Pets can add so much love and joy to your life and, despite their antisocial reputation, cats provide their particular brand of adoring, furry companionship. Whether you're a first time cat owner or coming back after many years, we'll help you sort through the ins and outs of buying a cat.
In this guide, we'll cover the basics of cat care, run through what to know before getting a cat, and provide you with a first time cat owner checklist.
Am I Ready to Own a Cat?
Before you run out and get yourself a fluffy, new companion, the first thing you should ask yourself is: "Should I get a cat?" This may seem like an unnecessary question, but it's important to take the time to go over the different aspects of cat ownership before bringing another life into your household. Here are a few specific questions to help you figure out the bigger answer.
Is there room in your financial budget for another family member?
Although a pet usually isn't going to cost as much as an actual child, the real amount can be surprising if you haven't listed out the expenses in detail. These go beyond the obvious costs, like litter and food.
You'll also need to spend on toys and scratching posts, a pet carrier, and extra cleaning products. If you get a kitten, there will be upfront veterinary costs for vaccinations and neutering, and both kittens and adult cats will need regular vet visits and money set aside in case of a medical emergency.
If you go on a trip and don't have a friend or relative to take care of your cat, you'll also need to pay for boarding or a pet sitter. We'll go into more detail on cat expenses later in this guide, but this is one of the first questions you should take into account during your initial consideration.
Do you have time to take care of a cat?
One of the things to know before getting a cat is that, although cats don't require as much attention as a dog, they do still need more time and effort than people often think. For someone who's never owned a cat before, there can be a misconception that all you need to do is feed them and scoop the litter box, and they're good to go.
In reality, cats need plenty of interaction time with you to build a relationship and to fulfill their social needs. Contrary to the cultural stereotype, cats do need social interaction. This is why, for example, they often get in the way of things you're focusing on, like papers or a computer you're working on.
They're looking for your attention. They also need play time - especially indoor cats - both to exercise their bodies and to satisfy their primal hunting drives. Play time also helps to strengthen your bond with your kitty.
Does your lifestyle fit a cat, or can you adjust it to accommodate a cat?
If you travel a lot, you probably should not get a cat, unless there's someone else in the household ready and willing to take on cat duty while you're gone. Cats are territorial creatures and often become stressed if they always move from place to place.
They also don't tend to fair well if left alone for extended periods of time. As a general rule, if you're going to be away from home longer than 24 hours, you'll need to make arrangements, either with a boarder or pet sitter.
Many people think that leaving a cat alone over the weekend is fine, but actually, cats get lonely, too, and can become stressed when left alone for too long. Some cats eventually develop behavioral issues, because they start to panic when you leave.
Other cats will stop using the litter box if it gets too dirty (it should be scooped at least once a day). And, most importantly, if there is an emergency, like a fire, or your cat gets sick without you knowing, there will be no one there to help him.
Another part of your lifestyle that you might need to think about is your possessions. Even with well-behaved cats who have sufficient access to scratching posts and toys, expect that some of your possessions will probably get damaged. Things will get scratched, knocked over, or vomited on. If this thought really bothers you, it's probably best if you do not get a cat.
Also, if you live in an apartment building, be sure to check with your landlord that cats are allowed, so that you don't bring one home only to end up having to return him immediately.
Are you in it for the long haul?
Cats, particularly indoor cats, can live a long time. That is, up to 20 years or more - roughly as long as it takes to raise a child. Take some time to think about that seriously, and decide if that kind of responsibility is something you are ready to shoulder.
If the thought of that kind of commitment scares you or makes you feel unsure, it might be a sign that cat ownership is not for you.
Are you ready to clean up?
Cats come with poop. Poop that you will have to scoop (unless you get a self-scooping litter box). The litter box will need to be scooped every day. You'll probably have to sweep or vacuum litter that gets tracked outside of the box.
You may need to wipe up the occasional hairball, or a dingleberry that gets streaked across the floor. Long-haired cat breeds will need plenty of grooming. If you're thinking about having an outdoor kitty, be prepared to dispose of little critter corpses. There is also the possibility that your cat may run into some medical or behavioral issues that cause him to pee outside of the litter box or to vomit on your carpet, bed sheets or clothes.
