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New Pet Parent Tips: How To Take Care of a Cat

Pet Care Tips 7 min read
New Pet Parent Tips: How To Take Care of a Cat

If you’ve never had a pet before, it can be really overwhelming at first. There is so much to learn, like how you should be taking care of your pet, what kind of health care they need, what their behavior and body language mean, just to name a few. Our pet experts are here to help! Here are some tips for first-time pet parents on how to take care of a cat.

red hair girl holding a cat

What supplies do I need?

There are a few things that are essential to have by the time your new cat comes home:

  • A litter box (including a supply of kitty litter)
  • A cat carrier
  • Dishes for food and water
  • Food
  • Something to scratch on
  • A place to sleep

Litter Box. Many first-time cat parents may wonder how their cat will know how to use the litter box. The great part is that most cats instinctively understand that the litter box is where they should be doing their bathroom business. The type of litter box is up to your preference, just make sure that it can be placed in an area of the house where they can have a bit of privacy. There are many different kinds of litter to choose from, just make sure you choose one that suits the waste disposal options you have where you live.

You will want to put your kitty in the litter box for the first time. So as soon as you bring them home, just pop them in. They’ll jump out, but now they will always know about the litter. Don’t move it to a new location suddenly. If you need to move it do it slowly.

Cat Carrier. A carrier is really important for transporting your cat safely as they prevent your cat from wandering about in the car while you are driving. This is not only for your safety to not have a distraction while driving, but also keeps your cat as the car moves around. The carrier should be placed in a secure part of the vehicle like attached to a backseat, tucked on the floor between the front and backseats so that it does not get thrown around in the event of a car accident or sudden stop.

Food and Water Dishes. It is important to have separate dishes for both food and water. We recommend avoiding plastic dishes for cats especially as bacteria can get trapped in small abrasions on the surface of the plastic and lead to issues like acne. Glass, ceramic, or stainless steel dishes are generally recommended, just make sure that whatever you choose is either high-quality or considered human-grade food safe. Cats should always have fresh water available to them. Make sure that you wash and refill their water dish with fresh water every day.

Food. Depending on where you have adopted your new kitty, they will likely be able to tell you what kind of food they have been giving to the cat. It can help to start your cat with the same food that they are used to as diet changes can cause gastrointestinal upset. Once you have brought your cat home, you can gradually transition them to a new food to avoid GI upset. If you are unsure of what you should be feeding your cat, we always recommend a high-quality wet diet for cats. Cats are historically desert animals and get much of their hydration from their food. You can always consult your veterinarian on which food they would recommend for your cat or you can talk to us about a custom nutrition plan from our in-house vet Dr. Amanda.

It is a healthy and necessary behavior for cats to scratch.

Something To Scratch On. It is a healthy and necessary behavior for cats to scratch. There are a number of reasons why your cat will decide to scratch things, it can be for entertainment and exercise, to mark their territory with scratch marks and their scent, as a stress release, or for nail care. To prevent your furniture from being destroyed, it is a good idea to introduce a designated scratching spot early. Things like scratching posts, cat condos, and scratch boxes are all good alternatives to cherished furniture.

A Place To Sleep. When you first bring your cat home, a big, new space can be overwhelming for them. Start by getting them adjusted in an area of the house that can be designated to them for a few days like a laundry room or bathroom. Make sure to outfit this space with all the essentials that have already been mentioned above along with a cozy spot to sleep. This can be as simple as a blanket or even their carrier. Once your cat is feeling more comfortable with you and their new surroundings, you can let them roam around the house for them to choose their new favorite nap spot.

cat playing with toys

Cat Proof Your Home

If you are thinking about getting a kitten or older cat, it is worth taking a few moments to think about “cat proofing” the house, to help avoid accidents for your new pet and to help keep your belongings safe.

Dryers and washing machines.  Cats love to hide in the most unusual places. Always make sure you check inside your dryer and washing machine before you turn them on. Your furkid might be chillin’ in there.

Curtains and sofas.  Great for climbing up and scratching, both of which are natural behaviors for cats. Ensure your cat has access to a scratching post or area that he is allowed to use and if you need to discourage him from using your curtains or sofa a quick squirt from a water pistol is a good deterrent.

