“Kids love playing with kittens.David De Lossy/Photodisc/Thinkstock
Cats and kids seem to have a special bond. Few kids can pass up the opportunity to pet, play with or even just nudge a little closer to a cute kitten or cat. Cats can make good first pets for children. Compared to dogs, they are low maintenance because they don’t need to go outside to relieve themselves, nor do they require frequent baths. And due to their relatively low energy levels, they can be kept indoors safely.
However, not all cats are suitable for children. Some cats prefer to be left alone or don’t like to play; others are high maintenance. So it’s important to look at breed temperaments before making a decision on which cat to get.
When you do bring home the cat, supervise the first interaction between your pet and your children. The cat might be shy at first, especially around a handful of new people, and it might try to hide, bite or scratch. Give it time to get comfortable with you before introducing it to your children. And be sure to teach your kids not to tease, throw or lug the cat around by the armpits. Depending on their ages, you can also teach your children how to feed, groom and take care of their new friend.
We’ve come up with a list of the top 10 cat breeds for kids, taking into account qualities like playfulness, grooming needs, activity level and companionship. We’ll start with the rambunctious Abyssinian.
- American Shorthair
- Maine Coon
- Persian (or Purrrrsian …)
- British Shorthair
Bearing a striking resemblance to depictions of cats from ancient Egypt, Abyssinians are long, slender and muscular. There are some discrepancies about where the Abyssinian breed originated, but new information is pointing to a region from Southeast Asia [source: Cat Fanciers Association].
Abyssinians are great for older, energetic children. These cats like to be outside, and they’ll get your kids on the lawn as much as possible. Abyssinians are playful and considered the clowns of the feline world — they will amuse you with their antics. However, these cats don’t make great starter pets for toddlers or younger children, who aren’t old enough to play outside on their own.
Abyssinians do get fussy if not attended to regularly, and they tend not to warm up easily to new people. Children must practice patience when getting to know their new pet, but once the Abyssinian develops a relationship with them, it becomes an extremely loyal cat. It’s a good idea to adopt Abyssinians as kittens in order to maximize relationship-building time.
Next up: The mice-eating, indoor American shorthair.
Both adult cats and kittens make great family pets, but if you’re considering a kitten, the sweet-spot age for adoption is 2 to 3 months. At that age, cats enter a "learning phase," deciding who’s a friend or enemy, playing often and sleeping little [source: Birr]. But beware: Their claws are getting sharp. Monitor interactions with your child.
9: American Shorthair
Nicknamed the "working cat," the American shorthair’s muscular, shorthaired body can withstand lots of playtime. And this breed claims a rich history. American shorthairs roamed the streets and farms of the 13 original colonies during the 1600s, although this breed was not officially recognized until the 20th century [source: Edwards]. After 400 years of catching mice, they will do the same in your home. A fun fact to share with your children is that this breed and the British shorthair, which we will meet later, are commonly shown when depicting witches’ black cats.
The American shorthair is a medium-activity cat, and its personality is playful to boot [source: Cat Fanciers Association]. In addition to being even-tempered, it is known for its loyalty and will develop deep relationships with the whole family. It is very companionable with children and pets. Expect it to interact with your kids amiably when they dangle toys in its face, although hours of play are unlikely. American Shorthairs don’t require lots of grooming, but they might charm you into brushing them.
For a fat, sleepy cat, check out our next breed: the Birman.
“The kid-friendly Birman requires lots of grooming.Hemera/Thinkstock
A cross between Siamese and Persians, Birmans are extra soft; their face, paws and tails are generally darker than their off-white, longhaired coats [source: Edwards]. Once considered the sacred cat of Burma and used in priests’ temples, these cats make good cuddle buddies at bedtime [source: Taylor].
Birmans are very docile and will sit still for long periods, a good trait since their grooming will take some time. Brush or comb their longhaired coats regularly to avoid knotting. Active children won’t appreciate the Birman, which tends to be laid-back. However, the breed makes up for its lethargy by being hugely friendly [source: Edwards]. Consider a Birman for quieter or younger children or those equipped with strong patience skills who like cuddling. It will reward them with a mighty purr.
