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How to care for a cat: Tips and tricks for new owners

Mina Abgoon
June 5, 2018

Many pet owners consider cats to be the perfect living partners. Cats are low-maintenance, reasonably clean, independent creatures—not to mention they can be the perfect cuddle buddies. But it’s important to know the basics before jumping into cat ownership. Your fluffy new best friend is counting on you to provide the essentials, including food, proper veterinary care, a loving environment and a sitter when you’re away.

If you just took in a new cat or are considering adding a feline friend to your family, here are the major things to know and consider.

Picking a cat

It can be tempting and rewarding to pick a kitten, but it might not always be the best option for your lifestyle. If you decide to go this route, make sure you have the time, energy and money it takes to raise one of these little rascals. Kittens need a lot of attention and various vaccines in their first few months of life.

While full-grown cats are typically much calmer and quieter than kittens, there are other things to take into account with them, such as their more extensive medical history. This can be especially true if you opt for a shelter cat that may have unknown or undocumented conditions.

If you decide to pick an older cat, make sure you have time for the frequent veterinary visits that come along with caring for an aging animal. They’re counting on you to keep them healthy and happy.

Another thing to keep in mind when picking a cat is that certain breeds shed more than others. If this concerns you, check out this list of top non-shedding cat breeds that includes breeds like the Bengal, Bombay and Russian Blue.

Keeping your cat safe

Keeping your cat indoors is the ideal way to go. While it’s socially acceptable in most areas to let your cat roam the neighborhood, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. There are countless hazards that come along with having an outdoor cat, such as other aggressive animals and speeding cars.

Keep your cat inside, and make sure to place a collar around its neck with your contact information etched into it, just in case it manages to get out. In addition to the collar, consider equipping your cat with a microchip linked to your contact information.

Microchips can be implanted by your local veterinarian, often placed between the shoulder blades underneath the skin. If your cat gets lost and is turned into a shelter or veterinary office, the microchip can be scanned, and you’ll be contacted to pick up your pet. The price for microchipping is typically about $50.

Picking the right food

It can be difficult to decide which food to go with, and switching your cat from brand to brand could cause an upset stomach. While going with the cheapest option is tempting, these options often contain unnatural ingredients that you may not want your cat ingesting. Many veterinarians will suggest Purina Pro Plan for both kittens and full-grown cats, and many vets carry this brand in their office. Be sure to discuss all the options with your veterinarian to get their recommendation on what to feed your feline friend and how often to fill its bowl.

Here’s a general idea of how much to feed your cat based on their weight, courtesy of petMD:

Weight of Cat

Amount of Food Per Day

5 lbs (2.3 kg)

¼ cup (30 g) to ⅓ cup (40 g)

10 lbs (4.5 kg)

⅜ cup (45 g) to ½ cup (65 g)

15 lbs (6.8 kg)

½ cup (65 g) to ¾ cup (95 g)

Training and cleaning

Unlike dogs, cats are low-maintenance creatures and don’t require much training. Chances are, even if you get a kitten, it already knows how to use a litter box because mother cats typically teach them this skill when they’re only weeks old.

However, if your cat is a newborn or has spent the entirety of its life outside, it might need some help. You can help your new pet understand where to relieve themselves by placing it inside the litter box after waking, after meals and after playtime.

Regular grooming

It’s also important to make a habit of regular grooming. Cats must have their claws trimmed regularly to keep them from growing into their paws. Visit your local pet supply store for a nail trimmer, and consider talking to a staff member about the proper way to clip your cat’s nails.

Clipping your cat’s nails properly is essential, as making them too short can be very painful for your new pet. When in doubt, take your cat to a local groomer to have them do the hard work for you. If you find you’re taking long periods of time between trimmings, consider getting a scratching post. Your cat will feel compelled to dig its nails into something, and this way it won’t go after your furniture.

Brushing your cat regularly is also beneficial—not just for you and your home, but also for your cat’s health. In addition to reducing shedding, regular brushing will keep your cat’s fur and skin healthy while reducing matting.

Buying the essentials

Make a list and visit your local pet supply store for the essentials. When you bring your feline friend home, you’ll want to have a litter box set up in an area with a non-carpeted floor for easy cleanup, as your cat may occasionally kick litter around. Typically, setting the litter box up in a bathroom is the best option.

While some people opt for scented litter to cover the odor, fragrance-free litter is the best way to go for all sensitivities. If you clean the litter box every day, you shouldn’t have to worry about too much of a smell. Many pet owners recommend Tidy Cats for litter for its clumping and smell control.

Be sure to also buy some fun toys, especially if you’re dealing with a high-energy kitten. While kittens can make a toy of almost anything, older cats can be much tougher to please. If you’re having a tough time getting your older cat to stay active, opt for a toy with catnip in it. Most cats will go wild for catnip regardless of their age.

Cat supply checklist

Bring this checklist with you when you’re picking up the basics as you embark on the journey of cat ownership.

  • Litter box

  • Cat litter

  • Veterinarian-recommended food

  • Food dish and water bowl

  • Interactive toys

  • Collar with contact info etched in

  • Nail trimmers

  • Grooming brush

  • Scratching post

  • Cat carrier

Read next: 101 amazing cat facts

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