Disclaimer: I know that cats and children are not equivalent. My tongue is so firmly in my cheek that the two have fused into a new, fused Möbius-strip, vestigial organ called a ‘toneek’ that is evolutionarily pointless and extremely painful. I don’t have kids and know nothing about raising children; this is not meant to be anything serious. OK?
My partner and I have had two beautiful cats for 6 years now, and we love them as if they were our children. We adopted from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust when they were 4-month-old rescue kittens; the policy they have is that you can adopt a single cat if it’s over 1 year old, but if you want kittens, then you have to take two. I didn’t have cats growing up, so it was a new experience for me – my partner had a cat when she was younger, and was the instigator of process, so she was more prepared for it – but I’m incredibly grateful that it has happened because it has been and still is an enriching experience. Looking after them got me thinking about the correlation between having cats and having kids. The following list contains some experiences of keeping cats that I imagine will prepare you for having kids.
Keeping them alive
The first thing you have to do with kittens you’ve taken home (ideally from a rescue shelter where they’ve been checked, chipped, neutered and house-trained) is ensure that you don’t let them die. It seems obvious, but it’s also true. Give them food and water, don’t sit on them, don’t lock them in a cupboard when you’re not looking – the rescue shelter really wants the kittens to grow up to become cats. Similarly, the legal bodies of this country are very keen for you to not let your children die.
Litter trays as nappy preparation
We were lucky because our kittens had been trained to use the litter tray before we took them home, so we didn’t have to teach them to use the single item in the house in which they were permitted to urinate and defecate. Strangely, they continue to use the litter tray years later, instead of making a mess of our neighbours’ gardens. Day in, day out, you will have to clear up potent-smelling urine and foul-smelling faeces (sometimes really liquidy) and you have to accept it as part of your existence, even if the smell might make you want to vomit. Excellent preparation for changing nappies. I presume.
The cats will loathe going to the vets, as children will hate going to the doctor/dentist. Cats require vaccinations and boosters on a regular schedule, thus getting you used to the concept of planning ahead, plus getting you used to the cats hating you for all this health stuff (see next point). You are grateful for the work that the vets do but hope you don’t have to see them more than once a year, and your heart will ache as you see your proud tiger/panther/lion timid as a mouse when taking them out of the cat box (and then see them gladly go straight back into the box after treatment is complete). And the thought of them becoming ill terrorises you. Welcome to being a parent.
Doing stuff that they hate but which is good for them
Cats don’t like going to the vet – trying to get a cat into a carrier can be a topographical nightmare as they hold onto the outer door and refuse to go inside, and then they are meowing because they’re nervous because they’re in an enclosed space (you can tell they’re nervous by the sweat on the floor of the carrier – cats sweat through their paws). However, cats need to go to the vets or they will die. Also, cats don’t like having flea drops: being held down until a squirt of liquid is put on their skin behind their head because that’s the only place they can’t lick it off is a monthly routine that you can’t explain to them is a hell of a lot less unpleasant than getting fleas. The cats will hate you and avoid you for a few hours, but you have to accept that for the sake of point #1. Your children will briefly hate you when you force them to eat vegetables/brush their teeth/go to the dentist/get vaccinated/go to school; you have to deal with it.
Clearing up after them
Like children, cats enjoy playing with toys. Like children, cats have no concept of putting away their toys, so you will learn to cope with finding toys all over the house and wondering how they got there. This is also applicable if you use a litter that a wood-based chip, which is great for soaking up liquids and smells but is unbelievably adherent to cats, who will then drop it all over the house, in every room and every floor and even underneath things, even if you have a mat to collect it when they first exit the litter tray. Sometimes, you will feel that you are in a feline version of The Great Escape. And then there are the messier clean-ups, such as when your cat vomits after chewing some grass to clear the system (all completely natural), and the fact that your vacuum cleaner will be at least 50% cat fur/litter. Like children, cats can accidentally break things (don’t put small, delicate items on easily accessible shelves or mantelpieces if you want them to stay there in one piece), so it’s an excellent training ground for preparing your home.
It’s been shown that children have different tastes compared to when grown up, affecting their ability to eat food that is good for them. Cats are obligate carnivores, so you would think that anything with meat would be good. Would that it were so simple.
You will want your cats to be healthy (full of energy, glossy coats, wet noses) so will provide them with the best food available, ensuring it contains the best balance of nutrients (particularly taurine, an essential amino acid that is vital for feline biochemistry, which has to be provided in the diet). However, cats don’t care what food is good for them – they care about the most delicious and least healthy food they can get their tiny jaws around (one of our cats used to paw the ground in disgust when we put down wet food – cats are obligate carnivores and so will die without meat, but this seemed to be irrelevant to him). They will much prefer the empty calories of cat treats, and there is very little you can do about it; you will experiment with different flavours of food trying to find one they will eat consistently. Until they get bored of it. Good luck.