Cats are more than just cuddly fur balls. They also have bodily functions that they can't clean up themselves. Are you ready to add responsible cat cleaning duty to your list of household chores?
Why do you want a cat?
Lastly, you should take a little time to examine the roots of your desire to get a cat and ask yourself why? If you're looking for a life-long companion, cats fit this bill well. Although they have a different personality and language than dogs, cats are just as loyal and loving.
For any reason other than that, however, you may want to reconsider. If you're buying on impulse simply because of the cuteness factor you see in shelters or stores, go back to the above questions.
Do you have the time, money and commitment required to care for an animal for the entirety of its life? Don't buy an adorable kitten only to abandon it when it grows up. If you're buying one for your children, either as a special gift or to teach them responsibility, remember that your kids are still children.
You are ultimately responsible for all the members of your household. If you don't want a cat, then don't get a cat. Finally, if you're getting a cat just because you think they're easier than a dog, keep in mind that cats are easy relative to dogs.
That means they still require work and care. You can't neglect to feed outdoor cats because you think they're hunting outside. You can't neglect cat wellness check-ups just because they don't look sick.
You can't neglect to play with them or spend quality time with them if you get really busy. Somehow, you need to fit them into your life in a way that makes you both happy and healthy.
These questions are not meant to discourage you from bringing a cat into your life. They're only intended to keep your view of cat ownership realistic and to make sure you consider all the angles of being a first time cat owner.
Should I Buy or Adopt a Cat?
Once you've decided that you want and are ready for a cat, the next decision to make is whether to buy or adopt. Unless you are dead set on getting a particular breed from a reputable breeder, adopting a cat is by far the better choice.
There are many reasons to adopt, but the biggest and most important reason is that you'll be saving a life. Every year, three million cats and dogs are euthanized. Studies estimate that 80% of those are healthy, treatable and could have been adopted into homes.
Although there is a stigma against adoption, because of the unknown past of many of these cats, the truth is that no matter where you get your cat – from a shelter, breeder or store – there is no guarantee that the cat comes without challenges.
In reality, purebred cats tend to be more prone to health issues due to the narrowness of their gene pools. Cats raised by backyard breeders and kitten mills usually have both health and behavioral problems, as they are mistreated, poorly socialized and kept in bad conditions.
Because animal shelters make the animal's well-being (not profit) their priority, even cats who have issues that need addressing will come with the built-in support system that most adoption centers provide.
Adopting will both save you money on the initial purchase, as well as in the discount that many shelters offer on vaccination and neutering services. Shelters also serve as a central hub for pet-loving communities.
- Save a life
- Save money
- Shelter support system
- Potential unknown history of a cat
- Potential health and behavior challenges
Buying a cat from a pet store is highly discouraged. Any animal purchased from a pet store is likely coming from a breeding mill, where animals are kept in terrible conditions, abused and neglected.
This can be true for many of the ads you see on Craigslist as well. Even though it may feel like you're saving a cat's life by buying it from a store, you're only participating in the trade and condemning more cats to abuse and cruelty.
The vendors don't care why you bought the cat. They only care that they made money and this gives them a reason to continue what they're doing. The only way we'll be able to shut down kitten mills for good is if we collectively put these people out of business by refusing to buy from them.
- Save a life
- Supports kitten mills
- No support system or community
- Potential health and behavior challenges
If you're buying from a breeder, you'll need to do your research, both on the breeder and on the breed of cat you're looking at. Many purebred cats come with specific health concerns or temperaments particular to their breed.
You'll need to make sure that you and your lifestyle are a good fit for the breed. Bengal cats, for example, can be popular for their unique appearance, but they are also very high energy and need much more exercising than a regular mixed-breed domestic cat.
Persian cats, on the other hand, often have breathing and eye problems due to their squashed noses so that they may need more frequent vet check-ups, as well as rigorous grooming for their thick, long fur.
