A longhaired cat may be soft and cuddly, but it will need daily grooming – up to 20 minutes at a time – to stop its coat from matting.
Ideally every cat should live in the home of a caring and informed owner, but many cats are left to fend for themselves or are treated as dispensable items that can be left behind when the owner moves house. If you regard owning a cat as a privilege, not a right, then you will help to create the happy and satisfying mutual relationship that so many cat owners have experienced.
Remember that your cat’s temperament, enjoyment of life, health and welfare are influenced by the way you and your family treat it. Properly cared for, your cat can bring you happiness and provide you with affection and loyalty. Many cats eagerly await their owner’s return home at the end of the day. Some will accompany their owner on an evening walk. Some even show their appreciation by bringing home prey and presenting it to their favourite person. Yes, believe it or not, cats can indeed be loyal to their owner.
When you hold your cat, always keep one hand under its hindquarters to support its weight.
Even though your cat will enjoy sleeping on your bed or any cushion or chair, it is important that it does have a bed of its own, to provide a sense of security especially when it is feeling ill or insecure.
A cat bed and bedding
It is possible to purchase a wide variety of manufactured plastic or wooden cat beds, wicker baskets or bean bags, together with washable wool or synthetic rugs.
If you want something cheap but effective, an old cardboard box with one side partly cut away to make an entrance will prove perfectly adequate. Line the box with newspaper and place a piece of washable blanket on top of the paper. Remember, though, that a cardboard box cannot be properly cleaned and will need to be replaced from time to time.
Place the bed in a quiet, draught-free corner away from family traffic so that the cat can have some privacy when it so chooses. If you have a spare room, lend this to your new cat for a week or two until it has grown used to your household and its activities.
A litter tray and cat litter
Most importantly, a cat litter tray should be easy to clean. Some trays have disposable liners, although newspapers will serve the same purpose, but they will need to be changed at frequent intervals or they will smell. It is best to use a commercial cat litter containing absorbent clay material or Fuller’s earth, substances that absorb the odour of urine and faeces. You can find cat litter made of bark, but this is not as effective.
Place the litter tray in a quiet corner, well away from the cat’s bed and its food: cats will not perform their toilet close to where they eat.
Food and water dishes must be either washable or disposable. You can use disposable plastic dishes or one of the many types of plastic or pottery bowl. Plastic dispensers for dry food and drinking water are ideal once a kitten or cat has learned to use them. Whichever type of utensil you choose, it is important to clean or change them regularly.
Basic equipment comprises a double-sided body brush as well as a coarse and fine (flea) comb. If you have a long-haired cat you may require additional equipment, such as a pair of blunt-ended scissors for cutting away sections of a matted coat. If you’re an eager groomer, keep a chamois leather cloth to polish your shorthair’s coat.
A grooming tool for every coat type: rubber brushes, wire bristle brushes and fine- and wide-toothed combs.
If you wish your cat to wear a collar with an identity disc or a bell (to warn garden birds of the cat’s presence), attach it once your cat has settled into its new home.
The collar must have an elastic section to stop the cat from getting caught by the collar and choked.
Visit any pet shop or supermarket and you will see a vast array of cat toys, such as fluffy or plastic balls.
Cats generally enjoy soft toys that they can grip with their claws; hard plastic toys are rather frustrating, although balls that roll along provide them with the opportunity to chase, and some cats seem to enjoy the challenge of trying to grip them.
Toys that stimulate through sight or sound are also useful – look for the brightly coloured ‘wands’ that are often used by breeders to get their cat looking animated in front of a judge, and by cat photographers to capture that appealing portrait.
Whatever type of toy you buy, make sure it doesn’t have any small metal or plastic pieces that could be chewed off and swallowed.
You certainly don’t have to spend much money on toys. Small balls of rolled-up newspaper, or pieces of cloth attached to a length of string, will serve the purpose, although many cats soon tire of a toy that they deem to be too artificial. A lump of fur or a feather is far more stimulating, although in the paws of an agile cat the latter won’t last very long.
