First-time Cat Owner's Guide .

First-time Cat Owner's Guide  .



    "Congratulations, it's a cat!"

    So, you've never had a cat before and now you do. Worried about this new creature's strange behavior? Wondering what to feed? No idea what a litterbox is? Don't panic - we've got you covered!

    If you haven't the faintest idea about what to do with your new furriend, we're here to help! This guide will walk you through the basics of understanding your cat and providing him or her with the best possible care. Take a deep breath and grab a coffee. This is the first step in your journey to knowing a wonderful animal and making a lifelong friend.

    Cats come into our lives in all manner of ways. Maybe you decided you needed a pet and figured a cat sounds like a good option. Or maybe you were walking down the street and couldn't resist picking up this cute stray kitten and bringing him home with you. Either way, once Kitty is with you, you have a responsibility to care for her or his needs. Meeting those needs begins with understanding them, so without further ado, let us introduce you to the concept of a cat.

    What is this creature anyway?

    Ok, so it looks furry and kinda cute, but what are we dealing with here exactly?

    Cats are felines, members of the same family as lions, tigers, and leopards. In other words, your cat is a highly sophisticated predator, designed to hunt small critters, mostly rodents, and birds. Your cat is also a domesticated animal. That means he or she thrives on human companionship and needs your care, protection, and love. To your cat, you are a big cat, not unlike a mother cat is to her kittens.

    Let's look at some basic qualities of domestic cats.
    Cats have their own personalities
    Regardless of the image, you may have of cats, your own cat is an individual with his or her own temperament and habits. Cats vary greatly in levels of activity, aggression, vocalization and a slew of other qualities. Don't be surprised if your cat doesn't actually have every one of the qualities described here.

    Cats like to "get up there"

    A healthy adult cat is an athletic creature that can run, jump and climb trees. You may find that your cat likes to jump on the kitchen counters or climb the cupboards. That's a perfectly reasonable thing to do if you're a cat. There are ways to keep cats out of areas where they shouldn't be but your cat will likely need access to as many above-ground spots as possible. Many cat owners buy or make cat trees or install shelves along the walls where their cats can perch. By the way, cats also love hiding inside boxes and other small spaces.

    Cats are (sort of) nocturnal

    That is to say, cats are active mostly around dusk and dawn and may be up any time of the day or night. Your cat has excellent night vision, so even a little bit of light is enough for him or her to get around at nighttime. Don't be surprised if you hear Kitty up and about at 2am. That's perfectly normal for a cat.

    Cats sleep a lot

    On average, cats sleep 12-16 hours a day. Most cats enjoy a mix of catnaps throughout the day and night, but don't be surprised if you notice your cat spends a lot of the daylight hours sound asleep because, as mentioned earlier, cats are nocturnal.

    Cats make various sounds

    Everyone knows that cat's meow. However, the sound of that meow can vary and with time you may be able to discern different "cat words" that your cat is saying. The number of vocalization changes from one cat to another and can be anything from monastic silence to constant operatic performances. Some cats also chirp and chatter when they're excited.

    Cats can also hiss, growl and yowl. These are signs of fear and imminent aggression, so if you hear them, keep your distance from the cat and let her calm down. Constant "crying" or yowling can also be a sign of heat in non-spayed females.

    Last but not least: Purring. Most cats purr when they are happy or wish to appear non-threatening. Some can be very loud too. Don't worry, it's just your cat's way to show affection. Enjoy the sound!

    Cats communicate through body language too

    Cats express themselves through body language, and their signals are quite different from those of dogs. For example, when a cat "wags" her or his tail, they're probably not happy and could lash out if you try to pet them. Another tip for beginners: Avoid staring into Kitty's eyes. A direct stare can be interpreted as threatening, and unless the cat knows you very well, he or she may feel intimidated and possibly even lash out.

    Take note of your cat's body language and with time you'll get better at understanding it.

    Cats sharpen their claws by scratching

    In fact, cats scratch certain surfaces not only to sharpen their claws but also to mark their territory and relieve stress. You can't teach a cat to avoid this behavior entirely because it's just part of their nature. Instead, you should provide your cat with appropriate scratching surfaces, such as a suitable scratching post. You can teach your cat not to scratch your beloved coach, but only after you find the right scratching post that he or she will actually use.

    Cats bury their waste

    Our furtive little felines want to keep both prey and potential predators from knowing where they live. To do that, they bury their own feces and urine in the ground. Usually, a cat will find a nice spot, dig a small hole, do her business and then cover it with soil. In your home, you want that spot to be the litterbox, so you have to provide Kitty with a good one and keep it clean.

    Cats have strong hunting instincts

    Cats are hardwired to hunt small animals. That means you should not leave a cat unattended with your pet gerbil, gecko or budgie. It also means you're likely to see your cat respond to stimuli that resemble their prey, a quality that works well for playtime sessions.

