Congratulations on the decision to live with cats! For your first reward, we’re going to give you a little bonus pointer that isn’t even one of the five tips we promised: You won’t be owning any cats; they’ll be owning you. While you’ve probably heard a cat person say, “This is the cats’ house. They just let me live here!” it’s not entirely a joke, especially if you want to have a good relationship with your furball. Unlike dogs, who live to please and who often seem to be awaiting your next command or recommendation, cats will tend to cultivate their independent interests outside of their relationship with you, and you’ll need to respect that me-time if you want your relationship to be strong. It’s not that they want to see other people . . . they just have their interests, too. Keeping that in mind, here are our top 5 tips if you’re new to cats.
1. They need to socialize
Please don’t misunderstand when we say cats have their own interests. They’re still highly social creatures, both with each other and with their people. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and you may find a cat who simply doesn’t like being around others, just as you may find a person who prefers flying completely solo, too, but this isn’t the norm. In general, cats are intellectual and social, which means they like to play games and solve puzzles (like “hunting” games) with you and with other cats that they’ve been properly introduced to. Cats are also territorial animals, but this isn’t quite the paradox it seems on the surface. While a cat is very unlikely to immediately embrace the idea of a new kitty entering her home, well-adjusted cats who are introduced carefully will adapt quickly and will soon incorporate each other into their play and daily routines. Cats are so social that many rescue agencies will no longer adopt single cats to cat-free households because they’ll most likely be deprived of the socialization they need. Before we move on, though, we just want to be sure you understand the true takeaway here: Spend a lot of time with your cats. Play with them every day (and not absentmindedly while doing something else), talk to them when you see them and be happy to see them when you’re in the same room together. All of these practices will show your cat how much you care, building safety and security that will make them comfortable enough to be themselves. This will also help prevent behavioral problems that can develop in cats who feel unsupported or unwanted. Nine times out of ten, these feelings come from human mistakes, however unintentional, and not from the popular but completely false perception of the aloof and uncaring cat.
2. They need to exercise
Let’s bust another myth now. Cats do sleep a lot (like, a lot a lot), but they are far from lazy and are not prone to becoming stereotypical fat cats(though they also really love to eat). If your cat is overweight, this is almost assuredly your doing and you need to have a facts-only chat with your vet about the decisions you’re making for your little buddy’s health. Innately, cats are athletic animals who want and need to work out daily. You’ve surely seen them stretching, and if you’ve already lived with other people’s cats then you’ve probably seen them zip around the home randomly (this happens more than just when they get those famous post-poop zoomies), but if you don’t notice your cats sneaking in any other workouts, it’s because you haven’t provided them with the proper environment to keep that machine of a body in shape. It’s fair to discourage them from climbing your curtains and leaping from countertop to countertop, but their bodies are expertly built for jumping and climbing, so give them proper cat furniture to do so. Animal Wellness Magazine reports that cats should get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, and one of the easiest ways to support this regimen is by investing in one of the best cat trees available to offer endless climbing, stretching, mental stimulation, and even space for alone time. Cats are unlikely to play hard for a full 30 minutes at a time, but stimulating cat trees and an ample supply of additional toys will help them reach their goal with several short bursts of energy accumulating throughout the day.
3. They need to love their litter boxes
This one is admittedly less glamorous and not that fun to talk about, but litter hygiene is key to your new cat’s health and behavior. Any time you approach your vet or pet specialist with a concern about undesirable behavior from a cat, one of the first things they’ll ask about is the litter box situation. When a kitty doesn’t love the litter box, things can go south in the household pretty quickly. The good news is, it’s not hard to set yourself up for success here. The first step is to ensure you have at least one litter box per cat in the home, and the second step is to maintain them faithfully (i.e., scooping at least once per day). These are the musts for health. From there, it’s a matter of appealing to your cat’s preferences so he’ll use it properly, and not take out any dissatisfaction on your furniture and floors. Some cats like litter boxes with lids while others feel trapped in them; some cats will use litter crystals while others will only accept clay; most cats will be averse to scented litters, but some may accept them. The only way to find out what your cat wants is to experiment, but don’t continue experimenting once you’ve found something that works because one thing that almost all cats hate is change. If your cat has accepted a litter setup, that’s your winner for life. Change is possible, but it’s a gamble you may not want to take.
4. They need wet food and meat
There’s a lot of discussion about fancier pet foods these days, but there’s little science behind most of the specialty diet foods that premium brands are trying to sell you. One thing we do know for sure is that no cat should be eating a vegetarian diet, no matter what your human morals are. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they require meat, organs, and bones as part of their diet (a primary reason you can’t make homemade cat food as easily as you could make homemade dog food), so feeding a cat a vegetarian or vegan diet is akin to animal abuse. Now that you’re prepared to face the pet food aisle equipped with this knowledge, you may be wondering about the benefits of dry versus wet food. There are pros and cons to dry food, especially in a multi-cat household, but daily wet food is a must. While dogs will lap their water bowls dry daily, cats will approach a water dish much less frequently unless they are dehydrated from consuming too much dry food. And that’s simply because cats get most of their hydration from their diet, which means they should be eating wet food daily. An all-dry diet can also lead to the dangerous development of crystals (stones) in the bladder, which will require surgery to prevent blockages. Whether you want to include dry food in your cat’s diet at all is up to you and your vet, but just be sure wet food is their primary source of daily nutrition.
5. They love creature comforts
Back to the fun stuff! Do you know those images of snobby cats as pampered princesses expecting the world on a silver platter? It’s not entirely inaccurate. While they won’t be able to tell the difference between silver and tin, they do love things in general, and the more they have the happier they’ll tend to be. This is especially true of things they can call their own, which is why top cat furniture like climbing trees and cozy caves are especially beneficial. When cats have personal spaces to escape to from time to time, they build the sense of security and confidence they need to become well-adjusted and safe in their home instead of aggressively territorial. They also love cozying up, even in warmer temperatures, so blankets, furry beds, fuzzy caves, and plush surfaces of just about any variety are often favorites. If you don’t want your bedding and clothing to be commandeered by kitty, provide her with plenty of her own little luxuries.