A scratching post
Claw-marking – when cats use their claws to scratch objects – is not confined to domestic cats: lions, tigers, leopards and many other types of cat go through a similar routine. Claw-marking has two functions. One is territorial, and the claw marks could be described as ‘cat graffiti’. The scratches are a visual signal that another cat owns or visits this particular piece of territory. A certain amount of scent, left on the object from the glands on the footpads, reinforces the signal and identifies the individual that left it.
Take care that your cat’s toys have no small pieces that could be chewed or bitten off, then swallowed.
Lions, like domestic cats, mark their territory with scratch marks on trees and other objects.
The second function of claw-marking is cosmetic, because the scratching action helps to remove dead layers of the protein keratin from the surface of the claws, thereby keeping them sharp and in good working order.
The innate need to claw-mark can get some cats into trouble, especially if they are not provided with a suitable object, such as a scratching post, on which to carry out this important function.
You can buy a ready-made scratching post, although it is simple to make your own from a soft wood such as pine, and cover it with carpet offcuts, textured cloth or bark. The post must have a heavy base to prevent it from falling over as a result of the cat’s vigorous scratching.
Even when a post is available, the best lounge suite may prove more attractive – you will need patience and your cat will need training (see pp69–70). Initially the scratching post should be placed close to the furniture, and the latter protected to discourage the cat and prevent further damage. Because scent is left on the furniture during the scratching action, this needs to be masked by the use of a deodorizing agent or repellent spray. The scratching post can be gradually moved away from the furniture to a mutually acceptable place.
Teach your cats to use a scratching post as soon as possible – it will be difficult to persuade them to leave the furniture alone after they’ve had this freedom for a few years.
A cat door
If your cat is allowed access to the yard or garden, a cat door is highly recommended. One possible disadvantage, though, is that neighbouring cats might also learn to use it, and pay unexpected and annoying visits and eat your cat’s food.
To prevent this problem, it is possible to buy a sophisticated type of cat door where your cat wears a collar with its own electronic ‘pass’ system.
A carrying basket
A carrying basket is not essential, but very useful. There are various types, from folding cardboard designs (which cannot be cleaned and have a limited life) to permanent models with plastic trays with wire tops and lids, or fully moulded bodies with air holes and front-opening doors.
Arriving home with your new cat
If you have brought home a kitten, in most cases it will just have been taken away from its mother or littermates, and that companionship will need to be replaced. One or more members of the family should act as a surrogate companion for as much time as possible. That means lots of cuddles by responsible people, but only when the kitten wants them. Handle it gently, and restrict the amount of handling that it gets, especially by children. If you have brought home two kittens, then they will be company for each other.
Introduce new experiences gradually, and avoid stressing your kitten or cat with loud or sudden noises. It will usually take several days for a new kitten or cat to adapt to the sights and sounds of your household environment.
Make sure your cat flap is about 6 cm (2.3 in) above the floor indoors, so the cat is able to simply step through it.
A good cat carrying basket must be strong and secure, well ventilated and easy to carry and clean.
Food and water
For the first few days at home you should feed your new cat the same diet as fed by its previous owner. After that, if you wish, you can gradually introduce a new diet over a period of four days, replacing about a quarter of the old diet with the same amount of the new one each day.
Make sure that clean, fresh water is always available. This is especially important if your cat is being fed a high proportion of dry food.
When preparing for a kitten’s arrival, think about safety in the home, just as you would for a young child.
ο Lock away all household chemicals or poisons. Although kittens are far less inquisitive than puppies and much less likely to ingest poisonous substances, it is best to be on the safe side.
ο Make sure that there are no frayed or bare electrical wires that a kitten could chew.
ο Be aware of some of the risks associated with some common garden plants.
ο Remember that sparks from a fire or cigarette ash can burn eyes or skin.
ο Make sure anyone using mowers, bicycles, skateboards, roller blades or similar articles is extra vigilant.
ο Check where the kitten is before moving a vehicle.
ο Make sure the kitten cannot get through the fencing around a swimming pool.
