Zipper and Zoom: Day Zero aka Crash Course on Cats

April 30, 2020 at 7:51 pm (Cat pics)

I’m aware that a lot of people are getting pets, some for the first time, so I thought I’d blog a lot about Zoom and along the way provide some advice for first-time cat owners (or those thinking about leveling up to being a 2-cat household).

If you’re like me, the mere sight of a kitten makes you want to get thirty cats and maybe become a breeder… so no kitten pics today. Zipper seemed to sense Something Evil Was Coming before I went to get Zoom, and was scowling at us and acting weirdly affectionate by turns for days beforehand. So I’ll put pictures of an annoyed Zip throughout this post. (She does look annoyed in most photos, but lately she’s been way more annoyed than usual.) It’s possible Zipper sensed our pity for her, as we acted as limpidly sympathetic towards her as if she was dying of the rona.

Zipper is two years old, and fully grown. Kittenhood is very short.

Chris sent me this as I was in Sydney, fetching Zoom. (I also did an important work job in Sydney so my trip was definitely legal.)

Today is all about prep.

To get a cat you need certain physical items before you start looking:

*3 bowls (water, dry food, canned food)

*Canned and dry food (both kitten-specific for the first year)

*Litter tray and cat litter

*Scratching post (scratching is something cats NEED to do; it is this or all your couches and carpet, forever. Even if you plan to let your cat be an inside/outside cat, trees alone are not enough because it will need to be kept inside when it is young—plus cats are as lazy as us and are unlikely to bother going outside to scratch when you have all that lovely furniture right there).

*Collar, even if it will be an inside cat. Cats are smart and every inside cat escapes at least once. Having a collar shows people that it’s not a stray (so they shouldn’t claim it as their own, and so they should take it to a vet to check for a microchip).

You also need to consider:

*Are you legally allowed a cat in your building/suburb? (Several suburbs in Canberra allow pets only under strict & expensive conditions.)

*Cats are stone cold killers, and even a cat that proudly presents their dead mice to you won’t bring you everything they kill. Mine have a habit of bringing live animals inside to torture (and often then losing them inside, which is really not what mousers are for). They are a huge hazard for native animals. A bell helps, but only a little. Keeping them inside at night (especially at dawn and dusk) is also helpful, but not a total solution.

*Vets are now recommending that people brush their cat’s teeth at least once a week. Oh, and dental bills for cats are INTENSE because they include an overnight stay and a general anesthetic.

*Can you afford it? A cat will usually cost around $1000 in the first twelve months (not counting the original price of $300-700ish for a tabby), and $500/year from then on… but can easily have vet bills of up to $5000. The RSPCA has cat insurance which you can investigate (including a free online quote) here.

*Who will your vet be? Are they taking new customers?

*If you work full-time, when can you take your pet to the vet?

*What is the number of a 24-hour emergency vet in your area? Do they have a positive working relationship with your ‘normal’ vet?

*What are you doing for the next twenty years? Most cats live at least ten years, and often over twenty. Will you still want a cat when you are [your age] + 20 years? Will you move house any time in the next twenty years, and if so can your cat go with you (will your next house allow cats? If you are moving overseas, are you allowed to take a pet? What are the pet-related conditions in that country, and how long will it be in quarantine?) Are you hoping to get pregnant (particularly in the next year or so)? If so, are you aware of the risks to pregnant women (aka toxoplasmosis*) and their unborn child?

*If the cat has a gross medical condition, are you able to clean a wound or make it take medicine (the latter often involves major strength of will and the endurance of scratches)?

*Will your cat get sufficient time with you? If you live alone and work full-time, you’re asking a lot of your pet. It may be worth getting a bonded pair that can amuse each other.

*What happens if you go on holiday, or travel for work or a family emergency? Who will take care of the cat? (Most cats over 6 months old are okay overnight with dry food, plenty of water, and very clean cat litter.)

*Are you or any of your friends/family/likely visitors allergic to cats? Or phobic (it’s rare, but it happens)? Or do they hate cats?

*Are you interested in a medium or long-haired cat? If so, you’ll need to brush it at least once a week, and you and your house will be coated in cat hair forever (cats have a knack for contrasting colours—not a joke; they’re very stylish—so the hair will always be at peak visibility). Cat hair is very fine and sticks to fabrics amazingly well.

*Are you interested in a specific breed? If so, the cost will be well over $1000 is much more likely to have major health issues. There are also moral issues to consider around breeding eg the adorable Scottish Fold cat is no longer recognised as a breed in the UK because the defect that causes the cute ears is permanent, extremely painful, and incurable. Oh, and pretty much all pure-bred cats are regularly stolen!

*What if the cat isn’t all you expected personality-wise? Zipper was rescued from a camp site (suggesting her pregnant mother was abandoned in the woods) and I was always impressed that she would come to humans for comfort rather than hiding or running away. Her natural caution was also a plus—TJ was only 3 when we got her, which is very young and I wanted a cat that would run away rather than attack. Zipper is cautious in spades (she flinches if we pat her on the head, and if we’re walking somewhere she runs away—which is great, because I almost never trip over her). She’s still never caught a mouse and I remain shocked that she managed to catch a bird the other day, since she’s usually afraid of them. But she’s never been super playful, even as a kitten, and she’s just not that into human company. And she hates photos. All of which is absolutely fine and if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 situation (and my stress levels with the kids at home 24-7, not to mention schooling them, and dealing with lots of unfamiliar technology, and not being able to watch TV or write during the day) we would have carried on in perfect contentment.

