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How to Care For a Cat – Become a Great Owner

How to care for a cat

It’s said that dogs are man’s best friends. But with approximately two million more cats than dogs in the U.S., it looks like felines are poised to become the new BFF on the block. What makes cats such appealing pets, and how do you care for  a cat?

To begin with, cats don’t require as much physical care as dogs. They don’t need to be walked several times a day, and chances are pretty good that you can leave them home unsupervised for long periods of time.

While they do need exercise, grooming and feeding, none of these are very time consuming. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that there are actual health benefits to owning a cat. A cat’s purr can jumpstart soothing chemicals in your body that will decrease feelings of stress and anxiety.

A cat provides companionship, unconditional love, and daily entertainment. What’s more, if you have kids, a pet is a great way to teach them about responsibility and compassion.

Although caring for a cat is less involved than caring for a dog, it’s still a commitment.

Safety and health

One of the first things you need to decide is whether you’ll be keeping your cat indoors or letting her roam free outside.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, it’s much safer to keep cats indoors because they have less opportunity to harm themselves (i.e. get hit by a car, be attacked by another animal, or pick up an illness). But if you do let your cat explore the great outdoors, here are some tips to keep her safe:

  • Bring kitty in at night
  • Give kitty a collar or a microchip for easy identification
  • Treat scrapes and other wounds
  • Give regular flea and tick treatments
  • Ask your vet about up-to-date vaccinations
  • Avoid unwanted litters by spaying/neutering

Visits to the vet

It’s best to bring your cat to the vet as early as possible. As a kitten, there are tests (for example, for feline leukemia) and shots that will protect against several diseases. 

At around 6 months old it will be time to get your cat neutered or spayed. From that point on, yearly “wellness” visits are highly recommended. Of course, if you ever see any changes in your kitty (Is she suddenly drinking more water? Is she not so interested in her favorite toy?), get in touch with your vet right away.

Food

If your cat is climbing trees and chasing squirrels outside, you probably want to consider a more caloric, high-protein food than if she spends most of her day lazing on the couch.

This brings up a hot topic: wet food or dry food?

Keep in mind that not all food is right for all cats. So before you invest in your cat’s diet, consider the following:

PROS OF DRY FOOD:

- Less expensive

- Less smelly

- Easier to store

- Lasts longer (no refrigeration necessary)

- High in carbohydrates

- Better for teeth

PROS OF WET FOOD:

- High in protein

- Over 70% moisture (vs. 10% moisture in dry food)

- More variety

- Better weight loss options

- More appealing to finicky cats

- Close to what cats would eat in the wild

A word about water

Did you know that 80% of a cat’s body is water? Cats need to be well hydrated in order to be in optimal health. If you ever suspect that your kitty is dehydrated, call your vet right away.

Weight

It’s never a good idea to feed kitty table scraps or rich cat treats throughout the day (some experts say cat treats should equal no more than 10% of daily calorie intake). Instead, stick to a feeding plan that will keep the number of meals and the size of the meals in check.

For example, weigh your cat and then check the food label to see how many ounces you should feed her (based on how much she weighs). However, know that this is just a guideline. If your cat is super active, you’ll probably increase the amount she eats, and if she’s more of a lounge cat, you should try cutting back just a bit.

If you’re still unsure about a feeding plan, we suggest two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. This means dividing the total number of ounces you plan to feed kitty per day into two equal meals. After a few days of “portion control” you should have a sense if your cat would benefit from more or less to eat.

Here’s a tip: gently touch your kitty on top of her belly and on her sides. If you can’t feel her ribs, you may want to serve a smaller portion at the next meal.

Disease

Cats can fall become sick and suffer a wide range of illnesses, just like humans. What's more, cats are very good at masking their pain, so unless you're paying close attention to your feline friend, you might not even notice that he or she is in distress.

It's important to be aware of how much your kitty eats, goes to the bathroom, and sleeps in the event that there's a noticeable change, which would require a visit to the vet.

Sleep

If your cat is sleeping for hours at a stretch, don’t worry. It’s not just that cats love to sleep, it’s that they’re programmed to get around 15 hours of shut-eye per day. Like the big cats of the jungle, they’re instinctively storing up energy to hunt prey at night. 

Of course, your kitty is domesticated, but she still exhibits behavior seen in the wild. For example, you’ll notice that kitty is especially active in the twilight hours, which is prime hunting time. 

Cats don’t need to have a designated bed; they can sleep just about anywhere. However, it’s never a bad idea to treat kitty with a special blanket, cushion or bed made specifically for cats.

Exercise and play

An outdoor cat probably gets plenty of exercise and stimulation (with the help of birds and squirrels!). On the flip side, an indoor cat should be entertained with toys and interactions with her human. The right toy or game will keep your kitty from getting bored and finding ways to annoy you or mess up your house.

Of course, not all cats want to play with the same toys so you need to find ones that fit her personality. 

Cats playing with toys

There are toys for cats that love to hunt, catch, hide and even fetch. When you find the perfect entertainment, you’ll be looking forward to play time just as much as kitty!