Infections you could catch from your cat
Some cat infections, such as the roundworm Toxocara cati, ringworm infection and toxoplasmosis, can be passed on to humans. And if your cat scratches you, you could get cat-scratch fever. For more details, see pp84–95. Explain the risks to all family members, and insist on basic hygiene, such as the regular washing of hands and immediate cleansing of any wounds. A doctor should see any deep wounds inflicted by your cat.
Territory is very important to cats, and windows serve as a good vantage point for a cat to survey its ‘property’.
As a member of the family, your kitten or cat must learn its place. Because cats are more independent and solitary than dogs, they don’t easily fit into a ‘pack’ order. Nevertheless, they will learn to obey commands and accept that human members of the family are to be treated as dominant.
Teach your cat or kitten basic house rules, for example, that it may not jump onto the kitchen counter or the dining table, that it may not beg at the table, and that it cannot always have its own way.
Cats mark their territory by claw-marking furnishings or wallpaper, or by rubbing the head and face against an object, depositing scent from the sebaceous glands.
Cats are naturally clean animals, and if you have provided a litter tray sited in the correct location away from food, an adult cat will quickly learn to use it. Kittens need to be taught to use a litter tray, though, and you can do this by placing them into it when they show signs of wanting to perform. Even better is to anticipate when they might do so. Toiletting occurs most frequently soon after waking up and after meals, and if you place a kitten into a litter tray at these times it will soon learn to perform on cue.
Your new cat or kitten needs to learn the extent of your territory, and come to terms with neighbouring cats and which cat owns what.
Start by keeping your cat shut in your home (even in one room, if necessary) until it feels secure. Then, if you are able, allow it to venture outside. Try to allow it to establish its own territory and make its own peace or friendship with neighbouring cats. Some of these may already regard your garden or yard as their own, and strongly object to the presence of your newcomer. You may be able to help your new cat to establish and defend a new territory by discouraging intruders, but in many cases a better and more permanent solution is to let the cats sort out the problem among themselves. There may be lots of noise for a while, but hopefully there will be few, if any, battle scars.
The usual age for a kitten to commence its course of vaccinations against common viral diseases such as cat ’flu and snuffles is between nine and 12 weeks, although under special circumstances the first vaccination can be given at six weeks.
If you have purchased a pedigree kitten it may already have completed its initial vaccination programme, and an adult cat obtained from a rescue centre should already have been vaccinated. A separate vaccine is used to cover feline leukaemia. Talk to the staff at your veterinary clinic to find out what vaccines are needed in your area.
Neutered cats of either sex make the best pets. There are already thousands of unwanted kittens needing good homes, so unless you are breeding from pedigree cats, please don’t add to their number.
Ask your veterinary clinic about the best age to have your kitten neutered. Most veterinarians recommend that females be spayed at 24–30 weeks old, before they commence their first oestrus (that is, ‘come into season’). The average age for oestrus is about six months, but some individuals of ‘precocious’ breeds such as the Siamese may start ‘calling’ as early as four and a half months. Some cats don’t have their first oestrus until they are nine months old, or even older.
Males can be castrated from 16 weeks, but many vets prefer to leave them until they are about six months old. They believe that this allows more time for the development of the urethra, which leads from the bladder through the penis, and thereby reduces the likelihood of the blockage that causes the condition known as feline urological syndrome (FUS). Males should certainly be neutered by nine months, before they have fully developed their male characteristics, learned to roam and started fighting.
Although cats are essentially solitary creatures, they do enjoy the company of other cats, especially if they have been brought up together.
Various types of worm can infect kittens and cats. When you get your kitten or cat, it may already have been wormed. If not, it may need treatment. Either way, as soon as you get your cat, talk to your vet about what worms are prevalent in your area, what treatments are recommended and how often you should use them. For further information, see pp93–5.
It is not merely an ‘old wives’ tale’ – cats have a superb sense of balance and usually do land on their feet.
Fleas are a common problem and your kitten or cat should have been treated and be free of fleas before you obtain it. However, it will need further, regular treatment against them. For further information, see p92.