“Manx cats are naturally born without a tail or with just a short stub.Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Thinkstock
A native of the Isle of Man off the British coast, the Manx is known for being the cat without a tail, though it can in fact have a tail or short stub. The Manx comes in both short- and longhaired varieties. It generally has a full, round face, short front legs and long hind legs. Sometimes the Manx look like it’s sticking its butt up in the air, or as if it’s ready to pounce, but this is a friendly cat.
Its tall hind legs let the Manx jump very high. This is an extremely playful breed, known for a high interaction level. Some liken its personality to a dog’s, as it enjoys burying and digging up toys [source: Cat Fanciers Association]. Many Manx cats are very attached to their owners or families. Once they form their bonds, they’re unlikely to transfer them to others. However, other Manx cats will show affection to anyone, including people outside their domestic families.
The Manx is a cat that should be kept indoors. For an outdoor, hearty breed, consider the Maine Coon cat.
6: Maine Coon
“It’s not known how Maine Coons originated but they’re native to the state of Maine.iStockPhoto/Thinkstock
This extremely playful breed’s love for the outdoors translates into a need for an outdoor pen or farm — somewhere the pet can roam freely for extended periods of time [source: Taylor]. They chirp like birds rather than mewing, and will keep the family entertained with their huge personalities. They are also very fascinated by water. These cats demonstrate huge loyalty to family.
A trademark of the Maine Coon is its restless sleeping habits, often shifting during the night [source: Taylor]. Your kids may get a kick out of finding the cat in a playing-dead, paws-up position or in some other awkward spot in the morning.
Maine Coons are a sturdy breed with few health problems. However, they are heavy, with males weighing from 12 to 18 pounds (5 to 8 kilograms) on average. Their thick, luxurious fur needs to be brushed or combed twice a week. Some have fur even between their claws [source: Cat Fanciers Association].
For an indoor cat that’s more stuffed animal than pet, see our next pick: the Persian.
5: Persian (or Purrrrsian …)
“Persians have sometimes been called "furniture with fur," as they tend to be lethargic.iStockPhoto/Thinkstock
Persians are incredibly docile, flat-faced cats, and their fur can seem so fluffy and shiny that your kids might mistake them for stuffed animals. With their low level of activity, Persians are great starter pets for young children who don’t require highly active pets to remain engaged. A Persian can teach your youngster about playing nice and taking care of a pet’s basic needs.
Undemanding, this breed isn’t going to follow you around the house trying to figure out what you’re up to. But they do love affection and petting. Mainly an indoor cat, Persians shouldn’t be taken outside, as their coats will collect dirt and debris [source: Fanciers].
Persians could be considered low-maintenance, apart from needing their long fur brushed or combed often to keep it from matting; their looks are part of what make them a good show cat. However, constant professional grooming can become costly, and a purebred kitten can come with hefty price tag, between $300 and $600 [sources: Rixon and Persian Cat Guide].
Persians aren’t known for doing tricks. So if you want a fat cat that can do at least one, check out the Ragdoll: It plays dead.
“When lifted, ragdoll cats have a tendency to go limp. No one knows why.Hemera/Thinkstock
As soon as you pick up a Ragdoll, all its muscles relax, and you’re left holding a cat "draped over your arm like a waiter’s napkin" [source: Taylor]. Scientists cannot explain why this breed goes limp when lifted [sources: Birr and Rixon]. One story says a cat was hit by a vehicle, so all her children were born with limpness as a self-defense mechanism. In all likelihood, the Ragdoll’s limp-when-lifted quality is a genetic trait that inexplicably survived evolution [source: Edwards].
Despite that quirkiness, this breed actually produces sturdy cats that happen to be somewhat inactive. They make great indoor pets, and will follow you around the house. They get along remarkably well with kids and dogs and can sometimes learn small tricks, like fetch — and the play-dead "trick" will be a hit with your kids’ friends. If the kids want an active pet, it’s best to steer away from the Ragdoll. This cat is better for those who would enjoy cuddling a couch potato [source: CFA].
Sidenote: Dinnertime is the only time that this cat might get noisy. It loves its food and won’t be afraid to tell you when it’s hungry.
You’ve likely seen Siamese cats in Walt Disney’s "Lady and the Tramp" (Remember the song, "We are Siamese"?) These long, slender-necked, extremely shorthaired cats appear lean and dignified, almost self-righteous — but they make good family pets. Their big ears may draw your attention first, but it’s their blue, almond-shaped eyes that will hold it [source: Cat Fanciers Association].
