Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, yet they continue to behave according to their earlier natures as predators of vermin. They are creatures of habit who value cleanliness and routine, and they love to hunt and roam. They also happen to be the number one choice of pets in the U.S. Cats can live as long as 20 years, so be prepared to make a serious commitment if you choose a cat for your pet.
Purebred cats fall into three categories:
- Natural Breeds have thick coats, heavy square bodies, and quieter, less active personalities that tend to be more sedate than other breeds. They are exemplified by the American and British Shorthairs and Persians.
- Semi-Foreigns have a leaner body shape that is more muscular than Natural Breeds. Their eyes are slightly oval in shape, and their heads are wedge-shaped and almost triangular in form. Cats in this category exhibit moderate activity levels and include Russian Blues and Ocicats.
- Orientals are the exotic cats that come from warmer climes. They have little body fat, light coats, and elongated bodies, ears, and tails. These are the most active and talkative of the breeds. Siamese and Burmese are good examples of Orientals.
Purebred cats represent merely 10% of the cat population, and non-pedigreed cats account for the remaining 90%. For most people, a scruffy, curious, persnickety, aloof, or cuddly mixed breed is a perfect choice. You can find cats of all colors, shapes, sizes, ages, and coats at a local shelter or rescue group.
Following is a listing of the cats available in North America:
If your household is active and/or you are a first-time cat owner, you might want to avoid purchasing a kitten or an adolescent cat, because they require a lot of attention and daily care in the first year or two. When evaluating cats at a shelter, stay clear of cats that demonstrate excessive aggression, as these behaviors tend to get worse over time unless you have the willingness, patience, and experience to deal with them. Look for a cat that is friendly and outgoing – one that shows interest in you and purrs and nuzzles you when you hold it. This demonstrated affection is particularly important if there are young children in the household. A cat that is cuddly now will likely remain affectionate for a lifetime.
Preparing to Bring Your Cat Home
Before you bring your cat home, you need to prepare your household and family for the new arrival. Decide which rooms you will make available to your cat, at least initially, and close off any areas you want to keep off limits, and move breakables out of the open where they can’t get knocked over. Many houseplants are poisonous to cats and should be removed from the house (see the next section for reference), and any remaining plants should be moved to higher ground or hung. Place some pebbles on top of soil on houseplants to keep cats from using the dirt for a litterbox.
Next, purchase all the equipment you’ll need for your new cat: a bed and bedding, a carrier, scratching post, cat food and treats, litterbox, litter, water and food bowls, grooming supplies, toys, non-enzymatic cleansers (which remove both spots and odors), and a spray water bottle. Set up the bed in a quiet area. Make careful decisions about where you place the cat’s litterbox, food and water bowls – once your cat knows where to go, it’s hard to get it to change.
Because cats are creatures of routine, a move to a new location causes them a lot of stress. Expect your cat to find a place to hide as soon as it is set free in the house. Give it time to become accustomed to the environment and scents, after which you can use a treat to lure it out into the open and begin engaging with it. In no time, your cat will respond to the gentle touch, affection, and treats and begin to adjust.
You’ll also need to decide in advance whether or not you will allow your cat to go outdoors. Cats love to roam and will spend outdoor time spying, hunting, and seeking out prey, however, the outdoor world is fraught with many dangers, too, such as cars, predators and diseases. Research shows that cats allowed outdoors have significantly shorter life spans. Plus, you’ll need to be vigilant about checking your cat for fleas, ticks, and worms since they will pick up more parasites in the outside world. As a result, most veterinarians today advise keeping your cat indoors at all times.
There are two other important activities to undertake before you bring your cat home. First, find a veterinarian and set up an initial appointment for your cat to be checked out as soon as possible. Second, select your preferred option for an identification tag or marker. Cats are natural roamers and will try to escape the house throughout their lives. To find your cat, it is important that it have a tag before you leave the shelter. You can order a tag, with the cat’s name and your phone number, from any pet store and many vet clinics. The tag is worn on a collar. If you are concerned that a tag may get caught on things, you can opt for an embroidered collar containing the same information. These days, many pet owners prefer to have a microchip implanted into their cats with GPS (global positioning system) capabilities; ask your veterinarian about this service. Just be sure you have your identification option in place, because a lot of cats are lost each year when they escape from their owners on the way home from the shelter.
When kittens are born, they are completely dependent on their mothers – they don’t have any vision or hearing until between two and five weeks. At one month old, kittens learn to walk, run, jump, and play by observing their mother and interacting with their litter mates. By the time kittens reach three to four weeks, they can begin eating kitten food. Look for commercial dry foods made for kittens that use the words “complete and balanced nutrition” and a statement that the food has been tested. You will need to take dried food and soak it in lukewarm water so that kittens can eat it, and then place the softened food in a flat pan so that the kitten can access it. Don’t be surprised if your kitten walks through the pan of food at first – it has to learn what food is! Also, be sure to keep the water fresh for your kitten to encourage it to drink. Give your kitten a variety of foods to taste now to prevent finicky eating later on. Most importantly, make sure you begin your regular routines right away by placing the food and water dishes in their regular location.
Cats learn how to be cats by watching their mothers during their first eight weeks of life. They learn how to use a litterbox, which foods are safe to eat and what to watch out for. They also learn important skills by interacting with litter mates. Because kittens are so open to growth and forming their personalities between two and eight weeks of age, you want to give them as many sensory experiences at this time as you can. Leave a radio or TV on in the background to teach kittens about sounds. Lay out a variety of materials and fabrics on an area of the floor to help them develop a keener sense of touch. Put a small box in their living area and let kittens go exploring. Start handling the kittens as early as possible, and, once they know you, increase the number of people who handle them so they get accustomed to being touched and picked up by lots of people. Start the grooming process by brushing your kitten’s coat and searching for fleas. The more you expose kittens to a variety of tastes, sounds, smells, textures, and people, the more flexibly they will deal with the world throughout their lives.
