The Furry Critter Network

Feline Care

Cats are low-maintenance pets compared to dogs, and are quite suitable for households where everyone works full-time, although you might want to get two cats so that they can keep each other company during the day. A cat's psyche develops better if it has lots of attention from humans as a kitten from 6–16 weeks of age. Thus especially younger cats should not be left alone for long time periods. If you want a companionable cat, give your cat a lot of attention.

In the UK, most cats are allowed to go outside, but in the US, more cats are kept indoors. Cats derive much pleasure from exploring outside, and outdoor cats are less prone to obesity because they get more exercise and they are less likely than indoor cats to eat out of boredom—indoor cats need a lot of play and stimulation to prevent them from becoming neurotic or bored. However, cats kept indoors 100% of the time tend to live longer and suffer fewer injuries because they are less exposed to dangers like cars, dogs, parasites, sadistic humans, and fighting with other cats. Outdoor cats tend to keep down the rodent population but they also tend to keep down the songbird population. When deciding whether to allow your cat outdoors unsupervised, consider how much of a problem these dangers are in your neighbourhood. Consider also how close your neighbors' gardens are, as outdoor cats enjoy using the soft soil in planters and flower gardens as litterboxes. Also note that cats with health problems such as deafness are less able to take care of themselves, and that declawed cats should never be allowed outdoors because they cannot defend themselves or climb trees to escape a dangerous situation. Cats which are allowed outside should be routinely checked for scratches or other injuries which they may routinely acquire. Injuries, especially bites from another cat, are very prone to infection and need to be caught and treated as soon as possible. Keeping up to date on vaccinations is especially important for outdoor cats, as many contagious diseases such as feline leukemia are commonplace in the feral cat population.

Cats usually develop strong affection towards their host family. Some cats are shy and need some time to accept the presence of new people, though cats who have been treated well by humans can be very open minded towards new people. Domestic cats are partially gregarious animals. Some live in groups well and some do not. For domestic cats the group has a purely social function and unlike lions domestic cats do not hunt as a group.

Feeding and grooming

Feed your cat with good-quality commercial cat food, but do not consider cooking for your cat without veterinary guidance. Remember that cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they require meat protein to survive. They cannot survive on a vegetarian diet. There are cat foods which are formulated for cats with special dietary needs, such as cats with poorly functioning kidneys or the tendency to have urinary problems. Please consult a veterinarian before feeding your cat one of these diets. Cats should also have fresh water available at all times, although some cats may prefer to drink from a glass or tap instead of a bowl.

Long-haired cats may need to be groomed every day to prevent their fur from getting matted. Short-haired cats can handle most of their own grooming, but should still be brushed occasionally to remove hair.

Caring For Kittens

Take your new cat to the vet to have it neutered and vaccinated. As well as preventing your cat from adding to the population of unwanted kittens, neutering helps prevent fighting, roaming, and some behavioral problems. Neutered males are much less likely to spray, and spayed females won't go into heat. Spaying also has health benefits; spayed females won't be susceptible to life threatening infections like pyometra and are less likely to get mammary cancer.

Lifting a kitten by the scruff in this fashion is fine until it is too heavy to be lifted comfortably. To hold a kitten, support the kitten's back end with one hand, and use the other to keep it secure against your chest. Adult cats should not be lifted by the scruff. Should one wish to adopt a kitten, it is easiest to care for one that has already been weaned, which occurs between 4 to 6 weeks of age. The ideal time for adoption is around twelve weeks, when the kitten has had time to learn from its mother and siblings. Older kittens learn to use a litter box reliably, to clean themselves, and to interact politely with other cats. Kittens which have time after weaning in the company of their mother and littermates are less likely to be aggressive or shy. However, sometimes a kitten is abandoned or the mother cat is unable to take care of it, and the kitten's owners have to step into the gap.

If one is taking care of a motherless kitten between birth and four weeks, one needs to take very good care of them or they will become sick. Fostering a very young kitten can be chancy; a veterinarian's advice is highly recommended. Kittens are born unable to see, hear, regulate their own body temperature, or even eliminate on their own, and require a lot of care in the first few weeks. All baby kittens need to be fed every 3–4 hours. They also need to be kept nice and warm or they will not eat. A good way to keep a baby kitten warm is to fill a soft drink bottle with the hottest water you can get, then surround that bottle with blankets and have the kitten sleep there. Baby kittens should be taken to a vet when they are between the ages of 2–3 weeks old. Kittens need to be played with but, like all babies, they can get in trouble and hurt themselves, so they need to be watched closely.

This orphaned kitten is being fed kitten milk replacement through a feeding syringe. Kitten-sized bottles are also available for healthy kittens strong enough to suckle on their own. Kittens can be litter box trained at the age of 2–3 weeks old. All you need to do is take something little so the kitten can get in (a little pie pan works great), and fill it with litter. Then when the kitten starts to "go", put the kitten in the litter box so it learns to "go" in there. Another approach that works is to place the kitten into the box and rub its front paws into the litter, so it learns to dig there. Most kittens only take a matter of days to learn; sometimes it takes longer, but it seems that the younger the kitten is, the easier it is for it to learn. It is common for younger kittens to have "accidents" for a while, since kittens' bladders are small and they may simply not make it to the litter box; or a kitten in a new home may lose its way and be unable to find the box. By three months old, litter box habits are usually well-established.

