Becoming a cat owner is a wonderful experience.
It's a chance to share your home and life with a loving, charismatic creature who can fill your world with love and wonder. In the United States alone, there are over 58 million companion cats. Our feline friends are second only to dogs in the rankings for most popular pets in the world.
Of course, having a cat isn't just about adorable whiskers and playful antics. If you're going to become an amazing cat owner, then you need to plan how you're going to care for your furry pal correctly.
That starts with the right guide to cat ownership.
Fortunately, we're here to help.
What to Know Before You Get a Cat: Care Requirements
First, before you get a kitty of your own, you need to know you can commit the time and effort required to look after this creature. Compared to dogs, cats are often pretty simple to care for. They don't need as many large meals, as they prefer to snack throughout the day. Plus, cats are quite happy to spend time on their own if you're not around to play.
Cats are pretty clean animals, so bathing isn't always necessary, unless you have a specific kind of cat breed. Plus, you can usually get by with restricting your grooming sessions to the occasional nail clipping and brushing routine.
However, just because caring for a cat can be easier than looking after a dog doesn't mean you won't have demands to meet. You still need to provide plenty of human companionship and love. Plus, you'll need to be willing to:
Is Owning a Cat Difficult?
As a first time cat owner, it's worth noting that your furry pal can be quite a low-maintenance companion – but every cat is different. There are some breeds which require more care than others. For instance, long-haired cats need regular grooming, while larger cats might need special diets.
Choosing the right breed of cat will help you to prepare for the kind of care you'll need to provide. However, different cats can also have unique personalities that affect how you care for them too. Some cats are more likely to spend most of their time on their own, while others like to snuggle up on your lap as regularly as possible.
Certain cats can be quite active too, which means they need a lot of time playing with either you, or other pets to keep them entertained. Fail to provide the kind of nurturing environment your cat needs, and you could encounter common problems like:
On top of that, you may have extra concerns to think about depending on the kind of cat you're going to be raising. An indoor cat is less likely to have issues with things like fleas and worms. Plus, indoor cats often live longer, and have fewer injuries than their outdoor counterparts. If you let your cat go out on its own, you may not have to clean its litter tray as often, but you could spend days wondering where your feline friend has gotten to.
Questions to Ask Before you Get a Cat
Before you jump into getting your own cat, it's important to ask yourself some crucial questions.
Just like a dog, a cat is for life – not just for those fun initial kitten stages. Before you begin coming up with names and exploring local cat rehoming charities, sit down as a family, and think about whether you're prepared to care for your cat correctly.
Questions to ask include:
1. Can You Afford a Cat?
Cats are a huge financial commitment. You're going to need to pay for everything from cat food to insurance, as well as toys, bedding, litter, litter trays, scratching posts, and so much more. If something goes wrong and your cat gets sick, you'll have vet bills to think about. Even if you're lucky enough to have an extremely healthy cat, you'll need to keep up with regular checks and vaccinations.
The cost of a cat will vary greatly depending on the kind of breed you choose. Purchase a Savannah cat, and you could pay thousands just to get your hands on this popular breed. After you've brought your Savannah home, you'll also need to pay for more expensive specialist diets and pet care. The more exotic the breed, the higher the costs.
If the thought of handling a bunch of extra expenses every month seems like too much for you right now, then it's not the right time to get a cat. Wait until you know you can meet the needs of your new furry companion.
2. Is a Cat Suited to Your Lifestyle?
Cats are much more independent than dogs, but they still require regular care and attention. Some cats need more brushing than others, while some may need bathing to keep them in great condition. If you're adopting a high-maintenance cat breed, like a Sphynx, then you're going to need to ensure you have the time to properly care for it.
If you spend a lot of time at work, or out of the house, or you tend to go on vacation a lot, you might not be well-suited to a cat. Think about how frequently you're going to be at home with your kitty, and whether they're going to need you to be around to feed them, care for them, and play with them – to a degree that you can't handle right now.