Worrying about them when they go out
I never understood why my parents were worried about me when I went out – I could take care of myself, what’s the problem? – until we got cats. Wondering where they are in the darkness of the evening, worrying that they’ve got stuck in a neighbour’s shed or been attacked by foxes, when all you want to do is have them inside and squeeze them so they can’t escape. We keep our cats indoors at night because of the foxes, and there have been many a night when I’ve waited for them to come in or gone outside and picked them up (particularly our female cat) to bring them indoors, reminding me of my mum waiting up until I returned in the early days of my first ventures out into the world on my own … Meanwhile, cats don’t care about your feelings because they’re independent and cool, essentially preparing you for the teenage years of your children.
Photographing/filming them ALL THE TIME
Cats, like children, are adorable and everything they do is adorable, even when it isn’t. Despite being evolutionary perfect predators, you will constantly try to capture your cats visually, meaning that the SD card of your smartphone will constantly be full of cat photos and videos. Cats are mostly terrible models, always trying to ruin the shot or completely ignore you as you try to capture the moment, which is why the internet is so great for seeing when other people have captured that one-in-a-million shot where the photo/film worked. I never got to the stage that parents of humans reach where they automatically show you photos of their human children, but I won’t say I haven’t been tempted … The only thing that cats don’t prepare you for is when the children complain about and/or sue you for their online footprint without their permission.
Disturbing your peace
Cats are like children in that early on in life, they learn that their humans are terrible at understanding their nuanced and complicated non-verbal communications, so realise that they have to rely on the basic approach: noise. Cats will meow for a variety of reasons, most of which you will not understand, and at completely odd times. They will meow for attention, or playing, or food, or because they’re bored, or to complain about the weather, normally when you’re sat down to watch a box set. This is excellent preparation for human children before they learn how to talk and express their feelings in a manner that you understand.
Cats will also jump onto your bed in the middle of the night (you can try to keep the door closed, but the meowing and scratching means you will soon abandon that), demonstrating that a cat is somehow heavier than the ~4 kg they actually weight when landing on you at 3am. Depending on their preference, one of you might also receive specific attention – my partner has had one of our cats paw gently at her face in the middle of the night, possibly to check that she is still alive, although only occasionally reverting to using claws. Fortunately, human kids do not have claws, but getting into the bed with you is a strong possibility.
Bribing them to do what you want
You hope your cats will be reasonable animals that understand the rationale for being asked to do certain things at certain times. However, you will end up bribing them in order to get them to do what you want. Treats are used to teach them their names, and getting them to understand how to use the cat flap (placing treats on the other side to see if they can work it out), or just getting them to come near you when you want to see them. Relating to the earlier point about worrying about them when outside, I started to bribe the cats to come in at night with the promise of treats, putting the cat flap on in-only to ensure they don’t escape (please don’t judge me). Five years on, it still works. The same method will be used to get your children to do chores/homework/visit friends they don’t like (and many more).
Routine is good for kids because it provides stability and structure. Cats have their own routine that you have to work around, mostly involving sleeping, eating, sleeping, using the litter tray and sleeping. Cats also enjoy the stability of routine (and for our cats, who were rescue kittens, some normality and fewer scary situations). But they also become accustomed to your routines. The use of treats at night to get them in has led to the male cat demanding the treats up to an hour before the time when the cat flap will be shut. Our female cat has started to enjoy ‘walking’ cuddles, where she would lead me around the bathroom/loft room with me giving her a particular form of cuddles, to the point that she now gets ready for the cuddles when she hears me walking upstairs or when I brush my teeth (in particular when I use mouthwash because she knows my hands will be free for cuddles). Our female cat has also because accustomed to the food dishes being brought into the kitchen and put on a surface prior to new food being dispensed, so now she jumps up to the surface just because we’re in the kitchen at a certain time, even if we haven’t put the bowls there. Cat acclimatise to your routines, and so will children.
Similarities and differences of siblings
Our cats are siblings: one is a female silver tabby, the other is a male black (well, a mixture of black and dark brown that looks black from a distance). They should be similar, but they are completely different. The boy launches himself out of the cat flap; the female proceeds slowly paw by paw (unless chased in). She grooms herself regularly but avoids the cat brush; he gives himself a desultory lick occasionally (apart from regular cleaning after eating) but loves us brushing him to get rid of excess fur. She loves cuddles and attention; he did not care for it and I had to work at him for years with daily small cuddles of his head to allow us to give him some cuddles (but not too much). She purrs like a high-end precision car; he purrs softly. She likes roam outside freely; he prefers to stay in the back garden or in one of his many beds. She prefers to tent and sleep on perched surfaces; he prefers to sleep in enclosed spaces on the ground. They share genetic material and are treated the same but are completely distinguishable as separate individuals. Similarly, your children will be a mix of you and your partner’s DNA, but they will be different from you and each other.
I hope I have convinced you that having cats is good training for eventually having children. However, the amount of people on the internet who have cats would suggest that you already know …