Why Adopt A Cat?

Cats are often regarded as low-maintenance pets, ideal for people who are too busy to care for a dog. Yet the decision to adopt a pet cat should not be taken lightly. A cat will become a long-term commitment as the average house cat lives between 12 and 20 years. It's wise to go through the following checklist of questions to ask yourself before adopting a cat.

Is Your Lifestyle Suitable To A Cat?

Despite their seemingly aloof manner, cats are social creatures, so your new pet will need your companionship. If you spend many hours away from home, you should reconsider your decision to adopt, or adopt a pair of cats so they can keep each other company.

A cat may be the ideal pet for you if you rent. Many landlords who won't allow tenants to keep dogs will accept a pet cat, but you should be sure this is the case before you adopt.

How much do you care about your furniture and carpeting? It's a fact that cats scratch, and while they can usually be trained to use a scratching post, some damage to furniture and flooring may be inevitable. And the consensus among animal welfare experts is that declawing a cat or kitten is cruel and inhumane treatment. (Declawing actually involves amputating the tip of each toe at the first joint.)

You'll also need an easily-accessed spot for a litter pan. If you have multiple cats, you may need more than one litter pan, and you should be prepared to scoop out the waste daily. Before you adopt a pet cat, make sure that none of your family members have cat allergies.

Can you afford a cat?

Adopting a cat involves a long-term financial commitment. Kitten adoption in particular can be costly; within the first year you'll have to budget for spaying or neutering and the necessary vaccinations. Before you adopt, consider the ongoing costs of food, veterinary care, kitty litter, scratching posts, and even pet sitting if you travel frequently.

Should you adopt a kitten or an adult cat?

Kittens are adorable, cuddly, and playful. Be aware, however, that kittens are fearless explorers who will climb curtains and furniture, possibly knocking things over in the process. You may find that your kitten requires close supervision, or even restricted access to certain rooms. As the kitten matures, its unique personality will emerge, and playfulness may turn into aloofness or a preference not be cuddled-and you'll have no control over that.

An adult cat, on the other hand, won't be so likely to get into mischief. It will come to you with its temperament and personality already molded, so what you see is what you get. If you decide to adopt a rescue cat, you'll probably find that the rescue groups in your area have many more adult cats than they have kittens.

Will you keep a cat indoors or outdoors?

After declawing, this is the biggest controversy in cat ownership. Experts agree it is irresponsible and even cruel to consign a cat to a strictly outdoor life. Yet some cat owners feel it is similarly limiting to keep free-minded cats indoors at all times and choose to allow limited outdoor access during daylight hours. Statistics show that cats that go outside don't live as long as indoor cats. Keep in mind that outdoor risks include traffic, poison, other animals, parasites, infectious disease, and even neighbors who aren't happy about your kitty digging in their gardens or stalking songbirds at their birdfeeder. Some cat owners build covered cat runs to allow their pets access to fresh air and sunshine without putting them in jeopardy.

What about a purebred?

A small percentage of pet cats belong to a specific breed. If you're attracted to the physical characteristics or temperament of one of these, do your research before adopting. Long-haired cats like Persians and Himalayans have extreme grooming needs to keep their fur from matting badly and pulling painfully at their skin-they can also get clumps of fecal matter and kitty litter stuck in their fur. Other breeds, like Maine Coon and Siamese cats, are known for being very active.

Where should I look for a cat to adopt?

Most communities have a number of animal shelters from which you can adopt or rescue a cat. There are also rescue groups that specialize in finding homes for purebred cats, and adopting a rescue cat may be far cheaper than buying from a breeder. If you choose to rescue a cat, a Web-based database that allows you search by location, breed, age, gender, etc. may be helpful See Catster's adoption center with listings powered by Petfinder.

Photo: Hotash