Congratulations on your decision to add a feline member to your family! Now you are faced with your next decision – do I want a kitten or a cat? (Technically, kittens remain kittens for their first 6 months of life, but for the sake of this article, since kittens retain their high energy level and “kittenish” behavior much longer, we will refer to an adult cat as 1 year of age or older).
Animal shelters and rescues are full of beautiful and lovable kittens and cats who are desperately in need of a loving home. Do you choose a cute, playful kitten or a sweet, more subdued adult cat? Hmm, good question. Living with a kitten is different than living with a cat and we will discuss pros and cons of each so you can decide which is a better fit for your family, home, financial situation and lifestyle.
- They’re adorable. This almost goes without saying. The small size and innocent little face of a baby of any species, including humans, is almost irresistible.
- Kittens are smaller and easier to handle. Inexperienced or first-time cat owners may find a kitten easier to handle. They are lighter and easier to pick up and place in carrier or hold on your lap. They have smaller teeth and claws than an adult cat, so it’s less painful if they should accidentally bite or scratch you.
- Bonding is likely to be faster with a kitten. At only weeks or a few months old, kittens look for a new “mommy” to replace their own. You don’t have to be a woman to be a “mommy” – a man can do the job just as easily. The younger the kitten, the more it emotionally needs you (and kneads you – a carry-over from its nursing days).
- They are more easily accepted by other pets in the home. Animals can tell the difference between a baby animal and an adult and will accept a new kitten much quicker as it is considered less of a threat.
- Playful and curious. Besides being cute and adorable, kittens are endlessly energetic, curious and playful. They will try to explore everywhere, and everything is a toy for them to play with. If you have more than one kitten, their baby rough-housing will keep you endlessly entertained. I have spent literally hours (when I had lots of other things to do) watching kittens rolling around with each other, cuddling and play-fighting.
- Early training. When you adopt a kitten, you can get it started on acceptable behavior at an early age. This includes learning where to play, what to play with and the difference between toys (okay to bite) and fingers (definitely NOT okay to bite). You can also ensure your kitten is not only eating dry food, but also canned wet food once or twice a day (with a few tablespoons of water added), before they have developed any food preferences. Wet food is absolutely necessary in all kitten’s and cat’s diets to ensure they are maintaining the amount of water they need to avoid many life-threatening health issues. For more info on the importance of wet food in your cat’s diet, click here.
- High energy levels. Kittens will jump, climb or wiggle their way onto every surface and into every nook and cranny of your home. They will test every object in your home to see if it can be batted, pushed, pulled or knocked over and broken. It can take kittens at least a year, and sometimes 2, to settle into a less energetic lifestyle. Be prepared to “kitten-proof” your home.
- Needs more attention. A kitten needs more attention from you than an adult cat, especially if he is the only animal in the home.
- Be prepared to get scratched and bitten. Kittens begin play-fighting with their littermates at a few weeks of age, and this remains one of their activities. Once they no longer have littermates, your hands, arms, ankles and legs will be their targets. If you have thin or delicate skin or are prone to skin infections, a kitten would probably not be the best choice for you. This is also the time to teach good habits by never allowing your kitten to bite your hands. If they are in a playful mood, grab a toy for them to interact with. For more info on how to discipline your cat correctly, click here. Trimming your kitten’s nails is also a must and can help significantly! I set my phone to remind me to cut my own kitten’s nails every two weeks. To learn more about cutting your cat’s nails, click here.
- The kitten’s personality will change. A kitten’s disposition can change as it gets older, and there’s no way of telling what kind of adult your kitten will become. Some may become more of the independent type or show some “moody” behaviors. Some may develop a biting habit that you never knew existed. If you are looking for a pet with a distinct personality or know the traits you want to avoid, it is always best to adopt an adult cat so there are fewer surprises.
- Vet visits can be more frequent. All kittens should be vaccinated and fixed by 4-5 months of age, before they go into their first heat or develop bad habits, such as spraying. If not already done when you adopted the kitten you’ll have to do this on your own. Young kittens are also more susceptible to illnesses and certain diseases, such as upper respiratory infections, intestinal worms, diarrhea, coccidia, and feline panleukopenia, some of which can be fatal.
- Kittens must be handled with care. Young kittens are fairly delicate and can be easily injured. A kitten may not be a good choice if you have young children who may play too rough with the kitten and you don’t have the time to supervise. If you have a hyper dog who may accidently step or jump on the kitten, an adult would be better suited as well.
