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People have had cats as pets for thousands of years, and no-one knows for sure how cats were first chosen to be pets. Perhaps kittens from wild cats were raised by early humans, and the amused their carers by their antics.

It is likely that cats had become tamed and domesticated by as early as 6000 BC. A feline jawbone was found in the excavations of a Neolithic settlement in southern Cyprus in 1983. The location is significant as Cyprus has no fossil evidence of wild cats, so the cat must have been brought to the island by early human settlers. Certainly cats were fully domesticated 3,500 years ago, and records from ancient Egypt prove this. Cats were much revered there, and the punishment for killing one was death. When a cat died of natural causes all members of the household went into full mourning.

The Romans were responsible for bringing the cat to Britain and it is recorded that cats were well treated for centuries. They performed a useful service in ridding homes and grain stores of rats and mice. However in the Middle Ages the Christian Church proclaimed cats as evil, and saw them as linked to pagan rituals. The Church urged Christians to inflict pain and suffering on them. Cats were also accused of being the familiars of witches, and persecution of cats went hand in hand with persecution of women during the witch hunts of the seventeenth century. Yet cats survived, perhaps because ordinary people were too fond of their cats, or found them too useful to want to obey directives from the religious authorities. The persecutions eventually ceased, and the cat is now again a much loved pet, though we still have legends of cats on witches' broomsticks.

 Cats unnerve some people because they are independent creatures compared to dogs. Their independence helped them to survive hard times - they could survive outside, and catch their own dinner. Today, though people generally feel friendlier towards cats, and more of us are well-off enough to coddle our pets, the environment cats live in is not as friendly as it was. There's less wild countryside for cats to roam in, and there are hazards, like cars, which can kill roaming cats. Deciding whether to have a cat is now a bigger responsibility, because cats depend on us more for their survival than in the olden days. They need a safe area if they are going to be outdoor cats, and this usually means a garden. Outdoor cats belonging to people with no garden, or just a small one, often go in other people's gardens. This isn't always well received! They may wander onto busy roads and get run over. Outdoor cats can also be at risk from other cats, in places where there are a lot of cats competing for territory, which is often the case in cities. Outdoor cats can be injured in fights, and catch diseases from other cats. You can keep a cat indoors to protect your pet from modern outdoor hazards, and some breeds are better suited to indoor life than others. Indoor cats are very much more dependent on you for their needs, not just food, they can get bored easily if they don't have enough interesting things to do. People with gardens can allow their cat protected access to the outside by building a cat run, fencing off part of the garden, with a wire mesh roof - as described in Indoor Cats.

A cat can live for 20 years or more, so it is quite a commitment to take on even an outdoor cat. Some people don't like to keep cats confined, even with a cat run, and if you don't live in a safe area, and don't want to confine your cat, maybe it's better to wait until you move to somewhere more cat-friendly. Outdoor cats also get used to the territory they define for themselves, and if you are at a time in your life when you are moving several times a year, it may be better to wait a while until you can offer a cat a more stable home.

Lucky would-be owners have a nice, big garden away from traffic, or a large city flat with lots of interesting places for indoor cats to play. There's still a bit more thinking to do though, before you choose your cat.

Preparing for your new cat

The first thing to do is 'think cat', and. if you don't know cats well, ask a cat-owning friend to look at where your new kitty will live to see how safe it is. It's especially important to cat-proof your home if you are getting a kitten. Cats and kittens are much more agile than dogs, and can get into more trouble from objects you think are out of their reach, like cans of paint! Open windows and balconies can be dangerous for little kittens, so you may need to put barriers in place.

The new cat or kitten will also need equipment, like a litter tray, food and water bowls, a carrying basket, its own bed (which it may, or may not choose to sleep in), toys and of course food - whatever the cat has been used to eating at first.

It's also worth asking around to see who can care for your cat if you are away for the weekend. Cats often prefer to stay in their homes rather than be put into catteries, and if you have very reliable friends, they can provide care and allow your cats to stay at home when you are away for a couple of days.

Where can I find a cat, and what sort should I get?

Non-pedigree kittens are usually readily available from rescue organizations, who may sometimes offer subsidized neutering, or you can find kittens through private advertisements, or asking around to see if anyone local has a litter they are trying to place. A kitten should not be less than 8 weeks old when it goes to its new home, and should be kept indoors until it is old enough to be vaccinated, because of the risk of infection. Of course there are also many adult cats at rescue centres needing good homes, and there are rescue centres dedicated to specific breeds. It's a good idea to contact a breeder who may know of a rescue organization devoted to the breed you're interested in. Rescue cats come in all shapes and sizes, and their temperaments can vary from being quite wild, to being couch potatoes, content to sit on your lap and be cuddled for long periods. The one common characteristic of rescue cats is that they all need good homes. The rescue centre can help you choose a cat that suits you.

