Owning a cat takes a little work but gives back a whole lot of pleasure in return. Here are some ideas on how to make your new kitty feel at home, while giving you peace of mind. It is a transition to own a new pet, so take it step by step and don't be afraid.
If you have a small kitten, make sure to handle it a lot, gently showing it that you are someone it can trust. Put a ticking clock in where its bed is, the soothing sound mimics the mother cat's heartbeat. If you are keeping the kitty in a separate room until it's ready to acclimate to the household, make sure it has a soft pillow or cat bed to sleep in. A few toys are appreciated, too. Some great free toys are things like a cotton swab tied to a string and hung from a doorknob (supervise play with this item)or a milk jug ring (that plastic ring around the cap). At the pet store, buy super balls, a laser pointer and catnip mice then sit back and watch the show as kitty wears himself out, being a spring-loaded, furry ballet dancer, leaping in the air as he chases his "prey". Find toys that are lightweight and throw them around a little, to show the kitty how to play. Kittens learn by watching their mothers, so they will also learn by watching their adopted human parent.
Establish an area for the cat's litter box in a well ventilated, quiet place. Then, show the kitty where it is, taking your hand and play scratching the litter to show him it's ok for him to use it. Again, cats learn from watching, and especially kittens need a little guidance sometimes. If the kitty relieves itself outside the box, don't punish it, just put it into its cat box immediately. Show no anger, as this will scare the cat and make them fear you. Fear isn't a good teacher, calm praise and encouragement is what you want. Make sure to address the problem as it happens for best results since cats have short memory spans and won't correlate the accident with the cat box unless you quickly link the two together with corrective action (putting kitty in the box).
All my life, I have given my cats both wet and dry food. Ask your vet the proper amount to feed your cat, but make sure to get quality food that they like, not just anything cheap you see at the store. If you feed your cat quality food, they have a better chance of steering clear of health problems later. My vet told me that male cats can get crystals in their urinary tracts, which are painful and expensive to remove. To avoid that, don't give kitty food with high magnesium in it. Read the ingredient labels. Having male cats myself, I avoid fish products and give them turkey, chicken or beef flavored canned foods. The ones with rice in them are good, too. Just like humans, vary the flavors of food you feed your cat somewhat. I buy a case of canned food and feed mine one can every day at the same time.
Save money on pet medicines by buying them online. You can take the kitty to the vet when he's sick and buy the medicine there, but if it isn't an emergency then by all means, research to find lower prices on pet meds like flea or parasite killing aids. My cat had tapeworms (they look like rice in the cats stool) so I found out what medicine the vet uses and located it on an internet pet store site. The medicine would've cost me over $30 if I'd bought it through the vet, but I got the exact, same kind for $15 online. It pays to research the safety of the medicine vets recommend, and make sure to follow the dosage instructions very carefully. Don't dose your pet higher than listed in the instructions and don't use dog medicines on cats unless the vet says it is ok to do so. Cats groom themselves, and if you use a topical medicine on a cat that is meant for a dog, it could potentially poison him when he cleans himself. It is better to be safe than sorry. Also, never give human medicine to pets, cats have different systems than we do. Don't gamble on the life of your precious pet.
When it comes to the question of whether or not to let your cat outside or not, it is a proven fact that indoor cats live longer lives than those who are permitted to go out. This is because there are a vast amount of dangers and illnesses outside that a free-roaming cat may encounter. Cars, cat-hating neighbors, dogs, diseases from other peoples' pets, and of course, fleas top the list of hazards. We had cats as I grew up, all of whom went outdoors, and one by one, they died from things like leukemia, poisoning from a neighbor, hit by cars (we lost a few cats to cars), and one was trapped and came back with a mangled leg, that needed to be amputated. We lived on a peaceful, upscale street and still, all this happened. I cannot emphasize more strongly, indoor cats do live longer. As an adult, my cats have been indoors, and they have lived to 21 or more years old. Just get your indoor kitty a cat tree (kitty condo) or a scratching post and put it near the window so that he can bird-watch.
Protect your cat when you have guests over who are either rough with, or dislike cats. Put kitty in another room if you don't want him manhandled by very young children, for example. If you have young children, make sure to show them very carefully and thoroughly to be gentle and kind to pets. Well-meaning kids may break a cat's leg by picking it up wrong (one of my cats was a rescue who had this happen to him) so it pays to supervise your small child's interaction with a new pet. This is for the protection of the child as well, as rough handling a cat can cause it to scratch! Cats are loving, but they must be treated with kindness, or their natural instinct is to protect themselves.
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If you are going to be gone for a week or so, make sure you have a pet sitter or friend look in on your cat while you're away. Put down a large amount of dry food and water for the cat, but make sure someone checks to make sure it hasn't run out. My local pet sitters cost me $15 per day, a small price to pay for peace of mind when I'm away from my furry friends.
Having a pet is a commitment and privilege. Remember, your pet is going to be with you through thick and thin, so be there for him in sickness or health. Give them the same chance at having a happy and full life that you yourself deserve by giving him a forever home. If for any reason you are forced to part with a pet due to unforseen problems, be responsible about finding your pet a good home. Do for your pet what you would do for yourself. There are few circumstances that would warrant giving up a pet, so I advise you to keep your commitment, no matter what. I live in a hurricane evacuation zone, and if I have to evacuate, my pets have a large pet cage in the car to be in, with a fan, so we can be together. If you are in a hurricane zone, pre-plan disasters by arming yourself with a foldable cage for the back of your car, a jug of water and food if you evacuate. Don't ever leave your pet behind, because he may not be there when you come back. I had my three cats microchipped, in case somehow they got physically separated from me, they would be able to come home to me. Microchips carry the address of the owner, and authorities check strays to see if they have them so they are great investments.
Owning a pet teaches patience and responsibility. In return, you will be paid by unconditional love and acceptance.If you have any questions on cat care, contact your local chapter of the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or your vet, and they usually will help you over the phone. In time, you and your pet will be more comfortable with one another. Until then, just take it slow, remember to be gentle and supportive, and you will have a special friend for life.
Carolyn McFann is a scientific and nature illustrator, who owns Two Purring Cats Design Studio, which can be seen at: http://www.cafepress.com/twopurringcats Educated at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Carolyn is a seasoned, well-traveled artist, writer and photographer. She has lived and worked in Cancun, Mexico, among other interesting professional assignments in other countries. Clients include nature parks, museums, scientists, corporations and private owners. She has been the subject of tv interviews, articles for newspapers and other popular media venues.