There is nothing quite as endearing as a kitten, or as heart-warming as the trust embodied by this loving creature dependent upon you to shape his life. Kittens complete the empty places inside we didn’t know were missing. They make us laugh, they offer us companionship, listen to our complaints, and purr us out of bad moods, celebrate our successes and are with us through setbacks. Kittens love us bad-breath and all, and they never, ever lie.
There is a kitten to suit every taste and circumstance. Kittens come in a kaleidoscope of coat colors, patterns, and fur length. Each is a unique work of art formed by nature, and like snowflakes, there are no two exactly alike. In fact, the way a kitten looks often changes with the mere slant of the sun that may burnish a black coat with reddish hues, or highlight the glint of a contrasting undercoat.
Early in their history, all cats looked like. Then natural selection and environmental influences caused changes in their appearance. The first cats sported tabby stripes and had short hair, and long, lithe bodies suited to hot desert regions. Long fur developed in the mountainous areas of ancient Persia, where cat bodies also became more compact for cold weather. And the first pattern mutation was a solid color—black cats are most common, with orange-red colors most frequently found in Southeast Asia and Japan where the mutation may have first appeared.
Your kitten won’t want you to know this, but she is related to (ahem!) the dog. Starting about 220 million years ago during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, the ancestor of your kitten was born. Miacids were the first meat-eating mammals, and they outlived the dinosaurs and ultimately founded all modern carnivores, from seals and walruses, weasels and bears—to cats and dogs.
But cats didn’t really start to look much like modern cats until about 35 million years ago, in the Early Oligocene Era, when felids began to appear. There was a wide range of cat-like creatures, from house-pet-sized, to giant saber-toothed varieties. At the end of the Pleistocene Era—two million years ago—the last great Ice Age killed off many of the prey animals these prehistoric cats liked to eat. In order to survive, felids had to become faster and smarter. And they did, evolving into the two major cat groups we recognize today.
The Panthera division includes all the modern lions, tigers, panthers and jaguars. All of the smaller cats, from ocelots and lynx to wildcats and bobcats are referred to as Felis. Today it is widely accepted that modern house cats evolved from one or more species of wildcat. The first historical evidence of feline domestication dates from 1600 B.C. Egypt.
Boy Versus Girl – Does It Matter When Choose your Kitten?
There are, of course, some differences between the sexes. It can be difficult to tell which is which with very young kittens, especially when they are very furry. Simply lift the kitten’s tail to figure out the gender. A female kitten’s anus and vulva look something like a semicolon, while the boy fuzzy bottom resembles an exclamation point. His testicles become more obvious the older he gets.
There are exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking, boy cats tend to be bigger at maturity than girl cats. And as they reach sexual maturity, they can develop belligerent attitudes toward other males when they test their status. They can also wreak havoc when they spray strong-scented urine to mark their territory. Intact females become extremely obnoxious, noisy, and demanding when they go into heat—that period when they can get pregnant. Practically speaking, it usually costs a bit less to have a boy cat neutered than it does to have a girl cat spayed. You can read more detailed information about the feline facts of life in Preventing Kitten Health Problems.
During kittenhood, though, both boys and girls act very similarly. They eat the same, play the same, sleep the same, get into the same mischief, and generate the same amount of purrs and love.
Gender does matter when introducing your new kitten into a household that already has an adult cat. Unless the cats have grown up together, it’s almost always better to introduce a kitten of the opposite sex to an adult resident cat, because the older cat tends not to feel quite so threatened with this arrangement.
Everything else being equal, gender does matter in some specific circumstances, but should not be the defining issue for choosing the baby.
Aristo-Cat or the Cat-Next-Door?
I confess I am an equal-opportunity pet lover. I fall in love with each kitten I meet, be it a random-bred beauty or pedigreed show kitten. There really is no right or wrong choice between these two groups. It comes down to a matter of taste. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to both options that you should consider before you make your choice.
Cats come in all shapes and sizes, and specific types are called “breeds.” Very generally, a cat is considered a particular breed when a mating between two cats of the same type produces kittens of identical type. In other words, mating two Persian cats produce Persian babies that will have the same long fur and large round eyes as their parents. And breeding two Russian Blue cats produce shorthaired dark-gray green-eyed kittens similar in type to their parents.
Some cat breeds arose naturally in certain parts of the world, while others were developed by the careful selection of dedicated cat fanciers. Meticulous records of these feline family trees, called pedigrees, are kept. Educated breeders use pedigrees to help predict what kind of offspring a particular mating may produce. They strive to preserve and improve the integrity of a given breed through careful matchmaking of prospective cat parents. Today there are more than 100 different cat breeds recognized throughout the world.
Adopting a pedigree kitten from a reputable breeder offers the advantage of known ancestry. You’ll likely be able to meet at least one of the parents, which can help you predict the future personality of your little one. Specific cat breeds are also known for certain personality traits, so you may be better able to choose a kitten that matches your own high-energy or laid-back demeanor. Purebred kittens also tend to have an above-average health care history because good breeders are sticklers for preventative care, such as good nutrition, vaccinations and worm medicine for the parents and the babies.
Finally, purebred kittens raised “underfoot” have the huge advantage of being properly socialized. Socialization refers to the period of time during early kitten-life when the baby learns to accept people as safe, happy, and normal parts of his life.