If you have a young baby in the house, this also might be a reason to reconsider your choices when it comes to cats. Some cats are more comfortable with children than others.
3. Is a Cat or Kitten a Better Choice?
When most people think about getting a cat, they assume they're going to buy or adopt a kitten. However, this doesn't have to be the case. If you can only spend small amounts of time with your feline friend, you could consider adopting an adult cat instead of a kitten. This will ensure you don't have to spend as much time playing with and caring for a tiny animal.
And, of course, you’re rescuing a cat. Plus, if you look to adopt an older cat from a shelter, you should be able to figure out its temperament and how easily it will adjust to living with you. And that’s not always easy with a kitten!
If you do feel like you have the time for a kitten right now, remind yourself that they're not going to stay small forever. You also need to think about whether you can imagine yourself taking care of a fully grown cat for the next ten to fifteen years – perhaps even longer. If you only want to look after kittens during the initial tiny stages – maybe fostering would be a better idea.
A kitten gives you a chance to care for a cat from the very beginning of its life. However, this also means that you need to train your cat not to get into trouble. A kitten can have a lot of issues (like going to the bathroom in the wrong places), whereas cats are more likely to settle down at speed.
4. Should you Get a Specific Breed?
There are nearly a hundred different kinds of cat breed, as well as all the moggies, and they all have distinct personalities and traits. A Maine Coon cat, for instance, is one of the largest breeds of cat and also among the most loving. These huge, fluffy beasts are brilliant for people who have a lot of time to dedicate to snuggles, love, and grooming. However, they require a lot of attention.
Often, it's better to get a specific breed of cat if you're looking for specific characteristics. If you want a kitty you can take with you on walks, then you might get a Savannah. If you need a cat that's relatively easy to look after, you might prefer an American Shorthair.
If you do pick a particular breed, make sure you're aware of its:
If you're just looking for any kind of cat, adopting a moggy will give you a chance to provide a fantastic feline with a loving home. There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing the "right cat"; it's all about finding what's right for you.
5. Can Cats Live with Dogs, or Other Cats?
Most people assume that they can't have a cat and dog in the same household. That's not always the case. Dogs and cats can definitely get along. However, it all depends on the temperaments of both animals. If you already have a dog at home, bringing in a kitten that can grow up getting used to the dog is generally a good idea.
If you're going for an adult cat, look for a breed that's known for being comfortable with other animals around the house. Make sure you introduce the animals slowly, to avoid any outright battles and territorial disputes.
If you have another cat at home already, you'll also need to consider your options for becoming a "multi-cat" household. Cats can be very individual creatures, and they won't always like having another feline friend around. Some cats will straight-up refuse to live with another kitty, while others will only tolerate their presence. In some cases, of course, cats can also learn to love each other.
Make sure you introduce cats slowly and carefully. It might be a good idea to think about gender too. If you have a male cat, bringing in another male cat means you could end up with two felines fighting to be the alpha. Make sure you get your cats spayed to avoid a house full of kittens (as fun as that sounds).
Preparing Your Home for a Cat
Now that you know you're ready for a cat, and you have an idea of the kind of breed you want to bring home, you can begin preparing your property for the arrival of a new furry friend. There are a few things you'll need to do ahead of time to make sure your home is fully prepped for this new arrival.
First and foremost, make sure your family is comfortable with the arrival of a new pet and that everyone is prepared for the day the kitty is going to be coming home. Next, you can start kitten-proofing your property (if you're getting a kitten), by making sure you remove access to all the tiny and dangerous places your cats can get into. Remember, kittens can easily crawl under cabinets and behind bookshelves, so you'll want to reduce their access to these.
Remove anything fragile that your cat might damage for the initial few weeks of bringing them home, so you don't have to worry about broken vases. Also, it's best to get rid of any plants around the home, as many cats are sensitive to plants, and some flowers are even poisonous to them!