As far as the breeder, make sure they have a good reputation in their community, that they take particular breed concerns into account, provide a safe and healthy environment for both parents and kittens, and that they dedicate time to kitten socialization before the cat goes home with you.
- Access to purebred breeds
- Extensive breed knowledge-base with a good breeder
- Possible community, depending on breeder
- Often much more expensive
- Certain breeds prone to specific health and behavior challenges
- Requires deeper research into breed and breeder
Cost of Owning a Cat
The yearly cost of having a cat averages at about $700, although this can vary widely depending on the quality and quantity of the supplies, you're buying and how often your cat needs to go to the vet.
A broader estimate can range anywhere from $300 to $1,200 per year. The first year will also be the most expensive (closer to $500 - $3,000 for that year), as you'll need to make sure your cat is up-to-date on all their vaccinations and, ideally, have them neutered. Also, purchase cost will vary.
If you're getting a kitten from a neighbor who had a stray give birth under her porch, you may be able to get your kitten for free. However, if you're looking for a purebred from a reputable breeder, you may be looking at upwards of $1,000, depending on the breed and your location.
Here is a video that discusses the cost of owning a cat:
The bare monthly basics are food, litter, and toys, which will cost $20-$100 per month, depending mostly on the type of food you buy. Initial set-up supplies, like a cat carrier, scratching post and food bowls, will add to your first-year expenses. We'll go into a more detailed list of cat supplies in the following section.
Veterinary costs will likely make up the bulk of your cat expenses, especially in the first year and later stages of your cat's life. Wellness checks are usually done annually and will cost $50-$200. Basic procedures, such as neutering, dental work, or annual vaccinations, will usually cost around $100-$200 each.
Spaying female cats are more expensive than neutering male cats, as the surgery for females is more invasive. Intensive vet care resulting from serious illness or injury can easily start at $500 and increase from there. Emergency care, like human emergency care, is much more expensive and can cost thousands.
Because of this, some pet owners find pet health insurance to be extremely useful, especially as your cat ages. With a rise in veterinary service costs alongside an increase in pet ownership over recent years, pet health insurance has seen a steady growth (a 60% growth from 1996 to 2012, more than human health insurance at 49%) and is expected to continue rising.
With risks and trends very similar to that of human health insurance - meaning that more is spent on healthcare the older you get - pet health insurance may be something to consider, if not now, perhaps in the later years of your cat's life. Pet health insurance runs at about $10-20 per month.
Pet Sitting and Boarding
Another expense that is often underestimated or forgotten entirely is arrangements for when you're traveling. Although it is possible to bring your cat with you when you travel, and some cats even enjoy it, most cats tend to react badly to constant travel.
Taking this into consideration, you should take a look at the pet sitting or boarding services in your area, which both average at about $50 per day, depending on your location. Alternatively, check in with friends and family to see who might be willing to take care of your furry little one while you are away. Remember: If you're going to be away from home for longer than 24 hours, make sure your cat will be taken care of in your absence.
Cat Supplies List
If you're a first time cat owner, you may not be sure of what things you need for a cat. Here, we've provided a comprehensive first time cat owner checklist.
First, we'll go through the items that are essential in a cat supplies list.
1. Cat Carrier ($15-$50)
A cat carrier is the first thing you'll need to carry your cat home and, later, to and from the vet. Cat carriers come in either hard plastic or soft fabric varieties. Either one will work, but the plastic carriers are much more secure and easier to get your cat in and out of when he's not thrilled about taking a ride.
Remember to keep a small towel inside the carrier to help keep your cat comfortable without it taking up too much of his space. Keep in mind that, if you're driving a car, never let your cat roam free inside of it.
This is dangerous for both you and the cat, as most cats get very nervous inside cars, and he might crawl under the seat and get stuck, or even crawl in the way of your brake pedal. Keep everyone safe by always keeping him inside his carrier when he's in transit.
2. Cat Food ($10-$50 per month)
Cat food costs vary widely, depending on the type and brand that you get. It pays to do your research thoroughly in this area, as you'll need to find something that is good for your cat's health, fits his taste, and also fits your budget.