An adult cat may be more suited to your lifestyle than a kitten, and given plenty of tender loving care, most will settle in quite quickly to a new home. Some may take a little longer to settle so it is important to be patient. Being taken from familiar surroundings, however bad, to a rescue centre and then moved again to a new home, is a major upheaval for a cat. Cats that start out a little wary can be more rewarding over the long run, when they do build up trust with you.

Even elderly cats should be considered. An elderly cat may have been given to a rescue centre when its owner died and such cats are often passed by because of their age, but they can make loving, loyal pets in their twilight years, given a cosy bed by the fire, good food and lots of tender, loving care.

You may find yourself adopted by a stray cat. Cats can be very fickle, and come round to see you if you offer them food, so it's important to check whether the cat is indeed a stray before deciding to adopt. You can place adverts in local shops, the local vets, and notify the RSPCA and Cats Protection League, to ensure that anyone who may have lost the cat has a good chance of finding their pet. It's also important to give any newly adopted stray a health check with the vet, and quarantine the newcomer if you already have cats. Strays could transmit fatal infectious diseases to your existing cats, so it's safer to take your vet's advice on quarantine and whether the cat poses health risks to other cats. Cats and kittens you are given by friends and neighbours should ideally also have a health check and quarantine period, just in case. Rescue cats should already have been screened, though a brief quarantine period won't do any harm, and will allow the new and existing cats to get used to each others' smells before they meet, so make meetings easier.

At the other end of the scale from strays, there are pedigree cats, which are available from breeders. If there is a breed that appeals to you, you can contact the appropriate breed club, which should be able to put you in touch with a breeder. You can make an appointment to visit the breeder when he or she has kittens available, when you can make your choice and reserve your kitten. Usually a pedigree kitten will be over 12 weeks of age and already vaccinated when it goes to its new home. It's worth finding out as much as you can about the breed before you choose a pedigree kitten, so you know what to expect and can pick a breed that suits you.

What are pedigree cats like?

Most people have moggies with uncertain parentage, and the average moggie can be a loving and much-loved pet. But pedigree cats have special allure for some people, and there are many different pedigree cat breeds, each with different personality traits. Some breeds crave attention, while others are aloof; some are lively and some are, shall we say, more 'plodding'! There are those who are very vocal and others who you won't hear a peep out of from one day to the next. There is also the question of longhair or shorthair. Longhair cats require regular grooming, with Persians requiring at least daily grooming. It's worth thinking about your lifestyle and the sort of breed that will fit in with that lifestyle. Some of the livelier breeds are the Burmese, Siamese, and Oriental Shorthairs, while Persians, Birmans and Ragdolls are more relaxed. Maine Coons and British Shorthairs are in-between, tending to calm down a little as they get older.

Abyssinian cats are thought to originate from the sacred cats of Egypt, although some believe they are the domestic strain of the African wild cat. The breed nearly died out during the world wars, but dedicated breeders were successful in their efforts to maintain the breed. Abyssinians are medium sized cats with fine short and close lying coats. Each hair is ticked. The original cats are termed as 'usual', and have been modified to produce a blue coloring. The sorrel colour has been modified to produce fawn. Abyssinians are energetic, intelligent and affectionate. They can even be taught simple tricks.

Singapura cats were first seen in 1971 in Loyang by American, Hal Meadow, who thought they looked like odd-coloured Abyssinians. Singapuras became a recognized breed in America, with their fine short coat of antique ivory, overlaid with dark brown ticking. They have a gentle nature and are very people-orientated. They require stimulation and interaction but are happy to live indoors if that's all they have known.

Burmese cats are extrovert, fun-loving, athletic and strong, but can be demanding. Not all Burmese cats are as vocal as, say, the Siamese, but they do like the sound of their own voice and will use it. Their intelligent minds need to be kept occupied, so they are generally not suitable for someone out at work all day, or someone who craves peace and quiet at the end of a tiring day. They are also very friendly and enjoy company so would not like to be left alone all day. Some people describe Burmese cats as born clowns, and they will keep you entertained. They enjoy the outdoors, so should be allowed access to the outside and not kept as indoor cats. You can build them a cat run to give them safe access to the outdoor, if you don't live in a cat-friendly area.The Burmese breed known today is descended from a brown cat called Wong Mau, who first appeared in 1930. She was crossed with a Siamese and the kittens displayed darker points while others had solid brown coats. The breed attained official recognition from American Cat Fancier's Association in 1936. 