Whether you're bringing home your first cat, or a new cat to meet the rest of your pets, you're going to need to start with a specific small space you can get your cat used to. Choose a room in the house where the cat won't be exposed to children and other pets for a while and set it up with all the correct supplies.
What Supplies Do Cat Owner's need?
The exact supplies you're going to need for your cat will vary depending on what kind of cat you're getting. For instance, a larger cat like a Savannah or Bengal might need a leash for walks, and more toys for exercise. A cat with long fur might need a wider range of brushes and combs.
Some of the most common products to add to your shopping list include:
Other investments can range all the way from leashes and collars for outdoor cats, to cat patios where your feline friends can explore the outside world in a safer environment. You might also need to look into the cost of things like flea treatments and worming options if you haven't arranged for an initial appointment with a vet where you can get this done.
Bringing Your New Cat Home
Bringing a feline friend home for the first time can be a wonderful experience, but it's also challenging too. The first thing you need to do is make sure that you arrange a vet visit, where you can have your kitty checked over, and get some top tips from your vet.
When you first take your new cat to the vet, they'll be able to provide flea and worming treatments which are crucial for a new kitten or re-homed cat. They'll also offer information about the breed, so you know what kind of health conditions you might need to be aware of. Vets are great for giving guidance on the kind of nutritional demands your cat might have too, and they can walk you through options when it comes to things like the best cat insurance and protecting your kitty.
When you first bring your new cat home, it's important to restrict their space.
Don't give a new kitten or cat free reign of the house straight away, as they can get overwhelmed and stressed. Most cats will prefer to start with a small world, where they can adjust to sights, smells, and sounds slowly. Providing a single room for your cat to get used to is much easier.
Gradually, you can introduce your kitty to other parts of the house, and even other family members (like children and other pets). Your cat will have a sense of where their "safe space" is – the place they first got used to when they came to your home, but they'll become more confident as they explore.
If you do have another pet, or several in the household, don't rush the introduction process. Some of the ways you can reduce the risk of problems include:
Feeding Your Cat: Creating a Healthy Diet
Looking after a cat means making sure they get the right nutrition every day.
If you have a specific breed of cat, you should definitely speak to your vet about the kind of special meals they might need. Some cats have a more sensitive stomach than others, and some need special ingredients to help them go to the bathroom.
It's also worth thinking carefully about "raw food" and whether you want to explore that route with feeding. Many cat parents are beginning to invest more in raw cat foods, but this kind of feeding won't be right for everyone. Raw foods are expensive, and it's easy to get the mixture wrong if you're beginning, which means your cat's nutrition suffers.
To get you started, let's look at some of the food considerations you'll need to think about when you're feeding your furry friend.
Feeding a Kitten
Kittens are quick to start on solid foods, usually eating kitten meals at around 3 weeks of age. The first food you give your kitten needs to be easy to digest and soft. Most experts recommend soaking any dry biscuits in milk or water to get them nice and moist before the cat eats. If you are using milk, make sure it's milk specifically designed for kittens, as regular milk isn't good for cats.
From eight weeks, the number of meals your kitten has should reduce gradually. When your kitten is young, you'll feed them small amounts more frequently. When it starts to grow up, you'll train your cat into expecting meals at specific times throughout the day. Six-month-old kittens should generally get enough food for 2 meals per day.
It’s important to know that cats of any age might not eat all the food you put out for them in one sitting. Some will, but others will keep coming back for small snacks. Your task is to ensure that you don’t just keep topping up and that you stick to an overall amount of 2 meals.
Special kitten foods are always the best choice for younger cats, as they often require smaller pieces of food that are easier to digest and have different nutritional needs. As your kitten settles in, you can consider looking into new diets for him or her as she grows up. Talk to your vet about your options.
Feeding an Adult Cat
As your cat makes the transition from kitten into adult cat, it will likely spend more of its time "grazing" on food throughout the day rather than waiting specifically for mealtimes. Cats like to take their time with food rather than eating everything at once.
