Tips For New Cat Owners

For new cat owners, I've put together a list of the bare essentials to ensure proper cat care.

In a hurry? Download the expanded version of the checklist in PDF format and take it with you.

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Click here to download the checklist

A New Kitty Owner Checklist

Whether you call your self a pet parent, a pet guardian, or a cat owner, there are things you need to know.

Silver tabby kitten face

This list is by no means complete, and there are many cases where there are individual needs, but these are some of the most important considerations.

I've also included reminders for some of what I consider the most overlooked factors, such as emergency planning.

Since many new kitty parents are sometimes unsure of what their needs are, below is a list to get you started.

Beyond the list below, here are more cat care tips. The cost of owning a cat can be over $10,000 for the lifetime of your pet.

Before you adopt a pet of any kind, please understand the commitment required and the financial implications.

More on tabby cats.

  • Emergency vet numbers New cat owners never expect an emergency, and I hope you never have to use it, but just in case, keep your vet's day and off-hour numbers close by. Put them in your address book, your speed dial, and your cell phone.

    Some veterinarians have refrigerator magnets with their regular office and emergency number on it. If yours does, then great. If not, find a way to pin the number up to your refrigerator or a board. Make sure you understand your vet's emergency procedures for off hours.

    If your vet is not close by, find out if there's an animal hospital or vet that handles 24 hour emergencies near you. Then record their numbers as well.
  • Emergency procedures Not only do you need emergency vet numbers handy, but you also need to plan in advance how you're going to deal with your cat in an emergency.

    If you have to leave quickly due to a fire, earthquake, tornado, and so on, your cat needs to be included in your evacuation plans. Many families don't do any disaster planning at all, let alone involve their pets. Make a plan today and make sure all members of the house are on board.
  • Get a cat carrier
  • A cat carrier will allow you to safely bring your cat to other locations (such as the vet, or during an evacuation). Your pet will be able to feel safe in a small enclosed space during these times of stress, and it will be easier to transport her.

    Here's something that I foolishly have never done...

    It's a good idea to leave the carrier out and make it as inviting as possible. Most cats hate to travel, and it's no wonder... they usually only get in the carrier when it's time to go to the vet.

    It's much less stressful for your cat (and you!) if your cat gets used to spending time in the carrier. Cats know when it's "vet day" and it's much worse when you have to bring out the dreaded stress vessel!

    Front opening carriers are still the most common, but having been scratched and clawed many times, I don't recommend them. A top opening carrier is the easiest one to get cats in and out of.

    That way, you're not tipping the thing up on its end and trying to shake your cat out of it like ketchup from a bottle.

  • The cat litter box In order to prevent litter box problems, and keep your cat in top bathroom form, get at least one litter box of the right size, for each cat in the house. Then, get one more.

    Kittens need kitten-sized litter boxes that are easy to get in and out of. Older cats with mobility problems may need a shallow box that is easier to get in and out of as well.

    For healthy adult cats, I find that the largest litter box you can get is best. If you get an automatic litter box, you may not have a choice as to the actual size of the box itself. You'll have to try things out and see what happens.
  • Have an adequate supply of cat toys Your cat needs playtime for exercise, stimulation, and to satisfy her hunting behavior. Different cats like different kinds of toys.

    As a new cat owner, you may have to buy a number of different toys that get no love from your kitty until you hit pay dirt. Fishing pole toys like Da Bird are usually big hits. Anything that dangles or is hidden is usually fun.

    You can buy cat condos with built in toys as well. If your cat responds to it (about 80 percent do), then catnip or catnip oil can enhance a toy and encourage play.

  • Grooming Tools

    Clean up ahead! Coughing up fur balls is a part of being a cat, and cleaning them up is part of being a cat owner. See this page for some instruction on how to groom a cat, but prepare for hairballs no matter what.

    Frequent grooming can help. Get the right grooming tools like the Furminator, flea combs, as well as something to pick up the fur off the furniture and clothing (such as lint rollers).

  • Set up the right environment Set up your house to be "cat friendly." Ideally, you'll set up a cat sanctuary.

    At the very least, get a scratching board or post, and buy a cat tree/kitty condo and cat beds and perches. Make sure you have a supply of catnip to sprinkle on the right spots.
  • Talk to your vet Make sure your cat is in top form with an initial visit to the veterinarian. Kittens need their initial vaccination series (or boosters), worming treatment, and health check up. If you've just adopted an older cat, they may also need boosters for cat vaccinations received earlier in life.

    They also need a baseline physical done, and should be tested for worms and other parasites, communicable diseases, and infections. Blood and urine tests can reveal problems that may indicate more serious conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, feline AIDS, or feline diabetes.

    Talk to your vet about vaccinations, diet and food, supplements, and get any recommendations on care. Also discuss spay/neuter procedures, and whether or not your cat will be indoor or outdoor. Here are some questions to ask your vet.
  • Get the right food Decide on what you're going to feed your cat and when. Are you going with homemade meals? Organic cat food? Standard commercial dry or wet food? What's the feeding schedule?
  • Use proper behavior modification Understanding cat behavior is important in order to deliver proper care. Treating your pets like the family members they are and take your cat into consideration when making life changing decisions can go a long way to helping your cat remain well behaved.

    New cat owners often make the mistake of treating their cats like dogs and have wrong expectations for behavior. Cats are not dogs, and they're not little people. We like to give them human attributes, but a cat needs to be treated like a cat.

    Cats like a routine, so let your cat settle into one. Disrupting that routine too much can lead to behavior problems.

    "Catch your cat doing things right." Offer praise, affection, playtime and treats when you see your cat exhibiting behaviors that you want to reinforce. This is the best method for behavior modification.

    Rubbing your pet's nose in an "accident" on the floor is one of the worst moves you can make. It's not only not effective, it's destructive to your relationship with your kitty.

    Also remember never to hit your cat out of anger or as punishment. This will only make your cat fearful, less cooperative, and may lead to behavior problems.
  • Set rules You need two sets of rules, one for your cat, and one for your family. If your cat isn't allowed on the counter or the top of the sofa, you may likely need a deterrent or some sort of cat repellent.

    Repellents are not fool-proof, and your family needs to know how to deal with behaviors that don't comply. Consistency is important, and everyone in the house needs to be on the same page with respect how to treat your cat.

    Your cat will be much better adjusted and you'll prevent behavior problems if everyone treats her the same way.

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