As the most popular shorthaired breed in the United States, the Siamese cat utilizes its slender body to communicate a variety of gestures and facial expressions. Not that they won’t vocalize; the Siamese breed is legendary for keeping up a meowing dialogue with its owners [source: Cat Fanciers Association]. They’re also gluttons for attention and capable of developing strong and loyal relationships with family members [source: Taylor]. Sometimes shy, Siamese cats might take time getting comfortable initially.
This breed is a curious one, and it’s not uncommon for the Siamese cat to need to know exactly what its owners are up to [source: Cat Fanciers Association]. As with most outdoors-loving cats, adding one to the home poses the potential to raise your kids’ activity level. And like their appetite for affection, this breed’s appetite for chow is big, too.
A Hair-brained Fun Fact:
Two types of cat hair colors exist: tipped and ticked. Tipped hairs are solid. Ticked hairs are striped in multiple colors. Additionally, two types of hair length exist: shorthair and longhair. Oftentimes, breeds are named and classified based on hair length [sources: Mays, Rixon, and Taylor].
2: British Shorthair
“British shorthairs have often been the model for depictions of witch’s cats.iStockPhoto/Thinkstock
The British shorthair shares many of its qualities with its off-shoot breed, the American shorthair. Its muscular body requires little grooming and can withstand enthusiastic petting or grabbing [sources: Edwards and Taylor]. This breed faithfully bonds with children and adults and was lauded back in the days of ancient Rome for its loyalty to man and its hunting talents [source: Cat Fanciers Association]. The British shorthair demonstrates lots of personality and is often playful.
Despite being typecast in books and films as a witch’s black cat, the British shorthair in reality is known for its friendliness (and comes in several other colors). At ease with or without human interaction, the British shorthair is unfortunately prone to more ailments than other cat breeds. All British shorthairs are prone to sunburn, white ones in particular are prone to tumors, and white ones with blue eyes are prone to deafness. Actually, cats with blue eyes are often prone to deafness, although you shouldn’t interpret a blue eye color to mean that a cat is certainly deaf [source: Taylor].
For the newest breed on the list, read about the Tiffany.
The Tiffany, also called the Chantilly, is a semi-longhaired breed with a shiny coat. It’s got full, broad cheekbones and a round face plush with fur; most weigh between 6 and 8 pounds, with females running on the smaller end. Its fur feels like silk. Yet despite its aesthetic appeal, this breed is still unrecognized by the Cat Fanciers Association in cat shows [sources: Cat Fanciers Association and Fanciers]. The roots of the Tiffany lie in 1967, when a New York woman brought home two cats from an estate sale. They were chocolate-colored cats whose lineage wasn’t known, and these were bred together [source: Fanciers].
Because of the Tiffany’s balanced personality and ideal temperament, often described as moderate, it has been described as a Goldilocks cat. It is active, yet tolerates quiet time. It is curious, yet won’t force itself aggressively into your business, nor will it get into mischief. It will also play companionably with children, but it won’t wear them out with excessive energy levels. Even the breed’s physical appearance falls somewhere between shorthair and longhair.
Cats’ eyes come in three shapes: almond, round and slanted. Round eyes are characteristic of, but not limited to, longhaired cats. One exception to the rule is the British shorthair, which often has round eyes.
Lots More Information
- How Cats Work
- Dealing with an Injured Cat
- Cat-Care Tips
- 10 Essential Cat Travel Accessories
- How could a cat scuba dive?
- Would you pay $6,000 for a hypoallergenic cat?
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- Birr, Uschi. A Cat in the Family. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. 1997.
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- Fanciers. "Price Range of Exotics." (Aug. 10, 2011). http://fanciers.com/breed-faqs/exotic-faq.html#price
- Fanciers. "The Chantilly/Tiffany: Cat Breed FAQ." (Aug. 10, 2011). http://www.fanciers.com/breed-faqs/chantilly-faq.html
- Mays, Marianne. The World of Cats: A Fully Illustrated Guide to the Fascinating Feline. New York: Gramercy Books. 1999.
- Persian Cat Guide. "FAQ." Persiancatguide.org. (Aug. 10, 2011). http://www.persiancatguide.com/faqs.html
- Rixon, Angela. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Cat Breeds. London: Wellfleet Press. 2003.
- Taylor, David. Cat Breeds. London: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd. 2010.