Tips for new cat owners

12 Great Tips For New Cat Owners

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At a glance

  1. Prepare for the cat’s arrival ahead of time
  2. Check council regulations
  3. Identification
  4. Provide a place to scratch
  5. Feed a good-quality diet
  6. Know your cat
  7. Parasites
  8. Prepare for unexpected veterinary bills
  9. Litter tray maintenance
  10. Spay or neuter your cat
  11. Cats and medications
  12. Human food

Related: Buying a purebred cat

Bringing a new cat into the home is an exciting time, we take a look at tips which will help you and your cat live a happy and healthy life together.

Prepare for the cat’s arrival

Cat beds in a pet shop

Bringing a new cat into the home takes planning so that by the time the kitten or cat arrives, the house is already set up and everything is there for the cat.

Cat essentials include food and water bowls (ceramic or stainless steel are best), a cat bed, cat carrier, litter tray and scoop, cat litter, toys, grooming equipment, parasite treatments (fleas and worms).

The new arrival should be set up in a room for the first few days until he or she has settled in. Place the cat’s bed, food and water bowls, a litter tray and some toys in the room.

Check council regulations

Council regulations

Every council has its own rules in regards to pet ownership, and the onus is on you to make sure you know what those rules are, and you comply with them. Failing to do so can lead to heavy penalties and possibly having the council surrender the cat.

Councils may have rules in regards to registering the cat, microchipping, desexing, the number of cats you can have and cat curfews.

Identification

Microchipping a cat
The microchip is injected under the skin between the shoulder blades

Every cat should have at least one type of identification so if he or she is found by a member of the public, the council or handed into a veterinarian; they can be quickly reunited with you.

Microchipping is the only permanent form of identification which involves the placement of a small microchip under the skin on the back of the neck. Veterinarians, rescue organisations and councils can all scan a cat to check for a microchip. Most cats are microchipped at the same time they are desexed.

If the cat is allowed outside, a collar and identification tag are also recommended. This is a back up to the microchip but has the benefit that anybody can read the details on the ID tag.

Provide a place to scratch

Cat tree

Cats need to scratch to remove the loose outer layer of the claws as well as stretch the shoulders, back and front limbs. If they are not provided with a suitable scratching post, they will make do with anything, which can include carpet and furniture.

As a rule, the scratching post should be a minimum of 1.5 times the height of the cat, the larger, the better. In my experience, you get what you pay for, there are a lot of cheap cat trees on the market, but they don’t always last as long as more expensive ones.

Feed a good-quality diet

Kitten eating

All commercial cat food must meet minimum standards as outlined by The Association of American Feed Control Officials, but that doesn’t make it healthy. Cheap brands of cat food contain unnecessary fillers and poor-quality cuts of meat. This means more food is required to meet the cat’s nutritional needs.

How often do cats eat?

Kittens eat 4-5 times a day but can be slowly switched to twice a day for adult cats. Water should be left out at all times.

Parasites

All cats, even those who are strictly indoors will need to be treated for fleas and intestinal worms (tapeworm, roundworm, heartworm and hookworm). Tick control is essential for cats who live in affected areas. The paralysis tick which can be found all along the east coast of Australia is of particular importance.

The frequency of treatment depends on the treatment, which can vary from 4-12 weeks. Topical treatments are easy and effective in the treatment of fleas and some intestinal worms as no pilling is required. Veterinary approved treatments are safer and more effective than supermarket brands.

Know your cat

Know your cat

We should all know what is normal and what is not normal for our cats so that we can identify subtle changes which may mean the cat is unwell. Look for common behaviours, for example, winding around your legs when you make breakfast, greeting you at the door when you come home from work, or following you around the house until you fill the food bowl. Are there any changes in litter box habits, is the cat eating or drinking more or less than normal?

My cat Monty screams at me from the second I get up to feed him, he is relentless. Hobo, my cattle dog goes beserk when I put my shoes on because he knows he is going to go out for a walk or a run. If either Monty or Hobo didn’t show their eagerness to eat or go out, I would be on high alert, because it would be so out of character for both of them.