At eight weeks, a mother cat begins to tire of her kittens and the weaning process takes place. Be sure that all the litter mates remain together for another two to three weeks after weaning. This is an important time in your kitten’s social and interactive development. They practice important skills like how and when to use their claws and teeth. They also build natural instincts that will make it easier for them to live with other cats later on. By 12 weeks, your kitten can operate independently, but will continue to learn, grow, and explore. Be sure to put away any small items that a kitten might accidentally choke on, such as rubber bands and paper clips. Also, be sure to tie up food waste and dump it right away, or keep it in the refrigerator. Kittens will pursue appealing scents relentlessly until they get what they are after.
Since pets age differently from us, kittens need wellness exams every 3 weeks. We start these exams at 8 weeks of age with their vaccines, and they should continue until they are 15-16 weeks old. Adult cats need wellness exams twice a year. One year to us is like 4-5 years to our feline friends. Our pets may not always show outward signs of pain, disease or discomfort, but a veterinarian is trained to pick up early warning signs. Due to the fast aging process, regular wellness exams will help the veterinarian detect health issues in a proactive way, enabling him or her to give owners more options for earlier treatment of disease.
What’s in the vaccine?
FVRCP aka Feline “Distemper” vaccine (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Feline Herpesvirus, Chlamydia and Calicivirus, and Feline Panleukopenia Virus):
- Chlamydia, Herpesvirus, and Calicivirus, are all upper respiratory viruses that can cause sneezing, runny eyes and nose, ulcers in the mouth, and potentially lower respiratory tract disease. Feline Panleukopenia is an often fatal virus that causes severe diarrhea and can affect the bone marrow, similar to canine parvovirus.
Feline Leukemia: this viral disease is passed through saliva, urine, or the bite of infected cats and is very contagious. This disease can cause certain types of cancer and lower the cat’s immune system.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): this is a viral disease much like HIV in humans and is passed by the bite of an infected cat. This virus also like leukemia breaks down the immune system. Our hospital does have a combo blood test that screens for both Feline FIV, and Feline Leukemia, though there is no known vaccine or cute for FIV. The test is performed at your kitten’s first visit and repeated two months later.
Rabies Virus: This is a very serious, and often fatal, disease for cats and many other species, including humans. It is required by law that all cats, dogs, and ferrets are vaccinated for this disease, as it is easily transmitted through bites and contact with body fluids of affected animals.
Other Recommended Services
Fecal: This is a stool sample taken to check for intestinal parasites – we are typically looking for hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, coccidia, giardia, and tapeworms. De-worming is done at your kitten’s first and second visits along with the fecal test.
Heartworm prevention: Heartworms are caused by the bite of a mosquito, thus it is imperative that your pet stay on heartworm prevention monthly for the rest of its life. All cats, including indoor cats, are at risk because of mosquito exposure; there is NO treatment for cats once they’ve contracted this parasite. Your technician will go over all of the feline heartworm preventative options.
Birth Control and Cancer Prevention: Your pet can go into heat anywhere from 4 ½ to 8 months of age. Neutering (castration) is performed on male cats, and spaying (ovariohysterectomy) is performed on female cats and can greatly reduce the risk of breast cancer!
- 8-9 weeks old Wellness Exam: FVRCP#1, Leukemia/FIV test, fecal test, de-worming, and heartworm prevention.
- 11-13 weeks old Wellness Exam: FVRCP#2, Leukemia #1, second de-worming.
- 15-16 weeks old Wellness Exam: FVRCP#3, Leukemia #2, Rabies vaccine, final fecal check, 2nd Leukemia/FIV test. Schedule spay/neuter!
Annual Preventative Care visits include a Wellness Exam, Rabies vaccine, FVRCP, Leukemia, Fecal test, and heartworm check. Semi-annual visits (usually 6 months after the annual visit) include a Wellness Exam, and preventative care blood work (CBC, Chemistry, Thyroid test, and Urinalysis).
Next to you and your family, your veterinarian is one of the most important people in your cat’s life. You should identify a veterinarian for your new cat before you bring it home, and arrange for a first appointment as soon as possible. The first vet visit gives you and your veterinarian an opportunity to establish your cat’s baseline level of health and identify any potential long-term or chronic health problems. This visit can confirm the health status identified when you purchased your pet. When you meet with the vet, be sure to discuss your daily care routines, home environment, any anticipated problems or concerns you may have, ask questions about any behaviors about which you need more information, and your grooming preferences, particularly nail clipping. Your vet will examine your cat to ensure healthy bones, joints, muscles, and good heart, eye, ear and other organ functions. The vet will also do a blood test to check to make sure your cat has the right levels of nutrients and minerals. Use your carrier to transport your cat to and from the vet. Your cat will likely experience some stress going to the vet – the vet will know how to deal with this at his or her office. When you come home, be prepared for your cat to hide for a while until it regains its composure and can be enticed with treats.
After the first visit, plan on taking your cat to the vet for a check-up annually, however, if you allow your pet to go outdoors, you may need to get your cat dewormed two or three times a year.
