So, you decided you want a cat companion. If this is your first time owning a cat, you’re going to find the next few paragraphs very helpful in living with your new friend. Even if you have owned a cat before, there is something vital you need to understand about these curious creatures: each one is unique! Not every cat wants to tear up your couch just as not every cat wants to be picked up. Even so, there are a few basic things that can be said about caring for them.
Before You Get Your Cat Home
Even if your cute pal seemed wonderful at the shelter, don’t expect them to act the exact same way when they get to your house. Cats are not very receptive when it comes to change. Even the most confident cats need time to adjust to their new setting, especially if you have other animals in the house. Your home is full of new scents and different behavior patterns that they just need time to get acquainted with.
First, you are going to want to designate a space that is just for them. Most people choose a bathroom because it’s small and they can do the least amount of damage in there. Set up this kitty cave with food, water, a litter box, a few comfy things to curl up with, and toys. If you don’t have any other pets and the cat seems interested in exploring outside of this space, you can definitely let them. The most important aspect is to make sure they understand they have a place to go to if they feel scared or uncomfortable.
The go to reaction for many people during these first few days to weeks to – yes, sometimes even – months, is to follow their cat around and watch what they do. This is ok for some cats. In fact, your cat may prefer it and want you to reward them with pets every time they discover something new. But a far shyer cat may want this time to adjust without you and approach you later. Which brings me to my next bit of advice.
Get To Know YOUR Cat
It’s not really fair of me to say, ‘Make sure to tell your cat you love them every single day!’ Again, cats are individuals and they don’t all want the same things from people. To best understand them, the two of you will need to work on your communication. How do I do that when my cat doesn’t speak English? To answer a complicated question with a simple answer, you need to listen, watch, and interact with them.
Most cats have decided that their human companions are dumb, baby cats, and so they talk to us like we are. Feral cats don’t really make sounds as often as domesticated ones because it would attract unwanted predators or scare away what could be their only meal for a few days. In fact, the only time they make general mewing sounds is when they are talking to kittens. All other noises they make are ones of aggression or fear, like growling and hissing. Your cat is going to use different vocal cues to tell you a wide variety of things. To correlate these sounds with what they want, you have to read their body language.
Cats communicate with every aspect of their body. Their eyes, ears, mouth, tail, and posture are all going to give you clues as to how a cat feels at any given moment. The motions that we have down for most certain are the ones for fear and aggression, again because that is how they would communicate the most often living outdoors. Bearing fangs and panting are almost always a sign of discomfort, whether it is physical or emotional. A tail that is tucked under a body of an animal trying to appear as small as possible is a sign of fear. The opposite – a puffed out body, fluffed hair, trying to look as large as possible – is a sign of aggression. Often, when a cat is being outwardly angry towards something, they will make direct eye contact. Their eyes become laser beams and their whole body will be completely focused on their target. The biggest discrepancy with this read is that playful behavior can often be misread as aggression. This is where the interaction part comes in.
You can read up more on typical cat body language and what it MIGHT mean, but at the end of the day it’s a bit of trial and error. If you are interacting with your cat in what you think is play and they swing around and smack you – HARD – then perhaps it wasn’t all fun and games to them. The same can be said for a cat that seems to only want to sit at the tallest part of the room. Seclusion can be seen as the animal not wanting anything to do with you, but sometimes it’s just that they aren’t sure what your intentions are. If you go over to them and give them a few pets, they may give you a few mixed signals, such as leaning into the pets and then swiping at you… and then leaning into more pets again. This is probably just their way of telling you they like you, but they just aren’t ready for such extensive interactions yet. Like it was mentioned before, cats don’t deal with change well and just need time to find their place in your home. What will help them the most is consistency, which is easily achieved through feeding times.
Feed Your Cat
The earliest signs of communication are surrounding their basic needs of food and water. Some vocal cats will wake you up in the morning with persistent mews because how dare you not be up 3 hours ago to feed them. Others take a gentler approach by pawing or licking your face while you are sleeping. At any rate, your cat will find the best way to tell you they need food in accordance with your reaction. When they find something that works, they’ll probably stick to it!
Thinking about the food itself, this also comes down to your feline’s preference. Some cats are super picky. Some cats will eat anything! There is something they can all agree they want in their diet: MEAT! Cats are obligatory predators, meaning that they need to eat food that has meat in it. They don’t have the proper metabolism needed to correctly digest any kind of vegetation. I’m sorry to say, but your cat does not, should not, and physically cannot go on your vegan diet. In fact, the only time cats eat the green stuff is to induce vomiting. This is done to eject any other materials that they can’t digest, like bones, fur, and other small animal parts that they would naturally eat in the wild.