ADULT CAT PROS:
- The cat is out of the bag. An adult cat’s personality and behavior patterns are already formed, so there will be fewer surprises. Whether shy and timid, friendly and affectionate, playful or more laid-back, an adult cat’s temperament is not likely to change.
- Older cats have lower energy levels. As cats age, they usually calm down significantly. Of course, each cat’s temperament is different, but most adult cats outgrow the high energy level of kittens. Adult cats still need to expend energy and stay mentally active, but they no longer have the crazy energy of a kitten. Older cats will require exercise and mental stimulation and you should provide them with enough room to run and climb, toys to keep them occupied and play-time with you.
- Adult cats are healthier. Between the ages of 1 and 8 years, cats are in the prime of their health. They are past the common health issues of kittens and are generally more robust. When you adopt an adult cat, you should have it spayed or neutered immediately and be sure it gets its initial vaccinations. After that, you only need to see the vet once a year for an annual check-up. Of course, adult cats can still get sick or develop a disease later in life, just like people.
- You could be saving a cat’s life. If you are adopting from a shelter, especially one that isn’t designated as a no-kill facility, adopting an adult cat means you could be saving his life. Kittens get adopted quickly because people are won over by their cuteness, and many adult cats, especially the older ones, get passed over. Almost all of these adult cats would make loving pets who would be a wonderful companion for life. It’s a sad fact that millions of cats are euthanized every year in shelters, and millions more languish there until they give up. If you can save just one life, that’s a compassionate and rewarding thing to do.
ADULT CAT CONS:
- An adult cat may have emotional baggage. Some adult cats in shelters and foster homes have a history of abuse and neglect and have lost their trust in people. Luckily, cats are very resilient and can overcome so much if shown lots of love. Some cats can take a few months to fully adjust to a new environment so please be patient. Giving an abused, neglected or abandoned cat a new life is one of the most rewarding things as you are saving a life.
- An adult cat could be set in his or her ways. Just like people, older cats can be set in their ways. You might find that your cat, especially if it’s a senior, has fairly strong preferences for certain types of litter or food. You can choose to accept your cat’s preferences, or you can work on changing them. Be prepared that this will have to be a gradual process, requiring some time and patience on your part.
- Other pets. If you have other pets in your home, it may take an older cat some time to get adjusted to them and vice versa. If your other pets include birds or smaller furry animals like hamsters or guinea pigs, remember that a cat’s instinctive nature is to be a predator. This is especially true if the cat has spent part of its previous life outdoors hunting its food – it might see your bird or small animal as prey. Make sure to never leave a smaller animal unattended when outside of their cage.
SENIOR CATS: Cats over the age of 8 years are considered seniors. Many cats live to be 20 years or older, so you can still look forward to your cat being part of your family for many years. Senior cats are much calmer and more sedentary than younger cats, but they are loving and loyal pets. Just as with younger adult cats, they have passed through the illnesses of kittenhood and come out the other side, and are usually enjoying good health. However, again, just like people, cats often develop age-related health issues, and may require a few extra vet visits. These older cats are the ones most frequently passed over at shelters and rescues, but they can still be a wonderful and loving companion for many years. Please consider adopting a senior cat and giving it the love and the long and healthy life it deserves.
CONSIDER YOUR LIFESTYLE AND YOUR OTHER PETS: Have you considered your job or activities that keep you out of the home? Do you have the time to tend to a needy and energetic kitten? If you have other pets, consider their needs, too. Do you have a dog who might either attack or interact negatively with a curious kitten? If you already have one or more cats at home, you will have to weigh the pros and cons of a kitten versus cat, depending on the personality and disposition of the cats you already have. It can take as little as a few weeks to many months for a new pet to adjust to your others, so please be patient. There are many things to consider. Just be sure that you can handle the additional vet and food expenses of adding another pet to your family.
THE BOTTOM LINE: As you can see, there is no “one size fits all” solution to the question of whether to adopt a kitten or a cat. You might enjoy the challenges and energy that come with a young, active kitten. On the other hand, you might prefer a calmer, less active adult that you don’t have to watch or entertain constantly. When making your final decision, consider the pros and cons of each and decide which best suits your preferences, financial situation and lifestyle. Whichever decision you make, lots of love and patience will result in years of companionship and loyalty.