When you bring your furry friend home with you for the first time, you want to know that you’re doing everything right by them. But, if you haven’t owned a cat before, it can be difficult to know what’s best for them. Owning a cat might seem simple, you just feed it and water it and make sure it’s safe. But it isn’t always that easy, and if you haven’t owned a cat before there are a few things you should know that will make your job easier.
1. How Much Time Do You Have?
Cats are usually portrayed as independent, aloof creatures that don’t need anything from anyone. However, while they are more independent then dogs, they do need care, particularly when they’re young. So, if you’re out all day, then a cat probably isn’t the pet for you. Unless, of course, you like coming home to scratched up furniture, an angry cat, and ‘gifts’ all over the floor.
2. Shop First
Before you bring your cat home, go shopping. Buy everything you think you’ll need or want to make your cat comfortable and to make them feel at home. The last thing you want is to have your kitten going to the toilet around your house because you forgot the kitty litter. Having toys and blankets that are just theirs will also make your kitten feel more at home in their new space.
3. Plan a Quiet First Day
When you first bring your kitten home, it’s natural for you and everyone in your family to be excited. This may overwhelm or terrify your new kitten, who is away from their home, their mother, or their siblings for the first time. Instead, try to keep the first day low key. Don’t plan any big activities and let your kitten guide what you do. This will help everyone settle down quicker and easier.
4. Pet Proof
Cats are like small children and babies, particularly when you first get them home, so prepare accordingly. Before you bring your kitten home, make sure high windows are closed, check for escape routes, and move or secure anything that could end up hurting your kitten. Remember that they will be jumping, exploring, and digging into everything, so make sure it’s safe for them to do so.
5. Plan your Kitten’s Diet
Before you bring your kitten home, make sure that you know what they’re going to eat and have a few day’s supply. If you’re unsure, talk to your vet about the best pet food for your new friend to ensure that you get balanced, age-appropriate food.
6. Outside or Inside?
Before your kitten arrives, you need to determine where they’re going to live because this will affect their training. Will they be strictly inside cats? Do you have an enclosed garden where they can play? Remember that a high fence will usually stop a tiny kitten, but a full-grown cat can usually jump over any fence. A good alternative if your garden isn’t enclosed is to take your cat for walks. This means they can get some sunlight and fresh air without you having to worry about their safety. It also means that you will have to start leash training your kitten early.
7. Do an Allergy Check
Have you been around cats before? If you’ve never spent a lot of time around them, you might want to do an allergy check first. There’s nothing worse than getting your new pet home and realising they make you sneeze and itch. And not everyone reacts to cats immediately either. It can take a while for the symptoms to show. If you have a mild reaction but still want to buy a kitten, the ask your vet or pet store owner about low allergen cat breeds.
8. Set up a Safe Space
Every cat has its own unique personality and preferences. Some are very social and love to be around people, others need their own space. Whatever your cat is like, it will need a place where it can retreat, nap, and hide. This can be a cupboard or even the corner of a quiet room. The important part is that your cat knows that it’s safe there. So, set up a designated place and put soft blankets down or a toy it loves. When your cat gets tired or overwhelmed, encourage it to hang out in that space.
9. Establish Good Habits
The habits you establish on the first day will probably continue throughout your kitten’s life. So, continue the way you mean to go on. Designate a sleeping zone and encourage your kitten to sleep there at night. Do the same with the toilet zone. This will help to cut down on messy and smelly accidents.
10. Start Grooming Early
Long haired cats look beautiful, but they need a lot of grooming to stay that way. And you can’t ignore this task unless you want them to end up an ugly, uncomfortable, and matted mess. That’s why it’s best that you start with a grooming program early. Your cat probably won’t need to be bathed, they do this really well without your help, but getting them accustomed to regular brushing or nail trimming will make your life much easier.
11. Get a Cat Health Check
Before you take your new kitten home, make sure they have a vet check. Your vet will be able to tell if they’re in good health and whether they need any immunisations. It’s also important that you talk to your vet about the pet laws in the area you live in. Some cities demand that pets be sterilised or microchipped, so make sure that you’re up to date on the latest laws regarding your new friend.
12. Cats Like Toys Too
It isn’t just dogs that like to play with toys. When you go into a pet store, you will find a dizzying array of toys for cats, and you should seriously think about grabbing some of them. Otherwise, your cat will find their own toys, and you probably won’t like what they choose. They don’t have to be expensive either. Often, the best toy for a new kitten is a string for them to chase. And if the string has a feather on the end of it, it’s even better!
13. Cat Hitchhikers
Fleas are one of the worst things that can happen to a pet owner. Your new kitten may be crawling with them a few days after you get them home or bring them in after meeting a new friend in your garden. And fleas can be nearly impossible to get rid of. They hide in carpet, bed covers, and basically any surface in your house. And just when you think you’ve managed to get rid of them, they pop up again out of nowhere. So, make sure you’re prepared. There are a variety of natural products that will help keep them away as well as stronger solutions, so find one that works for your pet.
14. Cat Toilet Training
Cats are usually much easier to toilet train than dogs are, though if you get a tiny kitten you may have to show them the litter box a few times. Make sure the litter is kept clean and scooped every day because cats are fastidious and will find other places to go if their regular toilet smells bad. Get a tray with a lid if you don’t want to be looking at it all day and watch how your cat reacts to the litter itself. Some cats are picky about which litter they will and will not use, so if your cat is reluctant than try another type and see how it goes.
15. Pet Insurance
Pet insurance isn’t always cheap, but it can save your pet’s life and your bank balance if something goes wrong. So, make sure you check through your options and buy a policy that suits your needs and life circumstances before you commit to a furry friend.
16. Scratching Posts
Cats like to scratch. Given the chance, they will scratch your shoes, handbag, carpet, couches, or the legs of your dining room chairs. Avoiding this assault on your possessions is easier if you give them something good to scratch and then gently teach them to use it. Which is why one of your first purchases should be a good scratching post.
17. Bribing your Cat
Training a cat isn’t like training a dog. Some cats will resist training no matter what you try. Others will walk on a leash with some bribery. It really depends on your cat. But no matter what type of cat personality you end up with, bribes always help. So, make sure that you stock up on catnip or cat treats for when you really need your cat to do something.
18. Make Time for Play
Cats like to play almost as much as dogs. And playing with your new kitten is a great way to bond, to get to know them, and to burn off some of that excess energy so they aren’t bouncing off the walls. You don’t need expensive toys to play with a cat. Try dragging a piece of string around and encourage them to chase it. Or get a paper bag and watch them ‘kill it’. Cats love to invent their own games, so just make sure they aren’t playing with something that could hurt them and enjoy the time together.
If you’re ready for your first feline friend, then be prepared for year of laughter, cuddles, and the unique pleasure of cuddling a soft, purring cat on cold nights!
Author: Dr Sam Kovac BVSc (Merit)
Dr Sam followed his dream of becoming a veterinary surgeon that began at age three. Since that time, he has developed a strong interest in oncology, internal medicine and animal behaviour. Now a Chartered Member of the Australian Veterinary Association, Dr Sam continues his passion of providing the most up-to-date care to his patients and their two-legged family.