Because cats are carnivores (not omnivores), it's important to make sure their diet is high in animal protein. Try to avoid foods that contain too much grain or filler. If it's not immediately clear (for example, many brands say "no grain" on the front of their packaging, while others don't specify), check the ingredients list.
Ingredients lists are ordered by weight and, for cat food, the first three ingredients should be an animal protein of some kind. Cats in the wild also get most of their water intake from the prey they consume. For that reason, wet canned food is more in line with a cat's natural diet due to its higher water content.
The downside is that, in general, dry kibble is much more affordable, since it's cheaper to package and produce. However, cats raised solely on a dry food diet tend to develop more health problems, especially as they age.
A compromise that many people make is to feed their cat a high-quality kibble supplemented with wet canned food. If you choose to go this route, just be sure to check the feeding recommendations for both and adjust so that your cat doesn't gain too much weight.
Lastly, you may need to try out different brands and flavors of cat food to see what your cat likes, and to see if he develops allergies to anything (it is not uncommon for cats to be allergic to fish, since they eat this only rarely in the wild).
Only buy small amounts as you're testing things out to see what your cat takes to. Keep in mind that it sometimes takes years for an allergy to develop, so don't be afraid of changing your cat's food down the road if it becomes necessary.
Allergies manifest in a variety of symptoms, most commonly vomiting and/or diarrhea. (An important side note: While coughing up occasional hairballs is normal for cats, vomiting is not, especially repeated vomiting and/or diarrhea. Check in with your vet if your cat is displaying these symptoms.)
These are just general guidelines. Because diet is one of the biggest components of your cat's health, it's best to do as much research as you can before making a final decision regarding cat food.
3. Food Bowl / Cat Feeder ($10-$50)
You can either buy a food bowl or use a spare dish that you already have at home. The dish should be glass or ceramic since these are the easiest to clean. It is also best to use a plate or shallow bowl - something that is big enough for your cat to stick his face into without feeling uncomfortable.
Although some cats will stick their heads into any small and random space, others are more wary. If the bowl is too deep or narrow, his whiskers touching the sides of the dish might put him off.
You can also get a cat feeder if your schedule makes it hard to be available for regular feeding times. These can range from simple gravity feeders that provide food all day, to high-tech, programmable feeders that will dispense specific amounts of food at predetermined times.
4. Litter Box and Scoop ($10-$50 each)
The rule of thumb with litter boxes is that you need one per cat, plus one. So if you're only getting one cat, get two litter boxes. If you're getting two, then three boxes. This is so your cat can identify his territory in the home.
The litter boxes themselves don't need to be fancy. A big storage bin with a door cut into it works fine. The main thing is that it should be long and wide enough for a full grown cat to move around in, about one and a half by two feet minimum.
It should also be deep enough to hold three to four inches of litter. Generally, the higher the walls, the less litter will be kicked out. You should also place these boxes in open areas around the house, where your cat can easily access them (i.e. not inside of a cabinet).
Also try not to put them anywhere where the cat might get scared when he's using the litter box (like next to a washing machine) because your cat might end up not wanting to use his litter box if he's afraid of the place it's located.
If you do want to go fancy and want to save the time and effort of scooping, you can get a self-cleaning litter box. These will automatically scoop through the litter on a timer, pulling all the clumps into a bag at one end, which you then just need to dispose of.
If you do choose an auto-scooper, remember to take a quick peek at the poop before you throw it out, to make sure your cat's bowels are working properly. This may seem gross, but it's a good way to monitor your cat's health.
Whether you scoop manually or get an automatic litter box, you should scoop at least once a day. This keeps your kitty's environment clean and safe, and also prevents any odor down. Bare in mind that if you do neglect to scoop for too long, you run the risk of your cat refusing to pee there anymore, and he might instead pee in your laundry basket or on your bed. After all, nobody wants to squat on a dirty toilet.
5. Litter ($5-$15)
Litter is another supply that comes in many varieties, from synthetic clays to more natural materials, like wood. Some clump, some don't clump. Some come with fragrance, some don't. Our recommendation is to get a fragrance-free clumping litter, non-clay if possible. Fragrance-free, because artificial smells can put a cat off.