A vaccine protocol should be provided to kittens at two, three, and four months of age, with a once-a-year booster to prevent some common cat diseases. The vaccination protects cats from three serious diseases: panieukopenia (distemper), calicivirus (upper repertory infection), and rhinotracheitis (herpes virus). If you acquire a cat that is older than two months and it has not been vaccinated, the vet will use a different protocol, but you must still vaccinate your cat. In these cases, two vaccinations are delivered two-to-three weeks apart, followed by an annual booster shot.
Currently, there is a vaccine for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and none for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), two fatal diseases among cats. These diseases can be transmitted from a mother at birth to her kittens or through a bite from another cat. Outdoor cats can be carriers, so do not mix any outdoor cats with indoor cats. There is no vaccination currently for FIV. All outdoor cats should get the FeLV vaccination. During your cat’s annual check-up, be sure to talk to the vet about any new vaccinations.
Common Health Issues
An indoor cat that is fed a balanced diet, kept active, mentally engaged, and clean should remain healthy through much of its life, however, cats do experience illnesses. Following is a brief description of some of the more common cat diseases and illnesses.
- Ear Mites
If you see your cat constantly shaking its head, as it does when you clean its ears, or scratching its ears, your cat may have ear mites. You need to take your cat to the vet right away to be treated for an infestation. The vet will clean out your cats ears thoroughly and then administer medications to rid your cat of the mites.
- Feline Urological Syndrome (FUS)
This urinary tract infection affects both male and female cats. About 5% of all cats get FUS. Symptoms to watch for are frequent trips to the litter box and, for males, a look of constipation. Males can experience an obstruction in their urethras which prevents urination. This is fatal, so get your cat to the vet immediately. The treatment for FUS is usually through diet management.
- Fleas and Ticks
Fleas are external parasites that cause a skin allergy, a common skin disease for dogs and cats. Ticks latch on to the skin and burrow in to feed on blood. Both can be itchy, annoying, and unhealthy for your cat. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms. If there are fleas on your cat, that means there are fleas in your house. You will need to use a flea bomb or another premise-control device to rid your house of the fleas. Be sure that any sprays or treatments you use are safe for your cat. Keeping your cat flea- and tick-free is easier today, thanks to new products which can be applied once a month. That said, you need to visually inspect your cat’s skin for signs of fleas during daily grooming, and check for ticks after returning from an area known to have them, like wooded camping sites.
Cats form hairballs as a result of licking and grooming their fur. The wet fur they swallow is difficult for cats to digest and cannot be processed through the gastrointestinal tract. As a result, they accumulate into obstructions, which, if not coughed up, can cause serious harm. You can recognize hairballs by their cigar-like shape. Symptoms to watch for are constipation, frequent coughing and hacking, loss of appetite, or lethargy. To prevent hairballs, brush your cat’s coat frequently to remove loose and dead hair. There are also commercial nutritional solutions that add fiber and fat to the diet to help breakdown hairballs and help them pass. If your cat has a hairball, commercial cat laxative remedies are available that can be sprinkled on food and that provide a lubricant to help the hairball work its way through your cat’s digestive system. Be sure to check with your veterinarian about which product is best for your cat, and if your cat will require a supplement while taking the laxative. High levels of mineral oil products, for example, will deplete vitamin A, which you will need to supplement. Some cat owners find that giving their cats a half teaspoon of butter two or three times a week or a teaspoon of canned pumpkin or baby food squash also acts as an effective laxative.
Heartworm, roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm are other parasites that can enter your cat’s bloodstream and create serious health problems. Heartworm parasites are passed on to cats through mosquitoes. Hookworm and roundworm larvae end up on your cat’s feet, which, through licking, enters its abdominal system. The best form of treatment is early and regular prevention. A monthly pill will help your cat avoid these parasites. If your cat does contract a worm, it is important for your vet to test to determine which kind it is suffering from and what level the development the worm has reached. A correct diagnosis is needed, because the treatment for one worm is not the same as for another. Symptoms of a worm parasite are an occasional cough, fatigue, weight loss, difficulty breathing, or vomiting. Left untreated, worms can be fatal. Talk to your vet about how often s/he recommends checking for worm parasites, since the symptoms may not present themselves before serious damage occurs.
Spaying and Neutering
Most pet cats are spayed (females) or neutered (males) to remove reproductive organs and prevent pregnancy. Health issues also provide other compelling reasons for spaying and neutering cats. Female cats have a high incidence of breast cancer, and older, unspayed females frequently contract a uterus infection, called pyometra, that requires extensive surgery and medication. Because females go into heat about three times a year, spaying can also prevent unwanted, or accidental, litters. Males that are not neutered often exhibit aggressive behaviors, including urine marking and fighting with other males.
Spaying and neutering is recommended for every cat and should occur by six months of age. Because shelters want pets to be spayed or neutered before they are adopted, however, it is not uncommon for these surgeries to be conducted as early as eight weeks, the earliest age for which they are safe.
Spaying and neutering are common surgeries. They require some form of anesthesia, and most vets prefer for the cat to remain in the hospital overnight. Your cat may be under the weather for a few more days as a result of the surgery, but will heal within a matter of a week or so.
One way to prepare for cat ownership is to make sure you understand the natural behaviors associated with cats. Here are a few basic behaviors inherent to a cat’s constitution and disposition:
- Nocturnal Activity
Cats are nocturnal creatures and will be active at night. Although cats can also be active during the day, you cannot retrain your cat to sleep through the night. Just make sure you give your cat plenty of positive activities to focus on at nighttime, and leave fresh water out to satisfy its thirst.
