As a self-proclaimed cat lady, I would like to think I know a thing or two about how to raise my furry children. Growing up, I wasn’t able to have pets that weren’t contained to a terrarium or a fishbowl, so my level of expertise was pretty low. I never really grew up around cats or had friends with cats so I had a hard time understanding how these curious critters worked.
Fast forward to two years ago. My fiancee and I just got our first apartment, and he agreed to let me have a cat for a pet (big mistake on his part… IT BEGINS.) Together with my best friend, we made the trek out to TAILS Humane Society in DeKalb, IL (located off of Peace Road). After looking through the vast array of adoptable cats, my friend pointed out this little angel furball named Jack. I asked to see him and held him in my arms. As soon as I looked in his big mooney eyes, I fell in love.
Having never owned a cat before, I was in for a bit of a surprise. I made sure I had all the essentials one would need for owning a cat: litter box, toys, and food. Everything was ready for my little guy to come home.
I was lucky, though, because Jack had a relatively smooth transition from humane shelter to apartment. Of course, I learned things along the way (as most new parents often do). Here are a few things to consider before bringing your cat home:
-Adoption or Purchase-
I am a big advocate of adoption. These poor animals are left alone with no one to care for them. All too often, family pets are dumped on the side of the road to fend for themselves. Think about it: this animal, who has only known what it’s like to be around people, automatically has to figure out how to survive in the wild. I couldn’t do that; hell, I don’t even like camping! Saving an animal’s life is one of the best, most selfless things you can do.
However, if you are into purebreeding, then make sure you do your research and find a reputable breeder. Try to not buy cats from pet stores (adopting one from a pet store is different, as those adoptions are usually run by local humane societies and are guaranteed healthy and neutered/spayed before coming home).
Bear in mind that the cost of adoption (often only goes as high as $150) is much less than buying from a breeder (a few thousand). Adopted pets are usually “broken in” (which means they are familiar with people and oftentimes, other animals) and come microchipped, vaccinated, and fixed. Purebred cats are not fixed and can often come with many health problems due to excessive inbreeding. You can often find purebred cats at animal shelters, so if you absolutely have to have a Turkish Van, keep checking Petfinder (http://www.petfinder.com) to see if there are a few available in your area.
Fostering cats is another great option if you’re not sure if you’re ready to commit to adoption. Contact your local humane society to see if you can volunteer for fostering, or even at the shelter itself. You’ll get a better idea of how to interact with cats (especially if, like me, you never had previous experience).
Do your research before you adopt! Assess what kind of cat you are looking for. Are you laid back? You definitely don’t want a cat that won’t calm down and demands attention from you all the time. Cats have personalities just like people. Just as some people don’t get along with each other, some cats don’t get along with people either.
Visit a few shelters and ask to see the cats. Observe them in their environment (although their personalities might not shine through those little cages). Ask the volunteers at the shelter how the cat behaves normally. Ask about personal and medical history, what the cat likes to do, and if it gets along with people, dogs, or other cats.
-Preparing for the Homecoming-
After you’ve selected your new furry child, now’s the time to make sure that she has a smooth transition from A to B. Prepare a litter box (or two) in quiet, secluded area. You don’t like to be looked at when you’re using the toilet, so it’s important to share the same courtesy. Fill her food and water dish and put out some toys for her to play with. Try to make everything as comfortable as possible.
Your new cat is going to be either freaked out beyond belief or exploring like there’s no tomorrow. It’s important to give her time to adjust. Try to confine her to one room so she gets used to the smells and sights in her new home. After awhile, introduce her to another room. Pretty soon, she will have the run of the house. It’s very important to let her come to you and not force her into anything. You don’t want to scare her away.
Now that your cat is used to her home, I just have a few other tidbits that you probably never thought about.
This is mostly a personal preference for owners (although some cats are very picky). I prefer scoopable clumping litter to clay litter, mostly because it doesn’t require constant cleaning and the odor protection is better. I have an extra-large litter box for two cats and I only have to clean it about every three days. Clay litter, while better for the environment, is a huge hassle and smells to high heaven. But again, that is personal preference. You should try several different types to see which works best for you and your cat.
This is an odd subject, because most people I know will buy huge bags of cheap food to feed their pets. I might sound like a snob, but this is the equivalent of feeding your kids McDonald’s every day. I know that some people might enjoy McDonald’s every day, but they really should not be eating it that often. Cats are carnivores, and generally do not eat grains in the wild (although a tasty snack of grass helps to calm their tummies). I personally choose to feed my boys grain-free dry food from Fromm Four Star. Not only does it cut down on their stool odor (I’ve smelled my cats’ poo on several occasions and this food, by far, produces the least-foul-smelling turds I’ve encountered) and it makes their coats incredibly glossy and soft. After a good brushing, I’m powerless to resist snuggles with my little puffballs, despite their numerous protests.
A lot of veterinarians suggest feeding your cats a grain-free diet, as it helps to prevent health problems in the long term.
Some cats just don’t like toys. My older boy is indifferent to everything but feathers and a laser pointer, where my younger guy will play with literally anything: my hair ties, dry pasta I accidentally dropped on the kitchen floor… anything. Don’t go broke buying your cat new toys all the time if she shows no interest. Just the simple act of sitting next to her, scratching her in her favorite spots, or just spending time with her is enough to show her you care.
Within a few weeks of getting my first cat, I thought he had pooped on the rug. Apparently, it was a hairball. Never having seen a hairball, I assumed that it would look like an owl pellet or something. I was wrong. So, for those of you that have never seen or heard a cat cough up a wet one, this section is for you.
Cats are constantly cleaning themselves, and often digest hair in the process. Since their tummies cannot fully process the hair, the cats must vomit up the hair in the form of a wet mass called a “hairball”. Believe it or not, these do often look like pieces of poo. Sometimes cats just puke for no reason, too. You’ll know when they’re about to hurl when you see their backs start to shake up and down and you hear this awful “hcch hcch” sound. Nine times out of ten, they will puke on the carpet. I just clean up the hairball, throw it in the trash, and then clean the carpet with a clear, anti-bacterial handsoap.
This was a quick little guide for a first-time cat owner. Of course, I can’t predict exactly what your new cat will be like, but by and large, these are good tips for any novice feline enthusiast.