Clumping, because it makes the litter much easier to scoop. And non-clay, because the clay type often gets stuck between the toes of their paws or in their fur.
6. Cat Toys ($5-$20)
Cat toys are essential. They not only give your cat something fun to do, but they also aid in exercising your cat and satisfying his natural instinct to hunt prey. Added to that, playing with your cat using these toys is one of the best ways to bond with your kitty.
Try to make time every day for a play session. As far as what kind of toy to get, this is another area where you'll have to experiment and see what your cat likes. Some cats prefer mouse-like toys.
Others like feathers, or string, or balls. It all comes down to his individual personality and preferences. To fully incorporate your cat's natural state of being into your routine, plan the play session just before meal time. This way you can simulate the hunt, catch, eat pattern that he would normally do in the wild.
7. Scratching Post ($5-$50)
Scratching posts serve a few different purposes for a cat. It allows him to sharpen his claws and remove the outer sheath when it sheds, it's a way for him to exercise his upper body, and it's a way for him to mark his territory.
Again, there are different types of scratchers: corrugated cardboard, carpet, wood, sisal rope, etc. They also come in various shapes, some upright posts, some as rugs or hanging posts, some doubling as cat beds.
Most cats will use them all, though some can have a hard preference that you'll need to discover. Whichever kind of scratching post you get, make sure it has a broad, stable base, so when your cat is pulling on it, it doesn't wobble around too much.
If you can, buy several scratching objects and place them around the house. Cats scratch instinctually and, while you can't stop him from scratching (and shouldn't), you can direct him to a more appropriate place.
If your cat is scratching up your furniture, try putting double-sided tape on the part of the furniture he's scratching, and put a scratching post right next to it. He won't like the stickiness of the tape and, since the scratching post is right there, will usually just switch over to the post. When he starts using the post regularly, you can take the tape off your furniture.
8. Grooming Tools ($5-$300)
Grooming tools, like brushes, shampoo, and nail clippers, are recommended, although not all cats need them. Short-haired breeds can usually groom themselves well enough, whereas long-haired breeds need the help of you and a brush to keep from getting matted.
If your cat goes outside, his fur will probably collect all sorts of debris that will need to be washed out, while an indoor cat may not need any washing at all. Nail clipping, as well, depends on the cat and owner.
Some cat owners don't feel the need to clip their cat's nails, whereas other owners keep them trimmed for the safety of any children in the house. You can do all the grooming yourself, or you can opt to take your kitty to a professional groomer.
Professional services will obviously cost more money, but, depending on your situation, may be worth the expense.
9. Dental Care ($5-$15)
Brushing your cat's teeth can be a real challenge. It may take a while for him to get used to it, so be patient. Don't give up, though, because brushing your cat's teeth is important to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Studies show that by the time most cats are two years old, 70% of them have some form of gum disease. Regular dental cleanings with the vet will help, but you should also make a concerted effort to do your best for your cat's teeth at home. Make sure only to use toothbrushes and toothpaste that are specifically designed for cats.
10. First Aid Kit ($15-$200)
Having a first aid kit around in case of emergency is also important. They can be used for anything from small injuries, like taking a splinter out of a paw, to stabilizing your cat on the way to the vet.
You can buy pre-made kits put together specifically for cats, which vary widely in cost and offer different supplies, from bandages to emergency supplements. Alternatively, you can put one together yourself.
It should include the numbers for your vet, emergency care, and poison control, bandages, cotton swabs, first aid tape, tweezers, a wound disinfectant, antibiotic ointment, eye wash solution, disposable gloves, a cat muzzle, and a blanket.
More can be added to this list, as well. Make sure to educate yourself on how to give your cat first aid for different scenarios, so that you'll know what to do when something happens.
These supplies aren't necessarily mandatory for cat ownership, but they are strongly recommended, for reasons we'll discuss individually.
1. Cat Tree or Cat Furniture
As we've mentioned, cats are territorial creatures. They also like to climb, to perch in high places where they can watch the action of the living space from a safe spot, without being in the fray.
