May 14, 2015 - the yellow kitten at the kitchen table

Advices for a first-time cat owner

Yes, it’s time to write an article about advices to a first-time cat owner. Wait, did I say cat owner? Oh no, that’s not true. We, humans, don’t own cats, cats own us instead. If you see things from that perspective, everything becomes clear. Anyway, if you owned by a cat for the first time, or at least let me say if you have a cat friend for the first time, here are some useful tips and advices below.

  • Litter box: cats have a natural instinct for dig in and use dirt and dry, loose material. They do it when they are about 4 weeks old without ever having observed their mothers doing so. Contrary to popular belief, mother cats do not teach their kittens to use the litter box. So, just show the cat the litter box, s/he will know what to do. Just try to keep it as clean as possible (clean it every day), and do not change its place, at least in the first few days. Tip: you can show your cat how to dig the litter, with digging it with your hands. S/he will understand what to do.
  • Buy the largest litter box you can find, even you have a small kitten: it will soon grow into a cat.
  • Show the cat(s) the food and water immediately, and try not to change where you keep them. Tip: Your cat will be much happier if you separate her/his water and food. Cats should also have several sources of fresh water available through the house. And be aware that some cats prefer running water, while others can detect the taste of chlorine in tap water so you might want to buy bottled water for them.
  • Give your cat proper cat food. Do NOT feed them from your table. Read more about Foods You Should Avoid Feeding Your Cat.
  • While they’re still getting used to you, show them you’re not a threat and let them smell your hand and pet them gently around the head, ears, and chin. This is a pretty safe spot to pet all cats – they tend to love it. Most cats have no-zones, too, like paws and tummies (Lotto and her kittens have no no-zones. In fact they really love it when I scratch their tummies. I can easily hold their paws also. I am lucky). Approach these areas with caution and never touch them there if they show they don’t want you to (which they’ll certainly show you). If a cat rolls over on its back and exposes its belly to you, it generally means that they trust you (they’re making themselves vulnerable in front of you). However, this does not necessarily mean they want you to pet their bellies.

    Thibaut is lying on the carpet
    If a cat rolls over on its back and exposes its belly to you, it generally means that they trust you.
  • Do NOT declaw your cat. It’s not good for their paws and could cause pain and discomfort. Declawing can make a cat less likely to use the litter box or more likely to bite. Declawing also can cause lasting physical problems for your cat. Many countries have banned declawing. The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing except for the rare cases when it is necessary for medical purposes, such as the removal of cancerous nail bed tumors. Buy a cat scratcher and there will be no need to declaw.

    Lotto using Cat Scratcher
    Lotto is using the Cat Scratcher.
  • They have rough, scratchy tongues. If they lick you and it feels weird, and even if it hurt you, it’s normal. A cat’s tongue is “barbed” with thousands of tiny mounds. These barbs allow kitty to lap water, lick off small pieces of meat, and (very important) to groom himself.

    Cat tongue
    The hooked papillae on a cat’s tongue act like a hairbrush to help clean and detangle fur. Photo: wikipedia
  • Cats sleep a lot. There’s nothing wrong with your cat if he or she sleeps for most of the day. As natural predators, they conserve energy by sleeping more than most animals, especially as they grow older. The daily duration of sleep varies, usually 12–16 hours, with 13–14 being the average. Some cats can sleep as much as 20 hours in a 24-hour period.
  • Some cats do love water, while most of them hate it. So washing your cat is not a good idea. They clean themselves with their tongues – they do not need to be cleaned by you at all, unless they have something toxic or especially icky in their fur.
  • They will love you and cuddle you on their own time – you absolutely can’t force it.
  • When they wag their tails (not swishing, but wagging), they’re unhappy. Do not try to pet them and let them have their space.
  • Teach them not to do certain things (scratch furniture, chew cords, etc.) by firmly saying “No!” or “Stop!” You can also make some sort of noise that will get their attention, like clapping your hands or making a “Sssstttt” sound (this works best for my cats). Never, ever physically punish them for bad behavior or intimidate them by stomping your feet and chasing them away – it’ll just make them trust you less.
  • Some cats are more vocal than others. Sometimes your cat will meow to get your attention for something specific (food, water, open the door and let me outside, pet me, play with me, etc.), but otherwise, some cats just like to talk. If your cat is meowing at you for no apparent reason, you might just have a talkative cat. Embrace it.
  • Cats can be a wonderful alarm clock. If you get in the habit of feeding them at a certain time every day, they’ll expect you to be up-and-at-’em every day at that time to feed them. They have various techniques for waking you up – Lotto used to lick my eyelids when she wanted to be fed (remember, cats have scratchy tongues, and when Lotto licks my eyelids, it really hurts – so I always get up. But she is not doing this any more, I don’t know why. She is just meowing in my ear). Many cats will just meow or walk on you, or touch your face until you wake up.
  • Some cats are cuddlier and more friendly than others. There’s nothing wrong with your cat if he or she is shy and not very affectionate. Every cat is unique.
  • Growing “cat grass” indoors is an excellent option to satisfy your pet’s needs. Cats do eat grass, and it seems they like it, but in fact there are only theories as to why they do. Some claim it is to get extra niacin, a B vitamin abundantly available in most fresh young grain grasses. Perhaps cats eat it to make themselves vomit. Some people believe cats eat it to help pass fur balls along while others say they just need the fiber for other nutritional purposes.

    Kitten eating cat grass
    The female tabby (number four) eating cat grass.

If you let your cat to be outdoor sometimes:

  • Expect to find dead (sometimes alive!) mouses, birds and other small animals occasionally to frequently. If your cat is a skilled hunter this can be happen a lot. In the wild, cat mothers teach their young how to eat their food by bringing home dead or injured prey. Domestic cats are no different. But in this modern age of spayed domestic cats, many female felines have no young to whom they need to pass on their hunting wisdom. By leaving a dead animal on the back porch, your cat is acting out its natural role as mother and teacher. You, her loving owner, represent her surrogate family. And frankly, she knows you would never have been able to catch that delicious mouse on your own.
  • Keep an eye out for ticks and fleas and treat them regularly with some kind of anti-flea and tick ointment.
  • Spay or neuter your cat. You should probably do this for an indoor cat as well (especially for a female, since she will go into heat fairly frequently if not spayed), but it’s especially important if your cat will be an outdoor cat.

Sources

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