Chewing is part of a cat’s fundamental hunting talents and needs to be expressed. It is also good for strengthening your cat’s teeth and jaws. To accommodate this behavior, you need to focus your cat’s chewing needs on items designed specifically for this purpose. Give your cat plenty of chew toys that are made from softer materials – nothing too hard that might crack or chip its teeth.
Roaming is also part of a cat’s hunting behavior. For indoor cats, this can be a problem, which is why you need to keep your cat active with plenty of toys and activities to stimulate it physically and mentally. If activities are available, don’t be concerned if your cat spends time continuously wandering around the same room or throughout your house. It’s simply expressing its need to roam.
Scratching serves two important functions for cats. First, it helps them fully stretch their bodies and muscles. Second, it provides a way for cats to shed dead sheaths from their nails. You cannot teach a cat not to scratch; it is an inherent behavior. You can, however, teach a cat what to scratch by giving it a positive outlet for scratching with a scratching post. If needed, you can also spray items you don’t want your cat to scratch with scents it dislikes. Commercial products are available in pet stores like bottled scents that cats will avoid.
Cats combine different forms of vocalization along with specific body positions or gestures to communicate how they feel. The most common of these is also the one most widely recognized – the purr. Purring is typically a sound of comfort for a cat. Pet owners like it, too, but many people don’t realize that purring is also a sound a cat makes in the most extreme circumstances of stress. Meowing is the second most commonly made cat sound. It is a call for attention. Cats meow when they want to be fed, played with or are stuck and need help getting free. Cats make a sound, referred to as chirping, when they get excited by the sight of prey.
You may hear your cat chirp when it is watching a video of birds. Cats chatter when they are frustrated. Kittens have a unique sound, called an angry wail, which is a distress call they send to their mothers. When cats feel threatened, they use vocalizations that are produced with an open mouth. A hiss indicates that a cat was surprised by a perceived adversary. A shriek or scream is the sound cats make when they are in pain or experiencing extreme fear or aggression. Snarling is the sound males make when they fight over territory or a female cat. A long, low-pitched growl sound means danger.
Most problem behaviors for cats are the result of boredom, inactivity, lack of attention, stress, illness, or inappropriate training techniques. That’s why it is so critical to provide your cat with lots of daily physical and mental stimulation. Stress may result from changes in routine, even those as simple as changing the placement of food dishes or a litter box. A new family member can also cause stresses that result in problem behaviors.
Inappropriate training happens when cat owners want to train cats to respond in a particular way, yet inadvertently reward the wrong behavior. For example, if your cat meows and cries for you to get up and play with it at nighttime, you may, after a time, just give in to make it stop. This actually rewards the cat’s behavior and teaches it to repeat these cries to get your attention.
When training cats around behaviors, it is critical that you identify which behaviors you want to reinforce and which you want to change. Then, only reward completion of the desired behavior. Don’t give in to your cat when training for change. One or two bad nights of sleep to make the message clear is a lot less of a price to pay than a lifetime of getting up to play with your cat in the middle of the night.
If you experience problem behaviors with your cat, the first thing to do is rule out any medical causes. You also need to make sure that you pay attention to where your cat is in its life cycle. Adolescence and old age create physical changes that may cause stress to your cat. Then you can look to training solutions.
Commonly demonstrated problem behaviors cats include:
- Aggressive play
- Biting or nipping
- Excessive hiding
- Excessive chewing
- Excessive scratching
- Excessive vocalization
- House soiling
- Urine spraying
Cats don’t understand your motivations or preferences, and they won’t learn to behave in any way other than those that are innate. The only way to train a cat is with patience, consistency, and routine. To teach new positive behaviors, you have to give your cat a chance to get accustomed to your desired behaviors and to reinforce positive achievement with rewards (treats) to motivate the cat to adopt the change. Changing negative behaviors can be harder.
To keep cats away from areas or items, use a commercial spray product to spray surfaces with a scent that cats dislike. To train cats to stay away from particular surfaces, cut out a piece of cardboard the size and shape of the surface area you want the cat to stay off of. Apply double-sided sticky tape to one side and place the cardboard, sticky side up, on the surface. Cats dislike stickiness and will avoid the surface. After a short time, your cat will avoid that surface instinctively, because it will relate it with stickiness.
Sometimes you will need to catch your cat in the act of a particular behavior to train it to change. For example, if your cat scratches furniture, in addition to using a bad-smelling spray, use a spray water bottle and squirt your cat when you catch it scratching the furniture. The element of surprise and the sudden wetness gives cats a fright, and they will run away. After a number of repeated incidents, your cat will get the message and should stop the behavior.
If you are unclear about how to get your cat to change a problem behavior, there are lots of helpful websites that can give you the benefit of first-hand experience from other cat owners. Your vet can also give you tips on techniques that can help you get your cat behaving the way you expect.
Cats are easily stressed, which is why they depend so much on routine. As a result, anything new can be a problem for them. You need patience and consistency to give cats time to get comfortable with any changes, new people and new behaviors.
Cats learn social behavior by watching their mothers and you. To help your cat or kitten get comfortable with you, give it a chance to observe enticing behaviors from a safe location before asking the cat to accept you. Here is how to do it:
When you first bring your new cat home, set up a cattery cage. This will be where your cat will live at all times for about a week as you introduce it to your home. Using this technique establishes a safe, dependable environment for your cat while transitioning into your home, and it gives the cat time to become familiar with the sights and scents in your house and among your family members. Place a covered cat bed with soft bedding and a small litterbox in the cattery to make it fully self-sufficient. Put water and food bowls at the opposite end of the cage from the litterbox. Locate the cattery in an active room where it can observe your family’s daily routines, including those you’ve created for the cat’s care. Ignore the cat. It needs to put you in the center of its world and “win” your affection, though it is useful to talk out loud to yourself so that your cat gets to know your voice.