They also need to be able to own a little territory. Cat trees fulfill various cat needs. They are built to be scratched on, they give your cat something to climb on, they often have perching platforms or napping cubbies, and sometimes come attached with toys.
If you find that your cat is always getting into places where you don't want him, like on the counter, on your desk, or on your pillow, you might need to give him his furniture. Often when cats get up in these places, it's because that's where you and your scent are, and they just want to be near you.
Setting up a cat tree right next to your desk, or a cat bed near your pillow may be just the solution you both need, so he can have his place to sit nearby you, without physically being in your way.
2. ID Tag and Collar ($5-$50)
While not strictly necessary if your cat is an indoor-only cat, having him wear a collar and tag can be an extra safety measure if, by some chance, he does get outside. Be sure to get a safety breakaway collar, so that just in case he gets caught on something, he can pull free without getting hurt or strangled.
You can also opt to get your cat microchipped, which costs about $50. If the idea of training your cat to go on walks appeals to you (difficult but entirely possible), you can also consider getting a cat-walking harness.
3. Flea and Tick Medications ($50-$150)
This will come into play mainly if your cat is an outdoor cat, or if, by whatever means, you end up with flea or ticks in your house. These items can be special shampoos that you'll need to wash your cat with, special collars that repel bugs, or tick and flea repelling sprays.
Often, your vet will have the best recommendations for which products to use when the occasion arises.
4. Pet Cleaning Supplies ($10-$50)
Although you can use regular household cleaners to clean up any vomit or urine, it is recommended that you pick up a couple of pet-specialized supplies. The ingredients in these often work to remove the odor of urine specifically.
Be sure to only use these products on areas where your cat is not supposed to pee, and not inside his actual litter box, because constantly removing his smell from his box might deter him from continuing to use it. Lint rollers also tend to come in handy, especially if you have extra furry kitties who shed a lot.
5. Cat Bed ($10-$50)
Although you can use a towel or a cardboard for your cat to sleep in, having a cat bed is beneficial for your cat. They will be able to sleep much more securely and peacefully if they have one.
There are many types of cat bed that can be used. If you live in a cold climate you can opt for a heated one to keep your cats warm. If you cat prefers to have solitude try an enclosed cat bed. if he is not picky you can opt for an open cat bed. Some even DIY the cat bed for their pets with the material that are available in their homes.
These supplies are mostly for individual circumstances that may or may not apply to you.
1. Cat Water Fountain ($20-$50)
A regular water bowl is perfectly fine, but if your cat seems like he's not interested in drinking from a plain dish, you might consider getting a water fountain to drink from.
In the wild, cats usually drink from flowing water, since it's cleaner than stagnant water, so providing your cat with a constant source of flowing water might be beneficial if it seems like he's not drinking enough.
2. Cat Treats ($5-$50)
Cats don't require treats and should be used sparingly because it's easy to accidentally overfeed your cat and cause him to gain too much weight. However, it is also possible to train your cat, and using treats is one good way to do it.
If that's something you're interested in, look for brands that, like regular cat food, are high in protein and don't contain too much filler. You can also feed your cat a little bit of human food in place of commercial treats, such as meat or eggs, but these should be used in moderation.
Most other types of human food, however, are not suitable to feed your cat, including dairy products. Despite the stereotypical image of playful kittens lapping up saucers of milk, cats - like most adult animals - are lactose intolerant, and drinking milk or cream can make them sick.
3. Catnip ($5-$10)
Catnip is another tool that you can potentially use to train your cat. Or, as with most people, you can just give it to him once in a while as a treat. Catnip is an herb that elicits a strong reaction in felines, including rolling over it, scratching it, and rubbing on it.
The reaction only lasts for a few minutes, it's completely harmless, and it is mostly just used for its entertainment value for both humans and cats.
Tips to Prepare Your Home for Your New Cat
There are a few things to know before getting a cat and bringing him back. First, get all the things you need for a cat, so that you have all your supplies ready when your cat comes through the door. Next, you’ll need to cat-proof your home and set up base camp. Use this new cat checklist to make sure you have everything in place and ready to go.
