Congratulations! You are the proud new owner of a cat. No doubt you’re looking forward to years of happy companionship. But what do you do now? The following is a mini-primer of cats’ requirements for a happy life.
New Home Transition
The first thing you should know about your new pet is that most cats hate to travel. After the ride home, he will, most likely, not be in the mood for fun. For the trip home, confine your pet in a sturdy cat carrier. Don’t leave him loose in your car where he might panic and cause an accident.
To make his transition to your household as comfortable as possible, select a quiet, closed-in area such as your bedroom or a small room away from the main foot traffic, and provide him with a litter box. Let your new pet become acquainted with that limited area for the first few days. Let him sniff all your belongings and investigate all the hiding places. Over a few days, slowly introduce him to the rest of your house, including the other pets and household members. It will take a little while, but he will eventually begin to feel at home.
Cats vary in terms of how demanding they are as pets, so let yours guide you to the level of attention he wants, whether it’s your hand for petting or your lap for sitting. Provide him with the necessary creature comforts and give him the companionship he seeks, and he will be content.
Cat Feeding Tips
The #1 cause of health problems for cats in the US today is obesity which can lead to diabetes, arthritis, or even premature death. Below are some general feeding tips for cats.
- For adult cats, once a day fill the cat’s bowl with the recommended amount of food for daily intake. If you cats eats it all in one sitting, then that’s it for the day, however most cats prefer to graze and nibble.
- We recommend premium brands of dry cat kibble such as Purina One, Science Diet, Iams, Pro Plan.
- For a newly adopted adult cat, starting him or her on Purina Cat Chow can help reduce problems with diarrhea. Within a few weeks, gradually substitute a premium brand of food, such as the ones mentioned above.
- We recommend canned food on a limited basis to only be used as a treat to encourage social bonding between you and your cat, however the caloric content of canned food can cause rapid weight gain if your cat is not highly active, so keep it limited.
- Kittens are different than adult cats and have much different nutritional needs. Be sure to provide your kitten under one year of age with kitten (not cat) food at all times. The amount of energy your kitten expends during the day, and the speed at which he is growing, makes access to some food at all times mandatory.
- We have had success with Purina Kitten Chow as a good food choice for our rescued kittens as it helps reduce problems with diarrhea when a kitten goes to a new home. You can gradually introduce a premium kitten food, such as Iams Kitten food within a week or two if you choose.
- As your cat nears one year of age, he/she should naturally start slowing down. Reduce the amount of food that you put in his bowl and begin to mix adult cat food with the kitten food at around 10 months of age, gradually switching over to adult cat food by the time the cat is one year old.
- For underweight kittens, we recommend supplementing their dry food with a generous spoonful of canned kitten food morning and night to make sure they are getting adequate nutrition for their rapidly growing bodies.
Your new cat will prize a clean environment and a clean body. Cats are naturally fastidious and most will instinctively use a litter box; for some, you may need to place the cat in the box and make little scratching motions with their front paws so they get the idea. Cats place such a premium on cleanliness that you should clean the box daily or several times a week. Cats also value privacy, so place the litter box in a convenient but secluded spot.
Kittens are typically accustomed to having a litter box close by and may not have the skills to locate a litter box in, for instance, a basement when they are spending most of their time upstairs. Until a cat is familiar enough with his/her surroundings to find a litter box in any out of the way area, keep one in the area where kitten spends most of his time. As a cat grows older and more modest, it will gravitate towards a litter box in a more secluded area and you may be able to eliminate the one in your living area.
Not using the litter box
First, have your cat checked by your veterinarian to rule out a urinary tract infection, which is the most common problem. Next:
- Try changing the type of litter. Many cats are very sensitive to particular litters so try unscented litters.
- If the litter box has a lid, remove it.
- Move the litter box to a more private location or to a location where the cat spends most of its time.
- Clean the box more often.
- Provide multiple boxes in multiple cat households.
- Confine the cat in a room or basement, with the litter box until it re-establishes using the litter box.
