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A cat for your retirement
By Carina Norris

Cats' undemanding and adaptable nature make them ideal pets for pensioners who may not feel up to keeping a pet like a dog, which requires exercise. Cats are cheaper to feed than most dogs, are happy living in a small house or flat, and feline companionship can be a great comfort after retirement.

Many cat owners, and especially the elderly, say that their cat is not just a pet - he's a member of the family. And as well as providing companionship, there is now scientific proof that cats are good for us - just a few minutes of stroking a cat's soft fur can help us relax, and even lowers our pulse and blood pressure. And what's more - the cat enjoys it too!

A cat will always listen to you, and never answer back, and most cats love to sit on your lap for a stroke and a cuddle.

If you're living alone, a feline friend will encourage you to get up in the morning, keep you company through the day, and welcome you home when you get back from shopping. A cat gives you a purpose - he relies on you for food, water, shelter and companionship, without making too many demands.

  • Scientific studies have shown that elderly people who have a pet such as a cat to care for are likely to remain physically and mentally active and healthy for longer.
  • Sufferers from Alzheimer's disease, who have difficulty relating to people, may be comforted by a cat even when other stimuli fail to reach them.
  • To a certain extent, cats exercise themselves, which makes them ideal pets for people who perhaps aren't able to go for long walks. If you live in a quiet area, free from busy roads, you may like to allow your cat out to roam around. But more and more owners are choosing to keep their cats indoors all the time. This removes the chances of the cat being hurt or killed by a car, as well as keeping him out of fights with other free roaming felines.

If you provide plenty of amusement for an indoor cat, there is no reason for him to miss the great outdoors. Although all cats need some privacy and time on their own, they do like company, and love a chance to play. Even elderly owners can throw a ping pong ball for a cat to chase, trail a toy along the ground for a cat to follow, or entice the cat to play with a catnip mouse.

If you don't want your cat to shred the furniture, you will need to provide him with a scratching post, and encourage him to use it. And even if they do use a scratching post, indoor cats get less opportunity to wear down their claws, and may occasionally need their claws clipped. You can buy special claw clippers for cats - don't be tempted to use human ones as they can crush the claw - but if you don't feel confident to tackle the job yourself, your vet can do it for you.

As well as the initial cost of buying a cat, you will need to consider the on-going running costs. Although they are more likely to be affordable to someone living on a pension than the bills for keeping a dog, they can mount up, and should be budgeted for. A cat needs a standard sized can of catfood, or the recommended amount of dry food, each day. Then there is the cost of cat litter to consider, if the cat lives indoors. Your pet will need a cosy bed (though he may well prefer to find his own alternative sleeping places as well!), and most cat owners enjoy buying their pets treats and toys.

Some elderly pet owners are tempted to show their cats how much they love them by buying them treats of fresh fish, or feeding them portions of their own meals. This is a bad idea, as it can cause upset stomachs, and unbalances the carefully balanced nutrition that manufactured cat foods provide.

Veterinary bills are another expense that need to be borne in mind. Unless you plan to breed from your cat, there is the one-off cost of a neutering operation. Then there are the cat's kitten vaccinations and yearly booster jabs. And even the best cared for cats can fall ill. Vets' fees can soon mount up, and pet health insurance is a wise idea, to cushion you from the worry of enormous bills.

Even though they are 'low maintenance' pets, owning a cat does bring responsibilities. Remember - cats can live for 15 years and over - this is a long term commitment, and you need to ensure that the cat will be well cared for through its whole life. If anything should happen to you and you are no longer able to care for your cat, is there a relative or friend who could take over your role?

Many retired people relish their new found freedom from the restrictions of working life and like to travel - which brings the conundrum of finding someone to look after your cat while you are away or using a cattery. If you plan to see the world after your retirement, think carefully before getting a cat.

Unforeseen absences from home can also be a problem for elderly cat owners. If you fell ill, or had to go into hospital, would someone be able to care for your cat?

Although cats groom themselves meticulously, they still need a little help to keep their coats in tip top condition. For a shorthaired cat, this amounts to a quick going over with a soft cat brush. However, longhaired cats, such as Persians, are a different matter... Longhaired cats cannot care for their own coats without help, and need daily grooming sessions to prevent their beautiful fur from becoming tangled. If matts do form in the fur, they can restrict the cat's movement and cause pain, and may need to be removed by the vet.

Choosing time

If you've decided that a cat is to be your chosen companion for retirement, you now face a choice - pedigree or non-pedigree (crossbreed).

Crossbreed cats, or moggies as they are affectionately known, are cheaper to buy initially than pedigrees. There are also thousands of homeless cats and kittens at rescue shelters, who would love to be given a second chance.

You may not feel able to keep up with the antics of a frisky kitten - if so, an adult cat may be a more suitable choice, and once again a rescue shelter will be only to glad to help. But perhaps you have set your heart on a certain breed. Although it is impossible to pigeon-hole cats, these are just a few ideas of breeds and their characteristics:

  • Siamese - sleek and elegant. Intelligent and demanding. Can be noisy. Can be taught to walk on a lead.
  • Burmese - lively and intelligent. Smooth coats. Like Siamese, one of the easiest breeds to teach to walk on a lead.
  • Oriental - available in a veritable paintbox of colours. Slim and elegant. Smooth coat.
  • Cornish and Devon Rex - impish faces, mischievous natures. Easy-care, short, curly coats.
  • Longhair or Persian - generally placid. Need a lot of grooming.
  • British Shorthair - friendly. Easy-care coat.
  • Birman - Siamese-type pattern on a long-haired cat. A gentle pet.
  • Maine Coon - big, rugged cat. Prefers a lot of space.
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