Overcoming 7 Obstacles to Cat Ownership

You’d like to have a cat or you wouldn’t be reading this. But something’s holding you back from making the commitment. Maybe you’re afraid that cat allergies will have you wheezing and sneezing. Maybe you’re worried that cat scratching will ruin your furniture. Maybe your spouse or roommate refuses to let a feline join your happy home.

Whatever the reason, there are solutions. We’ve gathered some of the most common obstacles to cat ownership, along with suggestions on how to tackle each.

Cat Allergies

While the ideal solution for allergies is to avoid what you’re allergic to, you can minimize symptoms with a little work. But the first step is to visit an allergist to make sure you really do have cat allergies. Once you’re certain that cats trigger your symptoms, get the facts.

For example, it helps to know that people with cat allergies aren’t actually allergic to hair, but to proteins found in cat saliva, urine and dander. Stepping up kitty baths is not necessarily the solution, however. While bathing a cat can reduce your exposure to this protein, the effect is short lived, and bathing kitties too often can irritate their sensitive skin.

It will be easier on both of you if you make these adaptations:

  • Make your bedroom a cat-free zone. It’s the place where you spend the most time, so keep this spot a cat-free sanctuary to help reduce allergy symptoms. If you also switch to special bedding designed to be less permeable to allergens, you may start the day significantly less wheezy.
  • Demolish dander. Vacuuming, dusting, and sweeping more often can reduce the buildup of pet dander (where much of that allergy-inducing protein attaches). And make the job easier on yourself by minimizing carpets, heavy drapes, and upholstery in your house.
  • Wash up. Washing your hands and face frequently can help significantly reduce your exposure to dander.
  • Filter the air. Change house air filters regularly and look into installing an air purifier with a HEPA filter.
  • Try medication. Both over-the-counter allergy medications and allergy shots can help relieve allergy symptoms. Over time, allergy shots can also help reduce cat allergy symptoms.

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Cat Shedding

Just as shedding hair is normal for people, so is it for cats. Felines usually lose more hair in spring, as the weather warms. But cats also shed because of medical issues such as stress, poor diet, allergies, medication, infection, and sunburn. To help minimize normal kitty hair loss, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) suggests:

  • Feed your cat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Brush and groom your cat regularly.

While grooming your cat, check for suspicious hair loss, redness, bumps, cuts, fleas, ticks, or other parasites. If you see signs of any of these problems or just aren’t sure why kitty is shedding so much, visit a veterinarian.

Cat Litter Box Issues

If the thought of litter box smells is keeping you from getting a cat, you’re not alone. With daily care, however, litter box odor is easy to control. And keeping a clean litter box will also help ensure that your cat will use it. To help minimize odors and maximize the chance of your cat using a litter box consistently, try these strategies:

  • Buy scoopable (clumping) litter, or small-grained clay litter, as research shows that cats seem to prefer fine-grained litter. As with any litter, you’ll need to clean the litter box daily, and dump the entire box and start fresh about once a month.
  • If bringing home a new kitty means you’ll have more than one cat in the house, be sure you’ve got enough litter boxes -- ideally, one for each, plus one more. For example, if you have three cats, you should have four litter boxes. If a cat can’t use the litter box due to cat traffic jams, or if the box is consistently dirty, he may begin to go outside the box.
  • Don’t overfill a litter box to avoid cleaning it as often. Clean litter up to twice a day if there are multiple cats using a box. Aim for about an inch or two of litter per box.
  • Some cats prefer a cover on the litter box, but most don’t. Covered boxes tend to trap and magnify odors, so they need cleaning more often. Large cats may also have trouble maneuvering in them. The answer? Try both kinds of boxes, covered and uncovered, and see what your cat prefers before settling on one.
  • A cat that consistently eliminates outside a litter box may have a medical problem. Always talk to your veterinarian before presuming the issue is unsolvable. It could be something that’s easy and inexpensive to address.

 

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A Housemate Doesn’t Want Cats

This is too big an issue to boil down to a quick solution. But here are two strategies to try when you want a cat but the person you share your home with doesn’t:

  • Talk it out. Learn why your spouse or roommate doesn’t want a cat. Maybe she prefers dogs. Or maybe she would like a pet one day, but now isn’t the right time. Talk about the pluses of cat ownership: love, purpose, fulfillment -- and even better, health. Studies show that having a pet can lower a person’s blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and even diminish depression.
  • Offer solutions. If your roommate or spouse is resisting cat ownership for issues you can tackle, such as shedding or odor, talk about how they can be addressed. Or the problem could be numbers: You’d like multiple cats, but she can only cope with one cat. See if you can compromise. Perhaps she’s just not sure whether she wants a pet. In that case, fostering a cat could be a way to test the waters.

The key is to begin the conversation. In the end, if your spouse or roommate is still against getting a cat, you can soothe some of your cat craving by volunteering at a shelter or humane society.

