As the saying goes, ‘Cats have owners, dogs have staff’. While a little funny, and completely true, this is exactly why we wanted to put together this helpful guide to owning a cat for the first time!
Ancient Egypt is a prime example of how cats were revered and were covered in gold jewelry. In his work “The Canterbury Tales” from the 1380s, Chaucer mentions a cat door in a house. So our love affair with these furry felines goes back for centuries.
There were 42.7 million cat-owning American households in 2019/20. In 2021, the pet industry in the United States reached almost 110 billion dollars for pets and related supplies. Those statistics speak to the love that people have for their pets.
Cats, in particular, are a favorite because, unlike dogs (which we also love!), these furry friends require less maintenance when compared to dogs.
Cats can be pretty self-sufficient. If you leave out dry food and water, they will feed when ready. You don’t have to rush home to let them out to go potty as they have a litter box. They also don’t need to (and won’t!) go for a walk. Cats need very little grooming and abhor baths. A cat can easily fit into a busy, modern lifestyle and are perfect apartment dwellers with limited space.
Cats, and kittens, in particular, are lively, curious creatures. They bring so much enjoyment into your life just by being themselves. Born explorers, cats will prowl their domain in search of an object to conquer in the most flamboyant manner, so they are fun to watch. They are also creatures of habit, and long naps are high on the list of favorite pastimes.
If you are thinking about getting a cat, even though they can be aloof, they make wonderful companions who revel in living their best life and will add immeasurably to yours.
Here is our ultimate guide to inviting a cat to become a valuable part of your household.
# 1) Caring For Your Cat
Basic Cat Care
Although they are masters of their domain (and that means everything that belongs to you!), cats will need to be provided with certain essential items to live a healthy life:
Food: Choose a high-quality, brand-name food (more on that later) that contains taurine, an essential amino acid. This helps with heart and eye health. Ask your vet for recommendations.
Water: After weaning, cats are lactose-intolerant. Don’t give them milk. Their digestive system cannot process dairy foods, so offer clean, fresh, water only.
Grooming: Cats stay relatively clean and rarely need a bath. Even so, it is a good idea to brush your kitty regularly to reduce the amount of shedding and cut down on the incidence of hairballs.
Handling: When you pick up your cat, place one hand behind their front legs and another under their hindquarters. Never pick up your cat by the scruff of the neck or by the front legs.
Housing: Your pet should have its own clean, dry place to retreat to in your home. There are numerous types and styles of cat beds available on the market.
Identification: If there are times that your cat will be outdoors, they should wear a safety collar and an ID tag. A safety collar allows your pet to break loose if their collar gets caught on something. An ID tag or microchip will help you retrieve your cat if they become lost.
Litter Box: All indoor cats need a litter box. Keep the box in a quiet, accessible location and always in the same spot. It is best to scoop solid wastes out of the box once every day. If you are getting a kitten, check out this article on How to Litterbox Train a Kitten.
Scratching: Cats need to scratch, and it is easy to provide that outlet for them. Scratching posts and cardboard scratching pads are readily available and inexpensive.
Health: Your kitty should see a vet once a year for annual shots and a check-up. If they are sick or get injured, then seek immediate assistance from your vet.
Spaying and Neutering: Female and male cats should be spayed or neutered by five months of age.
Vaccinations: Your vet will recommend vaccinations based on your cats’ age and health.
If you are considering getting a cat (you won’t regret it!), here is an article that will list the items you should pick up before you bring your tabby home: What Do I Need for a Kitten or Cat? [Essential Supplies]
Choose A Veterinarian
These cute little bundles of fur can live a long and healthy life when you provide the care and support they need to grow into lively cats. As with any type of pet, your kitty will need the assistance of a veterinarian from time to time. It is also good to know the Basic First Aid Tips for Cats.
If you don’t already have a vet, ask for recommendations from friends and family to find a caring, reputable vet. Having a vet whose advice you trust will be paramount as your kitten grows.
