Getting a cat is a huge responsibility so it shouldn’t be treated as casually as, say, getting a new pair of shoes. Caring for a fur baby isn’t a seasonal thing; it’s a serious commitment.
That being said, we put together this comprehensive guide for first-time cat owners. It aims to discuss everything from giving your feline a proper diet to cat-proofing your home (for both your and your cat’s safety and sanity).
We’re assuming that you’ll be the fur parent in a single-cat household so the tips and advice are tailored for that scenario.
And if you have more questions, you can refer to the practical FAQs we put together at the end of this article.
Cat Care 101: Ten Basics of Cat-Rearing
If you’re getting a kitten that’s properly weaned off its mother, you’re going to have your hands full for the first few (okay, maybe more than “few”) months of its life.
Ideally, newborn cats should be nursed by their moms up until they’re four to six weeks old. During this time, they need the nutrients from their mother’s milk as well as the warmth she provides during nursing and grooming, as they can’t regulate their body temperatures for up to three weeks.
Once the cat is yours, you’ll need to teach it how to use the kitty litter, know the proper food for every phase of its life, and generally observe its behaviour and how it’s adjusting to your home.
But if you’ve chosen to adopt a more mature or senior cat (congratulations and how awesome of you for doing so!), you’ll still need to ensure that he or she is comfortable at home. This is especially true for those cats who’ve stayed in shelters or have been strays for a long time.
The great thing about it all is that you won’t have to do everything alone. There are professionals to help keep your feline friend as healthy, well-groomed, nourished, and happy as it could get.
It’s quite convenient that Ottawa has everything from cat grooming centres to animal clinics for your little furry friend. But for all the time between their professional health and grooming appointments, you’ll be responsible for making informed decisions about your cat.
Hopefully, this Cat Care 101 serves as your guide to everything a first-time cat owner should know.
1. Choosing The Best Diet for Your Cat
If you stumble upon a newborn orphaned kitten, you’ll need to feed it with a kitten milk replacement. The KMR has to be warm (not hot!) and the kitten comfortable while being fed formula through a syringe or a baby bottle.
For up to a full week, you’ll need to set an alarm every three hours for your newborn kitten’s feeding to build up its strength. You can gradually taper off the feeding to between four or six hours when the kitten is three weeks old (or when your vet gives the go-signal).
Kittens are typically adopted out at 12 to 14 weeks old when they’ve learned basic survival skills from their mom. They’re also ready to eat wet kitten food spaced thrice a day (or more) by this time.
A vet can thoroughly check your cat for special dietary considerations that include its breed, size, and food texture and flavour preferences. For most cat owners, this means choosing between wet or dry food.
Also, consider if your cat is left to its own devices for long periods. If you’re a fur parent who goes to work for most of the day, avoid leaving wet food during your absence because it can spoil after 20 minutes and make your cat sick.
When your cat turns a year old, it’s time to introduce adult cat food. This can be a combination of wet and dry food and should always be accompanied by fresh water to drink.
2. Potty-Training Your Cat
If you adopted your cat from a home with other cats, chances are it’s already partially litter-trained because it’s had the chance to observe older cats. If it’s a stray, you’ll probably have to set aside time for proper potty training.
The best time to litter-train a kitten is around the time it begins to wean off its mom. You might have to stimulate the kitten to poop or pee the way its mom did, but do it near or on a kitten-sized box with litter so it can associate it with going to the toilet.
You’ll need a properly-sized litter box in a quiet corner of your house. Observe if your cat prefers a covered box or one that’s open and easily accessible so it doesn’t feel confined or exposed.
Next, select a dust-free cat litter that clumps so it’s easier to scoop up. Invest in a sturdy scoop and a bucket for keeping the clumps in before disposing of them properly.
The box has to be kept clean at least once a day or it might discourage your cat to use it regularly. Once a week, replace the entire litter and wash the box with soap and water.
