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Ask Einstein: Is a Kitten a Good Holiday Gift for a Senior Citizen?

A pet should never be an unexpected gift, and in this case a kitten might be an especially bad idea.

Dusty Rainbolt  |  Dec 22nd 2014


Dear Einstein,

I heard my human say she was going to give her gray-haired mom a kitten for Christmas cuz Gram’s lonely and she likes it when I sleep on her lap. I want to know whether a new cat will interfere with my turf? Should I start spraying now or wait?

Pissed off Prissy

Dear PO’d,

Kittens as holiday presents — that makes as much sense as giving a five-year-old child a bag of broken glass. This move probably won’t interfere much with your lap dances, but there are other problems.

Grams may be isolated, but a living, breathing, leg-climbing kitten may not be the right prescription for her lonely heart. Like high blood pressure medications, even free kittens aren’t cheap, and there can be unwelcome side effects.

Even if your family finds a "free" kitten, kittens are never "free." After the initial excitement has worn off, Grams will have to cough up more expenses than you can make hairballs. There’s the one-time expense of litter boxes, combs, and toys. Then she’ll have to pay for shots, spaying or neutering, food, litter, and veterinary care — all on a fixed income. Hmmm. This math doesn’t add up to much happiness if she isn’t expecting it.

Besides the money, kittens are a lot of work. They have to be fed and transported to the vet. Someone has to clean the litter box and mop up the furballs. Kitty cleanup can be hard on the knees.

Then there’s the pain factor. A kitten climbing the tower that is Grammy’s gams will be a pain in the leg. The skin of elderly humans grows very thin, and even an accidental scratch can cause injury. Not to mention the broken bones Grammy can suffer if an underfoot kitten trips her.

If Grams really wants a pet, your humans should give her a stuffed animal or a cat carrier and a gift certificate from a rescue group. When she is ready, Grams can pick out her new lifelong companion. She might even pick an older cat, who’s no longer interested in leaping tall cat trees with a single bound or climbing the Mount Everest Curtain.

She can ask whether the shelter has a kitty that belonged to a silver citizen. These poor cats often find themselves on death row when their person passes or goes to a care facility. Surrendered oldsters are usually euthanized because families don’t want to adopt mature meowers. Not only Grammy would be saving a life by adopting an older kitty, she’d be getting the ideal companion for her quieter lifestyle.

These days we kitties are living as long as 14, even 18 years. And your folks must consider what’ll happen to the kitty if Grams goes to the Rainbow Bridge first. Will your humans take the kitty in? Or will he become one more statistic at the city animal shelter?

Let’s paws to think about this some more. Christmas is a tough time, even for we veteran tabbies: lots of company, noisy kids, Christmas trees just begging to be climbed, lights demanding to be chewed, and tinsel you just have to swallow. To a frightened new kitty, holidays are pure mayhem. He’s trembling under the bed afraid that something is going to devour him. It’s better to wait until things calm down after the holidays to bring home a new pet.

A question for those humans who just have to leave a kitten under the tree for Junior: When the kid loses interest in a couple of months, will you still want Fluffy? Will you love him when he’s going through that manic teenage stage? Every shelter braces itself for the flood of adolescent kitties that flow in a few months after the holidays.

While people want Junior to grow up with a kitten, this might be a bad choice for a kid. Kittens are cute and adorable only for a couple of months. Then they become cats, but only after going through the age of destruction. Kittens may scratch trying to get away from a grabby toddler, or the baby cat might be injured when a toddler drops him. A better choice for kiddos under five is an older kitty surrendered because the family has to move. These cats are used to kids and more tolerant of rougher handling. You bypass that destructive kitten stage, and there’s no letdown when their personalities change.

Prissy, deck the halls with sprigs of catnip. Hopefully your humans will let the holidays become a celebration of life by saving a life. Happy holidays.

Read more about kittens at Catster:

Read more about cats and holidays at Catster:

Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don’t have to be written from the cat’s point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat’s behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.