Start by feeding your cat in the cattery at least three times a day, but don’t leave food in the cage for more than 15 minutes. When you deposit and remove food and water, do not engage with your cat by talking to it or petting it. Separately, conduct some of your own daily activities directly in front of the cattery, like brushing your hair, organizing your briefcase or your child’s knapsack, or spending time on a computer. Keep the activity low key but in the cat’s view.
Once the cat gets comfortable with eating, begin to leave your hand in the cage a little longer when removing the food. At each feeding, let your hand rest a little closer to the cat. When you think your cat is ready, start placing your hand in the cage and letting it linger there before feeding until the cat will eat with your hand in the cage. When the cat begins to rub your hand, try putting a small amount of food on one finger and place your hand in the cage near the cat. Let your hand relax. When the cat licks the food from your finger, it is a sign that your relationship is forming.
Give your pet quiet praise, but don’t shout with excitement – this will be counterproductive and frighten the cat. Finally, using the same technique, wait to make any further progress until the cat eats a treat from your hand.
Now, you can shift your concentration on opening the door to the cage and allowing the cat to come out. First be sure that the door(s) to the room are closed before you begin. Again, proceed in little baby steps that allow your cat to make adjustments and become familiar. Open the door of the cage, and place your hand just outside of it. When the cat rubs or licks your hand, give it quiet praise. Then move farther away and put some treats around you on the floor. Reinforce each achievement with soothing words of praise. The process may be slow, but it leads to trust, which is the best framework for your interaction and future relationship. Continue applying this approach to get the cat comfortable with being held, using the real litterbox, using the scratch post, and any other behaviors you want from your cat.
With Another Cat
If both cats lived with other cats before, especially litter mates, you stand a better chance that they will be able to reside well together. Regardless, the first impression your new and existing cats have of each other may set the tone for life. So be prepared before introducing a new cat to an existing cat. Allow at least two weeks of isolation before beginning the introductory process between cats. This gives your new cat time to make all the other stressful adjustments it needs and to ensure that your new cat does not carry any diseases or infections.
Set up the two cats in adjacent rooms that have a door between them, or in two enclosed areas next to each other. Let the cats smell and hear each other, but not see each other. Feed them both treats from the door between them to increase their interest and awareness in the other being you engage with. After two or three days, switch rooms to allow each cat to fully familiarize itself with the other’s scent. Next, place a screen between the two rooms and begin playing with each cat in proximity to the divider so that the other cat hears and sees what you are doing. Don’t proceed with the next step until you are sure that neither cat demonstrates any aggression about your time spent with the other, which will take one or two weeks. Play with each cat close to the divider, and, over a few days, keep moving the play closer to the divider until you are right up against it. Watch to see if one cat strains to play with you while you play with the other. If neither cat shows aggression and both come up to the divider when you play with the other, then you can move on to the next step.
Eventually, you will be able to remove the screen between the two rooms. Expect some stress at first. One or both cats may hide for a while. Keep a close watch on both cats. The goal is for them to either engage playfully and comfortably with each other or to ignore each other. If there are any signs of aggression, get between the cats and separate them. Then help them through baby steps until they get comfortable with each other’s presence. During this transition period, watch for signs of stress or territorialism, such as one cat harassing the other, soiling outside the litterbox, withdrawing, loss of appetite, constipation or any other irregularities. This may mean that you are going to fast and you need to take a step or two back and give your cats more time to adjust to each other.
There are two ways to simplify this process. First, purchase two cats at the same time from the same litter and you won’t have to orient them to each other at all. Second, if you are bringing a kitten home to a young or middle-aged cat already residing in your home, don’t introduce the kitten until it is spayed or neutered, which will prevent any sexually-oriented aggressive behavior.
With a Dog or Other Pet
Cats often live in households with other pets. The process to effectively introduce your cat to another pet is the same as it is for another cat. The process may take more time for other pets, however, particularly if they are natural predators to cats. Be sure to maintain careful supervision over your cat and other pets for the first month or two and that you allow them out in a room together, particularly when one is predator and the other prey. They may appear to be fine, yet, in an unexpected moment, nature could take over and cause an instant of extreme aggression.
With an Infant
Consider the entire pregnancy as an opportunity to acclimate your cat with the introduction of a new person into your home. You’ll need the time to get the cat familiar with all the new sights, sounds, and scents caring for an infant brings into your home. Play tapes of baby sounds. Rub some baby lotion or powder on your hands. Set up the nursery as early as possible and give your cat time to wander around. You can even carry around a baby doll while doing routine activities so that your cat observes the changes. About one month before the baby is due, cover all surfaces that will be off limits to the cat throughout the house once the baby arrives – especially in the nursery. Cut out pieces of cardboard the size and shape of each surface, such as the changing table and crib, and put double-sided tape on one side and cover with the tape side up. Cats dislike sticky surfaces and will avoid these areas. A month will give them the time they need to relearn their behaviors and avoid these surfaces in the future.
If you located the litterbox in what will become the nursery, start the process of change as soon as you find out you are pregnant. Each day, move the litterbox a little bit closer toward the new location. If you move the litterbox too much at one time, this will cause your pet stress and may result in soiling outside the litterbox, so take it slow and move little by little. If you will need to adjust other elements of your cat care because of the baby’s schedule, try to anticipate as much of the new routine as possible and begin making the shift two or three months before you bring the baby home.