You will need to count on your vet to help you choose the proper health care for your pet. Your vet will get to know your pet, what is normal for them, and be better able to diagnose when things are a bit “off.” Think of your vet as a partner in the care of your kitty and that you work as a team to give your pet its best life.
If you get your pet as a kitten, some vaccinations are given at about 6, 9, 12, and 15 weeks of age. Be sure to ask whomever you get your kitten from for the record of any vaccinations or veterinarian care that they might have had before your purchase.
Vaccinations will help prevent feline distemper, respiratory organisms, and rabies. Once kittens have gotten the needed vaccinations at the beginning of their life, they will only need boosters annually.
Your vet may also recommend worm and parasite treatment, standard in kittens. Heartworm prevention will also be on the list of treatments for your cat.
While all of this may seem a bit overwhelming for a new cat owner, your vet will become your partner in the care of your cat. You will receive notices from your vet of when your pet needs various vaccinations.
You won’t have the burden of remembering what your pet needs and when they need it, so you will have peace of mind that they will be getting all the preventatives necessary.
The majority of indoor cats will never have an issue with fleas. If your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat or primarily outdoors, they may pick up fleas from outside. Fleas can make your cat miserable. Just imagine if you had a constant swarm of mosquitos biting you, and that is what it is like for a cat with fleas.
If you see that your cat is excessively scratching, areas of redness on their skin, or even blood, make sure you check them for fleas. Fleas like to hide in warm, protected areas on a cat, such as armpits, groin, and ears.
If you find or suspect that your pet has fleas, give your vet a call to get a recommendation for The Best Flea Treatment that will kill existing fleas. Follow labeled directions, and do not use a product on your cat that is not labeled for cats.
You may need to get rid of any fleas that have come into your home, too. The best cure for fleas is most often prevention. You will pet your kitty every day, so take the opportunity to check out their skin for signs of fleas. If you see fleas and nip them in the bud, both you and your cat will be happier for it.
Cats, and kittens, in particular, are endlessly curious. Cats have bright and eager minds that compel them to explore and want to see what is around the next corner. This engaging trait can sometimes get these curious creatures in a bit of trouble by going astray.
Microchipping is one of the best ways to enhance your chances of getting your cat back should they get separated from you. A microchip can be inserted through a non-surgical procedure. If your cat gets out of your care, that chip can then be scanned for information at any vet or shelter.
The cost to microchip your cat is about $50, and this should include registration in a pet recovery database. Ask anyone who loves their cat, and they will tell you that this is a small price to pay to help in the recovery of their curious feline.
Spaying And Neutering
When you have a pet, you must decide if your pet should be spayed or neutered. If you choose not to breed your cat, the most responsible thing is to have them spayed or neutered.
There are also benefits to the cat. Spaying a female cat can help prevent uterine infections and breast tumors. Spaying your female cat before her first heat offers the best protection against those diseases.
Neutering your male cat will prevent testicular cancer and some prostate problems. It will also make them less likely to roam away from home. Male cats are also less likely to mark their territory when they have been neutered.
Kittens as young as eight weeks old, or at least two pounds, are generally considered candidates for spaying and neutering.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) suggests that when you Spay/Neuter Your Pet it helps control the pet homelessness crisis and prevents unwanted pets from being euthanized. It is part of good pet ownership and keeping your pet healthy to be spayed or neutered.
Insurance For Your Cat
What does a gecko have to do with keeping your cat healthy? Martin, the Geico gecko, offers Pet Insurance for Dogs & Cats in accidents or illness. There are many other agencies, and your vet may be one of them that provides insurance for your pet.
Instead of bumper-to-bumper coverage, like for your car, these policies offer nose-to-tail coverage in case of accidents, illness, dental issues, cancer, and more. Caring for a pet can be expensive, so you might want to research getting insurance.
The North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) says there is a wide range in pricing for insurance. Cats tend to have lesser monthly premiums than dogs, as they are smart enough not to want to chase a car.