    Cats tend to hide their pain

    Just because Kitty isn't crying in pain doesn't mean she's well. Cats tend to hide pain and discomfort so you need to acquaint yourself with the telltale signs of health problems in cats.

    A note on the behavior of kittens

    Kittens are extremely energetic and curious. When they're not sleeping or eating, they will be out there exploring the world and playing with just about anything. This is how kittens learn about the world and how they hone their "cat skills".

    These skills include hunting, so kittens are also more likely to bite and scratch you as they play. This level of energy gradually subsides but it can take up to a year or even two before your kitten really calms down.

    What your new cat needs

    Now that you know a little bit about cats and their behavior, let's see what your duties as a cat owner are.

    1. Veterinary Care

    Hopefully, your new cat is healthy and will just need a quick check-up and the first round of vaccinations. If you rescued a stray cat off the street, there's a good chance the vet will need to treat her or him for worms and fleas as well. Take the time to find a good veterinarian that you feel comfortable with, as this person is going to be your ally in caring for your cat for years to come.
    Spaying & Neutering
    One of the most important things you can do for your cat is spaying (if a female) or neutering (if a male). If you adopted from a shelter, your cat has probably already had the procedure. If you found a cat, talk to your vet and schedule a spay or neutering. For various reasons, cats should ideally be spayed or neutered before they reach sexual maturity, so don't delay this.
    Your cat should not be declawed. Declawing is illegal in most Western countries, but if you live in the US, your veterinarian may bring it up as an option. Please do not have your cat's claws permanently removed. The procedure is extremely painful and unnecessary.

    2. Feeding Kitty

    Your cat is a carnivore and must be fed animal-based nutrition or he will get very sick and die. Your best option as a beginner is to buy quality cat food at a pet store. Make sure the food is classified as "complete and balanced" for all life stages. If you have a kitten, it's best to choose a kitten formula, as it's more nutritious and better suited for the needs of a growing body.


    There are many ways to feed a cat. Some owners free-feed, filling up Kitty's dish daily and letting him or she eats at will. Others prefer to limit feeding times. For a young or underweight cat, free-feeding is usually the best option, but an overweight cat may need stricter portion control.

    3. The Litterbox

    You must provide your cat with a large clean litterbox. That means a large box that is filled with a couple of inches of kitty litter. You can buy litter at the pet store and here too, preferences vary among owners and cats. Most owners prefer clumping litter because it turns urine into solid waste that's easier to scoop. And scoop you will, at least once a day. Keeping the box clean is key for your cat to use it.

    Place the litterbox in an area where the cat can easily access it any time of day or night. Don't expect a cat to "hold it" for the night and don't make getting to the box too difficult. Place it away from food and water dishes too.

    4. Scratching Posts

    Your cat needs a good scratching post and preferably more than one. Scratching posts need to be strong, stable, long and accessible. You should place a scratching post where you tend to spend the most time around your home as this is where Kitty is likely to hang around and mark it as his or her territory. It's best to offer both a vertical and a horizontal post and see which one your new cat prefers, as this is a matter of personal feline taste.

    5. Playing and exercise

    Just like us, cats need to move around and exercise to stay fit and healthy. Playing behavior is also important and helps your cat practice mental and physical skills and relieve stress. Have cat trees in your home, to encourage Kitty to climb and move around.

    Provide special cat toys, such as stuffed mice and small lightweight balls. There are special toys shaped like a fishing pole that allows you to play along with your cat. This interactive playtime can be very good for strengthening your bond while getting Kitty some exercise.
    6. Sleeping Arrangements
    Cats sleep a lot, but you don't really have to provide them with a special bed. Your cat will find his or her favorite napping spots around your home, which may or may not include that fancy cat bed you bought for them. Many cats prefer to sleep in the same bed as their owner. This is a sign of trust: Kitty feels more secure with you around, just like a kitten would with Mama Cat.

    Prepare before you bring in a cat

    1. Do your research

    The Scouts are right. Being prepared is always a good idea. A planned adoption gives you time to read everything you can about cats, their behavior and their needs. Now's the time to get past most of the learning curve and make some decisions. Should you buy a covered litterbox or an open one? What type of litter to get? What type of cat food are you going to choose? There's a lot of research to be done

    2. Go shopping!

    We've prepared a shopping list for you! This New Cat Checklist: What You Need to Get Before Bringing Kitty Home covers the basics and points you towards some important guides that will help you make informed decisions.

    3. Prepare your home

    Ideally, you should get everything ready before bringing Kitty home. This includes setting up a safe space where the new cat can take the time to gradually adjust to the new setting. You should also make sure your home is safe for a cat and prepare other family members for the new arrival. Now is also the time to ask about local veterinarians and decide which one will be taking care of your cat's health. 


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    writer and blogger, founder of GENERAL INSURANCE .

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