Cat Care Basics: Taking Care of Your New Cat

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woman booping orange cat on nose

Cats can be mysterious creatures, playful and affectionate one moment, yet statuesque and aloof the next. Although deciphering the mysteries of cats will continue, caring for them doesn’t have to be mysterious at all.

Food and Feeding

Ideally, your kitten should be exposed to a wide variety of foods at an early age. Canned foods, dry kibble foods, raw (safe) tidbits, and home-cooked meals that you may share with them. Without this early exposure, cats tend to get set on one favorite food and would rather go hungry than try something else.

For a wild cat, this is a lifesaving trait because they will never eat food that looks or smells bad so they won’t be poisoned by spoiled food. Your cat could take this a bit too far and may feel that different forms of foods are bad. To them, it’s spoiled. Kittens that learn to eat a variety of foods when young can avoid this conundrum.

It’s better if your cat has more than one favorite food too. Not only will a variety of foods provide a more balanced diet, but it can prepare them if you need to change their diet due to health challenges. Or if the recipe for their favorite food changes. If you know what your cat likes, feed them that, but every once in a while, offer them something different.

Kittens under four months of age should eat four to five times a day. Between four and eight months a day, feed three to four times a day. Adults need three meals a day.

Play and Exercise

One of the best ways to bond with your new cat or kitten is to play with them. It’s wonderful when your cat asks you to play by dragging their favorite toy to find you!

The best games to play with your cat involve toys or objects other than your hands. Flirt poles (fishing pole toys) are great fun. While playing, your cat will chase the toy, run, leap, and meow. It’s great exercise as well as wonderful fun and bonding. Many cats will retrieve favorite toys, especially balls with bells in them. A cardboard box with holes in it is a cat favorite. Feathers are also awesome.

Don’t play rough with your hands though, as this will teach them to play fight with you and can carry over to using their claws and teeth in other situations. Plus, people are huge compared to cats. Don’t frighten them by fighting even if you think it’s play.

Playing and exercise is also a great way to keep your cat fit. Veterinarians are seeing more and more obese cats. This is unhealthy for cats and can lead to many significant health problems. Frequent play sessions can help reduce weight gain and maintain good health.

Cat Trees are Necessary

Your cat’s claws regularly shed the outer layer of keratin as they grow. If you see your cat nibbling on a claw occasionally, they’re trying to dislodge a nail that needs to shed that outer layer. Cats also get rid of this outer layer when they scratch. This could be on a tree, a wooden post, a cat tree, or your furniture. Cats also have oil glands on the bottom of their paws and when they scratch, they leave their scent behind, marking that post or chair as theirs.

Since none of us like the idea of our furniture being used as a scratching post, how do we prevent it? Cat trees are the answer. Invest in two or three cat trees – the taller the better. Get some with carpet and some with rope and put them in places where your cat likes to nap and scratch. Rub the cat tree with some catnip and watch the fun!

Clean Cat Boxes

The number one reason why cats lose their home is due to litter box problems, second only to scratching on furniture. However, litter box problems are usually human caused, often due to misunderstanding the cat’s needs.

Have at least one more litter box than you have cats. This gives each cat a choice, just in case one cat wishes to claim a certain box as their own. Place the boxes in quiet areas rather than a high traffic room. When you find a litter your cat likes, don’t change it. Ignore sales and commercials and stick to the one your cat will use. Many cats hate fragrances or are sensitive to the texture of certain litters. Clean the boxes often, at least once a day. If you have more than one cat, twice a day would be even better. 

Body Care and Grooming

Although cats are great at maintaining an aura of self-sufficiency, they really do need our help. Starting at a time when your cat is relaxed with you, pet them and begin gently touching them all over. Keep it slow and non-threatening and stop when they begin to protest. Each time, go longer as is comfortable until you can touch them all over. If they like treats, add one as a reward.

Later, add a comb and a brush to these sessions. Your goal should be to be able to touch them all over so you know what is normal and what isn’t. Look at their ears, teeth, and private parts. You also want to be able to comb and brush them without them getting frightened or fighting back.

Partner with Your Veterinarian

Cats are experts at hiding health problems until they simply can’t be hidden any more. It’s important to be able to touch your cat all over and to do this on a regular basis. A regular cat exam by your veterinarian is vital.

When you meet with your vet, ask about vaccinations and mention any changes you’ve seen in your cat (i.e. weight, lumps, bathroom usage, etc.). Think of your vet as your partner in your cat’s health.