There are rates as low as $12 a month to as high as $100 a month. It all depends on your pet’s breed, age, location, and deductibles or payout limits that you choose. It might be a good idea to speak with your vet and get an idea of the expenses you could expect over your kitty’s lifetime, and make an informed decision if insurance is the right option for you.
What To Feed Your Cat
As was stated previously, one of the best places to get advice on what is best for your cat is your vet. There are numerous types of cat food on the market, some good, some not so good, and everything in between.
The kind of food to feed your cat for their optimum health will depend on specific needs. The food chosen should consider any allergies, urinary issues, age, and if your tabby is overweight. If you seek advice from your vet, be upfront about your pet food budget to find the best option.
The United States Food and Drug Association does not regulate pet food. No matter the type of food you choose, look for a label from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) on the container. The voluntary approval from the AAFCO guarantees that if a problem is found with a pet food, then a recall will be issued, and it will be announced to the public.
Dry Cat Food
According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, dry food is acceptable to feed your cat as long as it is complete and balanced. If you provide your cat dry food, make sure that they also have access to lots of fresh water. Dry food tends to be less expensive than canned and stays fresh longer.
If you happen to have a finicky feline, try one of these Dry Food for Picky Cats. Some pet owners will leave dry food out at all times, and if your cat can maintain its weight, free-feeding is fine. Free feeding will not be the best choice if they tend to overeat.
Canned Cat Food
Canned cat food is about 70 to 80% water. Many cat owners will give their furry family members a dry and canned food combination.
Just like us humans, they would get tired of eating the same thing day after day. Feed your cat according to the label on the can, unless otherwise instructed by your vet.
Raw Cat Food
A raw diet for your cat involves feeding them uncooked animal products, such as raw muscle meat, organ meat, and ground bones. The most common means in a raw diet are chicken, eggs, and fish.
Choosing a raw diet for your pet can be a complex process, as there are differing opinions on whether this is beneficial to the cat.
Some feel that a raw cat food diet mirrors more closely what their ancestors would have eaten in the wild. Others will say that cats have evolved along with their digestive systems and that a raw diet is no longer optimum for a domestic cat.
Quality balanced raw food for your feline is hard to come by, and handling raw meals has a higher risk of contamination. Check with your veterinarian for their opinion on whether or not your cat would benefit from a raw diet.
#2) Keeping Your Cat Safe
Your furry family member will depend on you and your good judgment to keep them safe throughout their lifetime. Cats, no matter their age, are like perpetual toddlers. They keep their sense of curiosity throughout their life. They are loveable rascals who delight in stalking illusions, ever confident of their skills. Masters of mischief, cats see potential but never consequences.
It will be up to you to “tabby-proof” your house. Here are some potential hazards that your curious kitty might come across.
Avoid These Foods
Cats are always on the lookout for handouts and swoop down on anything dropped. While you might like to share some of your meal with your best bud, that is not always the best idea.
Our friends at the ASPCA have compiled a list of People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets.
Beware of these foods in particular:
- Coconut and coconut oil
- Grapes and raisins
- Macadamia nuts
- Milk and dairy
- Onions, garlic, and chives
- Raw meats (while some may choose to feed their pet a raw diet, there is a danger of salmonella and e-coli in raw meat)
- Salt and Salty snack food
- Xylitol (used as a sweetener in many products, it can lead to liver failure)
- Yeast Dough
Plants That Are Toxic To A Cat
Most of us have a houseplant or two or you may plant flowers around your house. Unfortunately, these can be enticing to a curious cat, and they see this foliage as another opportunity to explore. PetMD has a list of plants that are poisonous to cats.
Some of the plants on the list poisonous for cats are:
- English Ivey
- Aloe Vera
- Jade plants
- ParsleTomato plants
Some of these plants might be what you have outside of your home. Just beware when you bring in cuttings from flowers or anything you have harvested from the garden that your kitty does not take a bite.
There are Cat-Friendly Indoor Plants that are great choices for cat owners.
