How to Be Successful at Taking Care of a Cat For the First Time
If you are new to the feline species, you may be curious about taking care of a cat for the first time. Care involves getting to know the cat, understanding a little about feline behavior, providing excellent litter box care, good nutrition, and required veterinary care while ensuring you have the necessary supplies to provide this care.
Understanding Your Cat
Cats are fascinating, mysterious and majestic creatures. Cats have many different personalities that can range from calm, soothing, lazy, energetic, ornery, funny, mysterious, shy, social to reclusive.
Although cats have a reputation for being independent, there are times and situations when they can (and do) interact with others of their own kind and humans in a social way. Learn more about Understanding Cat Communication.
Cats have amazing senses of smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Most all of their senses are much better than us humans. Learn more about Understanding Your Cat’s Senses.
When taking care of a cat for the first time, it is time well spent to learn more about how cats communicate and pay attention to their moods, intentions, and behavior. Cats live in the moment. They don’t plan what they will do in two hours or tomorrow. As they live in the moment, they communicate with their behavior how they feel right now. With time and understanding, you can tell when your cat is afraid, hungry, angry, playful, or when they want company vs. when they do not.
Another important thing to know about cat behavior is if you have an indoor-only cat, there are things they need to be content. Learn more with this article: What Indoor Cats Need to Be Happy.
15 Items for Your Cat Shopping List
When you are taking care of a cat for the first time, it is time to shop for food, toys, and other necessities you should have before bringing a cat home. Here are 15 items that you need when you have a cat:
- Carrier – A cat carrier, also known as a pet taxi, is used to transport your cat outside of the house. This is important to prevent your cat from running away. It should have good ventilation, be comfortable, durable, easy to clean, and airline approved if you plan to travel. Some carriers have both a front and side loading feature which can be handy. Learn more about Selecting the Best Cat Carrier.
- Food and water bowls – Washable bowls made of stainless steel or ceramic are good choices for cats. Cats generally prefer shallow bowls or plates with a thin rim for canned food meals. Learn more with Picking the Right Cat Food Bowl.
- Food – If possible feed the same food your cat has been eating prior to coming into your life. The more things you can keep the same can help the transition. If you cannot feed the same food, select a good quality dry and canned food formulated to meet the needs of your cat’s life stage. For example, kittens should be fed kitten food. Consult your vet about which type of food is best for your cat. Learn more about the Palatability of Cat Foods.
- Treats – Some cats love treats. Find a good quality natural product such as Stella and Chewy’s freeze-dried beef treats.
- Bed – It is nice to have a cat bed but cats often find their own special retreat around the house. It may be on a chair or the back of a sofa. A blanket or towel on a chair or a soft blanket on a table by a window can also allow some visual stimulation from the outdoors and access to the sun. Ensure any bed you purchase is machine washable. Learn more – Picking the Best Bed for Your Cat.
- Scratching post- It is important to have places in your home where your cat is welcome to scratch. This is especially important in cats with claws, however, just because a cat does not have their claws, does not mean they don’t have the instinct to “scratch”. Scratching is a natural instinct for cats to sharpen their claws, stretch, shed old nails, and leave their scent. Observe what your cat likes to scratch. Some cats prefer fabric and other materials, rope or cardboard. If you aren’t sure a good combination is a cardboard horizontal scratcher and a vertical carpeted post. Multi-cat households should have several scratching spots. Learn more about Selecting a Scratching Post for Your Cat.
- Toys – Your new cat will need to be stimulated and active to be healthy. There are many types of toys to choose from. If you are taking care of a cat for the first time, you can choose a small rolling ball, a catnip-filled toy, a furry small mouse, and a feathery flyer (a wand-type toy you wave through the air that simulates prey motions such as feathers that mimic a bird in flight). As you get to know your cat, you can fine-tune the types of toys they like best. This is a really good resource about Selecting the Right Toys for Your Cat’s Play Preference. You won’t be disappointed with the tips in this article.
- Litter box – It is critical to have a good clean litter box as you start taking care of a cat for the first time. There are several types of litter boxes on the market. This is a very important decision because when cats don’t use the box it creates an awful experience. Most cats will naturally start using the box but here is an article that may be helpful. Go to: Litter Box Training Your Cat. The best litter box is a large clear unhooded box (such as a plastic storage container) that is in a location that is consistently quiet. Avoid locations with random noises that can scare cats such as by the water, dryer or furnace. Learn more about choosing and caring for the litter box with this article Cleaning a Litter Box: All You Need to Know.
- Litter – If you were to ask feline veterinarians their favorite litter, many would recommend a scoopable clay-based unscented litter that is low in dust. Many cats are repulsed by the perfumed scents. The scents are made for humans – not for cats. KEY POINT: as you start taking care of a cat for the first time, once you find a litter your cat likes, stick with it. Don’t buy whatever is on sale this week. Cats are very particular and litter changes can lead to unwelcome alterations in bathroom habits. Learn more about Best Type of Cat Litter.
- Litter scoop – Choose a basic scoop that works for you. There are many colors and styles. Something plastic that can be easily washed works well.
- Litter can – I like a sealed small trash can that I can scoop the litter box wastes into and hide the odors. A small sealable can made for bathrooms works well. There are also commercial versions made for cats as well such as the Litter Champ®.
- Brush or comb– A basic flea comb and a Furminator® type comb are a good combination as you start taking care of a cat for the first time. Learn more about Combs and Brushes for Your Cat.
- Collar – The ideal fit for a cat collar should allow for one to two fingers to fit between your cat’s neck and the collar, depending on the size of your cat. A quick-release mechanism is important in case your cat gets caught on something. Some cat collars have bells. If you choose one, make sure the bell is secured to the collar and cannot come off or be accidentally eaten. The ringing bell can be pleasant to some cat owners but can also get on your nerves if your cat plays during the night.
