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How to Keep Your Cat Happy and Healthy

Updated on August 22, 2012
Cats like to make dramatic entrances.
Cats like to make dramatic entrances. | Source

Cats make excellent pets for the right people. I've heard countless horror stories about terrible creatures that people gladly drop off at the pound or set free in the woods. For some reason, there is a weird stigma in America regarding cat ownership. With a little patience and tenderness, cats can become extremely friendly and loving.

When you don't have time in your life or house for a dog, a cat can be a very loyal, loving, and patient companion. I recommend them for apartment-dwellers and also people with who could benefit from a little extra love in their life.

Planning a road trip with your cat? Learn from my mistakes!

Tip: Diet and Bad Breath

Make sure you offer at least some dry food and water at all times. Cats are particular about their eating habits and tend to graze instead of indulge in a full meal.

Wet food is hydrating, but the crunch of dry food allows cats the chance to clean their teeth. If their breath starts to smell, take away the wet food. If the problem continues, go to a vet.

Feed them.

Make sure you are feeding your cat a reasonable amount per day. The cans of wet food and bags of dry food will provide serving suggestions, but keep an eye out. If your cat seems to have trouble digesting the food or they have especially foul breath, you need to make alterations.

My cat likes to have plenty of water, one can of wet food, and a small bowl of dry food per day. Although he is picky about the wet food, I feed him high quality dry food and clean water. This doesn’t cost me much as I don’t mind looking around for a good bargain, and I like to mix varieties of dry food to make it go further.

Treats are not healthy ways of showing your love. You may enjoy sharing treats with your cat, but be particular about the quality and frequency. Many cat treats are chock full of preservatives and chemicals that may or may not be carcinogenic. A good alternative for food rewards are affection or play.

Avoid feeding them table scraps. They aren’t balanced and they shouldn’t eat your food unless recommended by a vet. (The occasional piece isn’t a big deal, but don’t make it a regular thing.)

The Right Way to Trim Your Cat's Claws

Groom them.

Keep your cat clean. If you train your cat to let people touch its paws, you can trim their claws with little effort. It takes me about 30 seconds to trim Henry’s claws and there is no trauma involved. This will also help your furniture and bedding!

Wipe them down. Cats do a great job of grooming, but I like to help Henry out by taking a damp washcloth and wiping him down gently once every two weeks or so (or after he rolls in dirt). He loves the attention as the washcloth is similar to a mother cat’s tongue and we bond during this time, too.

NOTE: Be sure to keep water out of their ears; cats are very sensitive and water can cause damage.

Henry enjoys belly rubs after I trim his nails.
Henry enjoys belly rubs after I trim his nails. | Source

Keep their box clean.

There are many litters to choose from, but I think it is best to go natural. I’ve been a fan of compressed pine sawdust pieces as it is all natural and a way of reusing the products of industry. We have used clumping, non-clumping, fragrance free, and scent blocking clay-based litters. They do work and the scented ones can be quite a nice change of pace, but I never liked to think about how many chemicals Henry was licking off of his paws.

Now, I’ve gone back to pine litter and I clean it regularly. The pine absorbs the moisture and neutralizes the odor without exposing my cat to potentially dangerous toxins. Plus, it is often inexpensive and easy to buy in bulk.

Learn your vet's name.

Don’t put off basic healthcare for your pet unless you really cannot do so. Many clinics at humane societies or shelters offer discounts or sliding scales to people in economic distress. ALWAYS get your pet spayed or neutered and keep them regular on their shots.

L-lysine has been a staple in my cupboard for any flare-ups of Henry’s eye herpes (that sounds gross, but herpes is a respiratory thing in cats). I add a very small amount as indicated by a vet anytime his eye waters or he starts to sneeze too often, and we have yet to have a single outbreak or issue after his initial reaction to moving in. Always keep medications around to keep any of their conditions in check and don’t let things progress. Take in your pet when they show symptoms and stay on top of preventive care.

Cat-proof your house.

Cats are small and wriggly. They want to hide and run and fit into small spaces. They are extremely curious and WILL get into any trouble they can find (and they’ll find it). Learn to think like your cat so you can keep them from danger.

Toxic plants: There are many plants that are toxic to cats. Unfortunately, my cat thinks all plants are up for a good chew. To prevent any issues, I keep any and all toxic plants out of the house. It is isn’t very hard since my green thumb is a little shriveled and dry. Instead, I grow oat grass for Henry to indulge in his love of nomming without taking a risk on his health.

Strings and thread: These are some of the biggest dangers to your pet. They can become impacted in your cat’s stomach and it can become a very serious, sometimes fatal issue.

To prevent this, keep an eye out for frayed fabrics, loose dental floss, any spools of thread, or other stringy materials. You do not have to stop any hobbies that leave string and yarn around (I cross-stitch and my roommate knits and sews); just clean up while you are working so you don’t leave any around to satisfy your cat’s inevitable curiosity.

Toxic foods: Also, there are quite a few foods that are toxic to cats (just like chocolate to dogs) and you’ll want to make sure you keep those items out of feline reach.

Adorable Cats Playing Pattycake

Tip: Get a cardboard scratch box!

There are several varieties of scratching posts available for cats, but our favorite has been a simple cardboard scratch box.

