"Kittens as a New Pet," Jerry Walls

Pros: Lots of useful info, particularly on handling newborn kittens
Cons: Plenty of obnoxious attitude
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

First published 8/13/2001

This book should really be titled, “If you want to get a kitten but you’re really a moron who shouldn’t ever be allowed to be responsible for another life, buy this book.” Sure, it has some useful information on taking care of your kitten. It has some particularly useful information about how to handle it if you suddenly discover that your cat is pregnant and you have no idea what to do. But it has a whole lot more moralizing about various issues of cat care. And while I do agree with a good handful of those attitudes, the author’s tone comes through fairly obnoxiously. It’s clear he aimed his book at those people who just should never have kittens, but there’s so much scorn in here aimed at those people that they’re unlikely to listen to the author’s editorializing.

Time for me to ‘fess up. I’ve had kittens before, when I was pretty young. “Kittens as a New Pet” was perhaps not entirely written for me. But it’s been a long time since I cared for kittens, and I have had instances when I’ve learned that information about cats that I took for granted was incorrect. So, since my husband and I are going to be adopting a couple of Cornish Rex kittens in the not-so-distant future (they’ve been born! We get to visit them in a couple of weeks!), it seemed like a prudent idea to pick up a couple of small books on kittens and see what they had to say.

If Your Cat is Pregnant…

This is one of the few books I’ve seen that goes into detail on cat sex, pregnancy, birth, and weaning (as you may have guessed by now, this book is not aimed at children). If your cat is pregnant (or you expect her to end up that way) and you don’t know what to do, this is a great book for you. There’s an entire chapter on the subject.

This section goes into the nesting box (more important for you than for the cat), some vague points about the pregnant mother’s dietary needs (“a balanced diet rich in proteins, fats, and calcium and other minerals”), various birth complications and when to call the vet if something seems wrong, how long it takes for the kittens to reach various stages of development, how to wean the kittens, and so on.

The Photos

If you’re waiting anxiously for your new kittens and you’re going a little nuts, the photos in here might afford you some extra measure of patience. They aren’t as “posed” as the photos in some kitten books, so they’re a little less sickly-sweet and more just fun to look at. Most importantly, there are lots of them.

Some of the Attitudes

Attitude #1: many purebred cats are “an affront to the ancestry and dignity of the cats that came before.”

The point the author seems to be trying to make is this: your average cat equivalent of the “mutt” makes a perfectly good pet, and unless you have a very specific reason for wanting a particular breed of cat, it’s an unnecessary expense. He also has some arguably valid points about the silliness of cat shows. I think this is a fine message to get across. Instead, the author comes across like a snob. He makes it sound as though anyone who would buy a purebred cat is a moron and a fool who cares only for the social standing indicated by such a purchase and not for the cat itself. He goes so far as to refer to one breed of cat (the Sphynx) as a “little monster that is a cat only by definition.”

Wow. He comes across exactly like the people he is presumably unhappy with – superior, haughty and prejudiced in some pretty arbitrary ways. I grew up with your average humane society cats; I’m one of the first to say that you don’t need a purebred cat to be happy with your cat. That’s different from declaring purebreds to be monsters.

I happen to be purchasing two purebred Cornish Rexes from a breeder. Not because I care about breeding, but for several specific reasons. They don’t have guard hairs, so the spread of dander is easier to control (I have cat allergies, although shots have made them milder). They are supposed to have wonderful personalities – they’re smart, they’re friendly and playful, they’re inquisitive. They’ll get involved in the things you do, can learn to open doors and drawers (yep, I consider that a plus), and all sorts of such things.

Just imagine if you’re delightedly awaiting the arrival of your purebred kittens. You pick up this book to do some happy reading to keep you occupied until they’re old enough to come home. And you end up with the author railing at you, calling your cats monsters and implying that you’re a terrible person for wanting them. Ugh. What a happy moment. Pity the poor child who tries to read this book.

Attitude #2: All cats are just like the author’s cats and if they aren’t, it’s just a fluke and the author is still right.

