No matter how brave and independent your cat may seem, they're counting on you to give them a safe and loving environment for the rest of their lives.
This guide gives an overview of the basic questions you’re likely to have as a cat owner, from everyday quirks to more serious health issues. Trying to understand these mysterious creatures can be overwhelming at times but they bring so much joy to the journey that it's well worth the effort.
General Cat Care
The instinct to pick up and cuddle your cat may be hard to resist. While the right amount and kind of petting can be the highlight of your bonding experience, cats don’t like to feel constrained, so be considerate during handling and don't overstay your welcome or touch your cat if they don't seem to be in the mood.
Keep in mind, also, that there's a right and wrong way to hold a cat. With one hand, gently lift up on the chest just below the front legs, while using your other hand to scoop and support your cat’s hind legs and tail. If you hold your cat the wrong way not only will you cause them unnecessary stress you might also receive some nasty scratches
Regular grooming isn't just a matter of vanity for your cat, it’s important for their health – preventing hairballs and stimulating circulation. Grooming also happens to be a great way for you to bond with your cat.
Long-haired cats will require a wide-toothed comb or pick, while kitten fur calls for softer brushes. Check for lumps, skin irregularities, and fleas during each grooming session.
A Cozy Bed
Sleep is certainly near the top of your cat’s list of favourite activities, so cater to this interest and provide several comfy spots for your cat to snooze. It may take some experimentation to discover whether they prefer a soft bed or a simple cardboard surface. Most cats enjoy having a view to keep tabs on the world below, so you can’t go wrong by giving them a setup near a window. If you’re taking in very young kittens, it’s important that they have a heating pad to keep them warm.
As a general rule, provide one litterbox for each cat in your household, plus one extra. That way there will always be a clean litterbox free to use, which will help to prevent accidents and territorial squabbles. If you're litter training a kitten, choose a non-carpeted room such as a kitchen or bathroom. Provide fresh food and water at one end of the room, and a clean litter box at the other.
How to Give Your Cat a Bath
Your cat is unlikely to warm to the idea of getting wet. Your cat benefits from the occasional bath, however, and this is especially important for owners with dander sensitivites. Plan ahead in order to make this a low-stress experience for you and your feline land-lover.
If you know your cat well enough to anticipate a strong resistance to a bath, your vet may be able to provide medication or suggestions specific to your cat to make it easier. Bathing your cat will involve brushing them well to remove mats and debris, applying a shampoo specific to their health condition and age, and making sure their nails are clipped to a safe length, so prepare accordingly. And, of course, prepare for potential scratches by wearing long-sleeved clothing.
Make sure the water is lukewarm before introducing your cat. Handheld nozzles in sinks or baths will make the task at hand much easier, but if you don’t have access to a nozzle, filling your bathtub just 3-5 inches high will also work.
Wet your cat’s fur with calm and confidence. Be brave and you may inspire your cat to think that baths are normal! Gently lather the shampoo, taking care to avoid the eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. Rinse thoroughly with a spray nozzle or washcloth, making sure there are no traces of shampoo for your cat to ingest or be irritated by. Dry with a towel or a hairdryer on low, and give your cat praise and treats to reinforce the good outcome.
Caring for Kittens
Kittens come with a unique set of needs. The difference between raising young kittens and adult cats is comparable to the difference between bringing up human children and human teenagers. Try thinking like a mother cat, providing healthy levels of play and socialization. This is especially important if you're adopting a kitten from an unknown environment.
Cats are creatures of habits, so ask your kitten's care provider what kind of food and feeding schedule they've been on, and stick to that for the initial adjustment period, so long as it's appropriate for their exact age group.
Senior Cat Care
Cats are considered mature to middle-aged from 1-10 years, senior from 11-14 years, and geriatric after 15 years of age. Regular check-ups should be scheduled every six months to catch early signs of disease and to give your cat the longest and healthiest life possible.
Monitor Your Senior Cat’s Health
Cats tend to hide signs of illness. It’s important to be proactive to spot the hidden signs that something isn’t right before your cat is overwhelmed by trying to manage the situation. Your senior cat’s immune system is no longer as resilient as a kitten’s, so it’s up to you to watch for signs of common issues, including deafness, arthritis, vision problems, cognitive disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, and heart disease.
Cat-Proofing Your Home
Cats, whether they are feeling threatened or just explorative, tend to seek out hiding spots. Look around your home for the spots which may be appealing and seal off any that are dangerously small. And whenever closing any open cupboards and drawers, or other potentially enclosed spaces, check for sleeping cats.
An open window less than 6 feet from the floor, or a small hole in a window screen present dangerous opportunities for curious cats to escape. As the weather gets warmer each spring, it causes a surge in the number of injuries from cats who have fallen out of high windows. To prevent these unnecessary injuries, be vigilant about covering every window which you plan to open with a special cat-proof mesh screen. As well, be sure to use a cat carrier to take your cat with you, even on short car trips.