Drapery, blind and electrical cords.  Your cat will think these are things to play with.  Unfortunately, on occasions, cats get caught up in the cords and then panic. We have seen cats that have got caught up causing damage to their limbs or even strangling themselves. Electrical cords seem to be particularly attractive to cats and kittens with a risk of electrocution. Try and hide all cords under rugs or behind furniture.

Wool and sewing thread.  Another common problem we see is when cats play with wool or needles and sewing thread.  They can get it wrapped around their tongue or swallow it causing a linear foreign body.  Linear foreign bodies are especially dangerous as the thread can act like cheese wire and “saw” through your cat’s intestines.

Small household items.  Rubber bands are a real favorite for my cats to play with.  Other items such as paper clips and drawing pins also seem great fun, but all can cause significant injury to your cat if swallowed, so try to keep them out of reach.

Windows and balconies.  Cats are generally very athletic and agile, but they can still have accidents including falling from windows and balconies. It is true that cats are very good at landing on their feet, but if they fall from any significant height we normally see a “5-point” landing – 4 legs and chin, so fractures of the jaw (mandible) are common.

cat hiding underneath something, on the floor

What should I do with my cat?

Cats generally live a pretty leisurely life. They will nap, play, roam around, and maybe even demand some cuddles from you. As you and your cat get to know each other, it is important not to force yourself on them. Moving into a new home with new people can be really stressful so just allow your cat to adjust and they will come to you when they’re ready. In the first few days, if you are keeping your cat in a designated space, it helps to sit in the room with them and allow them to be comfortable with you around. Depending on the cat, they might come to your right away looking for head scratches and attention but others may be more aloof. As you figure out your dynamic as a new little family, you will learn what activities your cat does and doesn’t like.

happy young woman playing with cat. Girl with her cat. Owner playing with cute funny cat at home, closeup

How do I know what my cat wants?

As you get to know each other better, you will start to pick up on each other’s cues. Cats can be fairly independent creatures, but they will likely come to you or make it known if they need something. Always make sure your cat has freshwater, has been given their food, and their litter box isn’t full before leaving for the day. If your cat seems as if it is trying to get your attention, it is probably doing just that. They probably are hungry or are looking for affection or some playtime.

cat eating dry food from bowl

When should I take my cat to the vet?

As soon as you get them it’s a good idea to take them to the vet for a quick check-up. Wherever you are adopting the cat from should be able to offer you some background on their medical history. If you have adopted a stray without any medical history, it is always a good idea to take them to the vet when welcoming them into your home to find out if they have any conditions you should be aware of and to find out whether it has been spayed/neutered.

Healthy cats should visit the vet at least once a year for a check-up and to ensure that all of their vaccines and shots are up-to-date. If your cat has a health condition that requires treatment from the vet or regular monitoring, your vet may advise more frequent visits.

A good indication of if your cat needs to go to the vet is if you notice anything unusual changes in your cat. Some things to look out for are:

  • Changes in stool frequency or appearance
  • An increase or decrease in appetite
  • Frequent vomiting
  • An increase or decrease in urination
  • A change in coat appearance (abnormally greasy or dull hair)
  • Excessive self-grooming
  • Abnormal behavior (loss of balance, confusion, etc.)

Of course, if there is some sort of injury or emergency (like your cat eating something they shouldn’t), it is important to see a vet right away.

cat being examined by a vet

And, of course, there are just two other very important elements that we cannot recommend enough of patience and love – lots of it! Having a pet is like having a kid and it requires a lot of patience for things you are both going to be adapting, lots of firsts, and all the care in the world. But it’s all worth it because of the unconditional love you will give and receive from them. So cuddle up and enjoy your kitten! And if you need any help, remember: our pet experts are always here for you!

NHV Pet Experts

NHV Pet Experts

We have a dedicated group of pet expert professionals, including veterinarians, vet techs, and other pet professionals to guide you through any questions. We’re committed to your pet’s wellness and can offer additional tips, resources, nutritional advice, and more.

Published: March 25, 2020

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