Kittens and cats usually exercise themselves, and you will contribute when you become involved in play sessions. If your cat becomes lazy, you may need to encourage it to play.
Basic training for cats involves toilet training and obeying house rules. It is also useful to train your cat to travel in a cage, and to get used to being parted from you. Then, if you need to take it to the vet or to a boarding cattery, it should be far less upset or stressed. This type of training is especially useful if your cat is particularly shy or nervous.
First, you must get it used to being put into a carrying cage. Initially, leave it in the cage in one of your rooms for a few minutes, then take it out and reward it with food or a cuddle. Extend the period of caging until it is content to remain in the cage for up to an hour.
Next, put it in the cage, carry it outside and place it in a vehicle parked in a quiet spot. Make sure there is adequate ventilation. Leave the cat there for a short time, then bring it back inside. Release it and reward it.
Gradually extend the time you leave it in the vehicle. Finally, if you have a willing relative, friend or neighbour, leave it in the cage with them for short periods. This gets your cat used to being separated from you, and it learns that you will be coming back.
Pet cats can be taught (or sometimes teach themselves) simple tricks such as pulling on a handle to open a door.
If you watch advertisements for pet food, videos or movies, you will be aware that cats can be trained to perform, but this is a specialist area in which you are not likely to become involved. If you do wish to do so, you need to get expert advice.
For more information on training and behaviour, see pp61–71.
Patience and practice might persuade your Siamese, Burmese or Russian Blue to walk on a harness.
Between the ages of 14 weeks and six months your kitten’s temporary (milk) teeth will gradually be shed and replaced by permanent teeth. Shedding normally starts with the incisors, followed by the premolar, molar and canine teeth.
Your cat will usually get through this process without you even noticing, and won’t need any special help with its diet. If it does seem to have a problem when eating, though, provide a more moist diet. If this doesn’t solve the problem, talk to your vet.
For cats, as with humans, a proper diet that includes plenty of dry or chewable food will help to keep teeth clean and gums healthy. Nevertheless, tartar may begin to accumulate on the teeth, especially as a cat gets older, and they should be checked regularly.
Cats groom themselves to keep their fur clean, but also to regulate body temperature. Because of their thick fur, cats’ sweat glands are not as effective as those in a human. In hot weather or after strenuous activity, a cat cannot lose enough heat by this method, so it compensates by licking saliva onto its fur: the saliva evaporates and helps to keep the cat cool. This explains why a cat grooms itself more after spending time in the sun and after exercise such as playing or hunting.
Grooming keeps the cat’s coat glossy and clean, and it also stimulates blood circulation.
Licking the fur also stimulates sebaceous glands in the skin. These secrete an oily fluid that helps to keep the cat’s fur waterproof – the fluid also contains a small amount of vitamin D, which the cat then ingests.
Most cats need very little grooming help from their owners. Some are lazy, though, and don’t groom themselves enough. If you wish, you can stimulate such a cat to groom by spreading a little butter onto its fur.
Some cats can’t groom themselves properly because of their long hair or because of old age. You will need to groom such a cat regularly.
Brushing and combing
Get your cat used to being handled and groomed. Establish a daily routine in which the cat is gently placed onto a nonslip surface (a piece of old carpet or something similar) on a table, and rolled over to have its mouth, teeth, eyes, ears, abdomen and paws examined.
Although it may not need grooming, do it anyway. It will help to train your cat and you will more quickly detect fleas or flea dirt, and any hair or skin problems. Try to make each session pleasant for the cat, and praise and reward it for good behaviour. Your basic grooming equipment should include a cat brush, comb, grooming glove (mitt), sponge, cotton balls, cat towel, blunt-ended surgical scissors and (if you wish) nail clippers.
There are various types of cat comb. Some have wide teeth, and can be used on long, fine coats. Some have teeth of varying length, and others have only fine teeth (flea combs). There is also a special type of comb with wire projections for use on a thick undercoat to remove tangled hair, as well as a ‘slicker’ brush for use on the tail, especially before a show.
