longhair to survive — shorthair was easier to keep clean, didn’t get tangled or caught as its earned it living as a hunter (keep this in mind when you decide between and short or longhaired cat — grooming). The Maine Coon Cat and Norwegian Forest Cat are two longhairs whose coats are long to protect them from their cold environments. Most other longhaired cats can trace their roots to Turkey or Perisa. The Persian
is actually one of the most popular cats (the truth be known, longhair cats may be more visually appealing to us — beautiful full coats, cuddly bodies). Here’s a test to see who’s reading closely. If you have an opinion on which cat coat is best — longhair, shorthair or hairless — send us an E-Mail We’ll publish the results.
The next classification is the origin of the breed (as best it can be determined):
Not every cat breed falls neatly into one of these two categories. Consequently, the word “semi” is used. (It could have been called the “Miscellaneous” body type, but that’s far too mundane for our regal friends.) We’re not sure (and it seems that we’re not alone), about the criteria for a “semi” prefix, but it seems that if the cat’s body appears to be more in one category than another it would be a “semi” of the greater category. Or, it may be all in the eyes of the beholder.
Fur Patterns, Colors and Color Patterns.
These last three categories are used by the various cat associations to set standards for each breed. But, they also offer you a glimpse of your cat’s appearance.
The fur patterns (how the color is distributed on each hair) affect the overall appearance of the cat as well as helping to define its color. These patterns are:
Tipped. The tip of the hair has a color other than white. The remainder of the hair is white.
Shaded. An extended form of tipped. The color pigment is darker and extended further down the shaft.
Smoke. The darkest form of tipped. Most of the hair shaft is colored with a light undercoat.
Ticked or Agouti. The colors are banded on the hairs.
The actual colors may not be what is envisioned when you hear its name. Black is pretty much black, and white is pretty much white. Here’s some other color definitions:
Range of brown shades
Pale pinkish gray
Gray with pinkish tones
Pale, silver gray
Light to dark orange
Light reddish brown
Darkest form of brown
Dark brown colorations
Shades of brown
Ticked red with brown
Gray with pinkish tones
Black/brown spotting on bronze
Tabacco leaf brown
Solid Color (or “Self” colored)
Particolors. A mix of two or more separate colors (usually white and another color), or Calico that has defined patches of color.
Tortoiseshell. Intermingled color evenly distributed over the body; resembling a tortoiseshell. Usually only found on female cats.
Pointed. Darkened colorations on the extremities such as the tail. legs, feet, face and ears.
Pointed Van. “Pointing” usually restricted to the tail or part of the head. Also know as Harlequin
Lynx. Tabby pointed.
Tabby. Stripes and spots that are familiar with the “wild.” Ringed tail.
Patched Tabby. Tortoiseshell/tabby mix.
Spotted Tabby. Stripes that are broken as they run through the coat. Mackerel Tabby. Stripes that run vertically down the body separated by “ticked” areas. Resembles a fish’s skeleton.
Breed Selection Table.
With close to 50 breeds, 3 different origins, two-plus body types, and multitudes of colors and patterns to choose from, how do you know which cat will find you to be acceptable? To help in your selection we have combined several bits of information about each breed in our “Pick A Breed” chart. With this information, and links to more in-depth info about specific breeds, you should be able to determine what kind of cat to approach for approval. (Just click the breed name on the chart and you will be linked to a short “sketch” about that breed. This “sketch” includes photos, a brief description, additional links, and book recommendations.)
Back from reading the chart? Narrowed down the choices? Did you check out the “breed specific” articles? If not, scroll back up and click on a breed. Use the links to further your knowledge about the breed that you would like to be selected by.
Where Should I Go so My Cat Can Pick Me?
Before you visit a cat you probably should visit with other cat owners, check cat websites, and/or attend a cat show. Learn all you can about the breeds, and determine what type of cat for which you would make a good companion.
With the decision made, we suggest getting your cat from a breeder, from a rescue or adoption agency, your local shelter, or from a friend or newspaper ad.
Breeders are by far the best source. If you go through a reputable breeder (check them out first), you will get a cat with a history. A lot of breeders will not let their kittens leave until the kitten is 3 months old. The breeder will know its background, any known genetic traits or issues, and you can be fairly certain the cat is in good health. The cat should be up-to-date on shots. If you don’t plan to breed your cat make sure to get it spayed or neutered. Many breeders will insist upon it, and many breeders will not let their kittens leave until the kitten is 3 months old.
The CFA provides a list of 10 questions to ask a breeder at their web site (http://www.cfa.org/cbrs-3.html).
Rescue and Adoption organizations can also supply you with healthy cats. They may or may not know the cat’s history, but they should have given it a physical and required shots. You will usually find older cats (older than kittens), but these make fine pets. Cats normally live for 16+ years, so don’t be afraid to adopt an older cat. You’ll get a good companion, and without your help these cats may not be able to be kept alive. The cats will usually be spayed or neutered.
Local shelters can also provide great cats. They usually do at least a preliminary physical, and give it the required shots. They may or may not know the cat’s history. But again, you’ll be helping a cat in need. If the cat isn’t already spayed or neutered, you will probably have to pay for that process before you will be allowed to take the cat.
A cat from a friend can be good, just make sure you really want a cat – cat’s can be independent, and friends can be hard to find. Newspaper ads are usually trying to find homes for new kittens, usually from an unexpected litter. Be careful because you probably won’t have much reliable information about the kitten or its ancestry. You could be bringing home a cuddly kitten that may turn into a very sick cat. Getting attached to pets happens very quickly, and loss of a pet can be devastating.
We do not recommend getting a cat from a pet store. There is usually very little information about the particular cat, no reliable history, and no way of determining health or genetic issues. Breeders do not sell through pet stores, so the cat you’ll get is from a litter sold to the store from people in the area, or from “kitten-mills”. There is no money back guaranty, and definitely no “heart-break” protection. We have seen pet store cats lead trouble-free lives, but it’s risky.
Any cat you get from a friend, neighbor, or pet store should be spayed or neutered immediately. The feral cat population continues to grow at alarming rates, and there is no need to add to the problem.
When you go and meet your cat make sure to inspect the area in which they live. Ask to see the parents. Inspect the cleanliness of the area, and the kittens/cats. Look for signs of ill-health. If you have to think twice about getting a particular cat or kitten, DON’T GET IT! We’re telling you, especially with kittens, these little buggers get really close to your heart in a very short time. Loss of one, or sharing their suffering, is devastating.
This Guide was compiled by Ron Lueth of Pet Guardian Angels of America and sharing is encouraged.