Fun With Felines

Anyone who knows me knows I love my cats. I only have two, so I am by no means a crazy cat lady but still have had plenty of experience in selecting and caring for furbabies. Plus, I like cats too much to even want to be a crazy cat lady, since having too many to share precious space is actually not good for the cats as it creates a stressful living environment. That is your first tip if you are new to cat ownership or are contemplating picking up a stray or kitten for the holidays. Here is another tip, now is not the time to go looking for a kitten if you want a wide selection. It is true you can find kittens all year, but their population goes up during kitten season, which typically runs from May to early November in this area. Cats usually only breed when it is warm outside and have a gestation period of about 60 days, so you will see a lot of kitten ads starting to show up 2-3 months after the first warm days of the year. Below are some tips for cat selection and care; note most of the links can be explored for even more cat information.

If you want to get more than one cat, kittens adopted as a pair tend to get along, but all cats are subject to personality traits that determine if they stay friends or can adapt to a new cat.

First, selecting a cat does not mean you need to narrow your search to just kittens. It is worth noting that there are many adult cats, some young, that are in shelters because they were abandoned, lost their owners or just could not be cared for properly. Many people mistakenly believe that shelter cats are there because they have a disease or behavior problem, which is often untrue. One way to get a better idea of what kind of cats are available is to check websites like PetFinder or Adopt-A-Pet, which list animals available for adoption at local shelters and rescues. The listings often contain a detailed description of the potential pet, their personalities and any health or behavior issues. The sites have links to the shelter websites, as well as information about the shelter so you can get an idea of any adoption requirements, fees, etc. In general, be prepared to give a few references, information about your home and current pets, and pay a small fee, as shelters rely on donations and fees to keep running. You may also be given an option to pay the shelter a fee to spay/neuter and microchip the cat (both can be done as early as 8 weeks), which is usually a good deal and highly suggested for the safety and health of the pet. Shelters tend to get deals from local vets for new adoptees and doing it when you adopt helps prevent behavior and health problems once you get the pet home.  A new book at MCLS, Choosing a Cat, is published by the American Humane Society and discusses many of the things to consider when selecting a cat and how to care for them.  Although written for younger children, the book contains valuable information for anyone considering a new cat or kitten.

Once you have selected a cat and been approved for adoption, it is time to consider how to introduce your new pet to your home. This is actually perhaps the most critical aspect of the adoption, since you want your new companion to be comfortable and feel safe. For that reason, you want to consider any hazards that need to be removed or repaired, as well as set-up safe locations for the cat to eat, sleep, use a litter box or just hide. In general, cats like quiet, cozy places for alone time and just like humans, like privacy for bathroom visits. It is best to keep items like the litter box, water bowls and food dishes someplace where there is not a lot of traffic or the area has low traffic times. Also, cats really do not like to eat or drink near their litter box so it is a good idea to have the bowls and box away from each other, even if it is just across the room. For hiding and sleeping, leave some space under the bed or in other semi-enclosed spaces (but not the dryer!) so the cat can hide if need be and

Cats feel safest in tight, enclosed spaces or higher hiding spots.

provide some comfortable, warm spaces for sleeping – keep in mind the cat will likely discover a lot more on their own. I have one cat that “caves” or hides under a blanket whenever someone visits the house and likes to sleep anywhere I put a fleece blanket, so if I move the blanket, the cat follows it. Once the cat arrives, slowly introduce the house; some cats need to stay in only one or two rooms for a few weeks before they feel safe enough to explore their new homes; this is especially true for kittens. Finally, make sure to socialize the cat to all family members and any other pets. Do not have everyone descend on the cat at once, but have each spend time playing and holding the cat, being sure to let the cat go if it wants to.

Within a few days of bringing the cat home, it is best to take them to their first vet visit. If you need to find a vet, there is a vet locator on The first visit will include a wellness check-up and vaccines. You most likely will also be asked to bring a stool sample to check for parasites. It is not unusual for cats, especially kittens, to have some worms and fortunately, catching them early is often treatable with a few pills. Follow-ups for vaccines will be scheduled and after the first year, a routine exam and vaccines is about all the vet care you should need. Pet insurance is an option: Consult with your vet over plans they accept if you are interested in getting insurance. If you want to learn more about cat health care and how to train a cat or treat a behavior problem, try The Cat Encyclopedia.

The next steps include setting up your cat for a happy lifetime in your home. By the time most cats are adopted, they have a basic understanding of the litter box, but you will still need to train them to find the box. As a rule of thumb, number of cats plus one is how many boxes you need and remember they are picky. You might want to ask the shelter which litter was used in their box and try to use the same or a similar kind since they get used to one type. Any change with the litter box must be gradual and you want to make sure the box fits the cat, start small for kittens and once an adult, give them a box that is about 5-6 inches longer than the cat. If you need to move a box, let us say as you move them from just one room to the full house, move the box only a few feet per day until it arrives in the permanent location. And one tip I have for you is, if you want a mat to put under the box, consider looking in the dog aisle at the pet store for disposable training or “away” pads. Accidents happen near the box and mats need to be washed, but the disposables last a long time and can be tossed if soiled.

Finally, some simple tips that will save you some headaches, high vet bills and perhaps your cat’s life. Cats tend to do well eating most foods, but some have issues with grain additives found in various commercial foods. It is a good idea to ask the vet for food suggestions. For example, male cats can develop crystals or bladder stones that block urine flow and this can be caused by ash, magnesium and other food ingredients so a vet can advise you best on appropriate foods. This will also likely include some dental treats to help keep plaque down, since no one wants to help a cat floss. Keep in mind that while cats usually tolerate human food, it is best to keep them on cat food and avoid certain foods, like chocolate or onions that are poisonous to cats, if you do decide to occasionally treat them from the table. Like food, care should be taken with toys. While cute, cats playing with yarn, string or feathers can be flirting with danger, as all three can bind up or even cut circulation off to the cat’s intestines if eaten, so try to avoid toys with these or, really, any small item they can swallow. The same goes for medication you have around the house - curiosity has indeed killed cats, so make sure bottle tops are secure and locate any pills you may drop.

Cats, actually any pet, should be treated and watched like children when it comes to ordinary household hazards like strings, bags and electrical wires.

Beyond these basics, cat care is pretty simple if you follow the one rule most cat owners learn early on, and that is they are not cat owners, but live with a cat. For even more information, consult VetStreet’s cat guide or this handy list of mistakes made by first-time cat owners.

Bonus:  Looking for something to do with all the cat hair you expect to see around the house?  You can craft with it!  Crafting With Cat Hair offers a guide to making handicrafts with no special skills or equipment needed, just a cat and a brush.

- Laura N.


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