Purebred Baby Cats
There are some drawbacks to pedigree kittens. The most obvious is the cost—you can expect to spend much more on a purebred baby, in the hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars. That’s because some breeds are quite rare, and may not be available for “pet homes” because they are expected to compete in shows and contribute to their breed as future moms and dads. The cost also often includes some sort of limited guarantee, though, because of the investment the breeder has made in the health of the kittens.
After investing their time, money, and love producing high-quality kittens, breeders can be quite selective about who gets their babies. They also may limit your ability to breed the kittens, especially if they consider the kitten “pet quality” and not a show or breeding contender. After all, their reputation is at stake and they only want folks breeding their kittens who know what they’re doing.
Another potential downside of adopting purebred kittens is certain health problems that may be present in a given breed. Overall, cat breeds have many fewer of these kinds of inherited problems than do dogs, and reputable cat breeders are honest about these concerns.
The greatest drawback to adopting purebred kittens is when the breeder is not reputable. In these instances, not only the kitten, but you suffer the consequences. Paying lots of money does not guarantee a healthy, well-bred and happy kitten. For more details about how to find and identify good breeders and quality purebred kittens, see Looking for Your Dream Kitten.
A Look at Cat Shows
Cats have been a part of human history for at least 5000 years, but cats were left pretty much to themselves until the mid-nineteenth century when selective breeding became popular. That’s when existing natural breeds began to be refined and newer breeds developed by dedicated hobby breeders. Cat shows offered a venue to showcase these successful efforts.
The first recorded cat show was in St. Giles, Winchester, England, in 1598, and the first formal “benched” cat show was staged by Mr. Harrison Weir on July 13, 1871, at the Crystal Palace in London. About 25 years later, cat shows came to the United States when 200 cats competed at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1895.
A cat show usually features pedigreed cats that are compared against a written “standard” of breed perfection. The cat that comes closest to this ideal will win. Today, there are a number of national or international cat associations that register cats, keep records of pedigrees, publish breed standards, and sponsor cat shows. You can often find shows that include “household cat” competitions for non-pedigree kitties.
Each cat association has specific guidelines for showing, and it can get a bit complicated, but if you’re interested, showing your kitten can be great fun! Contact information for the many cat associations can be found in the appendix and will tell you exactly what to expect and how to get involved in the show fancy.
They called mutt cats, random-bred kittens, or mixed-breed felines. Unlike their purebred brethren, non-pedigree cats do not produce predictable kittens from any given mating. The babies of a pair of Domestic Shorthair cats may sport a rainbow of colors and patterns, with some favoring long fur, others sporting short coats, and a random mix of eye colors and body types. But whatever they’re called, our cat-next-door felines are without a doubt the most popular “type” of pet cat in the world.
The biggest advantage to “every day” kitties is that they are always available and for a reasonable cost. Be advised that no cat is free! Even the kitties that appear on your back porch require preventative and routine maintenance health care. The cost for wellness care for your new kitten is the same whether he’s a purebred or shelter rescue.
These popular kittens can be every bit as beautiful, healthy, and well socialized as their purebred counterparts. But they are at higher risk for health and behavior problems, because they may not have the advantages of being born to a healthy and pampered Mom-cat, or handled by loving cat advocates.
Random bred or “mutt” kittens come in as many varieties as their pedigree cousins and are just as lovable. Siblings can look very different, as in the picture, courtesy of Ralston Purina Company. Because these kittens are so available, there are far too many of them. That means, when you adopt a random-bred kitten it is often an act that saves the baby’s life. That’s the biggest advantage of all.
Kitten Care Considerations
Other options to consider with choosing your kitten include personality, activity level, and care requirements. All kittens play and are active, and certainly every kitten needs grooming attention. But some kittens have no off-switch while others like to lap-snuggle after a romp, and a number of kittens have very specific hygiene needs.
Cat breeds and types like Maine Coon, Himalayan, and Domestic Longhair kittens need more coat care than shorthaired varieties. That’s because long fur gets matted and tangled very easily and should be combed regularly. Longer fur also can catch bathroom deposits, so regular attention to the kitten’s bottom helps keep problems from developing. Kittens that have very large, prominent eyes like Persians also need help keeping tears clean away.
Some kitten breeds are active, while others tend to be more sedate. The Abyssinian, an agouti-coated beauty, is one of the Tarzans of the feline world and loves to swing from drapes and scale the tallest perch. In contrast, the British Shorthair described as a calm, quiet, low-activity breed of cat. Persians often seem to know they meant to be admired, and love to lap-sit and window-perch rather than leap about.
A few cat breeds are famous for their loud voices. Siamese-type cats known for their distinctive meows and love to hold long—and loud—conversations with their humans. If you adopt one of these kittens, they’ll always get in the last word!
Highly active, in-your-face:
Abyssinian, Balinese, Bombay, Burmese, Colorpoint Shorthair, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Egyptian Mau, Javanese, Oriental Longhair, Russian Blue, Siamese, Somali, Tonkinese.
Less active “lap sitter”:
American Wirehair, Birman, British Shorthair, Exotic Shorthair, Himalayan, Persian, Ragdoll, Snowshoe.
Balinese, Colorpoint Shorthair, Japanese Bobtail, Javanese, Oriental Longhair, Oriental Shorthair, Siamese, Tonkinese.
Quiet prefers watching:
American Wirehair, Birman, British Shorthair, Chartreux, Egyptian Mau, Exotic Shorthair, Havana Brown, Korat, Scottish Fold, Snowshoe.
High-fashion models require lots of grooming:
Exotic, Himalayan, Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest Cat, Persian, Ragdoll, Scottish Fold (longhair)