Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I am planning on getting a cat for my apartment but my boyfriend and I can’t decide whether to get a male or a female. He thinks males are nicer and calmer. Is that true?
Siouxsie: This is actually a very common question, Amanda, and we’re glad you asked it. The short answer is that a cat’s “nice quotient” has a lot less to do with its sex than it does with its inherent personality, its age, and how well it was socialized as a kitten.
Thomas: When I was in the shelter, I saw a lot of very sweet and easygoing female cats languishing there waiting for a forever-home because of the common misconception that males are nicer and calmer than females.
Dahlia: Some cats are simply more high-strung than others. These cats tend to be more active and less inclined to spend time with people. On the other hand, there are lots of wonderful “lap cats” who will enjoy nothing more than spending hours of time with you or your boyfriend, relaxing and accepting your loving ministrations while you watch TV, read a book or talk quietly together.
Siouxsie: Kittens tend to be much more active and curious. They love to spend time playing and exploring. Everything is new to them, and most kittens have the attention span of a goldfish.
Dahlia: That’s not fair! Lots of kittens love to snuggle … hey, what’s that? A fly? Oh, goody goody! Got to catch it! Oh, wait, a toy! Oh, wait! It looks so beautiful outside! Can I go out? Pleeeease?
Siouxsie: See what I mean? And she isn’t even a kitten anymore.
Thomas: Anyhow, Amanda, on to the socialization factor. Cats have a crucial window of opportunity for socialization, which happens between two and seven weeks of age. During that time, kittens learn core lessons that they take with them throughout their lives. If kittens are exposed to people of all ages and sexes, other animals, and a variety of different environmental stimuli, they will tend to be more easygoing and adaptable as adults.
Dahlia: If kittens are allowed to stay with their mothers until they’re at least eight weeks old (and preferably 12 weeks or more), they will tend to be more secure. They will have learned from their mother about how to handle themselves and will have a foundation of security that will help them to be more resilient as they face the inevitable changes in their lives.
Siouxsie: Generally speaking, adult cats tend to be calmer than kittens. Their personalities are more fully formed, so you know what you’re getting in terms of behavior. There are lots of adult cats at shelters who would love to be adopted into wonderful homes. Shelter staff can help you to find a cat with a personality that fits your lifestyle and your desires.
Thomas: Keep in mind, though, that cats often choose their people. If you go to a shelter, you’ll probably find a cat who seems to gravitate to you. The cat that chooses you will be able to sense the kind of person you are (we cats are very sensitive to humans’ personalities) and will have a good idea that he or she would love to live with you.
Dahlia: Even if that cat seems shy in a shelter situation, surrounded by lots of other cats or possibly–horrors!–living in a cage, he might come out of his shell when he comes home with you and sees that he’s the only cat and he has some breathing room. Cats that share a space do have a pretty formal dominance system, and it’s possible that a shy and quiet cat is just lower in the ranks than the more extroverted ones.
Siouxsie: Spayed or neutered cats tend to be calmer and more easygoing than entire animals. Sex hormones cause all sorts of chaos including pacing, hiding, calling, fighting and spraying. When a cat is “fixed,” you won’t have to deal with their raging hormones and odd or perhaps even unfriendly behavior.
Thomas: You’ll find that adult shelter cats are spayed or neutered and screened for potentially fatal diseases like feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus before they’re even put up for adoption.
Dahlia: If you do adopt from a shelter, make sure you tell the staff if you’re looking for a single cat. Many cats form bonds with one or two “best friends,” and it can be quite traumatic for these cats to be separated. If the staff tells you that Snowball and Inky are buddies and they hope those two cats can be adopted together, it’s not because they’re trying to sell you on another cat; it’s because they want what’s best for both of the cats.
Siouxsie: We think it’s better to adopt two kitty friends at the same time, unless the shelter staff tells you that the cat that chose you would really prefer to be an only cat. Pairs of cats can entertain each other and keep each other company when you and your boyfriend are away. This can reduce anxiety behavior like overeating, destructive chewing or scratching, or excessive calling.
Thomas: If you would prefer to adopt a purebred cat, research the different breeds of cats. The Cat Fanciers Association website has profiles of various cat breeds that include information about personality and special health or grooming needs.
Dahlia: We would, however, strongly encourage you to adopt from a shelter rather than, say, a pet store or someone giving away “free kittens” in the grocery store parking lot. We’re all rescue cats, and we’re very thankful to have a wonderful forever home with a person who loves us so much that she helps us write this column every week and takes really good care of us. Some cats aren’t nearly as lucky.
Siouxsie: So basically, Amanda, if you want a calm and easygoing cat, we’d recommend that you adopt an adult cat from a local shelter. Talk to the staff and tell them what kind of cat you’re looking for, and with their knowledge about the cats in their care, they’ll help you select a good match for your preferences and lifestyle. As an extra added bonus, adoption fees for adult cats are often lower than for kittens.
Thomas: Most shelters allow a week-long foster period so that you have time to see how the cat fits into your home. If for some reason the relationship doesn’t work out, you can bring the cat back to the shelter. After a week or so, the adoption is considered permanent and you sign a formal adoption agreement.
Dahlia: We hope this helps, Amanda, and we hope you and your boyfriend find just the perfect cat (or cats) to share your home.