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(MNN.com) -- While dogs offer wet kisses to just about anyone within licking distance, the feline persuasion prefers that you earn their purrs and cuddles. Since the American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that about 38 million U.S. households have cats, plenty of people are working overtime to please their feline houseguests. Are you ready to join the ranks? Here are a few tips for how to adopt a cat:
Prepare for a long-term love affair
"There is this general thinking that cats are no-fuss pets, which couldn't be further from the truth," says Gwen Sparling, owner of Camp Kitty boarding facility in Atlanta. She notes that cats live from 15 to 20 years, which equates to thousands of litter box cleanings as well as other expenses. Annual expenses for veterinary care, food, toys and preventatives also add up quickly. Expect to drop around $1,000 for the privilege of kitty cohabitation. If you're ready to handle the time and financial commitment, it's time to find a match.
Consider the source
Millions of adoptable cats await the chance to pounce on your freshly laundered socks. Start your search with a walk through the county animal shelter or by browsing Petfinder.org. Cats adopted from a shelter typically are up-to-date on their shots and have been spayed or neutered for less than $100. From kittens to fully matured cats, calico to tiger stripes, the options are endless.
Rescue groups provide another route to finding the perfect cat. These nonprofit organizations typically pull adoptable pets from local shelters and place them in pet-friendly surroundings to help them find a forever home faster.
"A rescue group is probably more familiar with the cats they have and therefore are able to answer any questions you may have about the cat's personality," says Sparling, who fosters cats at her facility for Atlanta Animal Rescue Friends. "I recommend that those adopting a cat for the first time adopt from a rescue group because the group can also be a great resource should you have any questions in the future."
Both options save a life because they create space for another cat to find a forever home. Often rescue groups go one step further by agreeing to take the cat back if things don't work out.
Get expert (matchmaking) advice
"Sometimes people have been known to come into the shelter with a cat in mind but, once the counselor has met with them and discussed their environment, they have gone home with an entirely different cat," says Samantha Shelton, executive director and founder of Furkids pet rescue, Georgia's largest cage-free, no-kill cat shelter. (The organization also shows love to homeless dogs through a network of foster homes.) Shelton shares the story of one woman who sought a kitten for her older cat. Counselors pointed her in a different direction, suggesting an easygoing adult cat instead.
"A kitten would be like a toddler wanting to play with the old cat and would eventually end up annoying the cat and upsetting the balance in the home," Shelton says. "The adoption was a great success because the adopter was willing to consider our advice, which comes from eight years of successfully placing well over 5,000 animals."
Speaking of toddlers, Sparling and Shelton advise against mixing young cats with young kids. "A child could easily kill a kitten because he doesn't know his own strength or how to properly handle a kitten," says Sparling, who suggests that households with children opt for an adult cat that has a history of playing well with youngsters. Shelton adds, "As a general rule, most shelters will not adopt kittens into homes with children under the age of 6."
Start things off on the right paw
Once you do find the best match, these tips from Sparling and Shelton will ensure that your feline roommate settles in with no problems.
Set aside bonding time: Cats love routine and they enjoy companionship, says Shelton, who suggests bringing a new cat home during a time when you have a few days to help it adjust to new surroundings.
Create a "safe room" for the cat: Place the cat's litter box, food, water and bed in a designated space, preferably near a window. Shelton said this is particularly helpful when cats are being introduced to a canine companion or other cats in the house. "This will help the cat feel secure in a new environment," she says. "If other cats or dogs exist in the home, place the cat in a room that will allow some access under the door so the animals can sniff and stick a paw out if they like." She says the furry roommates should live separately for a few days. "Once the cat is feeling confident, you can then begin the introductions."
Introduce the cat to canine roommates ... sloooowly: If your dog is cat-friendly, the introduction should still happen very slowly. Shelton also said it helps to have an outgoing cat, but patience is key. "Our adoptions of a cat into a home where a dog exists have gone very successfully because of a slow introduction," she says, adding that it also helps to install a baby gate to allow the cat a safe getaway.
Avoid a cat-on-cat catastrophe: There is a reason that cats are described as finicky. Sparling stresses that you use caution when introducing new felines to the family: "Many people will adopt a new cat, then throw it into a room with the resident cat and let them work it out. Bad idea!" Sparling says it can take days and even weeks for your cat to accept the idea of a new kitty on the block. To ease the transition, she suggests keeping them separated at the beginning. Also, regularly swap their blankets so each becomes familiar with the other's scent. "When they do finally meet, make sure there is a cat tree or a shelves in the room so each cat can have a high spot," she says. "Some cats get along great from the beginning and some will hate each other for the rest of their lives. It all comes down to the cat's personality." In other words, there will never be a dull moment in Catville.
Get the good stuff: An investment in high-quality cat food, is an investment in the long-term health of your cat. "You will avoid some of the health issues that stem from poor food, such as urinary track issues," Shelton says. "By feeding a higher-quality diet, I think you can expect to pay $30 to $40 a month, depending on how many cats you have in your home." The same applies to kitty litter, and there are several green options available that use corn, pine and even old newspapers.
Maintain the preventatives: Flea saliva can cause an allergic reaction in cats. Keep your kitty itch-free by combing it frequently and using regular flea treatment. And check out more tips on avoiding allergies, because no one wants to be around an angry -- or itchy -- feline roommate!
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