Choosing and buying a kitten

It is probably fair to say that people often give far less thought to the selection of a kitten for the family than they do to that of a dog. Perhaps a dog is regarded as a more integral member of the family, for the choice of a puppy is usually worked out with great care, with the probability of a pedigree animal being purchased. In thecase of a cat, however, the acquisition is more often brought about by impulse than through careful consideration. As there are so many beautiful pedigree animals to choose from and, in fact, so many points for and against a particular breed, a little care and thought at this important stage is well worthwhile.

In most countries, the ratio of pedigree dogs to mongrels is about 50:50, but in the case of cats the ratio is extremely low. In Britain, for example, it is estimated that only about five per cent are pedigree. The rest are mongrel cats acquired from a well-meaning neighbour or friend, or perhaps through an advertisement in the local newspaper or shop window. This is not necessarily a bad thing since mongrel cats are extremely healthy in most cases and give as much pleasure and happiness as a pedigree cat.

It should be noted that cats tend to live longer natural lives than dogs in domestic surroundings. The average lifespan of a cat can be anything from fifteen to twenty years whereas dogs very often die at between ten years and fifteen years old. If a cat is, therefore, to be a companion to the family for twenty years it is worth spending a few weeks thinking carefully before choosing which type of mongrel kitten to have.

Cats may perhaps be divided into three general types; divisions which apply to both mongrel and pedigree animals. The first type is the short-hair with what we might describe as a round head – in Britain this is known as the British type. Second is the foreign type which also has short hair but has a longer and thinner body and usually a more pointed head, triangular in shape with a slightly more elongated nose and muzzle. Finally, there is the long-hair type, also commonly known as the Persian.

As with the pedigree animal, these cats tend to be more vocal than the roundheaded short-hairs and some people find this particularly irritating. It is possibly also fair to say that the foreign type is usually more active, less tranquil and used to getting its own way. It may therefore be guilty of household misdemeanours such as scratching the furniture and knocking ornaments off mantlepieces and table-tops. In short, devotees of the foreign type would say that it has much more personality and character and this is worth considering when there is the possibility of having a noisy and independent feline living with you for twenty years.

The long-haired cat is certainly very pretty or, perhaps more accurately, picturesque. This may be why pictures of them frequently adorn Christmas cards and calendars. A mongrel kitten which has fluffy hair is likely to have a long-haired pedigree animal somewhere in its ancestral make-up. Depending upon the dominance of this type in the genetic pattern of the kitten, longhaired characteristics may be clearly evident or less noticeable. The particular characteristic of the long-hair, other than its coat, is the short flattened face that is in complete contrast to the foreign type. This tends to give the animal a slightly fiercer expression, emphasizing the penetrating gaze from the eyes.

Long-haired animals are certainly pretty but do require far more attention to their coat than the short-haired varieties, a factor that is important to bear in mind. At the kitten stage the coat will merely be slightly more luxuriant and fluffed out than in the short-haired type, but by adulthood it will have become long, fluffy and silky.

A healthy cat of any variety will always keep itself clean and well groomed but long-haired animals swallow much more hair when they are grooming themselves and this sometimes results in the development of fur balls in the stomach. These balls of matted fur are usually vomited out and often, parti-cularly if the animal is feeling off-colour, in an inappropriate corner of the house rather than outside. Such occurrences can be minimized by brushing the animal regularly each day with a suitable soft brush. Particular attention should be paid to the underneath of the cat where, if neglected, the fur becomes tangled and matted with the knots joining up into large lumps of fur which are popular hiding places for parasites. The lumps usually have to be cut away, often with the animal anaesthetised to overcome its not unreasonable lack of co-operation.

Having said all this, it is almost certain that the kitten you acquire will be selected more through convenience and access to a litter than through weeks of agonizing and careful reasoning. The same, however, would not be true of pedigree cats. From everyone’s point of view selecting a pedigree cat has many advantages and veterinary surgeons know that owners of pedigree cats, rather like those of pedigree clogs, seem to be willing to spend a little more time and care on their animal. Whether this is because of the care taken in selecting it in the first place, or the cost involved, or the status of having a pedigree animal in the household, anything which encourages owners to take more care of their animal would seem to be an advantage.

