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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

When I was seven years old, my parents surprised me by adopting a chocolate-brown Burmese kitten. They had always told me that I could not have have a cat of my own until I was eight (no matter how much I begged), so I really wasn’t expecting this at all. I was so happy on that day, I actually cried tears of joy when they put my kitten in my arms, and we were best friends for all 18 years of his life. We were so close that, whenever I was home, I had to carry him around in one arm whenever I went about my daily tasks. He always sat on my homework, waited in the bathroom while I was taking a bath, yowled at the phone when I was trying to have a conversation, and protected me from the scary noises of the night by purring loudly in my ear. We grew up together. He was the best.

Four years have gone by since my beloved cat passed on, and now I am almost at a place in my life where I am able to and would very much like to share my home with a new cat-friend. I have moved from the USA to Belgium, where my husband and I have purchased a brand new apartment in a building where small animals are welcome. While we work to make our future new home a safe and cozy place for us humans, I was wondering if you have any advice for how I can make my home cat-friendly. I am particularly concerned that windows and balcony doors don’t have screens in this country. We’re on the second floor, and I do not want my curious or startled future cat-friend to ever find himself lost and confused on the ground! Also, it is rather a small apartment (80 square meters). Will a cat be happy in such a small space? And in what sort of location would a cat prefer to find his litter box? I already know to be mindful of poisonous plants and potentially hazardous clutter.

Also, I plan on buying a cat ‘tree’ play area for my future companion, so he can escape to a high place when he feels the need and he will have cat grass for munching. I do most of my work from home, so he will rarely have to be left alone for more than a few hours at a time. Plus, there is at least one veterinarian within walking distance, and Belgium even has an Emergency Veterinary Care number (along with regular doctors) if one ever needs someone to come to your home at odd hours to help with a bad situation. I still have to look into shelters and breeders, for adoption options, but I plan on taking my time and making the best decision possible for my family. Please forgive me for rambling a bit. I’m so excited at the prospect of being able to welcome another cat into my life, and I want to be sure I provide the best home possible for humans and felines alike. This will be my first time living in a small apartment, in a foreign country, with a cat. I know you are American kitties, but maybe some general cat sense will be helpful nevertheless. Thus, I humbly seek your wise counsel.

Amitiés de Bruxelles (Much friendship from Brussels),

~ Stefanie

Siouxsie: Well, Stefanie, it sounds like you’re off to a good start in making your new home comfortable for a cat. You’re asking all the right questions, and you’ve got some good ideas.

Thomas: We don’t think your cat friend will be unhappy in an 80-square-meter apartment. That is quite small — Mama calculated it out and it’s about 250 square feet, for those of us who aren’t on the Metric System — but we cats don’t mind limited floor space as long as we have places we can climb.

Dahlia: The apartment we three cats share is about 360 square feet (115 square meters), and we’re quite comfortable here because we all get along well and we can go outside. If we couldn’t go outside, Mama would pay a lot more attention to making special high spots, hiding places and window perches for us so we had enough territory for everyone to feel comfortable.

Siouxsie: We can certainly see how the screenless windows and balcony doors could be a problem. Is there some way you can purchase screens or sliding doors designed to fit your windows or have a contractor build screens you can install in them?

Thomas: Of course, there are some types of windows that don’t work well with screens at all. If you have these types of windows and you’re in a financial position to replace one or more of those windows or doors with screened ones, you can all enjoy fresh air without worrying about your cat escaping or accidentally falling out.

Dahlia: You can introduce your cat to the neighbors by taking him or her outside for walks. That way, if Kitty does get out, your neighbors and the local shop owners will recognize him or her and you’ll be reunited more quickly.

Siouxsie: We’d recommend that you get your cat used to wearing a collar that contains identification. However, cat collars are usually designed to come apart if the cat gets stuck somewhere, so the cat can be separated from the collar. You might consider having the cat microchipped so that if he or she does get lost and is found by a vet clinic or animal rescue center, they can locate you and bring you and the cat back together.

Thomas: Depending on where you adopt or purchase your cat, he or she might already be microchipped or tattooed.

Dahlia: Now, on to the litterbox question. Cats’ preferences as to type of litter and litter depth vary, and your preferences will weigh into the equation, too. The three of us prefer uncovered litterboxes, and we like them in an area where we can have some privacy but we can still see what’s going on around us.