Keeping your house safe by knowing Foods & Plants That Are Poisonous for Cats will keep your cat healthy and both of you out of the vet’s office.
Essential Oils To Avoid
Essential oils have become popular over the years as a form of aromatherapy. While they can make your home smell lovely, they need to be kept where your cat can’t get at them. Don’t apply essential oils to their skin, or let them lick up any spilled oils.
These essential oils are poisonous to cats:
- Oil of Sweet Birch
- Tea Tree
- Ylang Ylang
It is safe to assume that ALL cleaning products would be harmful to your kitty. Even “natural” products can cause them harm. Keep all such products out of reach, in a cupboard with a child lock to prevent your cat from ingesting them.
The ASPCA has an Animal Poison Control | (888) 426-4435 hotline. This is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Program this number into your phone, so it is handy. If your cat has chewed on a plant, take a picture of it so that you can show your vet and head there immediately.
Your Indoor Cat Wants To Go OutdoorsBesides being curious, cats are overly confident. They are pretty assured that they can handle anything they come across and tend towards being territorial. A cat never sees a disastrous end to a hair brain scheme.
Your favorite feline may sit on the window sill and look yearningly to the great outdoors, but your job is to keep them safe.
Even if, like Franklin and Ollie, your cat was born on a farm, these little furballs are now YOUR responsibility, and they count on you to keep them safe…even from themselves! Letting them loose and expecting everything to work out is like giving your car keys to your six-year-old. Something terrible is going to happen.
If you have an outdoor area where you can contain them, such as a lanai or screened-in porch, you have to make it “escape-proof.” Check the screens and doors to ensure they are tight, and a nudge won’t open them.
There are tent-like cat enclosures sold online if your cat has the patience for them. They will, however, allow your feline friend to spend some time outdoors with you as long as you stay outside with them.
Check around your home to ensure that all window screens are close-fitting. If you have any that are loose or bent, replace them. A cat will be able to squeeze through the tiniest opening, and if you give them an inch, they will take the whole yardstick.
Just as you would for a child, use childproof latches on your cupboard doors and keep all medications out of reach. Your trash can should have a latched lid and keep the washer lid down…and the lid on the toilet too!
This age of electronics is a sea of possibilities for a curious cat. They love the tangle of cords and lines from computers, chargers, and printers.
Lamps, televisions, stereos, and curtains all have cords that appeal to your kitty, and they feel like they deserve a chew. You can purchase cable managers online, which are flexible sleeves that slip over multiple cords to organize them, and they can also discourage your kitty from nibbling.
Have A Cat Carrier
For those yearly check-ups to the vet or a trip to Grandma’s, it is not a good idea to just toss your cat in the car. If they get excited or stressed, they could rocket around the inside of your vehicle like a ball in an arcade machine.
Having a carrier will help ensure your kitty’s safety and keep them from escaping when you open the car door. Your local pet supply store or online merchants sell various types and sizes of cat carriers. We feel that these are the 11 Best Cat Carriers for your next trip.
#3) Making It Fun For Your Feline Friend
Make Time For Play
Kittens and cats need to play. Cats are born predators, and playing gives them an outlet for this instinct. It keeps boredom at bay and makes for a happy life. When you play with your furry family member, you learn more about your cat’s personality. It also helps to strengthen the bond and trust between you. Plus, it is just plain fun!
Play also helps prevent behavior problems, gives mental stimulation, gives your cat exercise, and keeps them healthy. With kittens, playing helps their physical development and coordination. It can also improve their social skills and help them learn to communicate.
As a kitten grows older, their play is directed mainly at objects. They like to stalk and pounce, grab and bite at anything in their path.
Cats love to climb to a higher level to survey their domain from on high. Carpeted climbing towers with different levels provide them with the structure to use their innate capacity to climb.
You can also attach a series of different height shelves to your walls. This Old House shows you how to make your own in this article: How to Make a DIY Cat Tower.
Cats also like perches that allow them to watch out a window. They want to see what is happening in the neighborhood, just as we do. This favorite spot for a Cat Perch allows your cat to see what is going on.