Your cat’s litter box can also give good clues if your cat isn’t feeling well. For instance, if it starts peeing or pooping outside the box, it might be a sign of urinary tract infection which should be immediately checked by a vet.
3. Selecting a Trustworthy Veterinarian
In an ideal world, no cats will ever get sick. But in case your cat does, you’ll need the services of the top vet clinics in Ottawa to nurse them back to health.
Every phase in your cat’s life — be it sick or healthy — has to be checked by a competent vet. This means your veterinarian should specialize in feline health so your cat can live its best and healthiest life in their care.
This is especially vital because a lot of vet clinics are typically dog-centric. Cats need a special set of vaccines, spay or neuter procedures, and other treatments, medication, and diagnoses that are unique to their anatomy.
More importantly, the veterinary clinic you select should be cat-friendly and properly equipped for feline health and treatments. Look for referrals among cat owners so they can recommend those with caring staff and competent veterinarians and aides.
If your cat has special needs or is a senior, it might help to know where to go in case it needs emergency care. Luckily, there are 24-hour services like the Ottawa Animal Emergency and Specialty Hospital for this very purpose.
4. Keeping Your Cat In Great Shape
Young cats can be a handful when they zoom around the house and get into everything. But nature made them that way on purpose until humans decided to domesticate and spoil them thousands of years ago.
For purely indoor cats, playtime is a necessity because it helps them burn the calories that outdoor cats do with less effort. And it’s good to keep cats engaged in play because indoor cats tend to sleep more and become less active as they age.
See what type of toy your cat is interested in and invest in several of those. You can try out feathers and objects tied to a string and a stick which your cat can try to chase around.
There are also catnip toys they can bat or use to play fetch. And if all else fails, get a couple of cardboard boxes and build a fort for your cat (we have yet to meet a cat that doesn’t like a box!).
Set a routine playtime so your cat will know when it’s time to be rowdy and when humans need to rest or work. This way, you won’t be bothered by the early morning zoomies of an overactive feline.
5. Cat-Proofing Your Home
Cats are born with sharp claws, fangs, lots of fur that could shed, and a predisposition for zoomies. So this section is meant to keep your furniture and parts of your home safe from your cats, and vice versa.
Before you even bring home your new fur baby, make sure that your home doesn’t have anything that can poison or injure them. This means not having plants that are poisonous to cats (including the snake plant in the picture above which is mildly toxic) in or near your house.
If you want a spot of green or flora indoors, stick to safe plants like cat grass, fittonia, echeveria succulents, and cast-iron plants. They’re non-toxic and, in the case of cat grass, actually add fibre to your cat’s diet.
You can also save constant trips to the furniture store by ensuring that your cat does its claw-sharpening activities elsewhere. Invest in cardboard scratchers or sisal rope-covered cat trees which can take scratching abuse better than your couch or door frames.
Many homes with cats come prepared with slipcovered furniture to discourage their felines from wrecking upholstery. Quilted slipcovers are especially useful because they’re thick enough to prevent sharp claws from getting through to the furniture itself.
And if your cat sheds a lot, a handheld vacuum should clean up the fur in a snap. Deeper cleaning can be accommodated by expert carpet cleaning services.
You can also install window ledges so your cats can peek outside and observe nature from a safe distance. There are cat hammocks with suction cups that stick to the glass (easily cleaned by pro window washers!) so they can snooze in the sunlight, too.
6. Picking Out Cat Accessories
We already talked about cat scratchers, hammocks, litter boxes, and toys. But a happy cat is one that has all its creature comforts within stretching distance.
Picking out cat accessories has to be done with several factors in mind. These include your cat’s age, size, activity level, breed, and food preferences.
Let’s start with the cat bed and where to place it. Cats do a lot of napping so take your cue on where it prefers to sleep — on the windowsill, on a patch of sunlight near the door, or somewhere more private and darker?
Some cat trees also have cubbyholes where you can place a cushion so they can snooze after playing. Or, as mentioned before, a cat hammock is ideal for little cat naps in-between bird watching.
