How to take care of a cat
Are you thinking about getting a cat? There are many things to consider. That’s why we’ve put together a few pointers that can help you make the right choice for you, your family and, ultimately, your future cat. Before you go any further, here are three things to consider:
Learn about life with a cat: A cat will need your time and attention to care for him or her, especially during their early years. From cleaning out the litter tray, grooming (for long haired cats), to attention and regular visits to the veterinarian, caring for a cat can be a big responsibility.
Would a cat fit your current lifestyle? Make sure you're financially ready to care for your cat. This includes veterinary visits, food and care essentials. Is your living space safe for a cat? Will they have a cat flap and be able to roam or will they stay inside as an indoor cat?
What’s the right breed and age for you? Think about which pet personality quirks are best suited to your family’s lifestyle and home.
Finding a cat that’s the right breed and age for you
There are many choices when it comes to choosing the perfect cat for you.
First, consider if you’re looking for a kitten or an adult cat. Kittens generally require more time and attention with vet visits and litter training, while an older cat typically has lower energy levels and are litter trained, making them great companions.
You will also need to decide if you’d like a domestic shorthaired cat or if you’re looking for a pedigree or specific breed. Specific breed cats are typically more expensive than your average moggy and may require extra care an attention, especially if you chose one with long hair.
Adopting from an animal shelter
There are many benefits to adopting a rescue pet. Good rescue centres will prepare a newly adopted cat for their new home and take time to spot and solve any behaviour problems. If you’re looking for references, ask your veterinarian and any local animal charities.
Buying a kitten from a breeder
Choosing to buy from a responsible breeder is key to kittens’ healthy development.
The best cat breeders ensure their cats are healthy, happy, and comfortable around people. Responsible pet sellers are also careful to ensure that their pets go to responsible owners. Some will even carry out DNA testing on their cat before breeding to ensure they produce healthy kittens. A good way to find a reputable breeder is through your local veterinarian.
Unfortunately, many breeders disregard the welfare of kittens and their parents. Poor health and welfare conditions can cause stress and impact on Kittens’ development and behaviour, leading to ill health and even life-threatening situations. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you buy your kitten.
Welcoming a cat home
When first introduced into a new home, cats need to feel safe and secure. During the first few days, keep windows fastened and doors closed. You can help a cat adjust to a new space by keeping him or her in one room at first and slowly extend the space they have access to. Once the cat looks comfortable, expand their environment a little more. If you already have a cat or another type of pet, introduce them slowly, and give them time to become comfortable with each other. Their environment needs to be familiar and predictable so they can avoid feeling stressed.
Cats check out their surroundings mostly through their little noses, sniffing all around. When cats rub against surfaces, they’re laying down scent marks. To help promote calmness and feelings of safety and security, consider avoiding cleaning substances that disrupt these scents. Avoid using any ammonia-based products, as the smell may encourage cats to urinate. Vets may also provide synthetic pheromones, which can help make cats feel more relaxed.
Cats are naturally curious and may get hurt if left alone. Make sure to keep them away from open windows and balconies and always store medications, vitamins and supplements, and substances that are toxic to animals— including garden chemicals, poisonous plants, and even some human foods like chocolate and chewing gum— away from pets. Make sure your pets have access to areas with temperature control and ventilation.
Cats can’t get enough of positive and consistent social interactions. Knowing what your cats likes can help your relationship grow. Cats will let you know they’re relaxed and willing to interact by slowly blinking, purring, rubbing against you, approaching and staying nearby, and rolling on their side.
Kittens usually need very little toilet training. Just prepare a litter box before bringing a kitten home and show it to them. When it comes to litter trays, bigger is better. Some cats prefer an enclosed tray, while others prefer the open type. You can tell a cat likes a certain kind of tray if they seems relaxed while using it. No matter what kind of tray you have, be sure to remove waste at least once a day and add fresh litter as needed. Keep litter trays away from dogs and children, and always wash your hands after cleaning. For cats that go outdoors, set aside a patch of dirt they can use as a kind of outdoor toilet area. This can help prevent them from going to the bathroom in the neighbour’s yard. If you have a children’s sandpit, be sure to cover it so cats don’t use it as their own personal litter box.