Once the baby is born, have someone take an article of clothing or fabric with the baby’s scent home and give it to your cat so it can become familiar with the new scent. When you bring the baby home, don’t be surprised if all the visitors cause your cat to go into hiding. Let the cat come exploring your infant in its own time. As it gets more comfortable, you can introduce it to the baby.
Please note: Never leave a baby alone in a room with a cat unsupervised, and be extra careful that the cat is out of the nursery when your baby sleeps or naps.
In the natural environment, cats spend their days hunting for prey. They run and jump, hide and pounce, and bat and play until they’ve completed their kill. Today, most pet cats are indoor creatures and do not need to defend themselves from predators or hunt for food. You need to give your cat the opportunity for active times to keep it physically strong and healthy. Designate a play area in your house where you allow your cat to run, romp, jump, and play. Put the scratching post in this area. Spend play time with your cat for at least one hour every day. Keep lots of toys around – some chew toys to exercise its teeth and jaw, toys the cat can push and paw at, and toys that make the cat work to get to a treat hidden inside. Use kitty teasers and cat dancers to engage in play with your cat and keep it moving. Rotate toys frequently to keep your cat from becoming bored; it is important to keep them active and to watch their body shape to make sure your cat remains muscular, trim and healthy.
Please note: Do not use string or play any form of a tug-of-war game with your cat. These activities damage cat’s teeth.
It is important to remember that cats are nocturnal and their most active time will probably be while you are asleep. Be sure that there is plenty for your cat to do when you aren’t around. To make sure you get quality time in with your cat, plan play times in the early evening, and to keep cats from waking you at night, feed them a meal right before your bedtime.
When pet owners experience problems with their cats, like destructive behavior, it usually is the result of a bored or neglected cat. Even though cats don’t have long memories and depend upon strict routine, they still need ways to engage their minds. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to feed your cat’s mental vitality. Toys give cats a means of working on challenges. Some, like bat toys, are designed to reflect hunting behavior. Others simply build on their natural instincts to intrigue them. For example, many pet owners find videos of birds, squirrels or other small animals fascinate their pets. Cats can watch these videos for hours, and they like observing the real thing, too, so be sure your activity room has a window for your cat to watch the world outside. You can even place a bird feeder outside the window for a constant and ever-changing display. Movement of any kind attracts a cat’s interest. Cats will watch a lava lamp or changing colored lights. They love toys with movements, like a ball in a track they can push around. Cats also love to explore empty boxes and bags. Just be sure to clip off handles that might trap your cat.
To handle an adult cat, put one hand beneath the chest and use the other to support the cat’s hind quarters. For kittens, be sure to support their legs and feet as well.
Please note: Never lift or pull on a kitten’s tail or legs, and do not lift a kitten by the scruff of its neck.
Grooming gives you a great way to bond with your cat. You’ll want to establish a routine for grooming within the first week you bring it home. This allows your cat to get comfortable with being handled and begins building positive associations that will make it easier to groom in the future. Regular grooming requirements include brushing, nail clipping, bathing, teeth brushing, and ear cleaning.
Brushing is an important way to help keep your cat’s coat clean, untangled, and healthy. The frequency depends upon your cat’s natural coat: short-coated cats need to be brushed at least once a week, while long-coated cats many need brushing every day. For short-coated cats, start at the head and work your way down to the tail. For long-coated cats, begin with the belly and legs, and brush to untangle mats or knots. Then use a bristle brush to brush the hair upward. To brush the tail, divide the fur down the middle before brushing. In all cases, be sure to avoid your cat’s eyes and ears, but do brush the tail on long-coated cats. If your cat has tangles, use a slicker brush to untangle it or remove any mats and a bristle brush to eliminate dead hair. When you first begin grooming your cat, make the time periods short — no more than 5 to 10 minutes. Slowly, over time, as your cat adjusts to your handling, you can extend this time period to accommodate all your grooming activities. Cat owners often find brushing leads to quality time together.
Declawing and Nail Clipping
Before discussing nail management, you need to understand the issues associated with declawing your cat. Some people feel declawing a cat keeps it from being able to defend itself and limits its ability to climb effectively. Neither of these statements is true — cats can continue to defend themselves and climb after declawing. Most people aren’t aware that declawing does not simply remove the claws; the traditional process actually involves amputating the first joint on each toe. This can be a very painful and stressful experience for cats. Some research indicates that cats experience phantom pain long after declawing. Most veterinarians and pet experts today consider declawing to be inhumane. One alternative is a tendonectomy, which cuts the tendons to the claws and prevents the cat from grabbing, but there are limits on the effectiveness of this strategy as well. The best way to deal with scratching is to give your cat something productive to scratch, like a scratching post, and to keep the cat’s nails trimmed to protect humans from cuts. If scratching becomes a serious problem, there are nail covers that your cat can wear to blunt the nails and prevent scratching.
Cutting a cat’s nails is a simple process. Getting the cat to allow you to cut its nails is another matter entirely! Part of the problem is that many cats aren’t touched on their feet very often, which leads to stress. The best way to prevent a negative reaction to nail clipping is to be sure to touch your cat’s paws, feet, and legs from the start. Rub your hand up and down each leg. Take a paw in your hand and press down on the toes gently to separate them. Early touch will help overcome your cat’s sensitivity and will make nail clipping much more acceptable. For cats that remain sensitive, many owners find it helpful to try nail clipping when their cats are tired, or even asleep. Keep the activity to short periods of time – no more than about five minutes. If needed, you can simply cut one nail a day.