As to the choice between dry food and wet food, it (again) comes down to the mannerisms of your pet. Leaving out a large bowl of dry food for your fluffer to graze on is perfectly acceptable as long as they know how to control their own eating habits. There are definitely cats that simply love to eat for the joy of eating and will eat as much as they can as soon as you put down a fresh bowl. If you leave out a large amount of dry food in the morning and come home in the evening to an empty bowl and a few piles of half-digested kibble, it’s a sign your cat is overeating, otherwise known as snarf-n-barf. I’d highly recommend for the sake of the cat (and your carpet) to take that dry food away and switch to 2 to 3 meals of wet food a day. You can also alternate and combine wet and dry foods together. Carefully read the ingredients and suggested portions that are labeled on the cat foods you are considering. You can use this as a guide to feed your cat in their appropriate weight class.
Yes, cats come in different sizes! Most cats are going to fall into the medium category, which means they will stand about 8 to 10 inches tall, be 18 to 24 inches from nose to tail, and weigh between 9 and 12 pounds. There are plenty of healthy cats that fall outside of this normal scale due to breeding. Petit cats stand between 5 to 7 inches tall, stretch 12 to 17 inches from nose to tail, and weigh 6 to 8 pounds. Large cats (outside of exotic breeds) stand 11 to 15 inches high, 25 to 32 inches long, and weigh 13 pounds or more. If you’re getting a kitten, you’ll need to air on the side of more food is better. Just like babies, young cats need a lot of food in order to grow, and (also similarly to humans) they may think they can still eat the same things they did as a kitten when they get bigger. It’s part of your full-time job now to assess the foods they like, the foods they have a bad reaction to, and their overall eating habits. Of course, it’s always a good idea to voice your concerns to your vet.
Take Your Cat To The Vet
Aside from general concerns and knowledge regarding your cat’s eating habits, your vet is going to be your go to source for all the issues that you can’t easily see from the outside. Cats tend to try and hide any pains they have because pain is weakness. Outside of a home, you can’t show weakness, or you will be taken advantage of by other animals. This does come with the disclaimer that every cat is different, and there are cats that want you to know they are feeling bad because they know you’ll fix it; however, this is rare.
You should make an initial appointment with a veterinarian when you first get your friend. Any shelter you get them from will have a health disclaimer form listing when they last got their vaccinations and when they were spayed or neutered. Even so, you should make the first appointment to get to know your vet, let the cat get to know your vet, and check their general wellness. Of course, if you got your cat off of the streets or a stranger on the internet, you should take them in as soon as possible.
Rabies and feline leukemia are two of the vaccines all cats need to get on a regular basis, and for good reason – they are a guaranteed death sentence. In both cases, the animal suffers greatly before a very painful end. In fact, if your cat tests positive for either, most vet offices will put the animal down for its own comfort. Obviously, these are some of the worst case scenarios, but there are plenty of other concerns that you just don’t know what you are getting from a cat that hasn’t been taken care of in a proper facility.
Spaying and neutering is also a must when it comes to being a responsible cat owner. Unneutered males will spray (meaning pee on EVERYTHING!!) to mark their territory, especially when other animals are present. This doesn’t just mean other animals in the house – some cats will spray simply because they saw a dog on a walk outside or smelled your neighbor’s cat down the hall. The males also tend to show aggression with all that testosterone continuing to pump through their system and may decide they want to show YOU they are more dominant. Female cats aren’t as much hassle when they aren’t spayed, but they are enough trouble that you should still get it done. First, if your cat gets outside and has an encounter with an unneutered male then you may have to deal with a pregnant cat. They eat more and need to go to the vet to make sure there are no complications with the pregnancy, which I promise you is a much bigger bill then a simple spay. Plus, and I don’t want to get into too much detail with this, but the females of all mammals have a menstrual cycle. So, you’ll either have to buy diapers or cleaning products to keep your home clean.
More than anything, your relationship with your animal is a learning process. You shouldn’t get mad every time something goes wrong or doesn’t go the way you expect it. Your cat (despite what they may think) needs you, and they need you to understand their basic wants and desires. As long as you open your heart to your fuzzy friend and compromise when you can, you will get a loving companion that enjoys your company and gives you hours of entertainment.
Good luck to you and your new pet!