Kittens should be examined by a veterinarian and given their first shots, as well as being checked for parasites. Vaccination schedules vary regionally: the veterinarian will advise you on what is recommended and when to bring the kitten back for booster shots in the future. In many countries, the law stipulates that all domestic cats and dogs must be given rabies vaccinations.

Many veterinarians and humane organizations recommend spaying or neutering kittens in order to keep cat population in check (presuming they are not going to be bred as an adult). Since the average litter size is four kittens and cats can start having litters at five months, overpopulation is inevitable if domestic cats are not altered. Females should be spayed at 5 months of age, and males should be neutered at 6 months of age. Many veterinarians advise delaying neutering until the kitten is six months old because they believe that it affects the hormone levels and can cause problems. However, studies have found no difference in development or health between kittens spayed at 12 weeks and those spayed at six months and many vets perform early spaying on healthy kittens. Some studies show that a female kitten spayed before her first heat (which she may have as early as four months) has a much reduced rate of mammary cancer, and a male kitten neutered before he begins to "spray" (urine-marking) will be less likely to have behavior problems.

If a kitten is (gently) handled and played with consistently from a very young age, it will be much more willing to be held when it is older. This will make it much easier to put in a pet carrier, give pills, take to the veterinarian, and so forth. Cats that do not appreciate being picked up and held can often be very difficult to deal with in these situations. Kittens can also be socialized with dogs; if a kitten grows up with a friendly dog in its environment, it is much less likely to become intimidated and scratch a dog when it is adopted.

Urination problems

If a cat suddenly stops using its litterbox, a trip to the vet is in order, because this may be caused by a medical problem—if the cat finds it painful to relieve itself, it may associate the pain with the litterbox. More than one cat owner has refrained from taking a cat to the vet's office because of a "this cat is perfectly healthy" mentality. An animal doesn't have to look sick to be sick. It can also be a behavioural problem; for example, the cat may be resentful over the introduction of a new kitten to the household. Occasionally, one cat will bully another by "casually" sitting near the litter box, intimidating the victim so that it cannot get to the box. The reasons why cats stop using the litterbox for eliminations are large and varied, with too many to go into here. Your veterinarian may have some good suggestions, or you may need to contact a behaviorist.

An entire industry has grown up around getting cats to use the litterbox—different shapes and sizes of boxes with or without lids, a wide array of different litters (including special litter with an attractive smell for cats), even feline pheromones in a bottle (called Feliway).

Some things to try—change the size of the box, change its location (it may be too remote or in too busy an area), change the litter (both the kind and the frequency of dumping and replacing—most cats don't like strong odors associated with the box), add or remove a lid, add to the number of litterboxes (especially in a multicat household, where one cat may be blocking another from using a box), move the box away from its food and water, or even confine the cat into a small area with a clean box for a period of time (usually several weeks) to retrain it to use the box. Which of these solutions will work best for you depends on the individual situation—it frequently takes a bit of detective work.

It is also important to clean up the mess thoroughly, because if the cat can still smell it, it is likely to go there again. Don't use an ammonia-based cleaner, as this smells similar to urine. Citrus smells unpleasant to cats, so using a citrus-scented cleaner may help.

Note that punishing the cat for eliminating in the wrong place will have no effect unless you catch it in the act, as it won't understand that your punishment is connected to something it did hours ago. In particular, rubbing its nose in its mess will only serve to remind it that the spot smells like a litterbox.

Scratching Problems

Another problem some people have with cats is that some cats sharpen their claws on the furniture. Often it is the owner's favourite chair that is clawed most, because the cat is responding to its owner's scent. Cats which are allowed to go outside are less likely to have this problem because they can sharpen their claws on trees, fences or other rough surfaces not found in the home. Try giving the cat a scratching post; you may have to try several to find one your cat likes, and a log of wood with the bark still on may work better than a commercial scratching post. Putting an owner's smell or cat mint on the scratching post may improve cats affection towards the post. Covering the furniture with aluminium foil may help discourage the cat. When the cat starts scratching furniture, shooting the cat with a small pressure water pistol is a very effective way to embarrass the cat and teach it to leave the furniture alone. The water pistol should only be used when the cat is doing something bad.

Some cat owners declaw their cats. However, if the cats ever find themselves on their own again, their ability to defend themselves and hunt for food becomes much more limited if they have been declawed. Some owners will have only the cats' front claws removed, so that the back claws remain available for defense in such a situation. Still, declawing cats is considered by many to be cruel. The Humane Society of the U.S. opposes declawing "when done solely for the convenience of the owner and without benefit to the animal." Claws and front paws are very important tools for cats. The front claws are as important for cats as fingers are for humans. Compared to human anatomy, declawing is the amputation of all fingers and toes past the last knuckle. In addition to being less able to defend itself, the declawed cat frequently experiences trouble walking. Declawing cats is illegal in many countries. If the cat's claws cause much trouble, an alternative is to glue nail caps known as "SoftPaws" onto the cat's claws. These also interfere with the cat's ability to defend itself, but will fall off after a few weeks (along with the outer sheath of the claws).

Aging and Illness

The following is a list that a cat owner can do to take care of their sick or aging cat:

  • Provide easy access to favorite napping places and litter boxes.
  • Monitor relationship with other cats or pets.
  • Monitor food and water intake
  • Customize interactive playtime to accommodate a cat's physical condition
  • Visit the veterinarian regularly
  • Educate other family members on how to handle your cat
  • Brush and groom the cat daily
  • Check for new lumps and bumps
  • Provide an escape from people and other animals

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