Also, if you have a kitten, be sure it actually remembers where the litter box is! Sometimes in a big house a small kitten can get lost, in which case it will look for the nearest unobtrusive corner to go or anything that looks like a box, like an open briefcase or shoebox.
Cats can be surprisingly easy to groom; and should be regularly, a fact that many people do not realize – not only that you can bathe a cat, but that you even should! Sadly, many cats who are given up or “gotten rid of” because of allergies by their human caretakers probably could have stayed in their home if the owner had gotten the cat groomed on a regular basis. Regular brushing/bathing of cats greatly reduces the dried saliva/bacteria that is present in a cat’s coat (from their own self-bathing), which is the main allergen to people. This is why so many more people are allergic to cats than dogs – it is not the hair, or the dander, it is because cats bathe themselves so much more frequently than dogs do and leave a residue on their coats that can cause a reaction in people.
Cats can be very tolerant of baths and certainly of brushing; the main difference between grooming a dog vs. grooming a cat is, you can TELL a dog that it needs to be groomed, whereas with a cat, you have to ASK him. If he says “No!” (as cats can, in many ways!), simply back off, relax and re-ask more slowly again. Eventually, if you approach the process calmly and deliberately, without overwhelming kitty, you will be surprised to find that most cats not only will tolerate regular brushing, bathing and/or nail trimming, but some actually enjoy it, and are quite comfortable with the process! Ideally, it is best to start them on a regular grooming schedule when they are young; in fact, many people who are mildly allergic to cats have found that they can keep a cat in their home without allergic reaction by regularly bathing them every few weeks or so.
Although cats do groom themselves quite often, their coats still benefit from a thorough shampooing and conditioning, as well as regular brushing to remove loose hair and dander, and to prevent matting on the longer-haired cats as well. If grooming your own new cat is too daunting for you to attempt, we recommend that you find a gentle, professional groomer who LIKES cats (this is important – many groomers only want to work on dogs, so you may need to ask around to locate one that is “cat-friendly”) you will be pleasantly surprised at how clean and healthy your cat’s coat will feel, and how nice it is to not have shedding or matting to contend with. Just like with dogs, some people will even opt to have their cats shaved to eliminate shedding, or to lessen the maintenance of a long-haired coat; this is up to you as the new owner to decide what is best for you and your new feline friend.
Typically, cats will get bathed every 2-3 months, with a good brushing as needed. Nails should be trimmed (even a large human toe-nail clipper will do the job) as often as needed – every 6-8 weeks approximately. Some cats will even tolerate having their teeth brushed! Regular ear cleaning with a vet-approved ear cleaner and swabs is a good idea as well; however, if you notice your new feline friend scratching or shaking his head excessively, you should bring him to see a vet to check for ear mites or possible infection – simply cleaning it will not be enough.
Regular, very positive grooming sessions with your new feline friend will help to build a strong bond between the two of you; again, EASY DOES IT when asking a cat to accept the various levels of grooming – let him get comfortable with the idea of it first, and your new friend will surely learn to cooperate and maybe even enjoy the attention when being groomed and cared for by you!
Cats shed, however excessive shedding is something that can be caused by a number of factors such as diet, stress level and the time of year.
- Diet – Make sure the food you’re feeding your cat contains essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6. If not consider changing foods or adding a supplement to your cat’s diet.
- Stress level – High stress can cause a cat to shed more, and with a shelter cat a lot of shedding when you first bring a new adult cat home is a reaction to being in a new environment. It should improve with time.
- Time of Year – The typical formula of shedding to coincide with spring and fall is not necessarily the case for indoor cats and they may shed at different times or all the time.