The only supplies you’ll need for nail clipping are a sharp nail clipper (available at most pet stores), a styptic powder (to stop bleeding), and an emery board. Begin by taking one of your cat’s paws with one hand. Press down gently on the toes to separate them and clean out any dirt or residue. Then place the clipper parallel to the nail and on a slight angel. Clip the nail up to the point where it begins to curve. Be careful not to cut too deeply; cats have a vein running through the base of their nail and cutting it will cause bleeding. If it does bleed, apply the styptic powder to stop the bleeding.
Cats spend a lot of time keeping themselves clean every day. Most of the time, their techniques succeed, and your cat will remain relatively clean. Over time, or with an outdoor cat that is exposed to lots of dirt, though, you may need to bathe your cat. You can wash your cat in a tub or sink – just be sure that you place a nonskid surface inside to keep the cat from slipping. You’ll also need a mild cat shampoo (available at pet stores) and a towel.
First, brush your cat to get rid of any dirt and surface residue. Next, place your cat on a nonskid surface in a tub, and using lukewarm water, hose your cat down or pour water from a container over your cat until it is thoroughly wet. Massage the shampoo into the coat everywhere, working gently from the head to the tail. Be careful not to get the shampoo into your cat’s eyes, ears, or mouth. Rinse the shampoo out thoroughly, then dry your cat with a large towel. You can use a blow dryer on your cat, but be sure it doesn’t heat up.
Keeping your cat’s teeth clean is important to its overall health. Plaque build-up can lead to deterioration of the gums and other tooth problems. Because chewing is so important to cats, maintaining strong teeth and jaws is needed at all times. Brush your cat’s teeth daily using a soft toothbrush and toothpaste made for cats. You can also use a fingerbrush if your cat is frightened of the toothbrush. Once again, starting this activity the first day you bring your cat home will allow it to get accustomed to the activity and prevent problems later on. Be sure to brush the fronts of all your cat’s teeth, including the molars on the top and bottom. You don’t need to brush the insides of the teeth; the cat’s tongue takes care of that part. If your cat is particularly resistant to brushing its teeth, look for chew toys and kibble designed to help remove plaque.
Periodically, you will need to clean your cat’s ears to eliminate any dirt and keep the ear canal open; you can use commercial ear cleaning products or olive oil to accomplish this task. You’ll also need cotton balls, a medicine dropper, and clean water for rinsing. Start by placing the ear cleaner or olive oil in a pan of hot water to heat it to the cat’s body temperature, which typically ranges from 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Place your cat on a table. With the dropper, put a drop or two of the warm liquid in one ear near the opening to the ear canal, and massage the base of the ear for one minute to help the substance work its way around the ear and into the ear canal. Then, do the same thing in the other ear. Now, leave your cat alone for about five minutes. You’ll notice that the cat will shake its head, trying to get the liquid out of its ears. The shaking helps dislodge dirt and move it to the outer ear. After five minutes, use a wet cotton ball to wipe away the dirt and oil from each outer ear.
It is critical that you make fresh water available to your cat at all times. Keep the water fresh by changing it frequently; at least three to four times a day. Use a low bowl or saucer that your cat can easily access and wash it with soap and water daily.
Diet and Nutrition
Cats are naturally carnivores. A well-balanced feline diet must contain a combination of more than 60 different nutrients, including taurine, vitamin A and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They also need protein for healthy body tissues, carbohydrates for energy, fats to enhance absorption of nutrients, vitamins for metabolism, and minerals for healthy hair, skin, and development. That’s why your best bet is to purchase commercial cat food that is specially designed for the purpose. Commercial cat foods are even available with the ideal balance of nutrients for different stages in your cat’s life – when they are kittens, nursing mothers, or seniors.
Because the complex balance of nutrients is so critical, don’t buy inexpensive brands that may contain increased levels of fillers. It’s worth the added expense for premium brands to maintain a healthy cat. Food choices include dry cat food, kibble or canned food, and some owners like to combine dry and canned cat food. To ensure your selection has the quality ingredients your cat needs, read the label and make sure your chosen brand contains a minimum of 28% protein, 36% carbohydrates and 21% fats, with the remainder in vitamins and minerals.
Cats need to be fed one to two meals a day. Some people believe cats do better if they are allowed to graze and eat small amounts throughout the day, but you and your cat can determine which approach works best for you. Do not, however, leave moist foods out for more than 30 minutes, or they will spoil. You can supplement the diet with a little bit of human food, but make this a rare occurrence, not a daily expectation. Cats have difficulty digesting human food. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a good idea to serve your cat milk, either. Cats don’t possess the enzymes to break down milk other than that produced by their mothers – your cat will probably experience gastrointestinal problems if exposed to milk. If you have difficulty getting your cat to eat the food you offer, try heating it up by zapping it in a microwave for a few seconds. You don’t want it to be too hot, but heat helps release the flavor and scent, which makes the food more appealing to cats.
Treats provide an important training reward to teach cats new behaviors, however, they tend to be high in fat and sugar content, so try to limit how many your cat eats every day. Obesity is a trend among indoor cats and causes many health problems.
Finally, use heavy glass or ceramic bowls for your cat’s food and water, each with a low lip so that it is easily accessed. Plastic bowls hold odors; even if you can’t detect the smell, your cat will, and it could be enough to keep your cat from eating.
