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How to Care for Your New Cat or Kitten

Updated on April 25, 2018
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The Vet

As part of your cat care routine, yearly vet visits are a must. Not only do they screen for tell-tale signs of abnormalities, but rabies vaccines are usually required by law. Getting your cats spayed/neutered is also a must for any responsible cat owner (millions of cats without homes are euthanized each year). Be aware that cats will require a teeth cleaning at least once or twice during their lives. You can also consult with the vet regarding behavioral issues, food, grooming, or anything else. When searching for a quality vet, check out online reviews and consider qualifications like Feline-Board Certified vets. Going to a cat-only clinic is ideal.

Sadly, many vets do a lot of unnecessary work to try to get extra money from their clients. After a kitten goes through the initial cycle of vaccinations that kittens need (usually the first couple of visits), they should then only need rabies vaccines unless they are outdoor cats or going to be boarded. If they are not going to come into contact with other cats, then they typically don’t need things like respiratory vaccines every year. In general, it’s good to stay away from yearly flea treatments/medications if the cat stays indoors since there is no need to give them to cats unless they have fleas. This will save you money and keep your cat away from unnecessary poisons.

Get Your Cats Spayed or Neutered

Declawing

Declawing can be a very touchy subject. Any responsible vet will not encourage declawing as the procedure involves literally cutting off the ends of the toes, not merely removing claws. Furthermore, many cats experience complications with their feet and toes during their lives as a result of declawing, and many others might actually develop behavioral problems as a result of not being able to use their feet the same way. It can severely limit a cat's defense capability, so no outdoor cat should ever be declawed. If you feel as if you must own a declawed cat, please consider adopting a cat that has already been declawed. For a good documentary on the subject, check out The Paw Project.

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Litter

Litter boxes come in a variety of forms, from the self-scooping, to the covered, to the large or small. Many cat owners choose covered boxes so that they don't have to look at the "kitty leavings" within and the smell is contained. Cats prefer open boxes so that they can move in and out easily, easily cover up their waste, and not be trapped within a smelly container. There is also the matter of cleaning the inside of the cover, which can become soiled as the cat tries to maneuver inside. Laundry rooms, bathrooms, closets, and corners are good locations for keeping the box more private. Ideally, you want to select a box that isn't too small where the cat can comfortably maneuver, and get at least one box per cat (although the standard recommendation is one more box than you have cats, so you'd get 3 boxes for 2 cats). Cats don't like dirty litter, so scooping it once per day is also ideal. They also prefer unscented litters, and stick with scoopable litter so that you can clean it daily. A depth of about three inches is recommended.

Most people opt for clay litter, which tends to be the cheapest, but it's possible that breathing in all of that clay dust can be harmful to the cats. Kittens have a tendency to want to eat clay litter as well, which can be very harmful. There are several non-clay options out there, such as World's Best Cat Litter (Clumping Formula, Unscented), which is composed of all-natural corn. It has the same texture as clay, but it produces less dust and has better odor control. It's also flushable if you prefer to try that over disposing the cat waste in bags. If you are scooping the waste into bags, but want to control the smell better, odor-controlling dog waste bags can work well. If you are using scoopable litter, you will still want to change the whole thing about once per month and clean the box before pouring in fresh litter.


*Note that bacteria from litter boxes can cause seriously harm developing fetuses, so pregnant women need to be extra cautious around litter boxes.

Food and Water

Clean water should be provided daily in safe, non-toxic water bowls. Stainless steel is a good choice, and provide them with filtered water if you use a filter at home. Some of the more elaborate water bowls and fountains also come with filters. Cats typically don't drink enough water every day, so water fountains can be a creative way to make it more fun and appealing for them. Many cats take to drinking out of your own water classes if left out. While this usually isn't harmful to humans if the cat is an indoor cat, you can take advantage of this hydrating habit by providing the cat with his or her own drinking class while keeping yours out of reach.