Siamese cats are not for the fainthearted - they are very similar to Burmese cats in being intelligent, demanding, friendly, and very vocal, though they are more vocal than Burmese cats. Like the Burmese, the Siamese is not a suitable 'home-alone cat', because this breed likes company and entertainment. They can be very mischievous and inquisitive and have even been known to steal away with their owner's possessions, such as keys, diy tools etc. High entertainment value!

The Bengal is another lively, extrovert breed which likes attention. This breed stands out for its beautifully marked coat, which has a unique silky texture. The Bengal's leopard markings have indeed come from the wild. This breed was developed crossing between domestic cats and Asian Leopard cats. Not all the first offspring were fertile, but those that could breed produce litters with greater fertility. The wildness has been bred out of them, so the later generations still have the look of a wild cat, but they have been selected to be sociable and make good family pets. The ability of domestic cats to breed with close relatives has been in the news in Britain, with reports of matings between escaped exotic pets and domestic cats, but such matings have not been selectively bred for tameness and markings, so are much less likely to produce a suitable family pet, let alone one that is both sociable and beautiful, like a well-bred Bengal cat. Do ensure that you find a reputable breeder, however, since selecting the right parents is very important with this breed. Bengal cats are agile and curious and need space to run and climb, preferably with access to a safe outdoor area. If you can add a water feature this will satisfy their fascination for water. Some individuals may adapt well to a harness enabling you to take them for walks around the garden on a lead. They also don't like to be left on their own for long periods of time and many Bengal cats enjoy the company of other cats or other non-prey animals - some even get on with dogs! Bengal cats are quite vocal, and have a wide vocal range, which includes chirrups and howls.

Oriental Shorthair cats (formerly referred to as Foreign Shorthairs collectively with Abyssians and Russian Blues) are derived from the Siamese breed with the same conformation and type, with an overall coat colour rather than the typical 'pointed' coat pattern of the Siamese. Like the Siamese, they are spirited and demanding and would provide a person living alone with much entertainment and devotion, being almost dog like in their nature. They are said to have good recall and will remember where they have left a toy and are clever at finding items that you thought had hidden away safely! They do not need usually much grooming, but do benefit from regular brushing when they are moulting.

At other end of the temperament scale are Persian cats. They are generally placid and laid back with sweet temperaments, although the temperaments can vary between the different coat colours. Self or solid colours are generally the most placid, while colourpoints can be slightly livelier, probably due to their original development that involved crossing Persians to Siamese. They don't require too much space and will be quite happy living permanently indoors, although access to an outdoor run or safe fenced area of garden will be appreciated. Persians do like company but will quite happily sleep the day away until you come back home from work, and then sleep the evening away on your lap! However, if you are at work all day, you might consider two, as company for each other. They can be playful, but this is generally in short bursts, followed by long periods of 'rest'! Persians are quite high maintenance with regard to their long fur, which must be groomed regularly to prevent it from matting. The key is to start introducing your kitten to brushing and combing from an early age. Hopefully the breeder will have already begun the process for you. There is also the problem of weepy eyes in some individuals, particularly those with the flatter faces, so this will require attention to prevent unsightly staining of the fur, both around the eyes and on the paws when the cat washes itself.

Perhaps the answer to the grooming issue is the Exotic Shorthair, which to all intents and purposes is short-coated version of the Persian. Their coat is dense and soft and does not need as much grooming as a Persian longhair, although it will still need grooming, perhaps once or twice a week. The eyes of some flatter face individuals will again require attention to prevent tear staining. They have the same placid temperament of the Persian longhairs and are generally good family pets, having an affectionate nature and being very owner-oriented.

Birman cats are amenable, laid back and people-oriented. They enjoy the company of other cats and other animals, including dogs, and are gentle, calm, and good with young children who respect them, making Birmans excellent family pets. Equally their sweet and loving nature would suit a person living alone or the elderly. They will happily live as indoor cats, but, like Persians, would appreciate a safe outdoor area as they are quite active. If they are allowed the freedom of the garden they may return with gifts, as some individuals make good hunters! Their long silky coats are not as dense as the Persian coat, but will still need regular grooming to keep it in good condition. The coat markings are similar to the Colourpoint Persian except that the feet are snowy white.