In terms of dealing with excessive shedding, the tips in the grooming section are important to maintain a healthy coat and minimize shedding. However there are times when you may need some extra help and professional groomers can help with shedding problems, and there are groomers that groom cats. If you have ever tackled this problem on your own, you know how you can brush, and brush, and brush, and the cat is still losing hair, it’s very frustrating. One tool that is very effective for deshedding a cat is called a Furminator. Think of the Terminator with an F. They are sold at Petsmart and Petco. The Furminator has a unique edge that grabs and removes the loose hair from the undercoat and is an invaluable tool to help when shedding gets excessive. Be prepared for a lot of hair to come out and use it in a place that is easy to clean up as it doesn’t catch hair like a brush, but pulls it out. Use of a Furminator, along with a bath can help tremendously with shedding. A bath washes away oil and loosens the fur. After the fur dries, the Furminator very effectively pulls it out.
Provide your cat with safety and security. Always use a cat carrier when transporting your pet. Protect him by making certain that all windows are securely screened, and that the washer and dryer are kept closed and are inspected before each use. Get into the habit of ensuring that drawers, closets, and cupboards are uninhabited before you close them. And for your own security, put a collar and tag on your feline – there’s always the chance he may slip outside by mistake, and you want to make sure he can be identified as your pet.
Watch your new pet for signs of illness, lethargy, nasal or eye discharge, excessive sneezing, vomiting or persistent diarrhea. The incubation period for viruses can be a week or more, so a cat that is healthy on the day it’s adopted, could become ill within a week, especially kittens that don’t have fully developed immune systems and are experiencing major stress when they are separated from their mom, siblings and in your home, which is new and scary to a young cat. Vaccinations stimulate immunities which increase as kittens age, but they are not a guarantee to eliminate all illness. Adult animals are more resilient, but still living creatures that can experience health problems. New Pet Health Assurance is designed to protect you against costly medical treatment should your new cat get sick.
Adult cats should see a veterinarian at least once as year. Kittens should have distemper boosters and require more than a yearly visit. Consult with your veterinarian to establish a schedule for visits during kitten’s first year.
Cat House Rules
Provide your cat with some “basic training” to help him get along in your home. It’s true that cats usually have their own ideas about how to do things. Even so, most cats can be taught to obey simple rules like not scratching the couch, eating plants, or jumping up on the kitchen counter. With repeated, gentle, and consistent training, your cat will learn.
Cats respond to and can learn what NO means, but another behavior modification method that works well with cats is to offer alternatives to behavior, not just prohibitions. For example:
- If you don’t want your cat on the counter, find another spot in the kitchen where it’s ok for your cat to hang out from on high, like the top of the refrigerator and move him there anytime you catch him on the counter.
- You don’t want your cat to scratch the furniture, get him a scratching post and put him there whenever you catch him scratching.
- You don’t want you cat eating plants, grow some catnip and move him to the catnip whenever you see him by the plants.
Repetition and consistency are key, but eventually your cat will get the idea.
Fully clawed cats have a natural need to scratch, which is how your cat exercises his leg muscles and trims nails. There are a couple things you can do to avoid destructive scratching.
- Provide an acceptable spot for the cat to scratch such as a scratching post, or a cardboard box. Cats like to play in boxes, so a cardboard box can be a toy and a scratching outlet. Use verbal reinforcement to praise the cat for using their scratching post/box and rubbing catnip on the designated scratching area is a good way to create a positive draw and facilitate this healthy habit.
- Also, trimming nails regularly reduces their need to scratch.
- If you are unable to keep your cat from damaging your possessions with its claws, please consult a veterinarian about available options for managing this behavior, either through medical intervention or more advanced behavioral methods.
At the time of bad behavior, spray your cat with a squirt gun or the canned air used to clean computer keyboards works very well (cats hate the sound). Water/air doesn’t hurt them, it just annoys and they’ll get the message. Once they discover they don’t like the water or air, frequently all you’ll need to do is pick up the bottle. The cat will know what’s coming and no spray is necessary.
Cats will respond to the slightest change of tone in their owner’s voice. Often, a discouraging, “No”, delivered in a warning tone, will cause them to abort the offending behavior beforehand.