Keeping your cat active while working from home
Exercise is not just a great way to help your cat build muscle mass but also increases the number of calories you burn. All cats should be receiving 2x 2-3 minutes of intense daily playtime in order to stay healthy whilst an overweight cat may benefit from an additional session. It’s important to ensure your cat keeps active to help them stay healthy. This is especially important for an indoor cat who doesn’t get the same exploring time as outdoor cat.
If your cat isn’t used to exercising, start off with one short session a day and gradually build up from there. Choose toys that they can pounce on and chase, like fishing rod type toys or ping pong balls. Cheap, everyday items such as paper bags, toilet roll or even a scrunched up piece of paper may entice your cat to play.
Tips to get your cat moving:
Engaging cats in 20-30 second games – perhaps during commercial breaks when you’re watching TV – is enough to tip the scales of energy balance in the right direction. Making them a regular part of everyday life is the best way to create a new routine.
Try different activity feeders (balls, mazes and towers) to find the one that fits your cat's dexterity level.
Vary where you put the feeders and which one you fill up at each meal to make meal time a scavenger hunt.
Train them to play fetch with a toy so their hunting and pouncing instincts stay sharp.
Switch to dangling toys to capture their attention, so cats can also play when you're not there.
Whether you’ve got a kitten, rescue moggy, or pure-bred cat it’s important to make sure you feed your cat a diet that suits their unique needs.
Unlike dogs, cats are obligate carnivores, and studies show they prefer a diet that's nutritionally very similar to their natural prey, such as mice and birds. It's also important to understand cats' innate eating behaviour. They prefer the food they have to work for - or hunt - rather than the food that's readily available. That is why ecouraging this behaviour is an efficient way to keep them physically and mentally active, which can also help keep off the extra pounds. Using activity feeders such as mazes, towers, and balls, also slows food consumption, allowing the cat to feel full and satisfied.Explore cat nutrition tips
Kittens grow very quickly, and they're considered fully grown by the time they reach one year of age, with little, if any, variation between breeds. They need to be fed a specifically formulated diet supporting their healthy growth. Switching to an adult diet too early can affect their development and have long-term effects that can affect their quality of life later on, so make sure to ask your vet when the best time to switch to an adult cat diet.
Nutrition for senior cats
As cats age, their nutritional requirements and food preferences can change, so it’s important we provide them with a complete and balanced diet that suits their needs.
Cats become less active as they reach the later years of their lives, which is why they are more at risk of putting on extra weight. Specific senior cat diets have a lower number of calories but still contain the important nutrients to ensure your cat stays healthy.
You might find that your cat is fussier with their once favourite food as when they age their senses decline. If your cat is losing weight, it may be the sign of an underlying medical condition and you should speak to your vet for advice.
Keeping cats at a healthy weight
All cats require a slightly different number of calories, as there are multiple factors that affect energy requirements including activity level, neutering, body condition, and age. As with humans, cats that are under or overweight are at more risk of a health problem than cats at ideal body weight. With pet obesity on the rise, cats are typically more likely to be overweight than underweight. Obesity can lead to other life-threatening medical conditions and may exacerbate any existing, like osteoarthritis, an inflammation of the joints.
Many medical conditions may go unnoticed since cats will often not show any symptoms until the disease has progressed to a later stage. It’s important that cats stay at a healthy weight to minimise the chances of them developing related conditions and take them to the vet for annual check-ups even if they appear healthy.
Cats can gain or lose weight if that brings them closer to their ideal weight, but owners should take care to ensure a lean cat doesn’t lose weight and an overweight cat doesn’t gain more.