- Identification (ID) tag – When placed on the collar, the ID tag it should provide your phone number as the most critical bit of information. Make it a forever number such as your cell. Learn more about Methods of Identification in Cats.
- Cat tree – Cats love to climb and high places help them feel secure. From a high spot, cats can watch their environment and identify both prey and predator. Cat trees and perches come in a variety of sizes, styles, and colors. Most commercially made cat trees are made of carpet with some wood holding the surfaces. Much of this selection will depend on the available room in your home. The tree should be sturdy and not easily knocked over. Ideally, it should be in the corner of the room or overlooking a window. Selecting the Right Environmental Enrichment for Your Cat.
Cat Proofing Your Home
As a first-time cat owner, it is important that you understand common cat dangers and “cat-proof” your home. You may be able to remove some dangers from your home or if not, at least understand the danger exists so you can take proper precautions.
Crush injuries – Reclining chairs can trap a cat that crawls inside and crushes a cat when inclined. This is most common in playful curious kittens. Rocking chairs can roll over a foot or tail and doors can close on cats paws or tails causing trauma to the skin or fractures.
B****urns – Cats love to jump and this can be on ironing boards or kitchen counters. Irons left on ironing boards can be hot and topple on cats, especially after a cat jumps up on the board. Hot burners and candles can also burn cats. Cats can also knock over candles causing house fires. Don’t leave candles, burners or hot irons unattended.
Electrocution – Electrical cords can be appealing to cats and they can chew on them leading to electrocution. To keep your cat from accidentally electrocuting herself, tie up loose electrical cords or conceal them in hard plastic or rubber runners.
Choking – If you place a collar on your cat, ensure it has elastic or break-away construction so if he or she gets caught on something they can get away.
Lost – Cats are often terrible around doors and can get out. Ensure your cat has a collar with identification tags as well as a microchip.
Foreign Bodies – Small objects, such as coins, pins, needles, rubber bands, staples, nails, screws, yarn, thread, dental floss, earrings and other small jewelry, bells, and small balls, left lying around can lodge in your cat’s digestive tract if swallowed. Keep them safely out of your cat’s reach.
Falls – To keep your cat from accidentally falling or escaping through an open window, fasten window screens securely.
Toxins and Chemicals Exposure
Many common household plants are poisonous to cats. They range from Easter lilies, lily-of-the-valley and daffodils to rhododendron and hydrangea. Learn more about Dangerous Household Plants.
Antifreeze is poisonous to cats. Keep it out of the reach of your cat.
Never give your cat medication without the approval of your veterinarian. Common anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are extremely toxic to cats as well as analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). Learn more about Overdose and Toxicity in Cats.
Chemical cleaning products can be hazardous or toxic to cats. Cats can walk through areas where there are cleaning products and by their fastidious nature, immediately clean themselves causing chemical burns to their mouths.
Clothes dryers. Because cats love to snuggle in small, warm spaces, they often crawl into clothes dryers if the dryer door is left open. Many cats have perished when their owners turn the dryer on without realizing the cat is inside. Close the dryer door after you remove a load of clothing to keep your cat from taking a nap in a potentially dangerous location.
Toilets. The toilet can be a popular watering hole for a cat. A small kitten could fall in and drown or a cat could become poisoned if the toilet contains an automatic toilet bowl cleaner. Keeping the toilet lid down.
Window blind cords. Some cats will play with cords and get their foot or paw caught in the string.
Best Practices for Taking Care of Cats
When you care for your cat, there are some best practices for cat care. The three most important things you can do are to ensure you are optimizing your cat’s food and nutritional needs, excellent litter box care, veterinary care, and ensure you are providing environmental enrichment.
Food and nutritional needs – Providing good quality cat food is critical to your cat’s health and wellbeing. Ensure you feed food formulated to meet the needs of your cat’s age and nutritional needs such as kitten, adult, or senior while avoiding obesity. Look for a formulation that is AAFCO approved.
Excellent litter box care – Excellent, consistent, and quality litter box care is critical to taking care of a cat for the first time. Many first-time cat owners don’t understand the importance of litter box care and maintenance, that is until they have a problem with the cat not using the litter box. Two really important articles to read are these: The Fine Art of Litter Box Care and The Top 8 Reasons Why Your Kitty Won’t Use the Litter Box.
Environmental enrichment – The term “environmental enrichment” refers to things you can do to enhance your cat’s environment to optimize feline contentment and happiness. This includes things they need such as the ability to climb, feel safe, eliminate in a safe environment, scratch, and feel loved. Ensure you have toys, places to climb and scratch. Learn more about Selecting the Right Environmental Enrichment for Your Cat.
Veterinary care – Provide your cat with recommended vaccinations and parasite control based on his age and level of risk. Learn what to expect from a vet visit with this article All About Your Cat’s First Vet Visit.
One important thing you can do when taking care of a cat for the first time is to be patient and provide gentle love and kindness. Your love will be rewarded back many times.
Additional Articles that May be of Interest with Taking Care of a Cat For the First Time:
- What You Should Know As a First Time Cat Owner
- All About Your Cat’s First Vet Visit
- The Benefits of Neutering a Cat and Why You Should
- Cleaning a Litter Box: All You Need to Know
- What Indoor Cats Need to Be Happy
- Understanding Your Cat’s Senses
- Understanding Feline Behavior Problems
- Kitten Proof Your Home
- Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation in Cats (CPR)
- How to do the Heimlich on Your Cat
- What is an Emergency Vet?
- When Should You Call the Emergency Vet Hotline?
- What is Pet Insurance?
- How Does Pet Insurance Work?