Use the Face Push, i.e. use your open palm to push the cat’s face away firmly when it bites or engages in bad behavior. Another way to calm a cat down that is overly enthused with play biting and rough housing is to grab the cat by the scruff on the back of the neck and hold it down. Scruffing is how a mom cat controls a kitten and is a well understood signal in the cat world to calm down. Do not carry the cat by the scruff or dangle it in the air, hold it down. Do not do this if the cat is angry or scared, you could get bitten.
Treats work wonders. Reward your cat when he/she conforms to good behavior.
What makes a cat friendly and social vs isolated and non-social?
It’s a well known fact that cats are wired differently from dogs and everyone has known non social cats that are not very good companion pets. Cats are not pack animals with a social system like dogs and in nature, adult cats live solitary lives with no need for companionship. While adult cats are very independent, kittens prefer companionship and being part of a group. What changes as a cat grows older? Kittens cling to their mother, siblings and humans to receive food, affection and protection. The key to keeping an adult cat social is to keep it in “kitten” mode by being the giver of food, affection and protection to your cat. Below are some tips that are helpful in understanding cat motivation and useful to help you keep a cat social and friendly.
Food is a major motivator. A kitten knows that their mother or someone else needs to provide it food and it naturally gravitates towards that person and works hard to cultivate a close relationship to insure that the food keeps coming. In nature, as kittens mature they are expected to learn to take care of and feed themselves. As they mature, they lose their need to bond to their mother and siblings and become totally independent, finding their own food and doing whatever it takes to protect themselves. Feral cats, for instance, totally provide food and protection for themselves and have no need for any interaction.
One way to maintain the “kitten” in your cat is to make sure your cat KNOWS it is dependent on you for food, affection and protection. This encourages your cat to bond with you to continue to get the things it wants and needs.
Free feeding, where an adult cat has access to unlimited food at all times is not helpful because, besides contributing to obesity, in the cat’s mind, it hunted, found its own food, (which is always in the bowl) and you are not necessary. It’s important to maintain the impression with the cat that in order to eat, it needs YOU to provide. Instead of free feeding, have specific times when the cat sees you put food in the bowl and give it to him or her. Let the bowl become empty, and let the cat come to you for a refill. Use limited amount of canned food as a treat and to encourage social behavior.
Affection is also important to a kitten and will keep your adult cat interested in human interaction in order to continue to receive affection. Ways of showing affection are:
- Play with the cat. It reminds the cat of how it played with its siblings.
- Allow the cat to sit/lay with you, like it gathered and slept with its siblings.
- Use high pitched tones when talking to the cat, it reminds them of their mother’s gentle meowing.
- Pet and brush your cat. It reminds them of how their mother groomed them.
- Be gentle and respect the cat’s space.
Protection is important also. A kitten is protected by its mother; an adult cat has to fend for itself. If your cat sees you as its protector, it is more likely to behave towards and bond with you as it would his or her own mother. A cat views ANY unknown person or situation with some sense of caution. If you expose your cat to different people and circumstances, your cat may experience some fear, but if you are holding, reassuring and guarding your cat and maybe even giving the cat a treat, once it sees that it’s safe, it will conclude that it’s safe because YOU provided protection. The bond between you and your cat is strengthened and you’ve allowed the cat to expand its experiences and become less fearful of the unknown.
Lastly, keep your cat indoors. Besides the multitude of dangers that cats face outdoors and a proven shortened life span, an outdoor existence conditions a cat towards independence, making you less necessary and contributes to anti social behavior.
Cat Play and Toys
Finally, provide your cat with an interesting indoor environment. Cats love to play and will appreciate simple and inexpensive toys. Ping-Pong balls and paper bags can provide hours of fun. A comfortable perch by a window can become your cat’s very own entertainment and relaxation center.
Toys are very important for cats. They not only fight boredom, they also give cats a chance to express their prey-chasing drives. If you’re the one moving the toy while your cat chases after it, playtime can be a bonding experience for both of you.
Introducing a New Cat to your Existing Cat
A few rules to help introduce a new cat to your home when you already have a cat:
- Isolate the newcomer in a separate room to allow your existing cat to get used to the idea there is another cat in the house.
