How to choose the perfect cat breed for your family

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No matter what stage of life you're in, there are mental, emotional and physical benefits to owning a cat. If you've decided to welcome a feline companion into your family, one of the first decisions you'll have to make is what kind to get. Each breed has its own charms, but by considering certain feline traits - personality, size, shedding, temperament and more - as well as your family's budget, makeup and activity levels, you can determine which breeds are the best fit. Here are 20 tips for finding the breed that's right for you and your household.

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Do your research

The most important step in choosing the ideal cat breed for your family is research. There are many guides, books, websites and articles written to help you pick the right breed, including resources detailing the ins and outs of each of the 42 breeds recognized by the Cat Fanciers' Association. How much exercise they need, their nutrition and diet concerns, their grooming needs and whether they tend to suffer from medical conditions are all factors to consider before choosing a breed.

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Take a personality quiz

There are actually useful online "cat personality" quizzes that can help you narrow down your breed choices from the daunting list of 42. Different publications and brands like Purina and Animal Planet offer online quizzes that can be a good jumping-off point for choosing a breed for your family. The quizzes can suggest breeds that fit your family makeup and lifestyle, including breeds you might not have heard of before. The CFA also has a quick and easy chart that outlines every breed's defining personality traits.

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The non-allergenic myth

Don't let the term "hypoallergenic" fool you - there's no such thing as a non-allergenic cat. People with cat allergies are allergic to protein in cat's saliva and skin secretions. All cats create these proteins, so there's no allergy-free cat, even a hairless sphynx. If someone in your family is allergic to cats, breeds that shed less, such as the oriental shorthair or Javanese, are better options, though you should always spend time around the cat first to see how they react. Light-colored cats and female cats also produce less allergy-inducing proteins than dark-colored or male cats.

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A hairy situation

Cats with luscious long hair can mean big fluffy hairballs all over your home. American bobtails, Maine coons, ragdolls, Russian blues and Siberians are just some of the breeds that are heavy shedders and require frequent brushing and grooming. But short hair doesn't guarantee low maintenance. For example, hairless sphynx cats need to be bathed weekly to remove oil build-up on their skin. Do research and talk to breeders to determine if you can commit the time and money required to keep certain cat breeds happy and healthy.

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Examine your budget

Getting a cat is a commitment, especially financially. According to the ASPCA, the first-year cost of getting a cat is over $1,000. It's important to take into account the costs that arise from certain breeds' medical predispositions as well as additional costs like kenneling your cat or hiring sitters if you travel regularly. With all these expenses to consider, some rare, desirable and expensive breeds might be out of your budget. Scottish fold kittens can cost up to $1,500, Russian blues can cost up to $3,000, and the wild hybrid savannah can run up to $20,000, according to CheatSheet.

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Mix and match

If you're torn between breeds because you like and dislike certain traits in each, why not consider a combo? Crossbreeds have become more popular in recent years as a way to get the best of both worlds from two breeds. Crossbreeding is also a way to make domestic cats look more like their wild counterparts. For example, the savannah cat is a cross between house cats and African serval cats, while the toyger is a mix of domestic shorthairs and Bengals.

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Kid-friendly cats

If you have children or your cat will be around kids regularly, it's important to pick a breed with a tendency to be patient, calm and gentle with children who'll want to poke, prod and play with their new feline friend. Scottish folds and Birmans are a good options because they are loving and easy-going, and ragdolls are known for enjoying being picked up and carried around. Consider the activity level of your children and their ages when selecting a breed.

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Can you be the alpha?

There are certain cat breeds that are known for being stubborn or mischievous. These behaviors can be curtailed with discipline and training, but if you're a first-time or hands-off cat owner, you could soon find a bossy breed running the house. According to the CFA, colorpoint shorthairs, Siamese and orientals can be insistent in getting their way.