When grooming a longhaired cat, pay special attention to the feathering on the legs and the tail. Matted fur may occur in areas that the cat cannot easily reach to groom, such as on the inside of the elbows and along the abdomen close to the thighs. Also check the paws, nails and paw pads. In longhaired cats, hair may grow beyond the level of the pads. If so, trim it away using a pair of blunt-ended, curved surgical scissors. Also check under the tail, wipe away any debris and cut away any excess hair.
Use a damp cotton wool ball to wipe away ‘sleep’ from your cat’s eyes.
When grooming your cat, it is important to place it on a non-slip surface, such as this piece of carpet.
Some cats do tolerate being bathed, especially if introduced to the procedure gently and while they are still kittens. Take care to dry your cat thoroughly afterwards, as cats easily become chilled.
If you carry out regular grooming, you should need to bath your cat only if it becomes particularly dirty or smelly, or prior to a cat show.
Always give your cat a thorough brush-out before bathing it. Use lukewarm water, which is more comfortable, and a proper cat shampoo. Don’t let shampoo get into any body opening. Rinse thoroughly, paying special attention to the areas between the forelegs and hind legs.
A cat can easily become chilled when wet, so make sure you dry it properly afterwards, using its own special towel. If you prefer to use a hair drier, run your fingers through the cat’s hair as it is being dried to make sure that the air stream is not too hot.
A cat’s nails, like those of humans, are continually growing. The action of claw-marking is usually enough to keep them worn down and in good shape, but in some cases the nails will need cutting with nail clippers. You may be able to do this yourself, or you may prefer to ask someone at your veterinary clinic or a cat groomer.
Cat groomers and grooming parlours
Many pedigree cat breeds, especially those with long coats, require considerable grooming. If you know what to do and you have the time, you can do this yourself. If not, you can get an expert to do it for you.
If you would like to learn to groom your cat, ask at your nearest grooming parlour or vet for details of grooming schools and courses.
When a cat scratches a tree, an old claw sheath may come off and be left in the bark.
Many cats learn to travel well, if started early as kittens. If your journey is to last for longer than an hour, schedule regular breaks to allow your cat to eat, drink and use its litter tray.
Travelling with your cat
Whenever you take your cat away from home, make sure it is wearing a suitable elasticated collar that bears a tag with your name and telephone number, or an electronic identichip (a relatively cheap, effective and increasingly common hi-tech method of keeping track of your pet).
In your car
If possible, train your cat from kittenhood so that it gets used to travelling. Early training will help eliminate any fear or agitation, and reduce the likelihood of motion sickness.
Don’t let your cat have complete freedom within a vehicle. It can distract the driver and lead to an accident, and the cat is at risk of injury if an accident occurs. For its own safety the cat should be in a plastic or metal travelling cage, which should be fastened by a seat belt as a precaution against an accident.
If your cat is likely to travel in your car quite often, train it to do so as soon as you can. Your cat’s travel cage eventually becomes an extension of its home territory, and it will feel comfortable inside and readily occupy it. Travel cages are commonly used by people who show their cats, and are an ideal way of providing a safe, secure, ‘personal space’ for your feline companion. Once your cat is accustomed to it, the cage can accompany it wherever it goes, providing it with a ‘home from home’.
If you have to leave your cat in your car, make sure that the vehicle is parked in the shade and has adequate ventilation. In the sun, the temperature inside a closed car can quickly exceed 40°C (104°F), and heatstroke will set in very rapidly. Do not assume that a car parked in the shade will remain so: as the sun moves around, a shady area may become fully exposed. Special screens can be fixed to open windows to provide car security and enough ventilation.
Travelling overseas with your cat requires an enormous amount of organization, not least having to make sure that you have the correct legally specified container for your animal.
Make sure that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date, as the incidence of infectious disease in your holiday area may be greater than in your home neighbourhood. Different sorts of external parasite, such as ticks, may also be present, so thoroughly groom your cat every day and check its skin for their presence.