1. Check your windows for cords and tassels. Cats are curious and playful, and loose string-type objects are one of the first things they’ll go for, but, unfortunately, these things are a real hazard. Unsupervised, your cat could get tangled up, choke or even get strangled. Untie the ends of cords so that they’re no longer looped and keep them tucked away.
2. Cover electronics cords. Cats tend to chew on rubbery or plastic-type items, and the cords to electronics are especially dangerous. Gather up any loose cords, bundle them together and cover them in a protective tube to keep your kitty safe.
3. Put away all potential poisons. This includes all cleaning products, medicines, human food, trash, pesticides, car fluids, etc. Plants should also be put away, or kept in a room that is always closed, as cats chew on plants and many of them (over 200) are poisonous to cats.
4. Clean up. Cats will also chew on and might ingest small objects lying around the house, such as rubber bands, string, paper clips, plastic bags, the wiring on spiral notebooks, and decorations.
These can injure their mouths as they’re chewing on them, and cause suffocation if caught in the throat, or internal blockages if swallowed. Make sure to keep all small objects put away. Even if you use a string as part of your play session, always put it away afterward, because cats will eat it, and swallowing anything non-digestible can cause a myriad of life-threatening health problems.
5. Check your shelves. Cats jump on things. Any fragile objects should be moved to someplace more secure. Also, test bookshelves and dressers for stability by shaking them. Anything that moves should be secured to the wall, as a cat jumping onto it could cause the entire thing to fall over.
6. Be careful with large appliances. When your cat does come home, make sure that you’re always checking your cat’s whereabouts, as they tend to nap in warm places. That includes dryers – so always test a dryer before you start it – and stoves, where they might accidentally burn a paw if they walk over it.
7. Check for any holes, vents or spaces between furniture, where a cat might squeeze in and get lost or stuck. Remember that cats can squeeze into surprisingly small spaces, so if you have any doubt about an individual hole, take care of it just in case. Cover these up or move things around so that your cat doesn’t accidentally put himself in a dangerous place.
Setting Up Base Camp
1. Designate a cat room. When you first bring your cat home, he’s going to be extremely nervous about his new surroundings, so it’s better for him only to have to contend with one new room to start out.
The best room is your bedroom since this is where your scent is strongest and will give him a sense of social belonging. This is where you’ll set up everything he needs. Use this place as his safe zone for the first few weeks, until he gets settled in and feels comfortable venturing further into the house.
Later on, when he becomes confident moving freely around the house, you can move his things out into more convenient locations.
2. Set up the food area. Have bowls of fresh water and food ready. Ideally, a little-wet food will be more enticing for your cat and make him feel better about his new environment, even if he doesn’t eat it right away.
If you can, try to get the same food that he ate at the shelter, or wherever you got him from, so that the familiarity of the food will make him feel more comfortable.
3. Set up the litter box. Fill your litter box with 3-4 inches of litter, again, making sure that your box is plenty big. Even if you’re getting a kitten, that cat will eventually grow into an adult, and you want to start him out getting familiar with the litter box that he’s going to be using going forward.
Make sure the litter box is well away from the food station, ideally in the opposite corner of the room, and in a place where he won’t be easily startled.
4. Set up a scratching post and scatter toys around the room.
5. Set up a vertical space for your cat, whether that’s a cat tree or access to the top of a dresser with a cat bed on top. Cats feel safe in high places, and giving him this option will help him transition into the new home.
6. Set up a hiding place. When cats get overwhelmed, they often like to go into a den-like place, whether it’s a cubby built into a cat tree or a cardboard box with a blanket in it.
7. Set up comfy places. Add a cat bed here, an old pillow there, a blanket or a towel in a few different spots, to give your cat plenty of options to cozy up and settle in.
Introducing Your Cat to His New Home
1. Once everything is set up, and you’ve brought your cat home, set the carrier down in the cat room, open it up and let your cat venture out on his own. Don’t pull him out or pick him up. Just stand back and let him explore his new territory.
