Education Center

When You Take A Cat Home: caring for your new cat or kitten

Learn how to care for your cat by finding out about:

• Choosing appropriate supplies and toys

• Feeding, veterinary, and grooming needs

• Making a smooth adjustment

Welcome to parenthood! You’ve added an important new member to your household. To make the adjustment over the next few weeks as smooth as possible for you both, please take a few minutes to review these “cat basics.”

You’ll need to have a few supplies on hand as you introduce your cat into your home:

  • sturdy, tip-proof food and water dishes (for each pet in your family)
  • a litter box for each cat in your home, cat litter, and a litter scoop
  • high-quality dry cat food
  • a scratching post
  • nail clippers (designed for cats)
  • a brush and/or comb appropriate for your cat’s coat
  • at least two safe toys: one to roll (ping-pong ball, plastic practice golf ball with holes, etc) and one soft toy to throw and wrestle with. An open paper bag is also a great toy! String and yarn are not safe for cats to play with. Check toys for insecure strings, sharp edges, and glued-on parts which could be swallowed

I want my cat to feel at home.

The first few days in a new home can be very stressful for a cat. Don’t push. Help Tiger make a smooth transition by letting the cat set the pace.

Don’t overwhelm Tiger with too many new people at first. Let the cat hide in a quiet room (equipped with water, litter box, and softly playing radio) if you have visitors. Tiger can meet your friends after a few days of adjustment. Remind them of basic cat-manners: let Tiger come to them.

Many cats are uncomfortable being picked up and held, but will sit happily in a lap for hours. Some prefer to cuddle up beside their person. Cats show affection in their own, individual ways. Let Tiger make the choice.

Petting and cuddling are important, but don’t wear your cat out. Respect the need for rest and privacy. Tiger may even want to hide for a while. Tiger won’t appreciate too much attention (unless it’s Tiger’s idea!) This may be difficult to enforce with young children around.

Help Tiger relax and feel confident about your home by providing creature comforts: warm places to curl up, perches to watch you from above, and access to window sills (with secure screens). If Tiger chooses a chair or couch as a favorite napping location, place a soft towel there. You can remove the towel when it’s someone else’s turn.

Tiger would also appreciate a safe, private place to “get away from it all:” under a couch, behind books on a shelf, or in the laundry hamper. Just be sure there’s no chance Tiger can be shut in or injured, and that you know where the cat hides.

Routine is important to cats; they want to know what to expect. Establish a routine for feeding, litter box duty, and grooming and make sure these duties are performed as scheduled.

I want my cat to have clean habits.

Cats are clean animals. They bathe regularly (with their tongues), and they naturally seek a place to neatly deposit and bury their waste. But you do need to help with grooming and to provide a proper place to follow those “bathroom” instincts.

Make grooming Tiger a regular, pleasant habit. Long-haired cats may need combing every day to prevent painful mats and knots, and even short-haired cats need a weekly brushing or combing. Include a quick inspection of ears and mouth (ask your veterinarian what to look for) and nail care (see SmartHeartsm pamphlet on claws). The more often you groom, the more your cat will relax and think of the sessions as opportunities for extra attention and heavy-duty stroking.

Brushing Tiger will also help prevent hairballs. These mats of hair form in your cat’s stomach and intestines from the hair swallowed during self-grooming. If the cat can’t get rid of a hairball by vomiting or passing it into the litter box, it can cause dangerous blockage. Prevent hairballs with regular grooming and by dosing Tiger with a little petroleum jelly or mineral oil every week. Ask your veterinarian how, and how much, to dose your cat.

Place the litter box in a private, easy access/ easy-escape location. Avoid places in high-traffic areas or too near your cat’s food or bed. Tiger won’t like a parade around this important place.

Avoid litters and litter additives with heavy deodorants or perfumes which may offend Tiger’s sensitive nose and cause your cat to reject the litter box. To help absorb odors, add a handful of baking soda to the bottom of the box.
Cover the bottom of the box with two to three inches of plain cat litter or scoopable sand litter. Too much litter will be wasted, and some cats (especially declawed cats) will be alarmed if their feet sink.

Keep the litter box clean by scooping out wastes at least once every day; twice is better. At least once a week, dump the litter into a strong garbage bag (not your toilet) and dispose of it. Even those sand litters advertised as “flushable” are not meant to be flushed in large amounts; read labels carefully. Wash the box with hot soapy water never strong detergents or bleach rinse and dry thoroughly, and add fresh litter.

I want my cat to eat right, but not be a finicky cat!

A high-quality dry food contains everything a cat needs, and the crunching helps to keep Tiger’s teeth clean. Your veterinarian can recommend the right food and amounts for Tiger. Canned cat food makes a nice treat, but don’t allow your cat to decide what and when to eat.

It’s important to establish a routine by feeding Tiger at the same time and in the same place every day. Scheduled meals help you know how much Tiger eats and that the food is always fresh. In addition, making food available at all times (“free feeding”) may encourage obesity.

Don’t feed Tiger table scraps, raw meat, bones, or dog food…you’ll have a begging, stealing, unhealthy cat! Feed Tiger foods designed for a cat’s special dietary needs. Dog food and “people” food, even canned tuna, can destroy vitamins your cat’s system needs for good health. And tuna is addictive! Any bones are, of course, very dangerous.

