You have decided on the cat or kitten you want. What do you need to prepare? How do you ensure you will be a good owner?
The best way to attend to your cat’s wellbeing is to understand the needs of the species and use that knowledge to create a suitable environment. Some of the things that make a difference are very simple, but owners are often unaware of their importance.
Sometimes it is easy to confuse what cats might want with what we want. But a cat is not a person. As you start to think like a cat other things will make more sense and you’ll start to look at your cat and its reactions in a very different way. Understanding its needs will help you to prepare well for your new cat or kitten.
One thing we need to realise as owners is that, to the majority of cats, their environment is much more important to them than the humans that inhabit it!
A good owner needs to understand how a cat’s environment impacts on it and makes it feel secure – this will always improve the cat human relationship.
Though we may think of cats as ‘domesticated’, we’re merely fiddling with millions of years of evolution of a creature that was, in the not too distant past, a solitary animal. Unless you’re a lion, or part of a related group still under maternal care, then as a cat – large or small – your natural instinct is to carve out a bit of the landscape big enough to provide you and (if you were female) your kittens with enough wildlife to feed you. Having done this, you don’t want another cat around to poach from your larder. So naturally, you’re very territorial, because it’s a matter of life or death. A wild cat or a feral cat (a domestic cat which lives a wild lifestyle without the direct help of man) will have a large territory to roam in, a smaller area that it will defend vigorously, and a small den where it feels safe. A female cat will use the den to have her kittens. That instinct still influences our cats, be they neutered, pampered pets or cats living wild (most pet cats could also survive in the wild if they had to).
Think about the ‘den’ we call our homes, where we aim to give our cats safety. We think they’re safe inside and they may feel that way too. However, we may be unaware that another cat is ‘visiting’ through the cat flap or an open window, or causing anxiety by looking through the glass windows in the conservatory where the cat’s litter tray is sited. Perhaps the next-door cat waits outside the cat flap to pounce on your cat as it emerges. All of these things can make your resident cat feel very threatened and insecure.
If you’re aware of the importance of these things you can take measures to ensure your cat actually does feel secure, such as by positioning the litter tray in a safe place and preventing other cats from coming in. If you provide a way in and out of the house using a cat door or catflap, security can be ensured by giving the cat a ‘key’ on its collar using a magnet, a microchip or an electronic device so that it can open its own cat flap but other cats can’t get in. Some people don’t have a cat door but simply let the cat in and out as it demands.
What facilities will my cat or kitten need?
We all know that a cat needs food and water and, if it stays indoors or is fearful of going out, a litter tray. However, there’s a bit more to it than that. More often than not we line up the food, the water and the litter tray so that they’re all close together and convenient for the cat to find and use. What’s wrong with that? Well, given the choice, a cat will drink well away from where it eats and will definitely eat and drink far away from where it goes to the toilet. Understanding a cat means understanding the need to separate these important resources.
Here are things you will need:
- A litter box/tray/pan.
How to choose a litter tray, litter and a tray position for your cat.
- A cosy bed – It is not just the shape, size or fabric of a bed that matters, it can often be simply the position of the bed that will either attract or deter a cat from using it. Cats feel better higher up from where they don’t have to worry about what’s above and can see what’s happening below. There are lots to choose from and the top favourite will probably be your own bed!
- Safe places - cats need to have high places within a house to retreat to or just retire to for a safe, quiet nap, or to get out of the way of some household activity or visitor (person or dog). For more nervous cats this can be a godsend – somewhere to relax. Of course, cats also love cosy warm beds and often those which they can hide away in, especially if the cat is a little nervous. Private places are important for cats to escape from any perceived dangers. Owners need to respect that and not disturb cats while they are choosing to remain hidden.
- Kitten pen – if you are getting a kitten then the purchase, hire or borrowing of a kitten pen can be a godsend. You can use one of the cages people use for dogs in the back of a car or purpose made kitten or puppy pens which are roughly about 1m x 0.75m x 0.75m. Inside there is room for a bed and a litter tray and to put food and water. If you haven’t had a kitten in the house for some time you will have forgotten how they get into everything and how their curiosity drives them into sometimes rather dangerous situations. If you can put them in the pen when you go out or at night you can be sure that they are not getting themselves into trouble. The pen also gives them time out if you have dogs, other cats or children as kittens do need a lot of sleep. They feel safe inside and soon learn to snuggle up in their bed. It is also brilliant for making introductions to dogs, cats and children so the kitten is protected but other animals can get used to it.
- Carrying basket – essential for trips to the vet or cattery and of course for bringing your new cat home. There are lots of different designs but the most important thing is to choose one that is secure and is easy to get the cat in and out of.
How to choose and use a carrying basket for your cat
- Toys – cats love to play and anything from a scrap of paper to a cat activity centre can be the trigger. It is a great way to interact with your cat and also to give it an outlet for energy and instincts. However, there can be problems if owners play in the wrong way with their cats.
How to choose a toy for your cat or kitten
Playing with your cat
- Identification is important, especially if your cat is going to go outside. At International Cat Care we recommend that all cats are microchipped but you may also want your cat to wear a collar for visible identification or to carry a ‘key’ to the cat flap.
Identifying your cat
How to choose and fit a collar for your cat
- A cat flap? The cat flap has been the making of cat keeping – it allows the cat free access to the outdoors without having to leave a door or window open, so the house is still secure and the cat doesn’t have to live outdoors until it’s let in. There are now a wide range of flaps available, simple flaps that are also lockable in or out, flaps that are locked until opened by a magnet or an electronic key on the cat’s collar, and cat flaps that are triggered by the cat’s microchip (or can be programmed for several microchips if you have several cats). In areas where there is a high population of cats International Cat Care recommends that the cat flap/door chosen is one which can exclude strange cats from coming into the house.
How to choose and use a cat flap for your cat
- Scratch post – a cat will instinctively sharpen its claws and mark its territory by scratching. Most cats will do this outside but may do it inside as well. A scratch post will give the cat a place to do this and prevent it using the furniture.
How to choose and use a scratching post for your cat
Keeping your cat safe
If you have not had a kitten in the house before (or it is a long time since you last had one) then perhaps a quick audit of the house to highlight areas of danger would be a good idea. There are things which are poisonous to cats; there are products which will burn paws or skin; there are situations to avoid. It is best to remove poisonous plants and substances and make sure there are no small items such as needles and thread left lying around etc.
Household hazards for cats and kittens
Cats and poisons
Cats and poisonous plants
Now you are ready for your new cat or kitten! Make sure you take your cat basket to pick up your new feline and do not have it loose in the car.