Basic Cat Care
A cat may be a low-care, but not a no-care pet. He is dependent on you for food, lodging, health care, training, and loving attention. Knowledge or your cat's normal habits will help you give him the best possible care.
Kittens should not be taken from their mother until they are seven to eight weeks old. If you acquire a motherless kitten younger than six weeks old, consult a veterinarian about feeding.
Kittens have high caloric requirements because of their high energy level. Feed kittens less than six months old canned kitten food three to four times daily, removing any uneaten food after ten minutes. Overfeeding can result in diarrhea and or vomiting.
At about six to eight months of age, reduce canned feeding to two times daily.
Dry kitten food and fresh water should be available at all times for kittens of all ages.
When your kitten reaches one year of age, gradually change the dry food to an adult formula. Do this by mixing 1/4 adult food with 3/4 kitten food. Gradually increase the adult food to 100% over a five to ten day period.
Avoid generic cat food and do not put dog food where the cat can eat it (cats need more protein and amino acids than dog food provides). The same for dogs, eating the wrong type of food can cause serious health problems, including death, in cats and dogs.
Cats enjoy a variety in their diet. In addition to daily dry food, you may want to feed canned (moist) food periodically. Studies show that cats do best on a canned food diet. So feeding your cat mostly canned food and a little dry food will keep your cat from gaining weight and it will stay more active.
Feed moist food at room temperature and store uneaten food in a glass container in the refrigerator.
Don't let table scraps make up more than 50% or your cat's diet. Avoid uncooked food, and never give your cat bones.
Milk can cause diarrhea and/or vomiting so milk should be avoided in cats and kittens of all ages.
Your cat or kitten requires fresh drinking water in a clean glass or ceramic bowl at all times.
Feed your cat what he likes. The "best" food will do your cat no good if he will not eat it.
INDOORS OR OUT
Provide your kitten or cat with his own warm bed in a safe, quiet, draft-free location; but don't be surprised if he finds several other favorite spots!
No doubt about it, cats are safest indoors. Cats that are allowed to roam freely outside fall victim to fighting, resulting in injury, and infectious diseases; they bring home fleas, lice, tick, and mites; they are killed or injured by cars, or free roaming dogs; and they become a menace to neighbors who may harm them. In some areas, they are also victimized by the cruel steel-jaw leghold traps that are set to catch wild animals for their fur. Your cat could be stolen and sold to research laboratories or sacrificed to train dogs that fight. Many cats get lost and starve to death or die from disease. Others may become feral, living a pathetic life of fear and a constant struggle for survival. An indoor can live 15 years or more, but the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is only 2-4 years.
Life indoors can be satisfying for cats provided with a companion pet, toys, scratching posts, window shelves for sunbathing and surveying the outdoors, and a little loving attention from you, their owner. Some cats can be trained to walk on a harness and leash so that you may safely provide them with fresh air. Be careful not to walk your cat in areas that are heavily populated by dogs.
GENERAL HEALTH CARE
The basics of healthy pet care are good diet and exercise, but other steps are necessary too. Take your cat to the veterinarian shortly after you get him, no matter what his age. Your veterinarian will tell you about necessary care including vaccinations, which are given annually or every three years. Ask what the signs of illness are, and how to get emergency help beyond regular office hours. When hurt or ill and not treated promptly and properly, many cats (especially younger ones) can carry the effects of their injury for the rest of their lives.
Take a fresh stool sample to your veterinarian at the time of your first visit. This can be tested for internal parasites, and your kitten or cat can be treated as necessary. Over the counter medications are not recommended.
The importance of neutering cannot be over-emphasized. Neutering is a generic term referring to the surgeries performed by your veterinarian so that your cat will not breed or have kittens. The surgery is commonly called "spaying" for a female and "neutering" for a male. By neutering your pet, you are being a responsible pet owner in preventing the birth and resulting death of millions of cats because there are not enough homes for all of them.
In addition, your pet will be healthier and happier once neutered! Neutering will also reduce a cat's urge to roam, help eliminate behaviors such as spraying and crying, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, and reduce aggressiveness. Male and females can be neutered as early as four months.