As with mongrels, pedigree cats can be roughly divided into short-hairs, foreigns and long-hairs. In making your choice it is sensible to go to a local cat show and meet breeders of the various types available, for the choice is enormous. Cat breeding has become an art and a great deal of expert and scientific study has gone into the breeding of pure pedigree types, particularly

in the 20th century. Official bodies such as the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy in Britain, the Cat Fancier’s Association in America and the Canadian Cat Association are continually reviewing the list of recognized breeds and adding to them. If you wish to look over the full range of options you should go to the largest general cat show you can reach in your area where all varieties are admitted.

In making your selection, think particularly of the home and lifestyle you will be offering the animal. An even temperament should be encouraged in cats and certainly many foreign types dislike being cooped up in small and confined domestic quarters. Similarly, if you are not able to devote much time to the cat each day it would be unwise to select a long-haired breed. These have to be general observations and I am certain that many owners will be able to quote examples of Siamese cats living totally contentedly in two-roomed apartments and long-haired cats left for hours each day with beautiful silky coats with not a trace of a tangle.

It is really temperament as well as appearance which will finally guide your decision. For this reason I would never recommend the impulse purchase of a pedigree cat. If a particular type attracts you and other members of the family when walking around a cat show, it is sensible to talk to the breeders exhibiting these animals in order to make a valid assessment of whether the cats are agreeable, friendly and polite. The procedure then is to find a breeder living near enough to you so that you can visit their cattery or breeding facility and look at some of the animals they keep. Sometimes, of course, there may be only one female in permanent residence being visited from time to time by a stud male cat to produce carefully planned and spaced litters. The temperament of the parents is, however, a very important guide to the likely behaviour of the kittens. As far as possible, therefore, enquiries should be made about the parents before making a final choice.

If your enthusiasm is such that you are interested in breeding pedigree cats yourself then the choice of kitten is even more important. Sometimes breeders will require a great deal of notice before a show specimen kitten is available. Even then litters can be disappointing and pedigree kittens may be produced with faults which would rule them out as potential champions. These flawed animals obviously make excellent companions and can be purchased at a lower price than would be required for a potential winner. Slight misfits with a kink in the tail, badly set ears or unclear or ill-defined colour markings may sometimes produce kittens without these faults which could go on to win top marks – so the gamble of purchasing a slightly imperfect kitten may sometimes pay off through the successful showing of the offspring. It is unlikely that a breeder would have serious genetic faults in the stock since the art of breeding is to eliminate these to produce the perfect show specimen.

The final factor to consider when choosing and buying a kitten is whether to purchase a male or female. It is certainly true that in the case of mongrel kittens the male animals find homes more quickly since the potential owners realize that neutering the male is far less complicated than neutering the female. It is the general opinion of breeders, veterinary surgeons and respon-sible owners that neutering kittens is desirable and, in fact, an almost essential part of good citizenship or pet care. The un-neutered male becomes a burden to the family it lives with, and to itself, through its frequent and compulsive forays into the urban jungle to perpetuate the species. He will frequently return bruised, bitten and scratched from an encounter with a competing male and within two or three years will become either the biggest cat on the block or an amiable but slightly misshapen tryer who never gives in but often comes off second best. Undoctorcd male cats have undesirable social habits such as spraying urine in the house which, while perfectly natural as a way of marking their territory, is likely to cause an all-pervading odour which neighbours and friends will instantly notice.

The female represents less of a problem if she is undoctored, although she will go out ‘calling’ to attract the local males with monotonous regularity and will produce litter after litter of kittens for which there will be the continual problem of finding suitable homes.

For a mongrel kitten, therefore, the sex of the animal is less significant if neutering is intended but in the case of the pedigree cat the decision is more important, especially if the animal is likely to be used for breeding sometime during its life. At the top end of the breeding world, male stud cats are usually much honoured champions who have been selected for top marks by a variety of judges. They are very much in demand and command substantial stud fees. Males which are not in this category may still be used for breeding but clearly the offspring will be less likely to be championship-class material. In this case, one must consider whether it would not be wisest to have the male animal doctored. The same general rules apply to the female, although it is well-known that a below-standard female can produce top-class kittens if mated with a winning male. Breeding is really an art which requires a great deal of time, patience and dedication. In choosing a kitten as a companion pet the intention to become a major breeder is therefore likely to be irrelevant. Of course, it is entirely possible, and frequently the case, that cats are acquired by accident through sympathetic feeding of apparent strays who arrive on the doorstep, or through the window, mewing pitifully and looking for a good home. In this case the cat chooses you and you are stuck with it – perhaps for twenty years.

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