You may find your cat is more active than you expected, and attacks your feet while you sleep. Or it can’t stand to let you go on your computer and comes and sits on the keyboard every single time (or deletes your novel by walking on the keyboard while you’re out of the room). Or it drinks from the toilet (more common than you’d think for cats!) Or has chronic health issues.

*What if the cat has certain annoying habits that you just can’t cure? I’m pretty good at training cats, but Zipper still claws our couch (only the very best one; she leaves the rest alone) and one of our curtains. She’s also inclined to meow annoyingly. But she doesn’t sleep on my bed (she will run away if I turn over) or sit on laps (unless it’s Louisette, who is the most sedentary of all of us—and yes, I’m insanely jealous).

*What about the smell? All pets smell, and no matter how quick you are to keep your litter clean and clear, some of that poo and urine smell WILL linger. Cat food (even the dried stuff) also stinks.

*Litter. Obviously. The norm is to remove solids and flush them asap (1-2 times a day), and to change the rest 1-2 times per week. NB: If you get more than one pet, you will need multiple litter trays. Things usually work well with MORE litter trays than there are cats. I can tell you from a great deal of experience that cats will express tension via poo. If there is a new kitten, the old cat may poo in unusual quantity or unusual places (such as your bed). Ditto if the cat feels lonely, stressed, or sick. A lot of cats will have diarrhea at the same time, for the same reason. We once had two cats that never got on well but tolerated each other. When we tried leaving them alone for one night, each one had pooed many many times in a remarkably short time. They were attempting to establish dominance via poo, which is very common in cat relationships.

In other news, litter is bulky and heavy, and whatever size bags you prefer are not always going to be there when you shop (especially nowadays). Plan ahead and make sure you have spare litter—and that you can handle buying it regularly for many years to come. It can’t be flushed (although the poo can be) so it needs to go in your rubbish. How much rubbish does your household usually produce? Litter makes a difference.

*At some point, your cat will destroy something. That expensive leather jacket? The charger to your phone, right when it’s on 5% battery? Your antique dining table? The possibilities are endless!

*You will need to cat-proof your house, even if you get an older cat (you never know if they are the type to chew electric cords—most are—or to wake you at 2am every day. Kittens can choke on cords, ingest poison (eg. chocolate, your pills), get trapped in odd locations, escape with astonishing skill and/or speed, etc. Many can figure out how to open doors, and most can jump and climb and balance incredibly well.

*Speaking of that special mix of smart and dumb, kids. Do you have kids? You need to think carefully about whether they can be trusted to care for a very small, very fragile living creature, especially if they’re under ten. Trusted in both personality (is your kid going to yell at the cat if it gets in their way? Is your kid going to kick your cat when they’re angry with you?) and intelligence (is your kid going to step on the cat and kill it? Is your kid going to forget the cat is in their room and close the door as they leave for school? Is your kid going to hug her too tight and kill her?) Some agencies will not give baby animals to households with kids under a certain age. Are you able to train the cat so it doesn’t bite or scratch when surprised (eg by a kid picking it up)? However old your kids are, you must involve them in the training of the cat, and teach them how to care for it. I still don’t let my kids pick up Zipper, although Zoom is very snuggly (and easier to pick up!) so in a few weeks I think I will let them pick Zoom up (and teach them how to do so properly).

Also, do you plan to have a baby any time in the next twenty years? Did you know that your cat will find it very stressful? It will need to be supervised around the baby for a long time, and some cats will even sit on a baby’s face and potentially kill it while it is sleeping (possibly maliciously, possibly for warmth).

*If you get a kitten, you will need to train it (and desex it or if it isn’t already desexed—this is a serious legal issue, and responsible pet sellers will usually insist on desexing the cat before selling it to you, which means it’ll be recovering from surgery and with a shaved stomach when you first get it**). Cats are VERY easy to toilet train: mostly all you have to do is literally show them a litter box and you’re good to go…. having said that, Zoom just pooed in her cat carrier. I’ll talk about litter and other stuff in more detail soon.

But if you have/will have kids, you need to decide how strictly to train your cat not to bite or scratch. They’re super cute and weak when they’re little, and it can be fun to be bitten. But if you allow it, it will become established habit. And it will hurt. And it will be impossible to get them to stop.

No matter how well you train a cat, you and your kids will all have blood drawn at least once (and their claws have some intense bacteria).

And even if you’re fine with biting and scratching, you need to train a cat not to chew electrical cords, or play with the cords on blinds (both can kill it very easily), and probably a lot of other behavioral things, such as climbing screen doors and curtains, and clawing furniture (which they’ll do at first even if there’s a cat tower).

Can you maintain consistent, gentle discipline for weeks or months? Can you be trusted to keep your temper?

There are reasons pets are called fur babies. There’s commitment, expense, discipline, costs, breakages, a whole lotta adorableness, and medical dramas guaranteed. They are really excellent training for children in many (very very small and minor, comparatively) ways.

 

Okay! You have now completed my kitten crash course. I recommend googling more eg “10 ways to kitten proof your house”, “Your first cat”, etc. The RSPCA is fantastic, including plenty of reliable and well-written advice, and I guarantee their staff will answer any other questions you have. They also sell ‘packs’ of everything you need to get a kitten, and they are the cheapest way to get a kitten as they take most of the early medical costs for you.

 

 

*If you have never had a cat, DO NOT get a cat if you are pregnant or likely to get pregnant within a year. It could indirectly cause blindness or mental disability in your kid. If you’ve had a cat before, especially if you were the one who cleaned the litter, then you’ve probably had toxoplasmosis without knowing it and you’re now immune. While pregnant, someone else should change the cat litter. (If your partner isn’t willing to do that, they suck and shouldn’t have kids. Or you.)

**And if it is small, your adoption date may be delayed until it’s above a certain weight.

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