This came up last night while randomly chatting to a couple of folk about kittens (which are the cutest thing in the world - trufax) and I was encouraged to post here. For I have now had cats in some form for most of my life, with my current precious precious goblin cats having been with me for (I think) twelve years.
Five things I wish everyone knew and accepted before acquiring a feline overlord to rule your every move.
1) Cats = feline waste. By that I mean piss and shit. You will have to deal with this, both in the form of the litter tray, which is basically always foul, and periodically outside the litter tray. This is the reality of cats. I know of no cat who has not occasionally left cat vile toilet waste somewhere in the house. I currently have got my two to a point where they seem to have decided that they won't shit or piss anywhere except the downstairs toilet where their litter tray is. This is a win as they manage the tray 90% of the time and I just scrub down the bathroom floor with bleach once a week for the rest. And I view this as mostly good, especially when I hear other people's stories of cats pissing on their bed. Basically, if you absolutely cannot deal with animal faeces in your life, don't get a cat.
2) Cats = death for allergy sufferers. Please take a minute and register what this means. There will be people who can't really come into your home for any period of time due to the felines. Be aware of this and decide in advance how you'll deal with this. Be especially aware of how you'll deal with this if you're single and potentially are going to get together with an allergy sufferer. I know life is unpredictable and no one knows how it will work out. I'm not judging and there have been times I've really worried about whether jez's asthma might mean we needed to rehome the cats (it turns out he's OK with an inhaler, crystal cat litter so there's no dust from that flying up, twice weekly hoovering and a cat free bedroom) but rehoming cats is a stressful experience for them and bloody miserable for you. Make a decision in advance if you're just not dating allergic people, if you can cope with your best friend not visiting, if you know where they can go if you can't keep them any more.
3) Cats = total house move hell. This is the biggie. Again, there is no way of totally life proofing about this being an issue at some point. I have owned my own home for (at this point) 90% of my feline masters' lives - in London, then in Glasgow. I have still, twice in their lives, been caught out by unexpected life changes which meant I needed to move house quickly. Once I was lucky and had a landlord who was happy to have cats. Once I was unlucky there, but even more lucky in that some amazing friends were able to foster them for nine months while we got a cat friendly place sorted again (and they are now remarkably happy, apparently being under the impression that we did this all for them, and have finally acknowledged the great truth that all cats deserve an open fire of their own to lie before). But please think about this. If you're in a rented flat and moving regularly due to shitty landlords, cats will make every move a nightmare. They seem to cost extra deposit about 90% of the time, half the landlords out there will say "no" and cats do find moving stressful. I'm told that the majority of cats arriving in cat shelters these days do so because of issues with landlords etc. So do think it through. Cats want and deserve a safe space that can be their territory, and their home. Moving house for them means their whole world changes and some may adapt well, but others find it hugely traumatic. Even the most chilled of felines will be incredibly unhappy while being bundled into a cat carrier and taken somewhere new. So try and avoid inflicting this on them too often.
4) Cats = fewer holidays. Basically, how often do you go away? To LRP? For a lovely city break? For two weeks in the sun? Now remember that every time this happens, you either need to pay a fricking fortune for cat colditz, or you need someone to visit at least once every other day to change their water, give them new food and scoop out the cat litter. This is a total pain and you really need to think it through. I've found it actually gets slighly harder as we've got older - once upon a time we had a selection of friends in crappy shared flats or living at home who were happy to live in our spare room and be paid in food for two weeks to look after our cats. Then our friends all grew up and got lives and houses and jobs and relationships and stopped wanting to do it. We've discovered that if we go away Friday-Sunday the cats can, at a pinch, cope without us with the proper supplies of food and water laid down, but any longer than that, and we need regular cat care. Do bear that in mind, especially if you have a lovely romantic partner who likes to sweep you away for surprise breaks. Cats are not romantic.
5) Cats = relentless need for socialisation. I have yet to meet a cat who likes being left alone for long periods. We got two cats pretty much because of this, so they would always have each other. They have also been lucky in that between us, jez and I tend to work from home for more than half the week, plus we're around weekends and evenings, and in the past we've had lodgers working from home, jez was a student, I was a student etc. Basically, they've lived most of their lives with people around, and this makes them happy. I've seen how outraged they get when they feel ignored by humans - their yowling outrage after we returned from two weeks in Cyprus, when they had approximately ten minutes per day with a strange human, was memorable. If it's a solitary cat, that's going to be a bigger issue. Some cats, of course, might be naturally solitary (you may want to get a rescue cat if you need one who has this personality as you won't be able to tell at kittenhood if you're getting an introvert cat or an extrovert cat) but I think if you want the good things out of a cat (you know, the companionship, petting, random silly cat games) you're also going to need to make sure you put the work in to make them social and people friendly. Don't expect to leave a solo cat alone, possibly locked in the house, for 12 hours per day, and 8 hours during the night while you're asleep, and then expect them to be super friendly and snuggly for the four hours they see humans. It won't work that way.
I'm not going to pretend I'm the perfect cat owner. I've made mistakes and compromises like anyone. There are also big issues I'm not getting into, like whether you can keep a vegetarian cat (I know folk who do, I know folk who say it's cruel, I don't, so have no comment to make) or the whole 'adopt, don't shop' movement (we got our cats as kittens as Jez's asthma means that Cornish Rex are the best breed for us - they don't seem to set off an allergic reaction in anything like the same way as most other cats. And I regret nothing). I also am not going to discourage anyone from getting a cat, because I think my cats are gorgeous and lovely and I feel constantly grateful that I've had the massive privilege of their company for the last 12 years. I just am aware, more than ever, that they are a big commitment. I've been super lucky with mine - they have largely been healthy chilled out little beasts who have never destroyed a sofa or carpet and love human beings with all the beneficence that cats can manage. But they have changed my life and they will change yours, if you get a feline.