Have you been thinking of adding a new cat or a Christmas kitten as a gift to your family? The dream of surprising your loved ones with this ball of fluff adorned with a red bow on Christmas morning is pretty irresistible. As a veterinarian, I want you to know that this picture-perfect moment comes with a lifetime of care, cost, and commitment that requires a lot of careful thought and planning. Here are my top 6 tips for anyone planning a Christmas kitten.
1- Think it over – I highly recommend giving a picture of the dream cat or kitten for Christmas. Next, you can spend your holiday engaging your loved ones in the planning, preparing and dreaming of your new family member. If you go along with my plan, you will sacrifice the 5 minutes of unequaled dreamed of bliss when you present the kitten with the red ribbon around her neck. This delayed gratification will pay off in unimaginable ways.
Cats are very sensitive to their environment. Your new cat or kitten will begin adapting to the home that you bring it into right away. The reality of the Christmas season is that your house is chaotic – full of guests, music, and noise that could be overwhelming, tinsel and ribbon that could cause life-threatening GI issues, unsupervised food on coffee tables and countertops, unusual objects to chew and destroy, and danger and annoyance around every corner. And, you and your family are overextended, exhausted and off of your normal routine. Christmas might be the worst possible time to bring a new cat into your house.
2- Consider adopting an adult cat from a shelter. Most shelters are overflowing with cats and kittens that are in search of their forever home. An older, lower energy cat might suit your family better than a kitten. And, the shelter staff has spent time with their cats and may have a good idea of what cat would be a good fit for your family.
3- Have your heart set on a kitten? Consider adopting two. Here’s a quick lesson on cat culture. It very difficult for adult cats to accept new cats into their homes. But, two kittens of the same age, and even better two cats from the same litter, introduced into a home at the same time have a great time together. Two kittens can help each other get their seemingly endless energy spent with hours of playing together, so you can go to work and get things done. Two Christmas kittens are almost always better than one.
4 – Go to the veterinarian before taking your cat home – and before falling in love. Plan to take your new cat to the veterinarian before you step foot in your house. Your new cat can have a health problem that can be expensive or impossible to fix. You will begin to fall in love with your new cat instantly, so it is better to know what you are up against while you can still think straight. Your vet can also diagnose and treat fleas and other parasites before you bring them home to your kids and other pets.
5- Set up for success. New research shows us that cats need more than a litter box and a bowl to be happy and healthy. When we fill our homes with the resources that our cats need, they are happier and healthier. Each cat in your home needs.
- Places to climb and places to hide in the areas of the home where they spend the most time. Bookcases, climbing trees, boxes, and beds are essential for each cat, so they can meet their needs and not compete over resources.
- Places to scratch. A good scratching post is long enough and stable enough for a cat to fully stretch out and pull. Most cats like carpet, sisal or wood scratching posts.
- Places to go to the bathroom that they like. Cats prefer large litter boxes. Think 2x the size of the cat. Most cats prefer clumping litter that is unscented that is about 2 inches deep. Scoop twice a day to keep it very clean. Know that you need one more litter box than the number of cats in the house kept in different locations of the house. Three litter boxes all lined up in one spot is one litter box to your cat.
- Ways to hunt. In nature, your cat would spend 80% of its waking hours hunting for food. It would eat 8-12 mice in one day. Your cat has a strong need to hunt multiple small meals a day, not to be served from a bowl. Plan to put your cat’s food in hunting feeders and hide them around the house to recreate proper meals for your cat.
- Time to play with you. Plan on scheduling at least two 5 minute play sessions a day to play with your cat. Stock up on wand toys etc. Always end playtime with a treat so that your cat knows that playtime is over.
6- Get health insurance for your new cat. Ask your friends and your veterinarian for their recommendations. There will never be a cheaper time to get insurance, as they will not cover any pre-existing conditions. As your cat ages, you are likely to face expensive medical conditions. With insurance, you can make decisions based on the best interest of your cat, and not based on limited funds.
Wags and Purrs,
Dr. Liz Bales
The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine graduate, Dr. Liz Bales, has only ever wanted to be a veterinarian. She has such a passion for her job, that she says if she weren’t a vet, she would be studying to become one. She loves “helping pets and the people who love them be happy and healthy! Helping people translate complicated medical information into practical tips on how to care for, and connect with their pets is the best part of her job” Not just a veterinarian, Dr. Bales shares her passion through writing, giving speeches, and appearing on shows such as Fox and Friends, ABC News, and Cheddar. She has even started her own company, Doc and Phoebe, and invented a revolutionary cat product—the Indoor Hunting Feeder.
Dr. Bales’ favorite quote reflects her love and compassion for animals: “When a human dies there is a bridge they must cross to enter into Heaven. At the head of the bridge waits every animal that human encountered during their lifetime. The animals, based on what they know of this person, decide which humans may cross the bridge…and which are turned away.” With this in mind, Dr. Bales tries to live every day by her grandfather’s advice: “These days are precious. Don’t waste them.”