Cats are among the easiest house pets to care for, because they are fairly self-sufficient, as long as they are fed and their litter is changed periodically. But there are a few things you need to know if you haven't ever been owned by a cat before.
The procedures for integrating a cat into your household are a little different, depending on the age of the cat, and whether or not you already have pets. Don't hesitate to mix cats and dogs, unless you have a dog that is very territorial and aggressive. Dogs raised with cats are quite happy to share their person with them, and often will pick one kitten to be its particular friend.
If you adopt a kitten:
- Kittens are very adaptable, so if you already have a house pet or pets, consider getting a kitten first. They will allow themselves to be ruled by older pets, and territorial squabbles will be kept to a minimum. Older pets are more likely to 'cut a little slack' for a younger animal than an older one, too.
- Kittens come litter-trained--the desire to bury their waste is an instinct. All you have to do is show the kitten the approved place to 'go' and then discourage him from going anywhere else. If you have large houseplants, such as potted trees, you might consider covering the exposed dirt with tinfoil for a month or so until your kitten is acclimated.
- If you don't want your cat to be on the kitchen counter or table, start training him immediately. A squirt bottle full of water kept in the kitchen will discourage table-jumping. Make sure you have a scratching post for him to use and squirt him with water if he tries to scratch unapproved items like the sofa.
- Kittens don't shed as much as grown cats, but comb them anyway. You want them to become accustomed to being handled and brushed, so they will accept and enjoy it when they are adults and really need it. A long-haired cat will require more grooming than a short-haired.
- While you're combing and fussing over your kitten, handle his paws. Press down on each toe--this forces the claw to extend. You will want to trim your cat's nails when he's older, and getting him used to having his paws handled early make this a lot easier.
- Whether you get your cat from a shelter or a neighbor's litter, make sure you get all the 'kitten shots' for him. Purebreds brought from a cattery may already have some of their shots--you should be given a record of which shots they have already had for your vet.
If you adopt a grown cat:
- Grown cats are quieter and less rambunctious than kittens, but they can have their own habits and quirks that you may need to address.
- If introducing a new cat into an existing pet household, give all animals plenty of time to get used to one another before you call it quits and return the new cat. Jockeying for position in the chain of command will take some time. Don't interfere if the new cat and the old cat(s) don't get along right away, hiss at one another and get into minor fights. This will interfere with the 'feeling you out' process that they are going through, and you risk making your old cats jealous of the newcomer. If fur is actually flying, separate them and keep them in different rooms for a while.
- An older cat will need to be shown his limits in the same way as a kitten--perhaps he was allowed on the counter in his old home, or likes to scratch the carpeting. Use a squirt bottle of water to discourage unwanted behavior--cats hate being sprayed with water but it is completely harmless to them.
- If you want your cat to live a long, healthy life, please keep him indoors. There are plenty of interesting things for a cat to do indoors, and indoor-outdoor cats statistically live much shorter lives. If they are not struck and killed by a car, they can be attacked by wild or rabid animals, and injured. The lifespan for an indoor-only cat is over ten years--my cats have lived to seventeen and nineteen years old. Outdoor cats' average lifespan is two years.
Feed your cat good quality cat food, make sure that he has access to fresh water at all times, keep the litter box scraped and fresh, and take him in for periodic checkups with your vet, and you can have a loving relationship that will last for years.