Cat Aggression

Cats fight one another and us for many reasons, emotional and physical. Territorial, inter-male, and maternal aggression are a few of the most common. And, of course, sometimes it’s just overly rambunctious play. While solutions depend on the cause, here are some to consider:

  • Talk with your vet. Cats can become aggressive due to serious illness, so it’s vital to rule out a physical cause for a cat’s aggression.
  • Encourage appropriate play. When cats are aggressive toward a person, it’s usually because they’re frightened or they’re playing. To prevent a cat from playing rough, never use your hands or feet as playthings. Offer many toys and spend time playing with them with your cat. You might also consider adopting another cat as a playmate or providing a more stimulating environment, such as an outdoor enclosure.
  • Consider spaying and neutering. Intact males are more prone to aggressive behavior, and one intact cat can affect the behavior of others. So be sure all felines in a household are spayed or neutered.
  • Ease competition among cats. If you have more than one cat, you can prevent competition by providing multiple food and water bowls, and have one box for each cat plus one more in different parts of the house.
  • Provide pheromones and perches. Encourage the cats in a multi-cat household to spread out by providing hiding spots and perches throughout the house. You can also buy artificial pheromones that mimic a natural cat odor (undetectable by humans); these can help cats stay calm.
  • Use short-term medication. Prescribed by your vet, these can help while you’re dealing with cat aggression. Never use over-the-counter medications -- especially those meant for humans -- unless recommended by your vet. Some drugs that are safe for humans can be fatal to cats.
  • Restrain, but don’t punish. Don’t hit your cat for being aggressive, as it will only spur more aggression, as well as fear. But don’t let cat aggression go unchecked, either. To stop a cat fight in progress, make a loud noise, squirt the cats with water, or throw something soft at them. Don’t try to pull apart two fighting cats.

Solving aggression problems between cats takes time. Enlisting the help of a family vet, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (ACVB), or a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) can make it easier.

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Cat Health Care Costs

If you’re concerned that cat health care is too expensive, it’s good to know that cats tend to be healthy and usually don’t require a lot of pricey care. That said, they still need regular exams and vaccinations. And like human medical care, veterinary care can be costly. Fortunately, there are options to help manage the cost:

  • Pet insurance. It costs money, but it can potentially save you money, too. There are many options available. Some pet insurance is affiliated with national pet store chains and others can be purchased through a local veterinarian. Talk with other pet owners or do an online search to get an idea of the available options and what they cover.
  • Subsidies through a local shelter or chapter of the Humane Society (HSUS). If you have trouble affording care for your cat, they may offer subsidized health care or know of local groups that do.
  • Veterinary school discounts. Vet schools sometimes offer discount services to the public. You can locate a veterinary school near you through your vet or the American Veterinary Medical Association web site.

 

Cat Scratching and Other Behavior Issues

It’s in a cat’s nature to scratch. They scratch to remove frayed bits of claw, to mark territory, to work off energy, and to play. Yet you can have both a cat and nice furniture by giving kitty some other outlets. Try these solutions:

  • Scratching posts. Provide several scratching posts made of sisal, cardboard, or wood. Scent the posts with catnip to get your feline friend interested.
  • Claw caps. Also called “nail caps,” these tiny vinyl sleeves slip over a cat’s claws, painlessly preventing him from doing damage when he tries to scratch. They are available online and at pet stores and many veterinarians.
  • Nail trimming. Trimming a cat’s claws isn’t difficult, especially if you start while your furry friend is young. You can get tips on claw trimming on the web sites of the ASPCA or HSUS.
  • Declawing. This is a controversial practice, so you should consider the pros and cons carefully. A cat’s claws grow from the bones of their digits, so permanently removing a claw means amputating the last joint of each digit. If you’re thinking of adopting a kitten, the Humane Society suggests a more sympathetic solution: Immediately introduce your kitten to scratching posts and other acceptable objects to satisfy his itch to scratch.
  • Talk to a vet, veterinary behavior specialist, or CAAB. If you bring a cat into your life and find you can’t get a handle on one of her behavior issues, always talk to a veterinarian to rule out health problems. Simple issues like a urinary tract infection can cause a cat to vocalize, stop using the litter box, or even become aggressive. Rule out problems such as these before assuming your cat is incorrigible and beyond redemption. If the cause is behavioral, a CAAB or veterinary behavior specialist can help. Many offer remote consultations and can work closely with your own veterinarian.

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Cats can fill a home with purring warmth, silly play, and lots of affection. Yet before adopting a cat, be sure you’re ready for the commitment of a lifetime -- the cat’s lifetime.

Still not certain? Talk to your local veterinarian about briefly fostering a cat or kitten, or offer to ”cat-sit” for a friend. Either way, you’ll get a taste of the bliss -- and a few of the burdens -- of living with a cat.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 23, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD, certified applied animal behaviorist, Animal Behavior Consultations LLC, Brooklyn Veterinary Hospital, Connecticut.

Linda P. Case, MS, adjunct assistant professor, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine; author, Canine and Feline Behavior and Training: A Complete Guide to Understanding Our Two Best Friends.

WebMD Feature: “Pet Allergies: Making It Work.”

ASCPA: “Destructive Scratching;” “Are You Allergic to Your Pet?;” “Shedding;” “Aggression Between Cats in Your Household;” “Cats Who Play Rough;” and “Litter Box Problems.”

Humane Society of the United States: “Destructive Scratching;” “Aggression Between Family Cats;” and “Preventing Litter Box Problems.”

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