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Cats as Pets

Sirius Radio's Tracie Hotchner ("Cat Chat") joins Martha with some cat breeds that make great pets.

The Martha Stewart Show, January 2009

Most people think cats are cats, but each breed comes with its own set of personality traits. A dependable sort of personality is one of the reasons people seek out purebred cats; however, we always have to keep in mind that every cat is an individual before a member of its breed, so while personality traits are a "suggestion" for genetics, every cat is an individual.

Blue Point Himalayan
If you want a cat who's involved in everything you do, then a "Himmie" is a great choice. They'll often help you with anything from reading the paper to making dinner to working on the computer. If you live with a Himalayan, you'll never feel alone because you rarely will be.

While Persians are the most popular breed of cat, the most popular division of Persians are Himalayans. A cross between a Persian and Siamese, they exhibit personality characteristics of the Persian and colorings of the Siamese. Himalayans express themselves with a melodious voice and require daily brushing or their coat will become matted and have to be shaved.

Himalayans are brachycephalic, like bulldogs; if the flatness of their face is exaggerated, it will create various medical problems. It's important for the well-being of the breed to choose a line of Persians with a short nose, but one that works properly. Himmies are not prone to respiratory problems -- they are generally healthy, vigorous cats -- as long as a breeder doesn't exaggerate the flat face.

If you want a cat who will always be busy exploring and playing, this is the breed for you. As natural athletes, they have no patience for lap-sitting, but will entertain you with their acrobatic explorations of the world around them. Brought home to Britain by soldiers returning from the Abyssinian War in 1868, Abyssinians were once the street cats of what is now called Ethiopia and are known as "the child of the gods" because legend holds that the breed is descended from the sacred cats worshipped in ancient Egypt.

With a translucent coat pattern that gives each hair several dark bands dispersed on a light background, their usual color is called "ruddy," and they have a tail that tapers and is the same length as their body. Extroverted, intelligent, and sometimes willful, "Abys," as they're referred to by their fans, need a great deal of contact with the family to keep them happy and can get depressed without daily activity and attention.

Abys are often silent or have quiet, engaging voices and are rarely used as show cats because they are shy around strangers and have a timid nature, but this can be misleading because they have big personalities. They generally get along well with other cats, but they need their own space and females can sometimes be irritable around other cats.

If you've heard that cats are aloof and unaffectionate and affection is what you're after, then a ragdoll is the feline for you. Ragdolls are especially interested in people and often will run to greet you at the door, follow you from room to room, sleep in your bed, and flop on you.

Many ragdolls can be taught to come when called and play fetch. They are gentle and usually play without extending their claws. Tending to be floor cats, not jumpers, ragdolls are large, laid-back, semi-longhaired cats with captivating blue eyes. It's a pointed breed, which means its body is lighter in color than its points -- the face, legs, tail, and ears. Ragdolls are slow to mature, reaching full coat color at 2 years, and full size and weight at 4. Altered males will usually reach about 15 pounds and females proportionately smaller.

Their coat is plush and silky but easy to care for, requiring minimal grooming -- perfect for busy lifestyles. They should be groomed with a steel comb on a regular basis to remove any loose hair or tangles. Quality coats consist mainly of long, soft guard hairs without the thick, dense undercoat of some long-haired breeds, which means less shedding and matting.

Maine Coon
If you've always been a "dog person" -- or your kids want a dog and you don't have the time or space for one -- the Maine coon is the dog-like cat for you. They aren't clingy like some lap cats who won't let you stand up; the coons will swim with you, fetch for you, and can entertain themselves when you're out or busy. They also require little maintenance.

Coons are often referred to as "gentle giants" and possess above-average intelligence, making them relatively easy to train. They are relaxed around dogs, other cats, and children, and are known for loyalty to family and caution around strangers. Playful throughout their lives, Coons have a three-layer water-repellent coat that benefits from a good brushing a couple times a week. They are hardy cats who can do well in harsh weather since they evolved in Maine.

Maine coons have a unique way of talking, sort of a cheery-sounding chirping trill. Many Maine coons will try to get into the shower or bath with you, and some will even go for a swim. It's surmised that this might be from their ancestral heritage of coming over to America on Russian and Scandinavian ships, where they spent most of their lives. Many of the original Maine coon cats that inhabited the area had extra toes, known as polydactylism. Since this was disqualified in the show ring, it has been bred out of the breed, but there are private organizations and breeders devoted to keeping that historic polydactylism from disappearing. They have flat, furry feet referred to as "snowshoe feet" and probably evolved in that way due to harsh Maine winters.

If you want a curl-up-and-be-lazy kind of cat, a Persian is the kitty for you. Persians' short, heavy-boned legs keep them firmly planted on the ground, rather than climbing your curtains. One of the oldest breeds, the Persian is the quietest and least active of all the purebred cats and is most at home in serene atmospheres but can easily adapt to boisterous households.

Sweet-tempered and relaxed, Persians are very accepting of other cats. Their quiet, melodious voices are pleasant and non-abrasive. They communicate delightfully with their large expressive eyes and make charming pets for all ages. Playful without being demanding, they love to pose and will drape themselves in a favorite window or chair, enhancing the decor and sophistication of a room.

Persians are the most high-maintenance of any breed. They have a long double coat that is too thick for them to groom by themselves and require daily brushing. Unless you brush every day, the coat will tangle and mat, causing discomfort for the cat, and possibly requiring a visit to the vet to remove the mats. They also benefit from regular bathing and blow-drying. To prevent hair balls, give your Persian a pat of butter twice a week -- much healthier than the petroleum jelly products sold to help ease the ingested hair through their digestive tract. Their eyes also require daily wiping or they can become gooey or stained from tears.

Keeping Cats Happy
Mental and physical stimulation are sorely missing from most cats' lives. A good tree placed near an interesting window is a basic essential. A cat tree allows a cat to do many of the natural feline activities: climb, scratch, hunt with their eyes (seeing birds and squirrels out the window), hide in cubbies, and look down on their world. 

The importance of vertical space to a cat can't be stressed enough. Playing with fishing pole toys at least once a day for five minutes is important to keep their mind active. Teaching tricks is another mental stimulation that most folks don't realize a cat enjoys. Oat-grass plants also help to enrich the happiness of cats.

Cats are loners, so one cat is usually a good number as long as mental and physical entertainment is supplied by people. Two cats are certainly good company for each other, so if you get two littermates -- the best combination -- or adopt two cats who have grown up together, that's wonderful. You can introduce new cats to each other, but it is a slow and patient process and requires keeping them apart completely for anywhere from a few days to several weeks until they accept each other. When people get upwards of four cats, there can be fights and litter-box issues.

The best way to ensure a long life for your feline is to keep your cats indoors exclusively. A cat allowed outdoors for any period of time has a life expectancy of less than 3 years. In addition, feeding a healthy diet that is correct for a carnivore -- meat only -- and avoiding all unnecessary vaccinations after kitten shots will give your cats years of extra life.

Special thanks to Tracie Hotchner, host of "Cat Chat" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, for sharing this information.

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