Another laid-back breed is the Ragdoll, famous for its relaxed attitude to life. They can be playful well into adulthood, and are said to be fiercely loyal and almost doglike in their behaviour, even to retrieving rolled up balls of paper! They don't like to be left alone however; so two cats would be ideal if you are out at work all day. Their laid back nature means they are good with children, although they are large, muscular cats - with adult males weighing in at 8-9kg! Their coats are semi-longhair and silky and easy to look after with a brush and comb perhaps twice a week, although more grooming may be required when moulting. The coat patterns are colourpointed, mitted and bicolour.

Maine Coon cats are often referred to as 'gentle giants', and have a somewhat shaggy semi-longhair coat. They are gregarious and sociable, and can be energetic, although many individuals are happy to laze about idly once out of kittenhood! They love human company and enjoy the outdoors, so this is a good choice for people who live in a cat-friendly environment. Some individuals can be happy as indoor cats as long as they are provided with things to do and play with, and they have enough space. Ideally, though, they should have a cat run, or some sort of protected access to the outside, like an enclosed balcony, if you feel the area you live in isn't cat-friendly enough for them to have unprotected access to the outdoors. They benefit from a sturdy scratching post with different levels. Maine Coons are generally good with children so are ideal family pets. Their semi-longhair coat is silky and waterproof with only a slight undercoat, making it easy to look after.

British Shorthair cats are placid and affectionate and, as with Persians, there may be slight differences in temperament between the different coat colours. Silver tabbies are said to be energetic, for instance, with colourpoints being extremely affectionate probably due to the influence of the colourpoint Persians originally used to produce the coat pattern. They are said to be adaptable to new environments and can be happy both as indoor or outdoor pets. They enjoy human company and can be lively - usually in short bursts! They are generally home-loving, making good family pets, mixing happily with other animals and young children. The short plush coat gives them a cuddly 'teddy bear' look, and is easy to look after, with perhaps a weekly brush and comb.

The Devon Rex cat is thought to have first appeared in Devon in 1960 and with its naturally curly coat, was compared with the curly coated Cornish Rex, which appeared 10 years earlier. However the Devon Rex is smaller than the Cornish Rex and it has a pixie-like appearance. They're known to be mischievous and are easily bored, but are extremely affectionate and shouldn't be left alone all day. Not only is their fur curly, even the eyebrows and whiskers are kinked, although they are soft to the touch.

This is just a brief overview of the cat breeds which are favourites in Britain. Breed clubs are another source of information on breed characteristics, including any health problems the breed may be prone to. Have a look at  the books on cat Breeds' too, among the cat books in the Book Reviews section:

.Should I have an entire or a neutered cat?

Neutered, if you aren't planning on breeding cats. Entire males are likely to roam and fight, and catch diseases, as well as spraying the house. They tend not to survive very long, while neutered males can live to an advanced age. Entire females can present you with several batches of kittens a year, and the UK has too many kittens looking for good homes. Female cats can come into season for the first time at any age from four to ten months (Persians tend to come into season later), so spaying at between three to four months can prevent youngsters from breeding. Check with your vet to see what age seems best for your particular cat, and if she comes into season before she's spayed, keep her indoors and away from any entire males you may own. It is not necessary to allow a cat to have kittens before she's spayed, in fact it's a bad idea, given the number of unwanted cats in the UK. 

How do I care for my new cat?

Any new pet likes some time to explore its surroundings, and a little peace and quiet after the upset of moving to a new home. So let the newcomer make friends with you in his or her own time, rather than forcing interactions. If there are other cats in the home it is probably best to confine the new cat or kitten to one room initially, so that the newcomer and the established cat or cats can get used to each others' scents before you try a face-to-face introduction. This is particularly important when introducing an adult cat to established cats. Do get your vet to check out newcomers, unless you are sure that they have already recently been checked by a vet - it can save you a lot of heartache. Do check with the owner or rescue organization what type of food the cat has been given previously, as any change in diet should be gradual to avoid digestive upsets. This need for dietary continuity is especially true for kittens. Watch your new pet as he or she explores your home, so you can become aware of any hazards - your cat will tell you where they are! And welcome to the world of people owned by cats.

See Also:





Further reading:

Lipinski MJ, Froenicke L, Baysac KC, et al. The Ascent of Cat Breeds: Genetic Evaluations of Breeds and Worldwide Random Bred Populations. Genomics. 2008;91(1):12-21. doi:10.1016/j.ygeno.2007.10.009.

Stavisky J.Too many cats: how owner beliefs contribute to overpopulation. Vet Rec. 2014 Feb 1;174(5):116-7.

C P Welsh et al Poor owner knowledge of feline reproduction contributes to the high proportion of accidental litters born to UK pet cats Veterinary Record 2014;174:5