All pets should wear identification tags that include your name, address, and phone number. Indoor cats could slip through an open door and become lost, and an identification tag will help neighbors or your local animal shelter return your pet to you. Special safety collars for cats are recommended. These collars have a short piece of elastic that stretches so the cat can free himself from the collar if accidentally caught, avoiding the risk of injury. Another identification option is a microchip. It is inserted under the skin in the shoulder area and is not harmful to the cat. The microchip will provide a secondary form of identification should your cat lose its collar and ID tag.
HANDLING AND TRAINING
Handling: Kittens and adult cats should not be handled too much or too roughly. They should be left alone when they are eating, sleeping, and using the litter box. The proper way to hold your cat is by putting one hand under the front of the body (chest) and the other hand under his back legs and holding him close to you.
Grooming: Brushing or combing your cat daily will help reduce hairballs from forming in the stomach when he grooms himself. Use a soft wire slicker brush or wide-toothed comb for long-haired cats. A rubber or bristle brush work well for short- haired cats.
Clawing: Provide a scratching post for your cat. When your cat scratches something that is unacceptable to you, a loud noise will usually distract him. Placing double-faced tape on the area of furniture being clawed should discourage further damage. Trimming your cat's nails weekly will also help. Call Cat Care Society for our flyer "Destructive Scratching in Cats".
Litterbox: Keep your cat's box clean by removing solid and moist waste with a scoop daily. Wash the box weekly and refill with clean litter. If your cat refuses to use a clean, accessible litter box, consult your veterinarian immediately. This could indicate a health problem. Once medical reasons for not using the box are ruled out, Cat Care Society can help you identify behavioral causes.
Playing: Always play with your cat or kitten with toys instead of your hands. Playing with your hands will encourage biting and aggressive behavior. If your cat does bite, blow in his face to distract him before pulling your hand away.
Social Training: Physical punishment is not effective with your cat. It may cause him to be fearful of you or to misbehave when you are away. The basis for a good training program includes rewarding good behavior. When unacceptable behavior occurs, distract him with a loud noise or a squirt from water bottle. Do not interact with him directly as his unacceptable behavior can become a way to get your attention. Instead, reward him with attention, praise and maybe treats for good behavior only.
YOUR CAT AND THE LAW
Animal control ordinances benefit both pets and the public. A healthy pet that is kept under control will not become a nuisance for you or your neighbors. Call your local animal control agency to learn the pet ordinances that you must obey.
When taking your cat to the veterinarian, or traveling to a new home, it is always safest to transport your cat in a cat carrier. A sturdy plastic carrier is best since cats can chew or claw their way out of cardboard carriers.
BRINGING YOUR NEW CAT HOME
You will need to take some time to introduce your cat to other family pets in order to prevent fearful and aggressive problems from developing.
Confine the new cat to one room with his litter box, food, water, and a bed. Feeding the present cats and the newcomers near either side of the door to this room will help them associate something enjoyable with each other's presence. You can also switch sleeping blankets between the new cat and resident cats to help them become accustomed to each other's scent. Once the new cat is using its box and eating regularly while confined, let it have free time in the house, while confining the other cats.
Successful introductions may take as long as three months, requiring a lot of patience. Don't expect things to be perfect overnight! Please call Cat Care Society for more detailed information on pet introductions.
AGING AND DEATH
Well cared for cats can live 15-20 years. Older cats may require extra attention from your veterinarian. They generally become less active and require less food. Older pets may become seriously ill with diseases such as kidney failure, cancer or crippling arthritis. To keep a suffering pet alive is a temptation, but not a kindness. In fact, having the courage to let a beloved pet go is the greatest last act of kindness you can give. Euthanasia means having your veterinarian put your pet to sleep before he would die naturally. The process is quick and painless for your pet. The pain you will feel, however, will be overpowering sadness and loss. You have lost someone you love very much, but this loss is the last part of being a responsible pet owner.
Although it is hard to lose a beloved pet, his passing is unavoidable since humans can live five times longer. Each cat has his own unique personality, whose memories will always be with you. But remember all the loving little kittens and cats at the animal shelters awaiting adoption! Once you can adopt another friend, you will begin creating new memories and sharing happy times.
Cat Care Society's goal is to help make our world a kinder and more humane place for cats, knowing this kindness will filter through to all animals and humans as well. Kindness is in the heart, but it is also a learned quality - one that must be taught and passed on.
Our hope is that all cat owners will become friends with their pets - hug them, pet them, play with them, and love them. Cats flourish in loving surroundings and can be affectionate in spite of their inherent independent nature. Give them your love, and they will return it full measure.