Check the cat once a month, look at the teeth, gums, eyes, ears and feel for lumps and bumps. Weigh the cat and keep a record. It is easy to miss weight loss or gain when you see the cat every day. One veterinary oncologist even missed sudden weight loss in her cat until her mother in law commented on it.

If you do notice any changes, speak to your veterinarian.

Prepare for unexpected veterinary bills

Prepare for unexpected veterinary bills

Pet ownership comes with the responsibility of seeking medical care for a cat who is injured or unwell. Even healthy cats should have an annual veterinary health check. Early intervention can not only save the life of a cat, but it can also cost less than a wait and see approach. Unexpected vet bills can be a shock. Our cat recently sustained an injury to his tail, which cost us an unexpected $1,000 bill.

For pet owners who may have difficulty finding hundreds or thousands of dollars at short notice, pet insurance can literally be a life-saver. Check the terms and conditions of the policy carefully to make sure you know what you are getting. Your cat’s veterinarian may be able to recommend a pet insurance company.

Litter trays

Cat litter trays

Cats are clean and don’t like to use dirty litter trays and can look for alternate places to go to the toilet. There should be one tray per cat and one for the house. Remove solids from litter trays twice a day and  empty and replace with fresh cat litter once a week.

The size, type and location of the litter tray are all important. As a rule, the litter tray should be large enough for the cat to be able to turn around in. Start with a small tray for kittens, and move to a larger one as the kitten grows. Older cats with arthritis will benefit from a tray which has low sides.

Avoid cat litter which is scented as strong smells can be overwhelming to the cat.

Desexing

Spaying and neutering a cat

Kittens should have been desexed by the time they are six months old. Not only does it prevent unwanted kittens, but it also reduces or eliminates the risks of cancer, pyometra and bite-wound abscess as well as spraying.

Most animal shelters and registered breeders desex the cat before he or she goes to their new home, the benefits of this are that you don’t have to organise it yourself, and in many cases, it is at a reduced rate.

A female cat can come into estrus (heat) as young as three months of age, at which point, she can become pregnant even if her body is not physically mature enough to carry a pregnancy to term. Signs of estrus include loud calling, rolling on the ground, raising the tail when touched on the back and assuming a mating position and doing everything in her power to escape.

Cats and medications

Cats and human medications

The cat’s liver only produces a minute amount of UDP-glucuronosyltransferase 1-6 (UGT1A6), an enzyme which detoxifies plant-based toxins (phytoalexins) by a process called glucuronidation.  This makes many over the counter and prescription medications toxic to cats. Common toxicities include antidepressants, over-the-counter painkillers (ibuprofen, paracetamol).

Ingestion of human medications can occur deliberately, such as a well-meaning pet owner who tries to self-medicate, or if the cat manages to access medications. Cats are more discriminating than dogs, but they can still get into trouble and eat things that they shouldn’t. Store all medications in a cat-proof container out of reach of cats.

Only ever administer medications that have been prescribed for a particular cat. Even if the mediation is for another cat, it can still be dangerous due to drug interactions, underlying medical conditions and even an incorrect dosage. Always speak to a veterinarian before administering medications or supplements.

Flea treatments for dogs contain pyrethrin which is toxic to cats, only ever use a veterinary-approved flea treatment for cats. If a cat is exposed to a dog flea treatment, rinse it off with dishwashing liquid and water twice, and take the cat to a veterinarian.

Human food

Cats should eat a well-balanced species-appropriate diet, but from time to time, we might be tempted to share some of our food with them. The occasional treat is fine, but there are some foods which are not safe for cats to eat.

Dangerous:

  • Members of the allium family (onions, garlic, chives)
  • Cooked bones
  • Chocolate
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Xylitol
  • Fat trimmings
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

Okay in moderation

  • Tuna
  • Liver

Safe

Moderation is the key, treats should make up no more than 10% of a cat’s diet, but they can be helpful to encourage a sick cat to eat, hide pills in or during training.

  • Cooked chicken
  • Cheese (cheddar)
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Meat
  • Cooked eggs
  • Cooked fruit and vegetables (corn, carrot, broccoli, zucchini, beans, rice, pumpkin, berries, pear, apple, melon, bananas, avocado)
  • Rice
  • Baby food (which doesn’t contain onion or garlic)