Here are two YouTube videos that show pet owners getting creative and creating fun climbers and perches for their beloved feline friends:
Toys, Toys And More Toys
There are more toys than you can count available online and in your local pet store. Choose some interactive toys that you can use to play with your cat.
The toys that resemble a fishing pole with an object on the end for them to chase are a favorite and can provide your pet with mental and physical exercise.
Some toys require some interaction on the part of your cat, and those can help relieve boredom.
Fortunately, because cats are so clever, you can use household items to entertain your feline friend. Cardboard boxes are a favorite. So are empty paper towel tubes, empty plastic water bottles, paper bags, or ping pong balls.
Cats love movement, so when you play with them, simulate that rapid and unpredictable movement that gives them the opportunity to stalk, chase and pounce.
Bond With Your Cat
Spend time with your cat each day. Talk to your cat, share your favorite chair, and create a bond between the two of you. Cats can tend to seem aloof and independent, and they are. But they also need your attention and affection.
They may choose the times that they want that attention, but be sure to reach out to them, too.
Compared to dogs, cats may seem less affectionate. Who hasn’t seen the enthusiastic greeting dogs give their owners, even if they just come in from getting the mail?
However, The New York Times article declares that Cats Like People! (Some People, Anyway) suggests that cats are just as strongly bonded to us as dogs are. They may be the ones to choose when they share their affection, but they are no less in need of love and attention.
#4) Cat Proofing Your Home
Just as you would with a child, there are ways that you can protect your home from the ravages your “lion-at-heart” friend might want to inflict. These preventive steps are the ones you undertake to keep your home from looking like you are not in charge.
They are to be expected, too. You take specific steps to keep your home clean, like using throw rugs to catch dirt, having easily cleaned surfaces, and keeping clutter at bay. When you share your home with a cat, it should be a natural evolution to have items that accommodate them too.
Scratching Posts And Climbing Trees
Since cats love to scratch, have several scratching posts or cardboard scratchers around. Having an outlet for a cat’s instinct will help save your door frames and furniture from becoming the object of their scratching. Cardboard scratchers are inexpensive, and you can toss it out when your kitty has obliterated it.
Having climbing trees and cat perches will not only keep your cat entertained, but it will also help to keep them from wanting to climb your lamps or curtains. It is just the nature of the beast that cats like to scratch and climb, and as a good pet parent, it is up to you to provide those outlets.
When it comes to litter boxes, you should have one box if you have one cat. If you have two cats, you should have two, and so on. There are two main types of cat litter: clumping and non-clumping.
Cat owners who like to scoop urine and solid waste out of the litter box will prefer the clumping kind of litter. Others may prefer to dump the entire litter box when needed.
Beware of using anything other than cat litter. Sometimes people will use dirt, sawdust, wood shavings, sand, moss, and other substitutes. None of these will help with smell or absorbency, and parasites, insects, and bugs in those mediums can end up creating a whole new problem in your house.
There are several types of cat litter to choose from.
This is the most popular as it is readily available and inexpensive. Clay litter will have low dust and dust-free options to choose from. This litter is made up of pieces of clay and finer particles of clay. They absorb the urine and turn into a softer, wet cement-like mixture when they do.
Clay litter will come in clumping and non-clumping options. One of the drawbacks of clay litter is that it is not environmentally friendly; it is heavy and tends to get tracked through the house.
Silica Gel Litter
Silica has great odor control. This litter tends to be more expensive than clay but lasts longer. It is not as dusty as clay litter and traps urine without scooping it out of the litter. Some types of silica gel litters have color-changing indicators in the gel that help owners monitor their cat’s urinary system health.
This litter is popular for its natural ability to control odors. It is lightweight, has low dust, softer than clay litter, and is absorbent. It comes in a cylindrical pellet form. Pine litter is more environmentally-friendly and comes in both clumping and non-clumping options.
