Complete Guide to Caring for Cats

Choosing a cat

Choosing a cat

Factors to consider include purebred or mixed breed, male or female, quiet or talkative, affectionate vs independent, kitten or adult. All of these are important to decide ahead of time. Some cats are quite happy to be alone and snooze while their human family is at work, other cats need more companionship and interaction and do not do well if left for extended periods. In which case, two cats are recommended so they are not alone for hours.

Purebred cats should always be purchased from a registered cat breeder and mixed breed from animal shelters. Free to good home cats usually have no history, and cost more in the long run as you will have to pay for desexing, microchipping and vaccinations. These are almost always provided in the fee when you choose a cat from a registered breeder or animal shelter.

Supplies

Cat supplies

Before your new kitten or cat arrives, pet owners must prepare and purchase essential and non-essential supplies.

  • Food and water bowls – Stainless steel or ceramic are recommended
  • Premium cat food – Start with the food that the kitten or cat is already on, and if you choose to change, do so gradually over a week
  • Cat litter tray, scoop and litter – Ideally the litter will be the same as the kitten or cat is used to
  • Cat bed – Several beds are even better, placed in different locations around the house
  • Cat carrier – For trips to the vet
  • Claw clippers – Human nail clippers can also be used, as long as they are sharp
  • Cat toys – Look for a selection of different kinds of toys such as mice, wands, laser pointers and interactive games and even boxes (cats LOVE boxes)
  • Cat tree or scratching post – Cats like high up spots, the taller the cat tree the better
  • First aid kit – Always ensure the first aid kit contains products (medicines and antiseptics) which are safe for cats
  • Cat collar and ID tag

Cat care basics

Cat care basics

Cats are relatively easy to care for compared to dogs; they don’t need to be walked once or twice a day and they are self-cleaning (ie; they mostly take care of their grooming/cleaning needs). But every cat still needs their human family to invest time to meet the cat’s physical and emotional needs.

Food and water:

  • Adult cats should be fed twice a day, morning and night. Many cat owners free-feed dry food, so the cat can eat whenever he or she pleases, but this is not recommended for cats who are prone to obesity. Fresh water must be available at all times. It is important to wash food and water bowls once a day in warm, soapy water and rinse well. This will prevent the development of a sticky biofilm on the water bowl and dried up food stinking up food bowls.

Exercise and play:

  • Although cats don’t need to be walked (but many pet owners do train their cat to walk on a harness), exercise is still important to keep. Play therapy benefits the cat both mentally and physically and pet parents should try to schedule time once or twice a day.
  • Interactive toys are great for when you are not home and keep your cat occupied. Don’t leave all toys out, instead rotate them so the cat doesn’t get bored.

Grooming:

  • Longhaired cats should be groomed once a day to prevent mats forming and shorthaired cats can benefit from a groom once a week to remove loose hairs although it isn’t absolutely necessary. Most cats don’t need a bath unless they have come into contact with a contaminant which needs to be washed off.
  • Trim the front claws of indoor cats every 4-6 weeks. This should be started during kittenhood so the cat accepts having his or her paws handled.

Litter trays

Litter trays

As a rule, a home with cats should have one tray per cat and one extra. Two trays for one cat, three trays for two cats etc. Some cats will do fine with less, but many are extremely fussy and if they are not happy with the litter box set up, may find another place to toilet.

Types of litter trays:

Litter trays can be covered, non-covered with a lip, which reduces the amount of tracking, or non-covered, which is the most basic. Choose a small, low-sided tray for kittens, as a full-sized tray may be too hard for a young cat to climb into.

Location:

Don’t place litter trays close to food or water bowls, aim for privacy, but the cat should always feel like he or she has an escape route (particularly in multi-cat households). Avoid high-traffic areas. As a rule, if you live in a multi-story home, have at least one litter tray per level.

Maintenance:

Solids should be removed twice a day, and once a week remove all litter, clean the tray with a 10% bleach/water solution, rinse thoroughly and replace with fresh cat litter. Always wear rubber gloves when handling cat litter.

There are many choices for cat litter compared to thirty years ago when it was clay only. Clay is still a popular option, and there is clumping clay which as the name suggests, forms clumps when wet, making removal of urine easier. Eco-friendly litters use a variety of by-products from other industries, options include tofu, wood shavings, recycled paper, rice, corn and wheat. Once solids are removed, eco-friendly litters can be used in ornamental garden beds, but not ones where food is grown.

Parasites:

Common cat parasites include fleas, ticks, roundworm, tapeworm and hookworm. Even indoor cats are at risk, as parasites can be brought in on clothing, footwear or via secondary hosts such as fleas or mosquitoes.