If you are staying in one place, make a note of the nearest veterinary clinic.
In a bus, train or plane
If you are taking some form of commercial transport, your cat may be required to travel separately in a cage. This can be a frightening experience for a cat that has not been cage-trained, so anticipate the event and train your cat to feel safe in its own crate, with its own familiar toys and bedding.
Don’t feed your cat within six hours of the start of the journey. If you think it may suffer from motion sickness, ask your vet for advice.
Travelling between countries
Travel between countries usually involves travel documentation for your cat as well as yourself. Regulations vary, so make sure you know what they are for the particular country you are heading for. You will probably need a veterinary certificate stating that your cat is fit to travel and is free from any infectious or contagious disease. You will also require an up-to-date rabies vaccination certificate. Many countries require these documents to be in their own language.
There are many countries where rabies does not exist. These include the United Kingdom and certain European countries. Some islands, such as Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, are also rabies-free. Some countries require a cat to be quarantined upon entry, others will allow entry providing that certain conditions, such as microchip identification and blood testing, are met (see the PETS Travel Scheme, below).
When making plans for such travel, contact the consulate or embassy of the country concerned. Information may also be available on the Internet.
If travelling abroad requires you and your cat to be separated, carry out the training procedures recommended for commercial travel on a bus, train or plane (see above).
The PETS Travel Scheme
A pilot scheme for the issue of pet passports was introduced in Britain late in February 2000. Under this scheme, cats and dogs are allowed to travel from the British Isles to specified countries in western Europe and return home without having to endure six months quarantine upon their return. Owners must use designated carriers and ports of entry, and cannot import a pet under the PETS Travel Scheme from a private boat or plane.
Cats and dogs resident in certain European countries that are taking part in the scheme are also allowed to enter the British Isles. At the time of writing these countries were Andorra, Australia (Guide dogs and Hearing dogs only), Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand (Guide dogs and Hearing dogs only), Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Cats resident in the British Isles
To qualify for a passport, a cat resident in the British Isles must have an identification microchip inserted under the skin. Once the cat is at least three months old an approved veterinarian must then vaccinate it against rabies. Some time after the last vaccine injection (30 days is the ideal period), a blood sample is taken by the veterinarian and sent to one of the government-approved laboratories. Once the sample passes the test, a health certificate or passport is issued and stamped by the veterinarian.
Between 24 and 48 hours before returning to Britain, the cat must be treated against a particular tapeworm and ticks, and a veterinarian approved by the relevant government must issue a health certificate.
Once a cat has been vaccinated against rabies, booster vaccinations are required every year.
Cats resident in designated European countries
Animals resident in specified countries in Europe can also qualify to enter Britain if their owners follow the same rules. However, their owners must wait for six months from the time a successful blood test sample was taken.
Cats resident in the United States and Canada
Because rabies is endemic in North America, the original PETS Travel Scheme did not apply to cats entering from that region. At the time of writing these cats must still endure a six months quarantine period in Britain, although the situation will be reviewed once the success of the initial scheme has been assessed.
Cats resident in rabies-free islands
If it proves successful, the scheme will be gradually extended. Providing that the relevant veterinary authorities and the airline carriers agree, cats and dogs may be allowed to travel between Britain and designated islands that are rabies-free.
Most cats adjust very quickly to going to a boarding cattery. The standard of catteries varies and usually (but not always) you get what you pay for, so the more expensive the fees the better the quality of comfort and service you should expect. A reputable cattery will allow you to inspect its facilities beforehand. If you do so, observe how the resident cats are behaving and talk to the staff about feeding, grooming and exercise routines.
The staff at your local veterinary clinic may be able to recommend a suitable cattery, and will advise on vaccination procedures. Reputable catteries require their boarders to have up-to-date vaccination certificates against common infectious diseases.
Before you book your cat into a boarding cattery, visit the premises to check whether they are clean and spacious.
If you don’t like the idea of boarding your cat, you may wish to employ a cat-sitter or house minder to provide live-in care of your home and your cat while you’re away. Your vet should be able to give you contact details.