Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My 9-year-old son is begging me to get him a cat for Christmas. I have some concerns about bringing an animal into my home on such a busy day, but I think he’s old enough to have a cat and I don’t want to disappoint him. What should I do?
Thomas: This is a really good question, Jessica. Time and time again, people get pets for their children as Christmas presents. Sometimes it goes well, other times … well, not so much.
Bella: But it is possible to do the “gift of a cat” thing correctly. It just takes a little preparation.
Tara: So here’s what you should do if your child wants a cat for Christmas.
Thomas: First of all, we always encourage people to adopt cats from a local shelter whenever possible. But sometimes people need to get purebred cats due to allergy reasons (Siberians, for example, are known to be less allergy-producing because their saliva contains less of the protein Fel d 1, which is responsible for most allergic reactions) … and sometimes people just want a purebred cat for reasons that are nobody’s business but their own. The important thing is that wherever the cat comes from, you provide a loving, comfortable, and safe home.
Tara: That said, do not buy a cat from a pet store! Cats in pet stores always (yes, always) come from kitten mills or backyard breeders, which means they and their mothers almost certainly didn’t get necessary and appropriate vet care, they were bred without thought to genetic issues, and they’re almost certain to be sick. That could end up in tragedy, and that’s not what you want your son’s first cat experience to be!
Bella: That’s right, Tara: no pet-store kitties! And when you’re going to adopt a cat or bring one home from a breeder, you need to make sure your child is invested in the cat, which means they have to have some role in choosing the cat they want.
Tara: Also, Christmas tends to be a hectic day, especially when there are children or lots of other family members in the house. On days like this, it’s hard to give your full attention to a new feline friend. Adoption is stressful for cats, and a new cat needs time to settle into their new home, preferably during a time when there’s some peace and quiet and the family can give their full attention.
Thomas: With that in mind, here are our tips.
Bella: First, find out when your local shelter is open or make an appointment to visit the breeder after Christmas.
Tara: And here’s how you can set the stage on Christmas morning … ‘
Thomas: First, buy everything your new cat will need: a bed, a litter box, food and cat litter, solo play and interactive toys, a cat tree, and food and water dishes.
Bella: If you buy from a breeder, they’ll have recommendations about what food to use and the litter their kittens are used to using. Likewise, shelters are often happy to tell you what kind of food and litter the cats at their facility use.
Tara: The reason this is important is that you want to ensure that your new arrival has as much familiar stuff as possible around them. We cats are not renowned for our love of change, and believe me, coming into a totally new home is a lot of change for a kitty to deal with!
Thomas: And then, as a Christmas gift, give your son presents that include the cat supplies. After he opens the box, tell him that you’re going to go to the shelter or breeder together and they can pick out a cat of their own.
Bella: If you’re adopting from a shelter, let your son visit all the cats, not just the kittens. Children can bond with cats of any age, and the important thing is letting your son pick the cat he sets his heart on, no matter what their age. For example, here’s a lovely story about a little boy falling in love with a 10-year-old cat. Since cats can live to be well into their teens if they’re well cared-for, even an older cat has plenty of years of love to share.
Tara: Another benefit of waiting until after Christmas to bring a cat home is that the cat doesn’t get mentally sorted into the “toys” category in your son’s mind. You know how kids go crazy over their new toys and games all Christmas day, but they forget about them after a while when the novelty has worn off? You don’t want that to happen to a cat because a cat is a living thing and needs and deserves lifelong attention and love.
Thomas: You know, Mama met Bella just a few days before Christmas, too. But she didn’t take Bella home until after the New Year because she wanted to make sure she was fully present to reduce all of our stress about a new arrival (or being a new arrival).
Bella: And I was really good and patient, too! But when Mama came to get me, I was more than ready to go!
Tara: You can read Bella’s adoption story from her perspective in Rescued Vol. 2. By the way, Rescued Vol. 2 (and the previous anthology, Rescued Vol. 1) are wonderful holiday gifts for the cat lover in your life!
Thomas: Anyway, back to getting your son a cat for Christmas. We think that if you follow our advice and make the adoption of the cat its own special day apart from the stress and chaos of the holiday season, it’ll work out better for both your son and the cat he chooses to bring home.
Bella: And it’s a good idea to make the introduction into your home as stress-free as possible for the cat. If you already have cats or other pets, here are some tips for a smooth introduction.
Thomas: If this is your first cat, here are some tips from highly regarded cat behaviorist and author Pam Johnson-Bennett on preparing for and introducing that cat into your home (protip: don’t forget to “cat-proof” your environment first).
Bella: So, Jessica, it’s certainly a wonderful idea to bring a cat home if you think your son is ready, but it’s crucial to be prepared and to create the best possible chance for the adoption to be successful.
Tara: And that’s why this is what you should do if your child wants a cat for Christmas.
Thomas: Have you gotten a cat for your child as a birthday or Christmas present? Have you gotten a cat as a birthday or Christmas present? How did it go? What did you do to prepare ahead of time? Let us know in the comments!