Tips for managing your cat's weight
- Weigh them regularly, at least once a month
- Talk to your vet about the cat's ideal weight
- Feel over the cat to check their body condition score (and spot any lumps or bumps)
- You should easily feel the ribs, but they should not be visible. Their waist must be obvious
- Always weight the daily portions using a digital scale, so you can adjust the food in the cat starts to lose or gain weight
- Avoid feeding human food. This will help you keep an eye on exactly what they’re eating. Make sure all members of the household know how much the cat should be eating daily
- Outdoor cats should wear a collar to let anyone they are visiting know that they are a loved pet and not a stray that needs feeding
- Reduce how much you feed your cat after they’re neutered. Research has found that following neutering, female kittens are more likely to gain weight
- Exercise is not just a great way to help your cat build muscle mass but also increases the number of calories cats burn. All cats should be receiving 2x 2-3 minutes of intense daily playtime in order to stay healthy whilst an overweight cat may benefit from an additional session
- Cheap everyday items such as paper bags, toilet roll, or even a scrunched up piece of paper may entice your cat to play
- If your cat is suddenly gaining or losing weight, an underlying medical condition could be causing the weight change
- Talk to your vet if you’re unsure how much to feed your cat or if have any concerns.
Oral care for cats
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they rely on a diet primarily made up of meat in order to get all the nutrients they require. As big meat eaters, their teeth are very important and wild cats rely on sharp teeth use them to catch and eat their next meal. Although many domesticated cats eat a diet provided by their owners and no longer need to hunt (except maybe to bring us the odd mouse), it’s still very important to ensure our cats have healthy teeth and mouths.
Oral health problems in cats
Oral health diseases including gum disease are one of the conditions most frequently diagnosed by vets. Symptoms can range from mild gum inflammation (gingivitis) to tooth loss. In serious cases of disease, the bacteria causing gum disease can gain access to the blood stream and cause organ damage with potentially serious consequences.
Cats often don’t show obvious signs of pain and discomfort from oral disease, so your awareness and veterinary checkups are key. Proactive care can help reduce chances of disease later in life, and introducing kittens to regular oral care at home will train them to accept and even enjoy it.
You cat may try and hide the fact that they are in pain, so you need to keep out for subtle signs or changes in their behaviour. If you notice any problems, you should always consult your vet for advice.
Some of the symptoms include:
- Your cat may be losing weight
- Changing in eating behaviour such as eating on one side of their mouth
- Pawing at their face or reluctance for you to touch their heads
- Bad breath
- Unkept fur due to less personal grooming
5 tips to keep your cat’s teeth and mouth healthy
The best way to minimise oral health problems and to keep your cat’s mouth healthy is to start an oral health routine.
- Get your cat used to having their mouths checked. This way you will be able to spot any changes and consult with your veterinarian. Check the gums - they should be pale pink (redness means inflammation and is a sign of disease) and the teeth off-white with minimal build-up of tartar (a discoloured deposit). Tartar can build up unseen under the gum line so remember, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean there’s none there!
- Brushing your cat’s teeth is the most effective method to keep their mouth healthy. Use a small pet toothbrush and aim to brush once a day. The bacteria in our mouth that causes dental disease is different to the bacteria in your cat’s mouth so it’s important you use a special cat toothpaste. Introduce brushing slowly
- Support your home dental care routine with a veterinary dental care plan that includes an oral check-up every six months and professional dental cleaning at least once a year. Your vet will be able to check and clean areas that you and your toothbrush can’t reach!
- Some dental chews may help delay gum disease. Always watch your pets around dental chews to make sure they don’t choke and make sure any toys or chews aren’t too hard
- Include some dry food in your cat’s diet. Whilst toothbrushing, dental snacks and regular veterinary check-ups are still the gold standard in terms of maintaining good oral hygiene, feeding dry food is likely to help maintain your cat’s oral health. Don’t switch purely to dry food however. A diet with added moisture has been shown to boost their daily water intake which will support their urinary health.