A diet that includes a lot of wet food is usually recommended since it helps get more liquid into the cat and is usually closer to the cat's natural diet. Dry food is cheaper and helps to keep the teeth cleaner, but it's very high in carbohydrates (think cereal for cats), so a mix of both wet and dry food works well. Some cat breeds can't process gluten as well, which isn't part of the cat's natural diet anyway, so opt for gluten-free or grain-free. Blue Buffalo is pricey, but a good choice because their dry food has more protein. Cats can be pretty picky when it comes to their food choices, especially if trying to go from all-dry food to wet food, or visa versa. You can try to get them to eat the new type of food by providing only that and hoping that the cat will give in, but it might also be a matter of taste. Nutro Natural Choice wet food is usually a popular, healthier choice for picky cats, and note that many cats will only eat wet food that is soft without any chunks, flakes, or slices.


*Note that cows milk isn't good for cats; for treats, stick with cat treats and only give in moderation.

Grooming

Grooming your cats involves mainly brushing and claw clipping, although some bathing may also be necessary. Most cats naturally keep themselves clean, but certain hairless breeds, like the Sphinx, need weekly bathing because there is no hair to soak up their skin oils. If you need to bath any cat, one trick is to make sure the water is turned off (and lukewarm) before putting the cat in as running water can be very startling. Have a container of clean water ready for rinsing, and be careful not to get soap in the eyes. A gentle cat or baby shampoo is ideal. Keeping the bathroom door shut (if you are using the tub) and having a towel spread and ready are also handy.

Brushing can be a very pleasant experience for your cat, although you may need to get him or her used to it at first. Start with short, gentle strokes on the back and head and proceed according to your cat's comfort level. A good brushing every week helps to remove loose fur, especially during the spring shedding season. Long-haired cats need to be brushed multiple times per week in order to avoid matting. A lot of cats enjoy human brushes, but something like the purple rubber one pictured grabs hair quite well and the cats enjoy the massage. Long-haired cats might need a stronger brush or even a flea comb in order to keep mats away. If your cat has a mat, you can try to separate it with your fingers and a comb, working your way in from the outer edges of the mat first. If it's too strong, you may need to cut it out (or have your vet remove it). If you cut out the mat yourself, always work a comb under the mat first. It's very important to have the comb in between the cat's skin and where you cut as it's easy to cut the cat's fragile skin by accident.

If your cats can tolerate a claw-clipping, be sure that you only clip the sharp tips and don't hit the quick, or pink nerve within the center of the claw (which you can usually see). Gently squeeze the toe to get the claw to emerge. If you find it impossible to clip your cat's claws and scratching posts aren't enough to keep them away from furniture, consider double-stick anti-scratch tape available at many pet stores to help protect the sides of furniture. You can also have your vet clip your cat's claws. One trick is to wait until your cat is asleep, and then clip a little at a time before he or she realizes what's going on. If you get your cat as a kitten, this is something good to start early to get them used to it. It's always good to reward them with treats afterwards.

Persian's need a lot of grooming, and even the hairless Sphinx looking on needs a bath every week to clean the oil from its skin.
Persian's need a lot of grooming, and even the hairless Sphinx looking on needs a bath every week to clean the oil from its skin. | Source

Bedding and Furniture

While most cats will make any piece of furniture in your home their own, it is still good to get them things that are exclusively for cats so that they have their own space and more options, especially if you are trying to lure them away from using yours. Cat beds, cat trees, and the like are good places to start. Simple boxes, of course, can also provide a lot of satisfaction and entertainment for cats. Tip: if your cat has a favorite spot on your own furniture, protect it with a washable towel or cat blanket to keep from getting too much fur embedded into the furniture fabric.

Cat beds come in a range of styles and quality. A cat will typically prefer something that isn't lumpy or too squishy. Make sure it is large enough to accommodate your cat, and consider a round design that allows the cat to curl up inside. It's also good to get one that you can throw into the washer on the delicate setting.

Cat trees and other types of furniture allow the cats to either lounge around or play on, and if you are worried about your cat’s claws on your own furniture, this gives them a good option to, well, be themselves. They can come in a range of prices, from about $30 to $100 or more. Most have built-in scratching posts. Scratching posts are very important for cats as they use them to keep their claws groomed and to mark their territory. Place scratching posts near furniture to give them a more attractive option for scratching than your favorite sofa. Ideally, you want one that is tall enough for the cat to reach up and scratch effectively, has sturdy construction, and will not tip over.