If you want to allow your cat to graze, then you might leave a small amount of dry food out for them throughout the day, and occasionally provide wet food meals for the "main meal" of the day. You can also stick just to dry or wet food, depending on your preferences. However, giving a fully dry food menu means making sure your cat also gets enough moisture.
If you're not sure exactly how much food your kitty needs, most types come with measurements to help you. Measuring your cat's food at the beginning of the day should mean you're not tempted to overfeed. Most cats are great at knowing how much they need to eat, but some really like their food and will keep asking for more.
When feeding your adult cat:
Feeding a Senior Cat
As your cat gets older, it'll need another new kind of diet. Again, the exact requirements of your cat will depend on a few things, so it's important to talk to your vet if you're not sure what to go for. Generally, more mature cats will need food with less fat in it because they'll be less active, which means they won't be able to break down fat as quickly.
Another problem is that many older cats will often begin to struggle with dental problems which might affect their ability to eat their usual diet. If you notice any changes to your cat's eating behavior, such as growling when they eat, not chewing and swallowing foods correctly, or eating to one side of their mouth, speak to your vet.
If you're concerned your cat isn't getting enough water, you may need to look into switching to a wet food, as giving your senior feline plenty of hydration is essential.
Quick Tips for Feeding Your Cat
When feeding your cat, it's important to remember a few key things.
Dry or wet food?
You're free to feed your cat dry or wet cat food, or you can give them a combination of both. Ultimately, it's up to you to find out what works best for your cat.
Dry cat food is a popular choice with many owners because you can leave biscuits out all day or place them in feeding balls to give your kitty a bit of a challenge. If your cat has a medical condition, you may need to get special dry or wet food. It's also crucial to give your cat plenty of water if they're eating dry food because they won't be getting moisture from their meal.
Wet foods will give your kitty a wide selection of delicious ingredients, including meat. There’s a huge selection of wet foods that appeal to cats, and they're great for getting extra moisture into your feline friend.
How much, and how often?
Choosing the right quantity of cat food is essential. Check the label on your chosen food for quantity advice, and make sure that you check your cat's weight to ensure you're not over or under feeding them. Preventing your cat from gaining weight is much easier than helping them with losing weight.
Neutered cats will often expend less energy, so it's worth reducing the amount of food you're going to provide. In terms of how often you should feed, most cats like to eat small meals frequently, rather than large meals in big chunks. Fresh wet food needs to be replaced around twice a day.
What about treats?
You can also give your kitty a handful of healthy treats when they behave well, or when you're trying to strengthen your bond. Make sure you limit the number of treats given, as many contain ingredients which will cause your cat to gain weight.
Some treats feature special ingredients which are great for cleaning your cats teeth or helping with other common conditions like hairballs.
Be cautious about giving your cat any dangerous foods from your plate. Some human foods are unsuitable for cats and may cause health issues.
Raising Your Cat: Grooming
Grooming is a commonly overlooked part of raising a healthy cat, but it's something you should be starting as quickly as possible. Grooming is how you keep your kitty looking its best. It's also an important tool to keep fur, nails, and even skin healthy.
Cats naturally groom themselves most of the time, but they can't always get every matt out of their coat or deal with every sticky substance. This is especially true of long-haired breeds. With that in mind, it's worth setting aside some time to develop some good grooming habits.
Ideally, the aim should be to get your kitty comfortable with grooming from an early age. If you're adopting a fully-grown cat, this might not be as easy as it would be to simply train a kitten to feel comfortable with grooming.
The most important part of grooming for many cats is regular brushing. Your cat needs a brush or comb on a regular basis to keep their coats looking great, get rid of loose hair, and remove any dirt that might be lingering on your cat's skin.
If your cat has short hair:
If your cat has long hair:
Most cats won't need regular bathing sessions. You'll know your kitty is in need of a wash if he or she feels oily or greasy when you pet them. In some cases, you may need to bathe your cat if they get into something that's smelly or sticky. Do make sure you use a shampoo made specifically for cats.