  • The frequency will depend on the type of treatment you choose. Most topical products and tablets are monthly.
  • Veterinary approved parasites are the most effective and the safest. Not all supermarket or pet shop brand products are as safe. If you do decide to shop online, look for well-established and reputable veterinary-approved (some vets sell parasite treatments online) sources as there are a lot of fake products on the market which are ineffective at best and downright dangerous at worst.
  • Never use dog medications on your cat, most dog products contain either pyrethrins or pyrethroids which are highly toxic to cats.

Love and attention

Complete guide to caring for cats

Cats are sentient creatures and most (not all) of them thrive on love and attention. It is easy to meet their physical needs (food, water, shelter), but we must also meet their emotional needs too.

Spend time with them. Each cat has his or her preferences which we must respect. Some like to be close to their human family but not on them, other cats want to sit on you and some cats would prefer very little interaction. The important point to consider is let your cat guide you and don’t force interactions on a cat or ignore a cat who wants some attention.

Health

Cat health

All cats should see a veterinarian once a year for a health check, once the cat turns seven this should increase to twice a year. Ideally, baseline bloodwork should be performed which will provide the veterinarian with important information on what is going on inside the cat’s body.

We are with our cats the most and are our veterinarian’s eyes and ears between veterinary visits. Always schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if your cat shows signs of sickness which may include:

Many pet parents opt for pet health insurance to avoid a nasty and unexpected shock if your cat becomes sick or injured. For example, our cat had a recent emergency trip to the veterinarian when the wind caused a door to slam on his tail. He was anesthetised and xrayed with a suspected broken tail. Thankfully he sustained soft tissue damage only, but while he was under, the veterinarian gave his teeth a scale and clean. The bill was $1000.

Safety

Cats don’t typically get into as much trouble as young children or dogs but there are still dangers lurking in the home.

Never administer human medication to a cat, most over the counter or prescription medications that are safe for us are deadly to cats as they are unable to metabolise them effectively.

Avoid lilies at all costs, they are lethal to cats. Many other popular flowers are also toxic, but to a lesser degree than lilies. Cats are more discriminate than dogs, but it is still possible that a cat will chew on a flower or plant which is poisonous, therefore it is safer to keep them out of the house. There are lots of flowers and plants which are safe to have in the home with a cat.

Front loading washing machines and tumble dryers are a danger to cats who may climb in and sleep on clothing. Keep doors closed at all times.

Indoor cats have a longer lifespan than those allowed to roam outside, many pet owners strike a compromise with a cat enclosure or catio, which gives cats the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors but without the risks of cars, dogs, wild animals and cruel humans. Keeping a cat contained also prevents hunting, protecting wildlife and the risk of secondary poisoning or parasites.

Cat vaccinations

Kitten receiving a vaccination

The basic cat vaccination is the F3 (also known as core vaccinations) which covers feline herpesvirus, calicivirus and panleukopenia. Kittens receive three vaccinations from 6-8 weeks, 10-12 weeks and 14-16 weeks. Three vaccines are necessary because maternal antibodies can remain in the kitten’s body over differing lengths of time which impact the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Booster vaccinations are required every 1-3 years depending on the cat’s risk-factors, local laws and the veterinarian’s recommendations.

Non-core vaccinations:

Non-core are vaccinations that not all cats will need due to low-risk or council regulations.

Risk factors include if the cat is desexed, indoors or outdoors of lives in a high-risk environment. Again, speak to your veterinarian to decide if your at should receive a non-core vaccination.

The rabies vaccination is mandated in most of the United States and Canada which mean all cat owners must comply and vaccinate their cat.

Holidays

It is not recommended that cats be left alone for longer than 8-12 hours and certainly not more than a day. If you are going away, especially during a busy period, plan well ahead of time. Options include a pet sitter who will visit the house once or twice a day, a house sitter, who will live in the house or a pet boarding facility.

Pros of a house sitter or pet sitter are that the cat is able to remain in his or her home while you are away, and as cats don’t like change, it can reduce stress on the cat. The bonus is they will also water plants and bring in the mail.

Veterinary nurses often do pet sitting in their spare time, advantages are they may know your cat already from the clinic and are able to administer medications.

Boarding facilities can range from the cat equivalent of a five-star hotel to a simple cage. Many veterinary practices also provide boarding facilities, which can be especially useful if you have a cat with an underlying medical condition which needs to be monitored or treated. They are not always as luxurious as catteries. If you do decide to take the cat to a boarding facility, bring along a favourite blanket or item of clothing which smells like you and the house.

The best recommendations for a suitable cattery or pet sitter is word of mouth. Ask friends, family and your local veterinarian who they recommend.

Questions to ask:

  • Are they insured?
  • Are they registered with their local council (for catteries)?
  • Can they administer medications if required?
  • Do they have a car to take the cat to a veterinarian if there is an emergency?
  • Can they provide references from happy customers?
  • Are they happy to bring in the mail and water plants?
  • Can you visit the cattery prior to booking your cat in to inspect the place?




Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time. Full author bio Contact Julia