Big Lots sells them for $3 -4 and I put them inside a hard plastic frame from Target. Henry used to break the box containing the cardboard first and then he’d shred the rest in an afternoon. The hard plastic frame is a lifesaver and we use the same scratch box for months and months instead of a day or two.

The boxes help him groom his claws and they take out a lot of the scratching we’d see elsewhere. It is a good outlet for their energy!

Remember to play with them!

Cats love to exercise their curiosity through play and it is a great time for you to bond with your pet. Even if a big, fat, fluffy cat looks cute, it is not. Never let your cat get overweight and if you did nothing to cause any obesity, take your cat to the vet. It may have other medical issues that need to be addressed.

So what if a cat is an extra pound or two? An extra pound on a frame meant for 10 pounds is like adding 10 lbs on a 100 lb person or 20 lb on a 200 lb individual. That’s a lot of body weight according to the percentage.

By providing opportunities to play, your cat will feel less stressed, sleep better, lose weight, be happier, feel closer to you, and stop scratching the couch for at least a few minutes.

Did you know cats blink to show their love?

When a cat closes their eyes around you, it is their way of saying they feel safe enough around you to let you out of their sight. They know this language. If you blink softly and the cat doesn't blink back, it is a good sign of agitation or anger.

Develop a pattern of affectionate blinks with your cat. They will begin to blink more, which gives them another way of expressing their feelings, which makes them happier. *Blink, blink*

The fluffy backside of Henry atop his scratch box within a flower box so as to maximize the experience.
The fluffy backside of Henry atop his scratch box within a flower box so as to maximize the experience. | Source
Henry has many comfortable sleeping locations, one of which is my freshly made bed.
Henry has many comfortable sleeping locations, one of which is my freshly made bed. | Source

Provide a comfortable bed.

Cats are solitary hunters, even if mine kind of likes living in my modern day pack with 3 humans, 3 dogs, and 1 lonely cat.

Henry spends much of the day by himself and I enjoy that. He is happy to do his own thing, which allows me to dedicate my time to work.

He loves windows, so I purchased a window seat to which I've added the softest, comfiest blanket I own. That’s his place and he enjoys laying there.

I highly recommend giving your cat their own place, especially if they’re tolerating the presence of children or other animals. They’ll appreciate the respect and comfort, plus they’ll get out of your hair to catch the best sunbeam or two!

Although your cat may sometimes wag his tail like a dog, cats are very different from dogs. Do not expect them to play fetch or want to rough-house.
Although your cat may sometimes wag his tail like a dog, cats are very different from dogs. Do not expect them to play fetch or want to rough-house. | Source

Read before you run out to adopt a cat right now.

Cats are wonderful pets and can enrich your life in countless ways. Each cat is different, but many like a little distance from strangers. They will warm up when they see you are reliable and trustworthy.

Never discipline them with physical punishment; they will not understand and will learn to view human touch as a source of harm. Be gentle and patient. Show the cat you are a safe haven.

If you are unable to provide the time, energy, or money to care for a cat, please do not adopt one. If your home is not a forever home, your pet has no secure, safe future. It can be hard to put off the desire to adopt, but wait until you can make the decision responsibly and confidently.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a veterinarian and I do not claim to be an expert on animal health. I have two years of experience as a cat owner and have researched online and through word of mouth about the best ways to care for my pet. This article is a place where I have compiled some of the most obvious and helpful tips I've found and I hope it is useful.

If there is an emergency or you pet needs medical attention, please get off the computer and take them to an emergency room immediately.

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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Please give Henry a hug for me, he's so sweet. I agree with you advice on not feeding them treats. They are not as healthy as you would think. Also, wiping them down is good habit to start. I didn't realize how helpful it is to the cat. Voted up, up!

    • rmcleve profile image
      Author

      Rachael Cleveland 5 years ago from Woodbridge, VA

      Thanks, teaches12345! Henry benefits from a good wipe down, especially after he rolls in the dirt during his outside leash-time.

      Note: I've updated this hub with information about why cats blink and how to get them to do so!

    • Richawriter profile image

      Richard J ONeill 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Awesome and voted up!

      Oh, what a lovely hub and I especially love Henry! He reminds me so much of my ginger tom cat, 'Ginger', haha what an imaginative name huh!

      Ginger is gone now but he brought so much joy to my family and he helped us bring up Olly, Oscar and Bobby 3 new additions to the family. He taught them well and was such a wise and intelligent cat.

      I cried when we lost him. Cats are wonderful creatures.

      The blinking is a very interesting way of showing attention and I didn't really know of it. Although, now that you mention it, I remember many a time when my cats would be sitting on my knees looking at me and blinking softly. Also the pawing, so cute!

      Take care rmcleve. :)

    • rmcleve profile image
      Author

      Rachael Cleveland 5 years ago from Woodbridge, VA

      Rich, I loved hearing about Ginger, Olly, Oscar, and Bobby! The hardest part of taking care of an animal is losing them and I know quite a few older people who just won't adopt anymore. Cats do tend to live quite a long time, and can make great companions. I'm glad you've had so many great experiences with 'em! And they showed you their blinking love without you even know what it was! That means you took good care of them.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. Take care!

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