Even if you plan to allow your pet to sleep on your bed or any other soft surfaces in your home, you need to set up a dry, warm place that is just for your cat. Bring home a cat bed that has one lower side so that your cat can easily get in and out of it, and line the bed with soft towels or blankets. Be sure you use washable materials, because you’ll need to clean the bedding every week. Place the bed in a quiet area – some people like to place their cat’s beds in their bedrooms. However, cats are nocturnal animals, so, if their activity will disturb you or you keep the door to your room closed at night, you’ll have to find a different location for your cat’s bed.
A carrier is the safest way to transport your cat. Many carriers are designed to fit under a seat in airplanes allowing your cat to travel with you on flights. Carriers are also useful ways to transport your cat to and from the vet. Carriers are made from a variety of materials. Wicker baskets look attractive, but are susceptible to scratching and shedding, and, therefore, are not the best choice. Hard plastic carriers are durable, but must include wire or mesh screens for adequate ventilation. When using your carrier, place a blanket inside for warmth and comfort. Throw a toy in the carrier to keep your cat occupied. Make sure the carrier is large enough for an adult-sized cat to stand and stretch on all four legs and that the entry is large enough for your cat to enter and exit easily.
Litterbox and Litter
Making your cat a valued member of your household may largely depend on its success in dealing with a litterbox. Cats are naturally clean creatures and are very particular about their waste processes. They need privacy and a clean environment. Make sure you place your litterbox away from other spaces in which your cat will sleep, play and eat. Most pet owners find a utility room or a corner of the bathroom is ideal. Regardless of the type of litterbox you buy or the material it is made from (ranging from cardboard boxes to plastic or metal), make sure it is low enough or has a wide enough entry for your cat to easily enter and exit. It should be about one-and-a-half times the length of an adult-sized cat to provide enough space for your cat to kick litter over its soiled areas. Because cats use scent to mark areas for different activities, once you’ve established one location for the litterbox, it will be very difficult to get your cat to adjust to any change. So be sure you place the litterbox out of your way.
When you go to the store, you’ll find a lot of options for cat litter. Your cat will make the ultimate decision about which one suits its purposes best. Research indicates that most cats prefer clumping clay litter, which makes any area soiled by urine or feces turn into an obvious clump that can easily be scooped out and removed. Many people are experimenting with new environmental options that include recycled newspaper, corn cob, peanut shell meal and wood shavings. But research indicates that cats prefer the clumping clay litter over these as well. Most cats prefer unscented litter. The size of the particles can also make a difference, because you want something that doesn’t stick in your cat’s paws. Generally, cats respond well to a litter that has texture and coarseness and a slightly larger particle size. You can decide whether or not it is worth the expense to buy a flushable litter as this does not impact your cat. Finally, there has been concern about the safety of litter for kittens who may ingest it. Though eating litter may lead to some temporary gastrointestinal discomfort, research shows that commercial clay litters, both clumping and nonclumping, are not dangerous to your pet’s long-term health.
How many litterboxes will you need? The accepted rule is that there should be one litterbox per floor plus one. If you have more than one cat, each will need its own litterbox on each floor. Also, be sure to scoop out the litterbox at least once every day. Once a week, throw out all the litter and clean the litterbox with soap and water. Then refill it with a fresh layer of litter.
Cats need to scratch. It isn’t just a habit, but an important way for them to make sure they fully stretch out their bodies and eliminate the dead sheaths from their nails. Scratching is simply part of your cat’s makeup, so if you don’t want furniture and other household items to suffer, you need to purchase a scratching post. You want a scratching post that is at least three feet in length and covered with either carpet or sisal. Be sure that it is sturdy so that it won’t fall over when your cat jumps on it or scratches against it. Some cats prefer their scratching post to be placed vertically, while others like theirs horizontal or on a diagonal incline – your cat will let you know its preference. Be sure to place the scratching post in an active room or area. Also, don’t throw away a scratching post when it is badly worn, unless you want to face a challenge. When you do need to introduce a new scratching post, set it up next to the old one and give your cat a chance to get used to it. To get your cat to try out the new one, rub some catnip on it; cats go wild for catnip and the scent alone will capture their interest. Once the cat starts using the new scratching post, then you can get rid of the old one.
Taking a cat out of its regular domain is causes extreme stress, which is why your cat races out of the carrier and hides as soon as it comes home from the vet. It is not recommended that you take cats on trips. Instead, find a friend or pet sitter who can come to your home and feed and play with your cat while you are away. Be sure that you introduce that individual to your cat over a series of visits before you go away so that your cat is familiar with the person and his/her scent. If you are moving and must take your cat, make your carrier as comfortable as possible, and place a small box of litter in one corner.
You can also talk to your vet about sedating your cat. Sedation can keep your cat relatively relaxed and limit the level of stress your cat experiences.
While in transport, speak calmly to your cat, and give it lots of attention to help keep it calm. Be sure to give your cat food and water in accordance with your regular routine. When you get to your new location, leave your cat in the carrier until you have one room or enclosed space where it is safe to let it out.
Cats can tolerate temperatures similar to ranges for people. Just be sure that, in the event of a power outage, you include the cat in any of your plans to stay heated in winter and cooler in summer.
Many common indoor and outdoor plants can be poisonous to cats. Before you bring your cat home, get rid of any houseplants that appear on the following list, and don’t let your cats eat plants and leaves indoors or out.
If you do suspect poisoning, get your pet to the veterinarian immediately. You should also keep the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center hotline number near your phone in case of emergency.
You can reach this 24/7 hotline by calling toll free (888) 426-4435
Following is the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center list of many common poisonous plants: