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Pet Care » Buying Your Cat

Choosing a Healthy Cat

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

No - we're not implying that any cat is ugly. They all have something wonderful to offer if not their startlingly good looks. What we want to talk about is how to find the cream of the kitty crop when you're on a quest to acquire a cat. What should you do to ensure that the cat you have your heart set on bringing home would live a long and healthy life? Here's a few of our favorite suggestions. They apply to dealing with any breeder, pet store, humane group, or individual. Some might have already conducted a portion or all of the medical tests that we'll discuss, but it's up to you to decide whether to do your own investigative work.

First Impressions

Approach buying a cat like you would if you were buying a car or even a home. All are potential long-term investments that deserve more than just a passing glance. While we want the biggest bang for our buck, we also want to know that what we're about to invest our heart and soul into is worth the physical, emotional, and financial expense.

Make note of what your first impressions are for each cat that you look at. And when we say, "make note," we really mean take along a notepad and pen to write down your thoughts, the answers you receive to any questions that you might ask, and any potential follow-up needs that you identify. Ask yourself the following questions and come up with easily-comparable responses, something like a numerical scale of one to ten, that will make the selection process that much easier.

  1. What was my general impression the first time that I saw the cat?
    1. Was it one of concern or one of relief?
    2. Did the cat appear to be easily spooked or was it curious?
    3. Was it excessively aggressive, overly timid, or just "happy-go-lucky?"
    4. Did it run and play or run and hide?
    5. Did it purr lovingly and snuggle into my neck or did it hiss and arch its back?
    6. Would I give it a hearty "thumbs-up" with a high-end-of-the-scale rating of ten?
    7. Was I unimpressed at a "thumbs-down" low-end-of-the-scale rating of one?
    8. Was I left feeling indifferent and give it a middle-of-the-scale rating of five?
  2. How would I rate the following features/medical condition of the cat?
    1. Eyes
    2. Ears
    3. Nose
    4. Mouth (including teeth, breath, and jaw movement)
    5. Anal area
    6. Walking and running gait
    7. Weight
    8. Temperament
    9. Quality and condition of fur
    10. Breathing and eating behaviors

Be leery of any discharges that you notice coming from any orifice of the cat, whether eyes, ears, nose, mouth, anus, or elsewhere. Also, pay close attention to any "belly bulges" or lumps and bumps. They might turn out to be harmless, but make note to follow-up on each of the concerns that you initially identify.

If what you first see sends up too many red flag warnings, be prepared to go home empty-handed. Walk away before you get too attached or before you convince yourself that you can take care of an unhealthy cat "because no once else will." Unless your mission in life is to protect all forms of underdogs, or should we say undercats in this situation, you're not an evil person for looking elsewhere.

Pre-Purchase Exams

Even if the cat satisfactorily "passes inspection," you would be wise to request permission to take the cat to a veterinarian of your choosing for a thorough pre-purchase exam. This would be your financial responsibility, but one that would prove to be beneficial in the long run regardless of its outcome. If you've traveled to an area that you're unfamiliar with, you could ask the feline's owner for several recommendations for local veterinarians to deal with, but the final choice should be made by you alone.

While at the vet's, consider having the following procedures completed:

  1. General Blood Work - This would identify existing problems and/or serve as a baseline for future health problems should they occur.
  2. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) Testing - You've already taken a blood sample, so it's a good idea to conduct these simple tests, especially for FeLV, a disease that's reported to be the second most common killer of cats, with accidents being the main culprit (Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, 1995).
  3. Stool Sample and Urine Analyses - If the owner of the cat can provide you with fresh samples, so much the better; otherwise the vet might be able to obtain them from the cat. Stool samples will reveal potential parasitic infestations while urine analyses are effective at identifying a multitude of potential problems.
  4. Physical Exam - Request that the vet listen to the cat's heart and lung sounds, take their temperature, thoroughly exam their eyes, ears, teeth, limbs, anal area, and palpate the area of the stomach, kidneys, etc. Any good vet knows enough to investigate such areas, but pay attention and make sure that each area is examined to your satisfaction. If you noted any areas of concern during your initial visit with the cat, discuss such concerns with the vet at this time.

Be prepared for any potential negative test results. If you really have your heart set on taking this specific kitty home with you, you should have previously identified what your minimum health requirements are to allow you to do just that. Take along an impartial friend who can serve as a listening board and/or a voice of reason if need be. If the cat gets yet another "passing grade" with his/her exam, you'll be moving along to the third and hopefully final stage of choosing a healthy cat.

Purchase Agreements

So tabby has found a new owner. Now what? Set aside some time to properly discuss things with the current owner. Don't let the anticipation of getting your new fur baby home make you blindly hurry through this critical final stage.

Whether you're spending a considerable amount of money of your new buddy or even if the cat is a "freebie," it's best to get something in writing which clearly states that, if the cat is deemed to be unhealthy within a specified time period, you can return the cat and get a refund of any purchase fee. Be realistic with this expectation though - don't expect the cat owner to be open-ended with this request. At some point in time the responsibility of the cat's health becomes yours even if it might have had an unknown pre-existing condition that took years to reveal itself.

If the kitten is still too young to come home with you, establish what additional medical treatment the cat will receive prior to you completing the deal. Decide what vaccines will be given, if they haven't been already, and any other tests or surgical procedures, such as spaying or neutering, that will be performed. Determine who will be financially responsible for such treatments. Then, and only then, is it time to sign on the bottom line and/or shake hands in agreement to a deal that satisfies all parties involved.

Be prepared to go through these steps several times before finally finding a healthy cat. Once you've successfully navigated your way along the path to identifying a healthy cat, a hearty congratulations is in order. You've done everything you can to make your cat selection have a happy and healthy ending, as well as a great new beginning.

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