- Try not to disturb the routine of your existing cat too much. Major changes in where your cat sleeps or a relocation of a litter box will stress your cat and make the introduction more difficult.
- At some point allow your cat to see the new cat. That could be with a baby gate to restrict contact, use of a dog crate where the new cat is confined allowing your existing cat to check it out, or a crack in the door between two rooms that will allow for some nose touching without full body contact.
- It’s important that you do not force contact and let the cats work this out on their own timetable.
- Hissing, posturing and growling is normal. If there is screeching and panic you need to continue with limited contact.
- Do not proceed to the next step until the cats seem relatively calm in each other’s presence.
- At some point with your existing cat occupied allow the new cat out to roam freely. Downplay the situation, don’t make a big deal, let the cats happen upon each other or just watch each other from a distance, which they may do for several days.
- There may be some stalking, chasing or sparring. As long as there is not a full blown cat fight, this territorial behavior is the step beyond the watching from a distance stage and a prelude to normalization. Do not leave them unsupervised. Keep a spray bottle with water on hand to water down any over aggressive behavior and never try to touch a cat that is involved in a fight, you’ll get bit.
- Eventually hostilities will decline. Try bouncing a ping pong ball or use some toy to attract their interest towards something besides each other and with the change in focus, they may discover they’re interacting and not even be aware of it. They’ll come to see each other as potential playmates rather than competitors.
- Feed cats separately and maintain separate litter boxes until it’s clear that everybody is friends. Don’t be in a hurry to consolidate. If a cat in a passive aggressive way blocks another cat from a litter box, the cat will have no choice except to create a new toilet area. Separate litter boxes may be necessary for a long time, if not always.
Managing Dogs and Cats
Dogs and cats can and do get along. When they first meet, the dog has a HIGH interest in the cat, whereas the cat has a very LOW interest in the dog and may be scared to death. Your challenge it to try and moderate the interest levels of both cat and dog more towards the middle, while making sure kitty is safe, to facilitate a peaceful co-existence.
When a new dog comes into kitty’s home, or vice versa, there is always a period of adjustment. One helpful thing you can do to facilitate acceptance is to try and avoid situations where the cat runs from the dog. While it’s instinctual for a cat to run to a safe place if it senses danger, the running triggers a chase reflex in a dog. Once a pattern is established that the cat runs and the dog chases, not only will they never get along, but the situation could become dangerous as the dog starts to see the cat as “prey”.
- If the situation is really difficult and the cat is freaked out, you can allow them to sniff each other under a closed door. This may need to go on for several days. Once everyone realizes the other isn’t leaving, they may calm down.
- Try to facilitate a situation where they can see each other, but not touch. Keep the dog on a leash and put the cat on a high spot where he will feel safe and be less likely to run.
- If kitty is manageable and you trust your dog not to harm the cat, hold kitty on your lap and allow some limited nose touching on kitty’s terms. If that goes well, the next step is for the dog to sniff the cats behind. The cat may or may not be receptive to that and it may take several sessions before that can happen. Once a dog gets his fill of kitty smell, his interest in the cat will diminish.
- A little aggressive behavior on the part of the cat towards the dog isn’t all bad. It sends the message that kitty is no push over. Correct the dog forcefully with “NO!” whenever there is any rude or aggressive behavior towards the cat.
- The goal is to manage the situation where there is NO running/chasing, NO lunging at the cat, NO provocative nose poking or biting, and the dog minds his manners. Eventually as the cat feels safer around the dog and will stand his/her ground, not run away and feel free to express some tolerance or even interest towards the dog. The dog having figured out that the pack leader demands he/she respect the cat, there’s not going to be a chase, and the kitty smell is yesterdays news, will lose interest in the cat. There will be peace and maybe even a respectful friendship will eventually form.
Enjoy Your Rewards.
Now that you’ve made certain all the basic provisions are attended to, you can relax and enjoy your new pet. It may take a couple of weeks for him to adjust to life with you. But before you know it, you’ll be curled up on the couch together, watching TV like old pals, and you won’t remember what life was like without him.