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Other animal companions

Some breeds do best when flying solo as the only pet in the house, while others are extremely social. Bombay, Siamese and sphynx cats can be aloof, nervous or aggressive, while Maine coons and Persians do well in multi-pet households. If you already have other pets, including other cats, it's important to introduce them to your new feline friend to make sure they get along. And if you think you might want to add another cat after getting your first one, make sure to get a breed that's not too aggressive, territorial or dominating.

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A little TLC

A common misconception about cats is that they are all solitary creatures that can be left to their own devices for hours or even days at a time. But some breeds are very social and will be anxious and unhappy if you and your family are frequently out of the house. Breeds such as Tonkinese and Birman thrive with lots of human interaction.

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On the prowl

Certain cat breeds are more aggressive when it comes to hunting mice, rabbits, birds or other animals. If the thought of being presented animal trophies creeps you out or you want to make sure the songbirds in your backyard don't get attacked, avoid cat breeds with high prey drives such as Japanese bobtails and American shorthairs, which were bred specifically as hunting cats.

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Know what they were bred for

While dogs were historically bred for a wider variety of tasks than cats, certain cats were created with jobs in mind. Beyond being mouse hunters, Siamese cats were meant to be protectors with voices that could use to warn their owners of danger. The Turkish Van is known as the "swimming cat" because it was bred to have an affinity for water. If you are annoyed by certain breeds' behaviors or they're not a good fit for your family, it's best to rule out that breed.

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Think about your climate

With the modern marvel of heat and air conditioning, cats from all over the world can live happily in different climates, but long-haired cats can still struggle in hot places. If you live in a place with extreme heat, know you'll have to take extra precautions to handle a long-haired cat's risk of overheating, such as running the A/C more frequently and buying cooling pads or kitty pools where they can cool down.

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Chatty cats

Certain breeds of cats are known to be talkative, which some people find endearing but others could think is a nuisance. Siamese are famous for being vocal cats. Other vocal breeds include American bobtails, Bengals, Burmese, Tonkinese and Turkish Vans. If you prefer peace and quiet at home, then opt for less talkative breeds.

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A walk in the park?

Cats owners have a reputation for being quiet homebodies, and while cats certainly do like to cuddle, certain breeds are definitely up for some adventure. Breeds like the Abyssinian, the Manx and the Egyptian mau are athletic, curious and take well to training. This makes them suited for learning tricks and even walking on a leash.

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Room to roam

You might have space in your heart and in your budget for a cat, but how much physical space do you actually have? Do you barely have room in your home for a litter box? Space should inform which breed you choose. Lazier, calmer breeds might only need a chair to curl up in, while more active breeds need room to release their explosions of energy. Long hallways or open spaces are necessary to allow them to run and pounce off their excess energy.

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No-fly breeds

Compared to their canine counterparts, cats often face fewer restrictions from city governments and landlords. But if you plan on flying with your cat, you should avoid certain breeds that are banned from flying the friendly skies. United, American Airlines and other carriers prohibit passengers from flying with purebred or mixed-breed Burmese, exotic shorthair, Himalayan or Persian cats. That's because these snub-nosed breeds are at a greater risk for injury or death due to travel stress and heat.

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Meet the breed

Whether you're adopting a shelter cat or picking out a kitten, it's important if possible to see how a cat breed behaves in person before committing. You might read that a breed is "playful," but that could really mean they'll tear a path of destruction through your home. One of the best ways to get a read on a breed is to spend time with them and see what it would be like to have one of them as part of your family.

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Every cat is unique

While breeds often have typical traits, breed is no guarantee of an individual cat's personality, intelligence or temperament. Use breed descriptions as a guideline or starting point, but ask a specific cat's owner, breeder, foster home or rescue or shelter workers questions about the specific traits that your family is looking for.

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Remember you don't have to get a kitten

If the thought of committing the time and energy to housebreak, socialize and train a mischievous kitten is overwhelming, your cat-owning dreams can still come true. Shelters and rescue organizations are filled with adult cats who've outgrown the kitten phase and require less management and effort to join your family. Depending on your family, a kitten might not be a smart move compared to adopting a sweet older cat. If you still need to convince members of your family, here are 25 purr-fect reasons you should adopt a cat.

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