Many cat owners avoid giving their cat a bath because they fear that their kitty will hate it and they will make it pretty much impossible. However, this is not always the case and there is an approach to bathing a cat that should work:
Nail clipping is one of the more common parts of cat care. Remember, you should never have a cat's nails removed, as they need to scratch for good health. However, you can trim a cat's nails occasionally if they seem to be getting too long.
To make nail trimming easier, get your cat used to playing with their feet when you're not trimming the claws. When the time comes to cut the nails, make sure you have a pair of safe cat nail clippers to help you avoid mistakes.
Cat Health: A Quick Health Checklist
As a cat parent, it's important you keep an eye on your cat's health, and make sure that your feline friend isn't suffering from any issues. But how do you know if your cat is sick? Every so often, it's worth "playing vet" and performing a quick check-up on your cat to ensure that everything looks okay.
Obviously, if you do notice something wrong, like a fever, you'll need to take them to an actual vet straight away for the correct treatment.
Here's a quick checklist to guide you.
The attitude of a cat can tell you a great deal about how they feel. A cat's behavior is an indicator of how they're feeling. If your cat isn't feeling well, then you'll probably be able to notice this in their body language. For instance, a cat sleeping more than usual might not be feeling his best.
Poorly cats are more likely to stay away from human contact and may even begin urinating or going to the bathroom in unusual locations. If you notice any changes in your cat's behavior, it's best to speak to a vet as soon as possible.
Cat Behavior and Attitude
One of the things that makes cats so compelling is they all have their own unique attitude and personalities. Some cats are fun and lively, while others are snuggly and affectionate. It's impossible to know what your cat is going to be like until you adopt and spend some time with them.
The first thing you need to know is that all cats have their own requirements when it comes to love, care, and attention. Just because your cat doesn't sit on your lap doesn't mean it doesn't love you. Maine Coon cats may not be lap cats, but they're extremely warm and cuddly.
Here are some common cat behaviors to be aware of:
One of the easiest ways to tell how your cat is feeling is to listen to the noises they make. Many cats purr to show their contentment, while some specific breeds are more likely to chirp. Chirping or chattering in some cats is also a sign that your feline friend is on the hunt. Keep an ear out for the sounds your kitty makes when gazing at a bird out of the window.
A short or single meow is usually a greeting, while lots of meowing indicates your pet is thrilled to see you. Longer pitch meows are often quests for food and attention, while high pitch meows could be signs of pain or shock. Some cats meow in a low tone to show that they're ready for a fight, whereas others are more likely to spit, hiss, and growl. If your cat sounds a little scary, take a step back and give them their space.
Understanding Your Cat
As you're raising your kitten, it's best to handle them regularly, playing frequently to help keep them entertained and focused. Picking up your cat can help to create a bond and make it easier when you need to groom and bathe your feline friend in the future. However, you should try to avoid using your hands to play with your cat – no matter how small their teeth and claws might be when they're still a kitten. Playing with hands encourages biting. Those bites can really hurt when the cat grows up. (We know this is hard - we all want to play with our furry friend and they want to play with us too!)
As you raise your cat, you'll gradually get to know their unique behaviors a little better.
A few tips to keep in mind include:
Cat Behavior and Litter Box Problems
When it comes to cat behavior issues, litter problems are often the biggest concern of many pet owners. There are a lot of factors which might convince your cat to pee (or poop) outside of the litter box – which is something no pet parent wants to deal with. While many kittens take naturally to the litter box, others may need more help to be taught about bathroom etiquette. If you have a young kitten, be patient while they learn to use their tray.
If your cat suddenly starts going to the bathroom away from the litter box, or continues to have issues as he or she gets older, this could be a sign of some more significant issues.