Another way to keep your cat active is to bring home a sibling kitty! Two cats (as long as they get along) can entertain each other when no one else is at home. A game of chase will certainly tire them out and it requires nothing (except patience!) from you.

A word about cat toys

There’s no question that it’s fun to shop for the hottest cat toy. However, it needs to be said that sometimes the simplest household items provide the best cat entertainment.

For example, try rolling a cork, dragging a piece of string on the ground, tossing an ice cube on the floor or pushing a pencil off of a desk while kitty is watching and see what happens!

Hygiene and grooming

Some folks choose not to have a pet cat because they can’t bear the thought of cleaning a litter box. Well, here’s what we have to say about that: cats are, by nature, clean animals that prefer a tidy environment. What that means is that they don’t want a messy litter box any more than you do!

Kittens learn at a very young age to use a litter box from their mamas and siblings. However, if your furry friend isn’t sure about litter box etiquette, read on.

LITTER BOX DO'S:

- Praise kitty for using the box when she's first starting out

- Put litter box in a quiet place that's easily accessible

- If possible, have one box for the number of cats you have

- Change the litter regularly

- Use only soap and water to clean the box

LITTER BOX DON'TS:

- Don't put litter box next to kitty's sleeping spot

- Don't forget to clean the box every day!

- Don't punish kitty if she forgets to use the box
(accidents happen!) 

- Don't wash the box with strong detergents
or disinfectants

Types of litter

There’s no scientific formula to determine what type of litter is best for your cat; it’s really just trial and error. That said, here are some options to consider:

  • Clumping vs. Non-Clumping
  • Clay-based vs. Plant Based (Wheat or Corn)
  • Odor Eliminating
  • Scented
  • Multiple Cat Variety

Brushing

When it comes to grooming, cats are pretty much self-sufficient. Of course, you can buy cat brushes or combs for all breeds, from domestic short hairs to Persians. For some cats, being brushed is extremely relaxing (plus it’s excellent bonding time!), while for others it’s a source of anxiety. Over time you’ll discover if your furry one enjoys playing salon or if she’d rather you didn’t bother.

As for teeth brushing – the jury is out on this one. Most vets agree that cleaning a cat’s teeth can help prevent tooth decay and problems with gums. However, most vets also agree that brushing your cat’s teeth can be an arduous and, for many, a daunting task! 

Unless your kitty loves to be handled and held down, she probably isn’t going to like you immobilizing her and coming at her with a toothbrush. That being said, it's an important part of taking care of your cat.

Travel

Cats and travel don’t normally mix. But with a little preparation, you and your feline companion can safely adventure together.

Before you hit the road, take your cat to the vet to make sure she’s up to date on vaccines and to restock any medications she may need. While you’re there, ask the vet to clip her claws (if you aren’t able to do it yourself) so she won’t accidently snag herself on the carrier.

An important thing to do is to provide some type of familiarity while you travel. For example, pack kitty’s favorite toy in the carrier with her or line the carrier with a blanket you know she enjoys (and that smells like home). If you have more than one cat, consider putting them together in a large carrier to keep them company.

The carrier you choose can make a huge difference. If you’re traveling by plane or train, make sure the carrier adheres to the travel standards. Here are other things to look for in a carrier:

  • Easy to carry
  • Top and front loading
  • Well ventilated
  • Storage pockets
  • Safety belt straps (for cars)
  • Washable

For the true adventurers, there are carriers that also work as backpacks, rolling bags and car seats. The versatility here can’t be beat, but be aware that these multi-purpose carriers are probably oversized so they won’t be allowed on airplanes or trains.

A word about car trips

The cat in the carrier should always be in the back seat and fastened with a seat belt. If you’re going on a long trip, you’ll want to be sure kitty gets a chance to hydrate. Keep a bottle of water and a small bowl handy that you can use at rest stops.

Overall, keep a mellow vibe in the car. Kitty will thank you for not rolling the windows all the way down or blasting rock music.

A word about plane trips

Always bring your cat in the cabin with you. Know ahead of time that not all airlines allow pets to share your seating area and the ones that do will probably charge an extra fee. Double-check that your carrier is suitable for the plane and have a clean bill of health signed by your vet to show the airline authorities.

Whether on a train, plane or in a car, pack extra paper towel or wipes in case kitty gets travel sick. Keep plastic bags on hand for containing anything that gets soiled.

Equipment

Certainly, there are plenty of items you could buy for your cat. However, the truth is you don’t really need much gear to take good car of your kitty. Here’s what we recommend you have in your home:

  • Food and water bowls
  • Litter box and scoop
  • Scratching post or pad (especially for indoor cats)
  • Interactive toys (catnip mouse, feathered wand, ball)
  • Cat bed or cushion

If you want to splurge on cat furniture (cat condos, cat trees), there are some awesome designs to check out. That said, all that really matters is that you have the basics covered.

The reward

Like any pets, cats require a commitment. All aspects of their care must be considered daily.

At first, it may not seem like it’s worth the tremendous amount of responsibility it takes to keep your cat happy and healthy. But by the time kitty curls up in your lap and purrs herself to sleep, you’ll become a dedicated cat owner and advocate.

The time, money and effort will seem a very small price to pay for such a special and lasting reward.