Invest in a good sturdy carrier for transporting your cat to the vet or groomer. If you need to go with your cat anywhere in a car, always keep them in the carrier and not roam around freely inside the vehicle (that’s just an accident waiting to happen).
If you prefer to have your cat wear a collar, get one for it that has a quick-release clasp so it can open quickly in case of an accident. The non-stretchy kinds are the best because they’re less prone to catching on things and becoming a strangulation hazard.
As for feeding bowls, the tilted ones are slanted for convenient access to food and drink. Get stainless steel bowls because they’re easier to clean (plastic ones can have scratches which can breed bacteria).
7. Putting Together a Cat Supplies Checklist
Having a cat supplies list is a must so you won’t get overwhelmed or caught empty-handed in case of kitty emergencies. If you’ve never been at the receiving end of a glowering cat that’s run out of its favourite treats, count yourself lucky!
You can make separate lists for cat essentials that include wet or dry food, medicine and supplements, and litter accessories. Other lists can be for grooming, cleaning, first aid, and non-essentials like toys, treats, and other accessories.
If you’re extra meticulous, you can even make a spreadsheet of what your cat has outgrown or still prefers, along with all the prices and stockists of each product.
For easier reference, include the contact information of shops, delivery services, veterinarians, pet sitters, aides, and clinics in the list.
8. Grooming Your Cat Properly
Caring for your cat requires a set grooming routine, otherwise, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of shed fur and overgrown claws. That being said, it’s practical to get your cat used to a professional groomer you both trust.
The groomer should be used to cats of all dispositions and breeds. That’s because they’re going to be dealing with such things as dirty ears, sharp claws, matted fur, and other cat-related hygiene.
Cats self-groom so they don’t need to get professionally groomed as often as dogs. Anywhere between four to six weeks is fine (or as needed, especially for long-haired breeds or those that shed excessively).
But you can do care and cleaning every week by yourself. Invest in good quality cat brushes (there are self-cleaning ones that collect the fur) and de-shedding tools called Furminators or metal detangling combs.
To discourage your cat from constant scratching, trim its nails twice a month using prescribed cat nail trimmers. Used properly, it can prevent your feline from snagging its nails on cloth and other materials.
9. Rewarding Your Cat’s Good Behaviour
Your cat could get naughty at times but you should never punish it by withdrawing affection, food, or other comforts. That’s not only cruel but futile, too.
Your cat simply won’t understand what it did wrong so it’s up to you as a more intelligent creature to create a trouble-free environment for them.
Why not reward good behaviour with treats, instead? Your cat can come to associate certain acts with these positive reinforcements and make a habit of them (don’t hold us to this, though!).
Make sure your treats are not unhealthy ones that could make them sick. There are some healthy ones with different flavours and even catnip to keep them happy.
And if your cat enjoys cuddles, by all means, indulge them with gentle hugs and kisses!
However, some cats don’t like being touched so the best treat for them would be to leave them to their own devices.
10. Should You Keep Your Cat Strictly Indoors?
Our knee-jerk reaction to this question is: yes, you should.
Studies have shown that indoor cats can live almost as thrice as long as their outdoor counterparts. They aren’t exposed to the dangers of outdoor life whether it’s in an urban or rural setting.
For one, you’re going to be protecting your cat from running into traffic, abusive people, or natural predators. For another, your home can be climate-controlled so that your cat (and all its human roommates) are comfortable at all times.
There are also lesser chances of your cat getting lost or stolen. However, even indoor cats need to be microchipped for identification in case this does happen.
There’s a great compromise for cat owners who want their feline friends to enjoy a bit of outdoors, though. It’s called a “catio” (a cat patio) and it could be anywhere from an enclosed window space for your cat to peek out of, to a part of your yard that’s screened in.
A catio will allow your cat to see and smell nature without killing birds or getting harmed by bigger predators themselves. And they won’t have to be at the mercy of harsh weather because they can go back to their cozy indoors anytime.