The first thing you should do when your cat seems to be going to the bathroom outside of the litter box, is rule out health issues. Talk to your vet and have a checkup to ensure there are no underlying problems like urine infections to worry about. Urinary infections can be extremely dangerous for cats, so it's best to get help immediately to look out for:
Other Common Problems for Litter Box Issues
After you've carefully ruled out any likelihood of medical issues for your cat's litter box problems, you'll need to think about other reasons why your cat might not be using the box. The most common reason is that the cat doesn't like the type of litter box, or the kind of litter you're using. If you're using a smart litter tray which cleans itself, some cats may be worried about the sound of the mechanisms as the device works.
If you have a high-walled or top entry litter box to avoid your cat kicking litter onto the floor, they may not like feeling like they need to jump into the litter tray. It can take a while to find the litter trays that work well for your kitty. Other issues may include:
Cat Health: How to Protect Your Cat's Wellbeing
Finally, we come to one of the most important aspects of properly caring for your cat – making sure that you keep them as healthy as possible. The reality is that you may not be able to protect your feline friend from every potential injury or illness. However, this doesn't mean you shouldn't be working hard to protect your kitty whenever you can.
The first and most important step in ensuring good health is arranging for regular checkups with your vet. Your vet will be able to ensure that your cat is growing and thriving correctly, without any ailments which might cause you a fortune in future vet bills.
Vets can also regularly provide your kitty with vaccinations to keep them in good condition.
Keeping Your Cat Healthy
Remember, some kitties have different health requirements to others, because of their breed or background. Some cats are more likely to have joint and bone problems, while others might have specific requirements when it comes to diet. It's crucial to do your research on the type of cat you're getting before you bring one of these beautiful animals into your home.
Our comprehensive cat breed guide is a good place to start.
For instance, keep in mind that Persian cats are more likely to have breathing problems because of the shape of their face, while Maine Coons can suffer from joint and heart problems. Your vet will be able to give you advice on how to care for your specific breed of cat, and what you can do to reduce their chances of health issues.
Speak to your vet about the kind of common illnesses and diseases your kitty might be subject to. It's also worth learning about some ailments like cancer in cats, or FIV. With a little luck, your cat will never fall victim to any serious emergencies or ailments, but make sure you know what to do if anything does go dreadfully wrong.
If your cat suddenly stops playing and moving as usual, has difficulty breathing, or shows other distressing behaviors, contact your vet immediately. Usually, you will be able to find an emergency vet practice you can contact outside of normal working hours if your standard local vet isn't open
Should You Get Pet Insurance?
If something does go wrong with your cat's health, it's worth noting that treatment can be awfully expensive. This is particularly true in cases when your kitty might belong to a specific breed, or when you need to get assistance outside of standard working hours.
Pet insurance can help to cut the costs of some of these treatments, so you can protect your kitty without worrying. Insurance will cover a good portion of your vet bills, although you'll generally have a small amount you need to pay yourself too.
The exact cost of your cat insurance will depend on what kind of coverage you get, and where you are. More expensive breed often lead to higher pet insurance costs. You'll also find that you need to pay more if you have an animal with a specific range of common conditions associated with the breed. To determine whether you should get pet insurance or not, ask yourself:
If you do decide to get pet insurance, it's definitely worth taking some time to check out all the providers online carefully and ensure you're getting the right deal for your money. Take your time, and don't rush into coverage (but also don’t leave it too late!). Remember, you can always change providers later.
We think it’s a no-brainer to have it. You simply don’t know what illness or accident could be in store for your beloved cat and if you don’t have insurance the cost of their treatment (or even the chance to keep them alive) might be just too much. Better to be safe than sorry.
That said, we and our readers have found Petplan to be a fair priced and reliable cat insurance provider so do make sure to get a quote from them.
Looking after Your Cat
Caring for and raising a cat is a very unique experience which can differ for every pet parent.
With the tips above, you'll know everything you need to know about bringing your new friend home and giving them the best possible quality of life.
Remember, you can find all kinds of guides on our cat website to help you with supporting your new furry friend with everything from the best food to the right toys.
All that's left to do now is enjoy your life with your wonderful new companion.