Provide a sturdy water bowl and keep the water fresh and clean. Empty, rinse, and refill the bowl every day. Make it a habit.

Cats and kittens more than six weeks old do not need milk. For the cat who truly craves dairy products, ask your veterinarian if a half teaspoon of milk or a small piece of cheese is acceptable as a treat. More will cause diarrhea in most cats.

I want my cat to be safe and active, but not too active!

Playing, watching, sleeping, and eating are your cat’s life. Make them worthwhile. A bored cat is much more likely to be a problem child, hyper- active and destructive. Keep Tiger indoors with plenty to keep a cat’s mind and body interested and active.

Cats spend a great deal of time resting, but they are also natural athletes. When they want to be active, help them channel that energy through safe play. Safe toys (see page 1), stairs for running on, and high safe shelves for a great view of the world will all give your cat access to play any time of the day…even when you’re not home. A companion cat or dog might work off Tiger’s natural energy (see SmartHeartsm pamphlet on pros and cons of adding a pet).

Windows offer cats a “natural TV.” Be sure that Tiger has access to at least one window to watch, preferably with a tree outside. Squirrels, birds, people, and even breeze-blown branches offer interesting watching opportunities.

Cat-proof your home with common sense: any way that a toddler could get into trouble goes double for Tiger! Small objects that could be swallowed, toxic substances (medications, cleaning supplies, etc.), or breakables should be safely stored in cabinets with cat-proof doors. And remember that cats go barefoot and lick their feet clean; rinse thoroughly any surface you’ve cleaned with chemicals.

If you don’t want Tiger jumping on counters or tables, teach that lesson early. “Booby trap” surfaces that are off-limits with double-sided tape, or the reverse side of adhesive shelf paper, which will feel unpleasant to Tiger’s feet.

For the stubborn cat, plant a mousetrap under a THICK layer of newspaper so it will snap suddenly when Tiger lands on the paper. (Weight the edges or with masking tape so there is no danger of a paw getting into the trap.) The cat will soon learn that it’s more fun to stay off of those surfaces.

Digging in house plants can be discouraged by covering the dirt with medium to large rocks, foil, pine cones, or small-mesh wire. Plant chewing is a much more serious problem. Many house plants are toxic to cats. Prevent problems by placing plants out of reach. Since Tiger is so skillful at climbing and jumping, that means they must be VERY out of reach, preferably hanging from the ceiling.

I want Tiger to live a long, healthy life.

Following the common sense methods above will help keep Tiger safe and healthy. But, like humans, cats need regular medical attention to prevent any problems and keep them healthy.

Tiger should visit your veterinarian annually for a check-up and vaccinations. An unvaccinated cat is vulnerable to viruses which attack the immune system and leave the cat weakened and sick. All of these vaccinations must be repeated every year (see SmartHeartsm pamphlet on cat health):

  • Protect Tiger against feline distemper, “cat flu,” and upper respiratory viruses with the FVRCP vaccination.
  • By state law, your cat must be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian.
  • You should also ask your veterinarian about tests for and vaccinations against feline leukemia (FeLV) which kills thousands of cats every year.

Your veterinarian will also check Tiger for any internal parasites (tapeworms, roundworms, etc.) and treat your cat for any problems found during the exam.

Have Tiger spayed or neutered as early as possible, usually between at 6 to 8 months old. A spayed or neutered cat will be healthier, better behaved, and will live longer.

Fleas and other parasites are part of living with pets, but they don’t have to be a threat to you or to Tiger if you take the proper precautions. Even a strictly indoor cat can have a flea problem.

Fleas can make your cat very ill: they irritate the skin, carry tapeworms, and can make Tiger anemic, lowering the cat’s resistance to disease.

Part Tiger’s hair with your fingers and look for signs of fleas: tiny, comma-shaped black droppings. You may even see moving fleas. If you find any of these signals, you need to take action to protect your pet.

So treat your home with sprays, powders, or foggers. Ask your veterinarian before using any product on or around your pet. Vacuum floors and upholstery thoroughly and often. Use a flea comb as part of your grooming sessions, and protect Tiger with safe, high-quality products. Read labels some flea-fighting products are dangerous for cats. Labels also tell you which products can be used together and how to use the products safely.

An important note for the family who wants a happy and healthy cat:
While a family pet offers children a wonderful opportunity to learn about responsibility and caring, regular pet-care duties must be carefully supervised by an adult.

Children forget. The responsibility for Tiger’s care and safety is that of the adults in the home. Your cat is not a toy or a privilege to be used as a bargaining chip between parent and child.

The relationship between your cat and your child will be strengthened by your respect for Tiger’s needs and feelings. Teach by example that Tiger is an important family member, not a toy to be neglected and tossed away when no longer new. What better way to teach responsibility?

We hope that your cat will be a member of your family for many years. Good luck to you both!

This information is part of the Atlanta Humane Society’s SmartHeart Educational Series.

The AHS depends on friends to provide funding for our services and programs of animal aid, support for individuals with animal related problems, and community animal issues.

The Atlanta Humane Society and Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization for the purpose of preventing cruelty, relieving suffering, and providing humane treatment of animals. The Society’s mission is to eliminate causes of animal suffering with an emphasis on education and the human/animal bond.