Choosing a new cat to share your life and home with is a very exciting time.

However, while they can easily be at home in all kinds of households, it’s important to ensure that everyone in your household is ready to make a very long commitment to whichever breed of cat you choose.

Cats can often live for up to 20 years and, although they are nearly all around the same size, they can vary quite a lot in their character, temperament and every day needs. Unlike dogs, cats are also generally easier to keep and more independent (they mostly clean and exercise themselves!) which makes them better suited to busy families. Factors such as age, breed, pedigree, appearance and personality are generally what people take into account when choosing a cat. One important consideration when choosing a cat, however, is whether they are a longhair or a shorthair cat. A longhair cat like a Persian requires a lot of time and effort to maintain a healthy coat and this should always be taken into account when deciding between breeds.

New cat owners should also be aware that it is quite possible for them to be allergic to cats, but most people will already be aware of a cat allergy before getting a cat. If in any doubt, however, it may be worthwhile spending some time with a friend’s cat before committing to one.

Apart from a few livelier breeds, most cats will quite happily live in a small flat with access to outside space. It’s not always necessary to own a large house as long as there is at least some outside space. Many owners will want to fit a cat flap which gives your cat great freedom to come and go as he or she pleases. There is a great deal of debate about whether it is fair to keep a cat permanently indoors. We feel that cats, being instinctive hunters, would choose themselves to venture outside and therefore recommend that they have this choice wherever possible. Cats with health problems, or who are disabled or blind, may be kept indoors if venturing outside could affect their safety or welfare. If you are in doubt about whether it’s acceptable to keep your cat in doors, you should consult your local veterinary practice for advice.

For many people, the choice of breed will partly come down to how much you have to spend. Some pedigree cats, like Persians and Siamese breeds, will cost a considerable amount and may simply be unaffordable. They may also be more time consuming to look after, especially if they have long haired coats. However, it’s quite possible to find healthy and strong non-pedigree cats from known backgrounds which should give new owners some peace of mind. Many people even take in stray cats which often prove to be great pets in the long run.

Whichever type of breed you go for, it is sensible to have some knowledge of their background to ensure they are as healthy as possible and free of genetic conditions. Anyone taking in a stray cat would be well advised to have their veterinarian fully examine them for any diseases and other health issues. Likewise, the onus is on new owners to ensure a kitten, from an unknown background, is free of disease and infection and is fully inoculated. It should be noted that older cats, from reputable cat rescue centres, will usually have undergone all necessary medical checks before being re-homed.

While it may sometimes be more appealing to give a home to a kitten, it can sometimes be easier to adopt an older cat who will often have a more even temperament and settled routine. A kitten, however, can sometimes adapt to your lifestyle better than an old cat who may have become a little stuck in their ways!

If you have set your heart on a pedigree cat the only sensible way to ensure you find a reputable breeder is to ask your local vets who should be able to recommend a good breeder or local breed club. Always visit the breeder to assess the conditions the kittens have been raised in and don’t forget to obtain their pedigree and registration documents, along with details of health checks and innoculations. Ask the breeder lots of questions and try, if possible, to see the mother and the rest of the litter. A good breeder will always ensure that their pedigree kittens are well handled, socialized, house trained, wormed and inoculated.

Whichever breed of cat you choose to share your life with, please be absolutely sure you have the time, knowledge and commitment to look after it properly. It’s a sad fact that thousands of cats have to be re-homed every year because their owners circumstances changed and they couldn’t look after them any more. Please remember that sharing your life with an animal requires a big commitment and is a privilege – not a right. There’s no greater joy than giving an abandoned cat a new home and lease of life. If you’re considering re-homing a cat please have a look at the websites of the following cat rescue centres.

Scottish SPCA (Balerno), Lothian Cat Rescue (Bonnyrigg), Sunny Harbour Rescue (Lochgelly, Fife), Cats Protection (West Lothian), The Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home (Seafield, Edinburgh)

In my next post I’ll be discussing how to care for your new kitten when you get them home.