Give Your Cat Proper ID
A ID-tagged collar with your phone number on it is a must-have cat accessory in the event of an escape, especially for ill-prepared indoor cats. Most pet stores offer on-the-spot ID tag engraving. Look for collars with a breakaway quick-release to save your cat from being caught on an object. If you have an outdoor cat, be sure not to use a collar with a bell, as this might help predators track them down.
Some Common Plants to Avoid if you Have Cats:
Lilies, including common varieties such as Tiger Lilies, Stargazer Lilies, and Easter Lilies, pose a risk of kidney failure for cats. Unlike other plants which may have toxic bark or leaves, the whole plant is a no-go for cats so it’s best to keep Lilies out of your home.
Tulips carry the risk of vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and hyper-salivation, especially in the bulb of the flower.
Sago Palms may result in stomach problems, bruising, liver damage, or even liver failure resulting in death.
Azaleas (Rhododendrons) can cause vomiting, central nervous system depression, coma, and even death, if only a few leaves are ingested.
Other Substances Which Are Highly Toxic to Cats
It’s also important to keep all of your medications safely stored out of your cats’ reach. Many human medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, antidepressants, and treatments for ADHD and diabetes can be lethal if ingested by cats. It’s also wise to keep cleaning materials locked away, just as you would in a home with a toddler. Antifreeze and pine-based cleaning fluids containing “phenol” are particularly dangerous to have in your home. Outdoor cats run a greater risk of accidentally ingesting antifreeze because it contains a sweet-smelling material called ethylene glycol, so be wary about this possibility.
See the Animal Poison Control Center’s website for a full list of toxins and an emergency phone number.
Invest in Your Cat’s Health
Regular Vet Appointments
Vet visits can be traumatic for some cats, so finding a good doctor is important. Get recommendations from friends or shelters and try out various vets until you find one that's a good fit. Make sure all pets in your home are up to date on their shots before bringing a new cat home.
Signs that you need to take your cat to the vet right away include unusually grouchy or lethargic behaviour, diarrhea, frequent vomiting, and repeated accidents outside the litterbox.
High protein, low carb is the way to go for a healthy cat diet. Cheaper brands tend to be high in carbohydrates and low in nutrients, which can lead to obesity - a dangerous long-term problem for cats.
It’s equally important to provide plenty of fresh water in order to discourage urinary tract diseases which are common in felines. Many cats have a lactose intolerance, so a bowl of plain water is a wiser choice than the saucer of milk we associate with kittens.
It’s fun to offer variety with the occasional DIY cat treat or store-bought snack, but 90-95% of your cat’s diet should be high-quality, brand name cat food. Commercial cat foods are balanced with the right mix of nutrients for your cat’s age.
Budgeting for Illness
Basic food, treats, litter, and vet visits alone will cost about $1,000 per year. Be prepared to spend more than that with each visit to the vet your cat requires. Routine checkups are between $50 and $100, with any tests which are more involved running up to $300.
Have Your Cat Spayed or Neutered
Amazingly, up to 98% of the 30-40 million stray cats in the U.S. are not spayed or neutered, which is the main cause of the continued feral cat population. Roughly 10% of U.S. housecats are not spayed or neutered. The benefits of this procedure exceed its reproductive restrictions. It’s an effective cure for behavioural problems such as urine spraying, and protects against ovarian and testicular cancer, uterine cancer, and mammary glad tumours.
Cats are at risk for many of the same dental problems that plague humans, and should have their teeth checked by a vet at least once a year, or every 3-6 months in the case of monitoring an ongoing dental issue. Mild halitosis and occasional gum bleeding are normal, but a combination of bad breath, bleeding gums, and drooling is definite cause for a deep cleaning and checkup at the vet.
You can brush your cat’s teeth with specially formulated toothpaste - never with toothpaste designed for humans. Healthy cat gums should look pink. Red or irritated gums can signal early tooth decay. Gently massage your cat’s gums to strengthen them and speed healing. Your cat doesn’t have access to the bones and grass they would use to keep his teeth clean in the wild, so monitor their dental health carefully and provide a varied combination of wet and dry foods.
Gingivitis shows up as inflamed gums, and is very common in its mild form for cats. You may notice it especially when your cat gets his permanent teeth at around five months of age. Moderate gingivitis can usually be reversed, but plaque buildup in “gingival pockets” between the teeth and gums is more serious. As the condition becomes more severe, your cat may have difficulty eating, bleeding from the mouth, and excessive drooling. Don’t wait for these signs to appear before scheduling a checkup, as tooth decay and gum disease can lead to heart and kidney disease.
Hopefully you are in the midst of a long and rewarding relationship with your favourite new little buddy. Are there any questions you’re still curious about? Let us know.