Similar to pine litter, wheat litter is also environmentally friendly and is made from processed wheat. Manufacturers also say that this litter is flushable. Wheat litter comes in a ground-up, glandular form. When a cat urinates on the wheat litter, it turns into a sawdust-like material that you then scoop out of the litter box.
Grass litter is less commonly available than other litters and is touted as a natural alternative to traditional cat litter. It is a dried, biodegradable grass seed litter. It clumps so that it can be scooped out and does not contain any dyes or chemicals.
Corn litter is a lightweight option that is a clumping litter. The companies that make corn litter guarantee that the litter is safe. However, there are some concerns about mold growth. Corn produces aflatoxins, and this toxin can be deadly to pets.
Most owners have never had an issue, but it is something to be considered before you use corn litter with your feline friend.
Walnut Shell Litter
Granular in appearance, walnut shell litter is biodegradable. Ground-up walnut shells have a higher absorbency than clay litter, control odors well, and have the clumping factor. The low dust is another appealing aspect of walnut litter.
This litter can be made out of recycled paper material or shredded newspaper. There is little dust with paper litter. This litter option is used mainly for the short-term, for example, if your cat has an injury to their paw. It is softer than other litters but does not clump or control odors, so it is mainly used short term.
One of the newer alternatives to traditional litter, tofu litter is a clumping litter. It is more expensive than other litter and can be hard to find. It uses renewable materials and is environmentally friendly.
Different types of litter will offer protection against smells, but the best remedy is to clean them daily.
When A Cat Sprays
Spraying, or urine marking, can be a sign that your cat feels threatened or stressed. Cats are not equipped to handle confrontation, and when a situation arises that stresses them, spraying is a way to convey their displeasure without confrontation.
Marking their territory can make the cat feel more secure. This may happen if you introduce a new cat to your household or there are other significant changes in their environment.
Ensure that all the pets in your home have easy access to what they need so that it is not a stressor for them. Spread the resources like water, food, and litter boxes around the house so that each cat has access.
Have a litter box for each cat and have areas where your cat can perch what has space for just one cat. Make sure that you take time with your cat, as this will go a long way to reassuring them.
Some cat owners use pheromone diffusers to reduce anxiety. These can be found online or at a pet store.
How To Remove Urine Smell
The sooner you clean up cat urine, the sooner you will eliminate the odor and discourage your cat from marking in the same spot again. The smell worsens over time, and cleaning it up quickly is critical.
The object is to neutralize the urine odor, not cover it with perfumes or fragrances. Avoid using any product that has ammonia. Ammonia is one of the components of cat urine, and using a product that contains ammonia will make the cat more likely to use the spot again.
Baking Soda And White Vinegar
If your cat pees on the carpeting, scrub the area thoroughly with club soda and let it dry. Once completely dry, sprinkle baking soda on the area and let it soak up any lingering odors. Vacuum when done.
If your cat has soiled bedding or clothing, wash those items separately in your washer at the hottest temperature recommended on the item’s care label.
In addition to your detergent, add a quarter cup of white vinegar to your washer’s bleach dispenser.
You can also use baking soda to remove urine odors from clothing. Add half a cup directly to the drum of your washer, along with detergent and wash those items separately.
If your cat has sprayed against the wall, use a solution of one part water and one part vinegar to clean both walls and floors. While the vinegar smell will be strong at first, as it dissipates (which may be a day or two), it will take the urine smell with it.
An enzyme-based cleaner helps with odor elimination in carpets, mattresses, couch cushions, and linens. The enzymes in these cleaners break down the acid in cat urine to help get rid of the smell.
Remember that your cat will be able to smell a previous urine spot much better than you, which might make them likely to use that spot again. These products can be purchased online or at your local pet store. Make sure to follow the directions on the package.
Cats are a delightful, endless source of entertainment and companionship. Their sense of wonder and curiosity endears them to you. Living With & Loving Your Indoor Cat is an easy proposition when you prepare beforehand and get ready to open your home and your heart to a furry family member.