I’m fine with the idea that most cats don’t like grooming. That’s a perfectly reasonable warning to get across. But if your cat likes to be brushed then it’s just a freak of nature and you should shut up about it already? That might not be his phrasing, but that’s certainly how his tone was coming across at that point. The author seems to do a lot of this – assuming that his experiences with cats are the defining characteristics of the species, and that anyone who has had a different experience clearly just owns a freak of nature, not a cat.

Attitude #3: You, the reader, are imposing on the author and his good will.

There are a lot of phrasings in here that seem to convey a sort of put-upon tone – an attitude of “well, I guess I can take time out of my busy schedule to cover this other subject for you.” If this project was such an imposition for the author, then I respectfully submit that perhaps he shouldn’t have taken it on.

Perhaps I’m mis-reading the tone. Perhaps I’d just hit enough other obnoxious attitudes by this point that I was reading into the author’s words. But overall, I find the attitude of the author to be obnoxious at best. There are a lot of points in the book where he expresses scorn at some of the things cat owners do.

In some cases he’s right – there are just certain things that it’s a really bad thing to do (like declawing – I’ve seen what that can do to a cat and sincerely agree with the author’s attitudes against declawing). However, scorn and raillery are perhaps not the best way to communicate these things. Looking down on someone rarely changes her attitude.

Some of the things he has such strong attitudes about, like the existence of purebred cats, I find fairly repellent. Fine, so he doesn’t like them. Does that really necessitate a long editorial in a book on kittens calling them “monsters”? It’s a personal preference (I’m very tempted to say prejudice), not a clear instance of being on the moral high ground. And again, even if he were on the moral high ground, scornful attitudes rarely do anything to change someone’s attitudes, so he’s sabotaging his own efforts.

The Questionable Details

The author claims that in his opinion, the purebreds are all more disease-prone than your average cat. From what I understand this is highly breed-dependent, and even more dependent on how conscientious the breeder was in terms of avoiding inbreeding, providing proper nutrition and medical care, and so on.

The author makes the point that it’s best to get the vet to give your cat any vaccinations that are available because it’s better than risking illness. To a certain extent I agree with this – there is very little evidence for the assertion that some vaccines can cause the illness in the cat, and it does seem foolish to avoid keeping the cat healthy over fears that have no real foundation. On the other hand, I’ve also heard that recent research shows that there may be a correlation between a heavy load of vaccines and the growing numbers of cats with auto-immune diseases. Talk to your vet about the issue – I know of one vet who deals with this by spreading vaccinations out over time, rather than giving several at the same time. (To be fair to the author on this one, this book was published in 1996, and this research was probably done since then.)

The author includes a few mild warnings about making sure that kittens bought at pet shops are old enough and healthy. I’ve seen enough stories about pet shops that buy their animals from some pretty bad sources that I’m much more leery about buying from a pet store than the author is. The advantage of buying from a breeder is that any decent breeder will let you see the conditions under which the kittens were raised. Many will even be happy to let you visit the kittens while they’re growing up.

The Useful Details

Despite the things about this book that make me unhappy with it, there are plenty of useful details. There’s a discussion of types of litter, for example, so you won’t make the mistake of trying to use sand or shredded paper. There’s an explanation of why you shouldn’t feed milk to adult cats. There’s a discussion of cat toys – which ones are useful, which ones are dangerous (hint – avoid long strings and ribbons unless your cat is supervised).

There are some handy suggestions regarding grooming, such as claw clipping. There’s also some good information on when you should go to the vet and why. There are some great suggestions like never bringing your kittens home just before a large holiday party – the noise and mass of people are a stress on the kitten. There are also some good points about what in the house can be dangerous to your new kitten.

I might recommend a read through this book for people who plan to get kittens. There are some very good points about the sort of work it takes to care for a kitten, and the kinds of things you have to do in order to keep them healthy. When you hit the preachy parts, though, I recommend that you skim a bit. Otherwise you might find yourself too annoyed at the author to finish the book and find the good bits.

Posted in Cats
One comment on “"Kittens as a New Pet," Jerry Walls
  1. MIke says:

    Yeah I read this book and theres some things in this book that I would have never thought about. So if your new to owning a cat you should get it.

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