New Cat

August 3, 2010

<<My girlfriend and I have been discussing the possibility of getting a cat. We were thinking of adopting (probably an older cat, maybe about 2 years old?). We wanted to ask you a few questions though:

Do you think getting pet insurance would be worth the cost?>>

In my experience, the most cost effective plans are the second tier plans.  The first tier plans, often called the “Gold” plans, cover preventive care like vaccinations and dental care as well as catastrophic care.  But, I think you will find that you will spend about as much on the “gold” plan as you would if you just paid for this preventive care up front.  However, the plans that cover accidents and unexpected illnesses are worth their weight in gold.  They can make the difference between your being able to treat a pet or having to euthanize.  VPI is the company that we deal with the most in our hospital and it has been around a long time, but there are many others.  Make sure that any plan that you choose has been around a while.  So many pet insurance companies have come and gone that I ran out of toes and fingers to count them on.

May shelters now provide pet insurance for the first month after adoption.  This is a great deal for the pet and for the shelter.  Be sure to activate this insurance right away, and if you like the service you get, you can always renew the insurance with the company that provided that first month of insurance.

Also, be wary of the “vaccination plans” offered by some veterinary hospitals, usually the large chain hospitals.  These seem like a good deal up front, but in actuality you may be paying for and giving your cat vaccinations that your cat doesn’t really need and you also might end up giving vaccinations more frequently than necessary.  Be sure to choose a veterinarian that will help you establish a vaccination protocol that fits you and your cat’s lifestyles.  Don’t get sucked into a plan that vaccinates everyone for everything.  In the end, you will spend more money.
<<Do you have any experience with those automatic litter boxes (or any suggestions in general for litter)?>>

The automatic litter boxes are a cool idea, but don’t forget that it doesn’t really decrease your workload – you still should empty the tray under the big box daily – and, really, you could just save yourself some money and scoop the box into a garbage bag once a day.   But, I have friends and clients who swear by the things.  It is helpful for cats who are fastidious about having a clean litter box but it absolutely scares the living daylights out of sensitive cats if they get caught inside of it when it starts to scoop automatically.  Sometimes so much so that the cat will never use the litter box again.

Being environmentally sensitive, I have tried the litters that are biodegradable and can be flushed down the toilet, but I have to say, they really don’t control odor like the popular crystal litters.  The problem with the crystal litter is that it doesn’t clump, so you don’t actually remove the liquid waste when you scoop.  But, the scoopable litter doesn’t control the odor like the crystals either, sooo, I like the combo litters the best.  They have some crystals for odor control in the scoopable substrate.  This is what I use and my husband and my cats both seem to like this solution.
<<Do you have any advice for bringing home a shelter cat? Are there any questions we should ask when getting it?>>

Always ask about where it came from and why it was abandoned.  Find out if he or she likes kids and other pets.  After that, it is all about how well you bond with the cat you are visiting.  The best way to find out a cat’s real personality is to go into his or her environment at the shelter.  My sister walked into a large cat room with her kids and her stroller.  There were at least a dozen cats in there, but the cat that climbed into the stroller and curled up is the one she took home.  You will find your own bonding behaviors, but don’t hesitate to visit lots of shelter and lots of cats.  It is easy to fall in love with the first one you meet, but it doesn’t hurt to check out more before you decide.
<<I know there isn’t much in terms of training a cat, but what’s involved with adjusting a cat to a new home?>>

The most important thing here is to make sure that the cat is kept strictly indoors for 2 weeks.  Cats will try to find their way back home, even if it is hundreds of miles.  After 2 weeks in a comfy place with food and a litter box, your new cat will assume this is home.  If you have no other pets, your cat should adjust to his new environment quickly.  Set boundaries for counters and scratching areas right away.  Move a cat that is scratching on your couch to his scratching post and use catnip to attract him to areas you want him to hang out.  Remove cats from counters immediately if you don’t want them up there and don’t let them have access to these areas when you aren’t home.
<<Also, what’s the long term cost for owning a cat (feeding and medicine and such)?>>

Food costs will range from $.50 to $1.89 per day.  Clumping litter costs about $15 per month per cat.  An adult cat should come to you fully vaccinated and spayed or neutered, so you shouldn’t have those costs up front, but plan on spending $200 per year on flea and heartworm prevention.  (All cats should be on flea and heartworm prevention year around in most states).  Annual checkups and vaccinations will range from $100 to $300 per year depending on what vaccinations and tests are appropriate based on your cat’s age and lifestyle.

<<How about the decision to get one or two cats? >>

If you are going to get an adult cat I’d get just one at first unless you find a pair that have been living together.  You can always add a second cat to your household later, but it is enough for a cat to adjust to a new home without having to adjust to another cat at the same time.

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