Siouxsie: Depending on the size of your bathroom or toilet closet, there may be space for your cat’s litterbox there. Keeping the box in the same room as the toilet makes it much more convenient to take care of the waste regularly.

Thomas: One thing you will find is that living in a small space gives you great incentive to dispose of your cat’s feces as soon as they come out of the cat. At least, that’s what Mama tells us as she rushes over to the litterbox the moment we finish our business!

Dahlia: Some people put their cat’s litterbox in a walk-in closet. Some cats are fine with this, other cats don’t like it very much. Also, Mama’s been to a few European countries and she says there usually aren’t a lot of closets in European houses and apartments.

Siouxsie: For your sake, we’d suggest that you put the litterbox on a surface that is not carpeted. A tile, linoleum or wood floor will make it easier to clean up litter that gets out of the box, as well as any “accidents” that might happen if your kitty gets sick.

Thomas: If the only space appropriate for a litterbox is carpeted, consider purchasing a plastic carpet runner to place under the litterbox.

Dahlia: We’d recommend that you use a scent-free cat litter. Most people find that clumping litters are the most convenient, and the clumping litter we like best is made from corn (maize) rather than clay. It has just the right texture for our paws, and it keeps our urine from going all over the bottom of the box.

Siouxsie: A very tall cat tree is an excellent idea. There are a number of companies that make floor-to-ceiling cat trees (these have an adjustable spring-tension rod at the top, so they can be used for a range of ceiling heights) that take up very little floor space. You might also consider building some sort of ramp or shelf space high up on the wall, so your cat can climb around and get new perspectives on his or her environment.

Thomas: Of course, if you have fragile keepsakes or items that could be easily damaged by a rambunctious or curious cat, you should keep those in cabinets with doors. This is particularly true if you adopt a kitten. Kittens get into everything!

Dahlia: Make sure your cat tree (or cat trees, if you really want to be generous to your kitty) are equipped with scratching posts. You want to train your cat early about appropriate scratching surfaces, and by providing him or her with posts and horizontal scratchers, you will get Kitty off on the right paw. It’s a lot easier for a cat to learn the right behavior than it is for him or her to unlearn the wrong behavior!

Siouxsie: Of course, you’ll want to make sure your cat has his or her own food and water dishes. We recommend ceramic, stoneware or stainless steel dishes rather than plastic. Plastic dishes are easily scratched, and those scratches can harbor bacteria and odor-causing germs.

Thomas: Of course, if you get ceramic or stoneware dishes, you’ll want to be sure that the glaze used on them is nontoxic. This is almost never a problem, since dishes are designed to be used for eating and are therefore made with nontoxic materials. But avoid antiques or pewter; pewter was (and sometimes still is) made with lead, and who knows what safety standards were in place when those antiques were made!

Dahlia: It’s great that you’re going to be able to spend a lot of time at home with your cat friend. We loved it when Mama used to work at home! We’d spend all day sitting on her desk or her lap or sleeping on top of her computer monitor, and we’d remind her when to take breaks.

Siouxsie: You’ll want to get some toys for your cat, too. These will help keep him stimulated, and they’ll give you and your husband a chance to bond with your kitty by having fun together. We all like Thing on a String toys, and Dahlia especially loves little balls that she can bat around and chase. I like “mousie” toys so I can chase them and attack them and pretend I caught something.

Thomas: Mama brought home one toy that looks like a monkey-faced cowboy in a business suit. I especially love to pounce on that one and bite it and claw the stuffing out of it. For some reason, she really laughs when I play with that toy.

Dahlia: So, Stefanie, we think you’ll do great with your new kitty. What an exciting time for you, in so many ways! We’d love to find out what kind of cat you choose to adopt and what you’ve done to make your home a kitty haven. And, of course, we’d love to learn more about what life is like for Belgian cats.

Siouxsie: A friend of Mama’s came from Ireland for a visit a few years ago, and she told us all about the life and times of Irish cats. If you ever feel like describing what life is like for Belgian cats and their families for our readers, please let us know.

Thomas: Of course, this goes for all our cat and human friends in other countries. We’d love to hear your stories about cat life, even if they’re sad. We cats and cat lovers can’t help make your lives better unless we know what’s going on.

Dahlia: Good luck, Stefanie. We hope we’ve helped you in your quest to make your life with your new cat-friend as wonderful as possible.