Take care of these essentials, and you'll develop a
with your feline companion. You might think your cat's independent, but they still count on you to provide them with food, water, safe shelter, veterinary care, a clean litter box, love, and more.
Cat care essentials
Keep your cat safe by keeping them indoors, safely confined to your property, or walked on a harness and leash. Doing so is best for you, your cat, and your community. Here are other ways to keep your cat safe and secure:
• Always use a cat carrier when transporting your cat.
• Make certain that all windows are securely screened.
• Keep the washer and dryer closed, and check inside before each use. (Some cats like to climb in these appliances if they’re left open.)
• Get into the habit of ensuring that drawers, closets, and cupboards are uninhabited before you close them—a kitty may be lurking inside.
Outfit your cat with a breakaway collar and visible ID that includes your name, address, and telephone number. No matter how careful you are, there’s always a chance they may slip out the door. Your cat is more likely to get home safely if they have a collar and ID. Also, be a good citizen by complying with any local cat licensing laws.
Take your cat to the veterinarian for regular check-ups and vaccinations. Medical care is as essential for your cat as it is for you. If you already have dogs or cats at home, make sure they are up-to-date on their shots and in good general health before you introduce your new cat.
Spaying and neutering your cat will keep them healthier and help decrease the number of cats euthanized every year because of cat overpopulation.
Feed your cat a nutritionally balanced diet and provide fresh water 24/7. Educate yourself on your cat’s nutritional needs or ask your veterinarian for advice on what and how often to feed your pet.
Cats are naturally clean, and most will instinctively use a litter box; you just have to show yours where it is. Don’t place your cat in the box and make little scratching motions with their front paws. This will probably upset your cat and may make their leery of the box. Scoop the box at least once daily and periodically wash it with dish liquid and hot water. Because cats also value privacy, place the litter box in a convenient but quiet spot.
All cats, whether long- or short-haired, should be brushed regularly to keep their coats and skin healthy, prevent matting, and reduce shedding and hairballs. They also need to have their claws clipped to keep them from growing into their paws. Grooming is a good opportunity to discover any lumps, fleas, injuries, etc., and to bond with your kitty.
Cats often entertain themselves, but regular play sessions with your pet will provide them with the physical and mental stimulation they need and strengthen the bond you share. Give them toys and scratching posts to distract them from your household goods. Cats love to play and will appreciate simple and inexpensive toys. Ping-Pong balls and opened paper bags (remove the handles) can provide hours of fun. A comfortable perch by a window can become your cat’s very own entertainment and relaxation center. Rotate toys to maintain your cat’s interest in them. You might want to invest in a kitty condo or cat tree—a structure typically covered in carpet or sisal (a rough material cats love to scratch) where your cat can climb, stretch, and hide to their heart’s content while watching the world go by. But the best two things you can give your cat are love and playtime.
It’s true that cats usually have their own ideas about how to do things. Even so, a positive approach can teach most cats not to scratch the couch, eat plants, or jump up on the kitchen counter. With repeated, gentle, and consistent training, your cat will learn the house rules. Don’t ever yell or hit your cat.
Introducing Your New Cat to Other Pets
You can’t force your pets to like each other. We don’t have a crystal ball to predict whether or not your pets will be friends, but we do have techniques that will increase your chances of success. Most importantly, try to choose a cat with a similar personality and activity level to your current pet. An older cat or dog might not appreciate the antics of a kitten. Go slow during the introduction process to increase your chances for success. Don’t throw your pets together in a sink-or-swim situation and just hope they’ll work it out. That’s a recipe for the fur to fly!
Cats are territorial, and in general they don’t like to share. A cat who’s unhappy about a newcomer may express their displeasure by fighting with the other pet and marking territory (peeing on the floor, wall or objects). Cats also dislike change, and a new cat in the house is a huge change. These two character traits mean you could have a tough (but not impassable) road ahead.
Some cats are more social than others. An 8-year-old cat who has never been around other animals might never learn to share their territory (and their people) with other pets. But an 8-week-old kitten separated from their mom and littermates for the first time might be glad to have a cat or dog companion. All of this means that your current pet and your new cat need to be introduced very slowly so they can get used to each other before a face-to-face meeting. Slow introductions help prevent fearful or aggressive behavior from developing. Below are some guidelines to help make the introductions go smoothly. The introduction process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, or even a few months in extreme cases. Be patient.
To allow time for the newcomer to adjust to you and their new situation, keep them in a small room with their litter box, food, water, scratching post, toys and a bed for several days to a week. Feed your resident pets and the newcomer on each side of the door to this room, so that they associate something enjoyable (eating!) with each other’s smells. Don’t put the food so close to the door that the animals are too upset by each other’s presence to eat. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until your pets can eat calmly while standing directly on either side of the door. Try to get your pets to interact with a toy. Tie a toy to each end of a string, then place it so there’s a toy on either side of the door. Hopefully, they’ll start batting the toys around and maybe even batting paws. Be sure to spend plenty of time with your new kitty in their room, but don’t ignore your resident cat.
The Old Switcheroo
To animals, smells are far more important than appearances, so you want to get your pets used to each other’s scent before they meet face-to-face. Swap the blankets or beds the cats use, or gently rub a washcloth on one cat’s cheeks and put it underneath the food dish of another. If there are more than two animals in the house, do the same for each animal. When the pets finally do meet, at least their scents will be familiar. Once your new cat is using their litter box and eating regularly while confined, let them have free time in the house while confining your other pets to the new cat’s room. It’s best to introduce your new cat to a room or two at a time and increase their access to other rooms over a few days. This switch provides another way for them to experience each other’s scents without a face-to-face meeting. It also allows the newcomer to get familiar with their new surroundings without the other animals frightening them. You can do this several times a day, but only when you’re home to supervise. If you have to leave the house, put your new kitty back in their room. Next, after you’ve returned the cats to their designated parts of the house, use two doorstops (one on each side of the door) to prop open the dividing door just enough to allow the animals to see each other. Repeat the whole process over a period of days—supervised, of course.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
It’s better to introduce your pets to each other gradually so that neither animal becomes afraid or aggressive. Once the cats are face to face, though, there will be some kinks for them to work out. If you’re really lucky, your cats may do some mutual sniffing and grooming, and you’re on your way to success. They may sit and stare at each other. You can provide distraction by dangling toys in front of them at the same time. This may encourage them to play together. They might sniff each other, hiss and walk away. That’s to be expected. This may go on for a few days or so, and then you’ll probably find them both sleeping on your bed.
Breaking It Up
If you’re not so lucky, they may be very stressed. They may only posture and make a lot of noise. But, as soon as there are signs of increasing aggression (flattened ears, growling, spitting and crouching) make a loud noise by clapping your hands or throw a pillow nearby to distract them. If the standoff continues, very carefully herd them into separate parts of the house to calm down. This could take up to 24 hours, and the cats may take out their stress on you.
If the cats fight repeatedly, you may need to start the introduction process all over again and consider getting advice from a vet or animal behaviorist. Note: Never try to break up a cat fight by picking one up. You’re bound to get hurt.
There are other things you can do to help ease tension between feline roommates. Have your cats examined by your vet before introductions to make sure they’re all healthy. Have one litter box per cat plus an extra one. Try to keep your resident pets’ routine as close to what it was before the newcomer’s arrival. Make sure all cats have a “safe” place to escape to.