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Behavior and Training

There is a wealth of information out there on this topic, but in general, it's a good idea to consult with your vet or a cat behaviorist if your cat exhibits troubling behavior. Much of the time, though, the behavior is caused by a simple lack of activity. Be sure to provide toys--bored cats often get into trouble (See “Play and Toys” below for more on this). Like dogs, cats need quality play time, so a daily play session is ideal. Some breeds that are extra energetic or closer to their wild cousins benefit from walks on a harness. Make sure your cat has comfortable access to windows, and cat trees with scratching posts help as well. The scratching posts give them something other than your furniture to sharpen their claws on. If furniture scratching is a problem, you can find double-stick furniture tape in pet stores that deters cats from scratching the corners of your furniture. If you are feeling adventurous, wall mounts for cats are also an option to give them more surface space and places to explore. It is also good to make sure you cat isn't suffering from an underlying health condition, which can also effect behavior (as will getting them spayed and neutered).


There is a great show on Animal Planet called My Cat From Hell that is highly recommend for this topic.

Popular Cat Toys

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Play and Toys

Play is very important for cats to keep them both exercised and entertained. Their natural prey drive is expressed through play, so it's important to provide them with toys and entertainment in order to fulfill this need. Kittens, especially, need toys and quality play time, while older cats might not be as active. Your cat's individual taste will determine whether he or she is captivated by a particular toy or play object, but below are a few suggestions that seem to be favorites. Tip: cat's can get bored with the same old toys, so one trick is to rotate the toys every once in a while to make the old ones seem like new again. Here are a few favorites:

  • Balls to bat around, like fuzzy balls, plastic balls that make noise, or wicker balls.
  • Furry mice that feel like they have real fur.
  • Other plush mouse toys with catnip might also be appealing.
  • Plastic springs, like the ones below from Amazon, tend to be huge hits.
  • Rope-like chew toys like these are big hits. Petstages is one brand who makes them, and stores like Petsmart and online retailers like Amazon usually carry them.
  • Wand/fishing toys with feather or other attachments are good for interacting with your cat during playtime and helping to use up their extra energy.
  • Fun tunnels like the one featured below are great. This one is particularly awesome because it's lined with soft sherpa (it's the collapsible sherpa lined cat tunnel from Amazon).
  • Track toys can be a lot of fun, and some allow you to reconfigure the track.
  • Any kind of automated toys that move by themselves are usually hits, such as wands, mice, and the ever-popular laser pointer or flashlight, which of course doesn't move by itself, but it's easy on the owner's energy. :)

Home-made toys can also be a convenient option, such as bottle-caps, boxes, and paper bags. Just make sure it's not something your cat will eat or can choke on, or supervise if you aren't sure. For bags, make sure that they are paper, not plastic, and open enough so that there's no danger of suffocation or getting stuck.

Fun Tunnel

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Traveling with Cats

Cats should be introduced to cat carriers and riding in the car as soon as possible. While some cats can get used to a leash or harness, most vets require the use of carriers in their offices. Basic options include a hard carrier or soft, various sizes, seat-belt clips, and front-only or front and top access. Most recommend going with a hard carrier (preferably one with a seat-belt clip) as it offers a little more protection, and look for one with enough room for the cat to turn around comfortably and stand up. You will usually find most in the dog kennel section of the pet store. Top access carriers can make it a little easier to take cats in and out, particularly if they are on the skittish side. All carriers should be lined with a comfortable folded blanket or towel.

Most cats fight to stay out of the cat carrier, but one trick to make things easier is to put the cat into a small room so that he or she can't hide (like the bathroom), and then get the carrier out. Bring the carrier into the room and shut the door so that, if it takes multiple attempts to get the cat into the carrier, you don't have to go digging him or her out from under the bed each time. If a cat is particularly resistant, consider getting an extra large carrier as the larger door makes it easier to get the cat inside. A second trick is to take them on short car rides once in a while that don't end in a vet visit, but a treat. Then they won't immediately associate the carrier with the vet. But don't ever leave a cat in a hot car, and don't sedate them as they can't regulate their body temperature with their breathing while sedated, so it's very dangerous.

Cat Carrier with Seat-belt Clip

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 weeks ago from USA

      This is very thorough, and I love that you emphasized spay and neuter so heavily. I have spayed and neutered hundreds of poor people's cats and strays/ferals because it's a community issue rather than an individual one. I also like that you gave the seatbelt tip for the cat carrier. I try to spray Feliway to calm them down a bit.

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