2. Cats acclimate at different paces, some getting comfortable in only a few days, others staying skittish for a few weeks. If your cat spends the first couple weeks hiding under your bed, don’t worry. Just be patient, and let him get used to things at his pace.
3. Remember to spend quality time with your cat in the cat room every day. Don’t leave him alone too much, but also don’t get too pushy with him. Only sit in the room and talk to him in a soothing voice.
Let him approach you, let him smell you, and let him tell you when he’s okay with you petting him. You can also try getting his attention with a toy, but if he ignores it, for now, that’s okay.
4. Make sure that other pets stay out, and that any family members who enter the room remember to close the door behind them and to move softly and quietly, so as not to startle an already frightened cat.
5. Eventually, your cat will begin to show signs of confidence and a desire to explore the rest of the house. At this point, you can open the door, making sure that the remainder of the family takes care not to scare him as he moves into new territory.
Don’t move his things out of the cat room just yet. Let him keep that safe zone to run back to if he gets too nervous. When he starts looking confident outside the room and spending more time in other areas of the house, then feel free to move things into more convenient places.
First Time Cat Owner? (Other Things To Consider)
While it is not impossible to bring a cat into a household that already has other pets, it requires care and special steps. Be sure to learn the proper way to introduce your cat to other pets, what to know before getting a cat, and be prepared for it to be a long and challenging process potentially.
A Checklist of Duties
- Feeding: Cats need to be fed once or twice a day, with kittens needing meals 4-5 times a day. While free feeding is an option, it is considered healthier to set a schedule for meal times.
- Freshwater: Everyday
- Scooping the litter box: Everyday
- Playtime: Everyday
- Grooming: Daily for long-haired cats, as needed otherwise
- Check for signs of illness or injury: Every day. This includes checking the quality of your cat’s poop, taking note of how frequently he’s going to the litter box (going in and out constantly can be a sign of Urinary Tract Infection), observing how he’s moving (if he’s limping or seeming off-balance, for instance), throwing up, or displaying a change in eating patterns, and generally just paying attention to your cat's appearance and behavior. If you observe anything out of the ordinary or have questions about your cat’s behavior, never hesitate to call your vet and ask.
- Vet visits: Annual wellness check and vaccination updates, other visits as neededThe Question of Declawing
The Question of Declawing
There is really no reason to declaw a cat. In many countries, as well as many cities in the US, the procedure is considered cruel and is outright banned. Declawing is not just the removal of a cat’s nails.
It is surgically amputating the first knuckle – including tendon and bone – of a cat’s paws. This not only causes extreme pain but almost always results in health and behavioral problems down the road, from an increased vulnerability to arthritis, to aversion to using the litter box because it hurts to walk on the litter.
If you’re at all concerned about your cat’s claws, just be diligent about trimming. Learn the proper way to trim your cat’s claws so that you don’t hurt him, and slowly develop the habit until he doesn’t mind when you do it.
If you are concerned about your cat scratching your furniture, learn about other ways to change that behavior. If you’re concerned about your cat scratching you, learn cat body language, so that you can tell when your cat is getting too agitated or overstimulated and, thus, likely to scratch.
There are always other, more humane and more common sense solutions to these kinds of problems.
Inside vs. Outside
This is really a personal choice, although if you’ve taken in a stray that is more feral than tamed, that decision may be made for you. However, it is recommended to keep cats inside. They tend to live much longer, healthier lives, because they are less susceptible to disease and parasites in the environment, as well as dangers like predators, cars, other cats or environmental exposure.
However, many people believe that cats are much happier outside. If you decide to let your cat outside, some simple ways to protect your cat are to build a confined space in the yard for him, supervise his outside time, and be diligent about taking him to the vet for parasite and disease vaccinations and screenings.
We hope this guide helped you along your way toward becoming a new cat owner. Whether you end up getting a cat of your own, or you're just looking after a friend's now and again, give the kitty in your life all the love and care you can, and you'll get it in return tenfold.
Did you enjoy this list? Did you learn something new? Did it help you answer the question: "Should I get a cat?" Let us know in the comments and, if you liked it, share this with your friends!