Should I Get A Cat?

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I’m not biased at all* when I say that cats are delightful creatures.

*I am totally and completely biased.

Cats can really enhance your life and bring you a lot of joy. That said, it’s not all purrs and Churu with cats. Cats can have their own set of challenges and have needs that need to be met so they’re not always a great choice for everyone. Clearly you’re here because you’re trying to decide if you should get a cat, so how do you decide if a cat is right for you?

Simplifying It Into One Question

Thankfully, the decision on if you should get a cat ultimately breaks down to one specific question. Yes, there are more layers to the question, but it’s ultimately pretty simple:

Can I meet all of the needs of the cat?

That’s it. That’s the only thing you need to ask yourself. If the answer is yes, go for it! If the answer is no, reconsider.

A Deeper Question

That said, that one question is actually a pretty loaded. It’s a lot more complex than it would seem on first glance! There is sadly still a lot of misinformation about cats out there and people sometimes underestimate the needs of cats. If you don’t meet your cat’s basic needs, you’ll end up with a very unhappy cat.

The results of an unhappy cat? A cat whose humans need a cat behaviorist like me to help them figure out what’s going on. Yikes! I’m great, but you don’t want to need my services if you can avoid it.

Grumpy-looking tortoiseshell cat on a grey background
“Maybe if you gave me more treats you wouldn’t need Joey.” Stock photo.

What Things Do Cats Need?

So what are the basic needs of cats that you should be prepared to meet? Let’s break them down into a few categories.

Biological and Physiological Needs

The first layer of a cat’s basic needs are taking care of them on a biological level. You may be aware of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for humans. This level is basically the same for cats with some differences. Your cat will need a nutritious, meat based diet; access to safe drinking water; a safe place to live without predators; and a nice place to take a dump. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t exactly how it’s typically phrased, but you get the gist.

These ones are pretty easy for most people to get. They’re generally intuitive and if you’ve managed to keep yourself alive, you likely realize that of course you need to feed the cat. If I set out food and scoop my cat’s litter box, they should be totally fine, right?

Clearly there’s two more subsections ahead so it doesn’t end with a full bowl of food.

Environmental Needs

I know safety is included in the last section, but there’s more to the environmental needs of cats beyond are they safe.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners put out a great set of guidelines about the type of environment you should set up for to meet your cat’s basic needs. If you want to read a simplified version of it with practical tips, they have an excellent brochure available.

In addition to a safe environment, a cat friendly environment should include:

  • Multiple resources spread out into different locations (especially in homes with multiple cats)
  • Interactions with humans that are positive and predictable
  • The ability to leave their pheromones all over their environment and live where their sense of smell is respected
  • Outlets for hunting and play behaviors

Basically, you want to let the cats do basic, instinctual cat behaviors and have an environment that encourages it. This can be accomplished in many ways and can even be done in small spaces like studio apartments if you plan. You could add things like a wall mounted brush for your cat to rub up against or a pheromone diffuser so they feel safe and secure. It could also be things like skipping heavily perfumed air fresheners or making sure you spend time playing with your cat.

Do some of these needs require sacrifice on your part? Absolutely, you will need to spend some money meeting them and will need to alter your home to make it interesting for your cat. If you aren’t willing to get your cat any cat furniture or keep a litter box in a location your cat will like, they likely won’t be happy.

Species Specific Needs

While some of this falls under the “resources” portion of the environmental guidelines, I want to highlight the importance of allowing your cat to express species specific behaviors. As my area of expertise is cat behavior, this is a really important topic to me. I see too many cats whose humans don’t provide them with the resources to engage in natural behaviors for cats or try to punish them for doing something normal for a cat to do.

What are some of the most important species specific behaviors of cats? Things like scratching, climbing to high places, hunting, or rubbing against objects or people. These behaviors could be annoying, but they’re behaviors that cats have an innate drive to do. You must let your cat have an outlet for them by providing them with resources such as cat towers/cat shelves, appropriate toys, and scratching posts.

You can even get your cat a scratching post shaped like a freakin’ carrot.

Don’t Declaw Your Cat

Speaking of scratching posts, we need to have a quick chat about declawing. I’ll be honest when I tell you that scratching is one of the easiest behaviors for me to solve. I can easily take care of it in a Zoomies session in most cases. I love when people hire me to help them get their cat to stop scratching the furniture!

It’s really frustrating to see that cats are still declawed when it’s completely unnecessary unless there’s a medical reason diagnosed by a veterinarian. And yes, that includes declawing being unnecessary for human medical reasons as the CDC recommends against declawing cats.

Declawing is associated with all sorts of risks for cats including long term pain and behavior problems. Yes, that includes your cat not using the litter box. If you’re concerned about your cat scratching you or your furniture, get in touch with me instead. We’ll work something out so your cat can keep their claws and you can still have nice things.

So… Should I Get A Cat?

By now you’re probably screaming, “JOEY! Just tell me: should I get a cat?” And I hope you realize that only you can answer that question… though I’m happy to set up a Zoomies session if you want me to help you decide.

Cats absolutely can have all their needs met (and they can have them met entirely indoors!) with some planning and by spending time with them, but you need to know what you’re doing.

Cat near a cat tower playing with a white mouse toy.
Gratuitous cute cat picture. Photo by Willian Justen.

My biggest piece of advice? Research cat care before you adopt one. If you don’t think you can meet their needs, that’s okay! Consider volunteering at a shelter, visiting a local cat cafe, or helping cats in another way. You can still enjoy cats without having one yourself.

Want to do a test run to see if cats are for you? Fostering is your answer. It’s a shorter commitment and gives you a chance to make sure the cat’s needs are met. If it’s too much, that’s totally okay. The cat will find a forever home and you can know you helped save a life. If you do end up thinking the cat is a good fit, you may be able to adopt them. While these have historically been called a “foster fail,” I like to think of them more as a “foster win.”

If you think you can handle it (cats aren’t easy pets necessarily) but want a little extra support, consider a Welcome Home package. The fact that you want to help make your cat as happy as you can signals to me that you’re going to be a great cat parent! There are a lot of resources, like my blog where I have guides on bringing home a cat for the first time or helping your cat during a move, available to help you.

So should you adopt a cat? I turn the question back to you: Can you meet all of the cat’s needs?

Need help with your cat’s behavior?

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!