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Cats have been domesticated for literally thousands of years. Yet they continue to behave according to their earlier natures as predators of vermin. They are creatures of habit who value cleanliness and routine. They love to hunt and roam. They also happen to be the number one choice of pets in the U.S. cats can live as long as 20 years, so be prepared to make a serious commitment if you choose a cat for your pet.

Purebred cats fall into three categories:

  • Natural Breeds have thick coats, heavy square bodies and quieter, less active personalities that tend to be more sedate than other breeds. They are exemplified by the American and British Shorthairs and Persians.
  • Semi-Foreigns have a leaner body shape that is more muscular than natural breeds. Their eyes are slightly oval in shape and their heads are wedge-shaped — almost triangular in form. Cats in this category exhibit moderate activity levels and include Russian Blues and Ocicats.
  • Orientals are the exotic cats that come from warmer climes. They have little body fat, light coats and elongated bodies, ears and tails. These are the most active and talkative of the breeds. Siamese and Burmese are good examples of Orientals.

Purebred cats represent merely 10% of the cat population. Nonpedigreed cats account for the remaining 90%. For most people, a scruffy, curious, persnickety, aloof or cuddly mixed breed is a perfect choice. You can find cats of all colors, shapes, sizes, ages and coats at a local shelter or rescue group. Following is a listing of the cats available in North America:

Abyssinian
American Bobtail
American Corl
American Shorthair
American Wirehair
Anatolian
Australian Mist
Balinese
Bengal
Birman
Bombay
British Shorthair
Burmese
Burmilla
California Spangled Cat
Chantilly/Tiffany
Chartreux
Chausie
Colorpoint Longhair
Colorpoint Shorthair
Cornish Rex
Cymric
Devon Rex
Don Hairless
Egyptian Mau
European Burmese
European Shorthair
Exotic Shorthair
German Rex
Havana Brown
Himalayan
Japanese Bobtail
Javanese
Korat
LaPerm
Maine Coon Cat
Manx
Munchkin
Nebelung
Norwegian Forest Cat
Ocicat
Oriental
Persian
Peterbald
Pixie Bob
Ragdoll
Russian Blue
Savannah
Scottish Fold
Selkirk Rex
Siamese
Siberian
Singapura
Snowshoe
Sokoke
Somali
Sphynx
Spotted Mist
Tiffanie
Tiffany/Chantilly
Tonkinese
Toyger
Turkish Angora
Turkish Van

If your household is active and/or you are a first-time cat owner, you might want to avoid purchasing a kitten or adolescent cat. They require a lot of attention and daily care in the first year or two. When evaluating cats at a shelter, stay clear of cats that demonstrate excessive aggression. These behaviors tend to get worse over time unless you have the willingness, patience and experience to deal with them. Look for a cat that is friendly and outgoing — one that shows interest in you and purrs and nuzzles you when you hold it. This demonstrated affection is particularly important if there are young children in the household. A cat that is cuddly now will likely remain affectionate for a lifetime.

Preparing to Bring Your Cat Home

Before you bring your cat home, you need to prepare your household and family for the new arrival. Decide which rooms you will make available to your cat, at least initially, and close off any areas you want to keep off limits. Move breakables out of the open where they can't get knocked over. Many houseplants are poisonous to cats and should be removed from the house (For more information about poisonous plants, click here). Any remaining plants should be moved to higher ground or hung. Place some pebbles on top of soil on houseplants to keep cats from using the dirt for a litterbox.

Next, purchase all the equipment you'll need for your new cat: a bed and bedding, a carrier, scratching post, cat food and treats, litterbox, litter, water and food bowls, grooming supplies, toys, non-enzymatic cleansers (which remove both spots and odors) and a spray water bottle. Set up the bed in a quiet area. Make careful decisions about where you place the cat's litterbox, food and water bowls — once your cat knows where to go it's hard to get it to change.

Because cats are creatures of routine, a move to a new location causes them a lot of stress. Expect your cat to find a place to hide as soon as it is set free in the house. Give it time to become accustomed to the environment and scents. Then you can use a treat to lure it out into the open and begin engaging with it. In no time, your cat will respond to the gentle touch, affection and treats, and begin to adjust.

You'll also need to decide in advance whether or not you will allow your cat to go outdoors. Cats love to roam and will spend outdoor time spying, hunting and seeking out prey. However, the outdoor world is fraught with many dangers, too, such as cars, predators and diseases. Research shows that cats allowed outdoors have significantly shorter life spans. Plus, you'll need to be vigilant about checking your cat for fleas, ticks and worms since they will pick up more parasites in the outside world. As a result, most veterinarians today advise keeping your cat indoors at all times.

There are two other important activities to undertake before you bring you cat home. First, find a veterinarian and set up an initial appointment for your cat to be checked out as soon as possible. Second, select your preferred option for an identification tag or marker. Cats are natural roamers and will try to escape the house throughout their lives. To find your cat, it is important that it have a tag before you leave the shelter. You can order a tag, with the cat's name and your phone number, from any pet store and many vet clinics. The tag is worn on a collar. If you are concerned that a tag may get caught on things, you can opt for an embroidered collar containing the same information. These days, many pet owners prefer to have a microchip implanted into their cats with GPS (global positioning system) capabilities. Ask your veterinarian about this service. Just be sure you have your identification option in place, because a lot of cats are lost each year when they escape from their owners on the way home from the shelter.