Much has been written about how to select a puppy for your family: visiting the local animal shelter, finding the right breed and breeder, and choosing your individual puppy from a litter. For those of us in search of the perfect cat or kitten, there is much less guidance. But personality, tolerance, activity level and, ultimately, a cat’s “fit” into a family, are just as important with a cat as with a dog.
There are several points to consider when you are ready to bring a new cat or kitten into your home. First, consider the cat’s lineage. Because most pet cats are thoroughly mixed breeds (known collectively as either domestic shorthairs or domestic longhairs), it isn’t always useful to speak about breed personalities. But if you are interested in a pedigreed cat, you should take the time to research the breeds you are considering. Cat magazines and books provide insight into the personalities and special care requirements of the various breeds.
Once you have narrowed your choices, attend local cat shows and talk to the breeders about their cats. The breeders will be able to answer any questions about the behavioral characteristics of that particular breed. For example, Siamese cats are known as compulsive talkers (and also, by the way, for being very clever and silly); people who live with them should be willing to carry on lengthy conversations throughout the day. Persian cats are described by many of their owners as compliant pets, willing to be gently carried for long periods. Such personality traits are difficult to predict with mixed breeds, unless it is possible to speak to the owners of the kitten’s parents. Personality, after all, is largely inherited and, along with the influences of the cat’s home, will ultimately shape the behavior of the adult cat. A breeder will tell you about the parents of any available kittens, and may also be able to help you obtain your new cat.
When a litter of kittens is available, it is helpful to visit the kittens several times before taking one home. At each visit (which can start, if possible, as early as three weeks of age), observe the kittens as a group and take note of the different personalities. Characteristics worth noting include activity level, social interactions, vocalizations and the kitten’s response to a visitor. If a kitten tends to shy away from the group and is consistently unwilling to approach you, she may grow up to be timid and reluctant to be handled. On the other hand, the kitten who repeatedly mouths and claws at a visitor’s hands may play quite roughly as he grows.
As with puppies, look for the “middle” kitten — one who responds positively, but not aggressively, to touch or voice, and to his littermates. It is also helpful to pick up the kitten several times at each visit and consider his response. If he immediately struggles each time to get down, he is likely to respond similarly as an adult. If holding is important to you, try to find a kitten willing to be held gently for longer periods. By the age of six weeks, kittens should already be using any available litter boxes