As a cat owner, you already know that cats have their own unique personalities and are fiercely independent. They come and go on their terms regardless of what we want. Our goal is to provide them with the best cat care possible to nurture them and have happy, healthy pets but sometimes we get things misconstrued or make harmful mistakes without knowing. So to clear up any confusion, here are 13 rules to follow if you want to be a good cat owner.
- Feed your cat a variety of food types.
Cats like their kibbles but also appreciate some wet food from time to time and the occasional bit of tuna. You should only feed cats fish with soft, edible bones that have been cooked like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. A serving of dry cat food with a few bites of tuna, salmon or chunks of sardines is sufficient to fill their tummy without adding excess calories.
Some cat owners assume that cats will stop eating when they are full and simply leave a bowl brimming with cat food down before leaving for work. While it is true that most cats will eat from the bowl until full and then stop, some like to overeat just like people and could end up gaining a lot of weight making them unhealthy. It is better to feed them 3 small portions per day if you are able to get them in the habit of eating healthy. But if you must leave a bowl down while you’re gone, try using an automatic pet-food dispenser and fill it only with the amount they should eat for the day. This will keep them from overeating when you’re not home.
- Always make sure they have plenty of water.
In the summer it gets very hot indoors and cats and dogs do not sweat and have no way of cooling themselves other than panting and drinking water. They can dehydrate quickly so make sure they have enough to last until someone gets home. Dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections, bladder stones, and tooth decay. Wet food has a higher water content than dry and can help hydrate your cat as well. A couple of ice cubes in a bowl of water can help cool it off quickly and is a refreshing welcome to a thirsty cat.
- Cats Do Not Need Milk
Contrary to popular belief, cats do not need to drink milk. Some people like to give their cats the leftover milk from their cereal but this may not be good for the cat’s digestion. Milk contains sugar (lactose) which isn’t good for them and can lead to diarrhea and stomach upset. In the old days, our grandparents would give a saucer of cream to their cat as a treat when getting fresh milk. Full-fat cream does not have the amount of sugar that milk does and isn’t as bad when given occasionally. Some cats can’t tolerate dairy at all and, if this is the case, it is better avoided. Water and food are all they really need to be healthy. Treats should be given infrequently and only if your cat can tolerate it.
- They Need Things to Entertain Themselves
Cats need their own space and a bed or play area that belongs to them. This might be a scratching post, kitty cave, or pet bed. Cats like to sleep in odd places and on top of things that might not make you as an owner happy. Provide them with things they can climb, scratch on, and play with to keep them from doing things you don’t like such as scratching the backs of chairs or unrolling reams of toilet paper in the bathroom. Soft, squeaky toys are a favorite as well as things they can bat and roll around. Avoid yarn balls though as they can chew and swallow bits of yarn or string which can be very harmful.
“Yarn is an unsafe toy,” says former veterinary technician Jaimee Alsing. Swallowing yarn or string can cause intestines to become knotted as they attempt to pass the foreign object. A better alternative would be colorful plastic balls and other types of toys they can interact with that are safer.
Healthy Cat Rules:
- Read up on toxic plants before bringing in any new houseplants.
Household plants and even some vegetables can be toxic for your cat. Lilies, lilac, azaleas, daisies, and mums are all toxic and should never be where your cat can have access to them.
Some vegetables and herbs to avoid around your cats are:
- Tomato (stems, vine)
- St. John’s Wort
A bouquet of flowers on the table brightens up the room but be careful that they are filled with flowers that are okay to have around pets because they will chew on leaves and stems if in close proximity. Cats like to chew on grass and there are similar things you can grow just for your kitty’s chewing preference.
If you’re not sure what is safe to have around your pets check the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center site for information and helpful tips.
- Keep an eye on their behavior and report any changes.
Never disregard changes in your pet’s behavior. These can be clues that something is wrong. Occasional odd behavior is normal and fine as long as it doesn’t continue. But if your pet seems to want to sleep all the time, doesn’t play or interact with you, or seems listless they may need a trip to the cat vet for a checkup. Cats can’t express feelings or emotions the way humans do so it is up to the owner to know when something is out of “the norm.” If they stopped eating it may be due to a dental problem or stomach issues that can easily be fixed. Usually, when an animal is in pain they will become reclusive, stop interacting, and can even become aggressive to their owners. This is an indication that you need to get them in immediately because there is a medical reason behind their change in behavior.
- Interact with your cat but don’t force them to socialize.
You should give your pet lots of love and affection but never force them to interact when they don’t want to. A cat will come to you to be petted but may bite or scratch when the affection is unwanted. There are just some times when your cat may not be in the mood for play and that is OK. We need to respect their need for privacy and solitude every now and then. This is not always a signal of something wrong, they may just be tired or ate recently and their stomach is full. They will come to you later for affection and playtime.
- Teach them acceptable ways to play.
To a cat, all kinds of things can be toys like hair curlers, rolls of toilet paper, and even your fingers. Cats like to bite and chew on things because that is how they play with other cats. They often don’t realize that this hurts and is a bad habit to let them get into. Fingers can be seen as something to grab and bite, which is bad if you have young children around. Make sure they have cat-safe toys to play with.
- Use reinforcement to change undesirable behaviors
You should never punish your cat for bad behavior whether it is by tapping it on the nose or clapping your hands. Loud noises can make them fearful and physical punishment will make them afraid of you and you don’t want that. If they become frightened they will hide and it will take a long time to regain their trust. It is better to reinforce good behavior and extinguish undesirable behavior by removing the payoff. You can pick up lots of tips for pet training that will help you establish boundaries.
- No matter what you see in movies, never ever shave your cat.
Cat hair on the sofa or on clothing can be problematic for owners. It may be tempting to eliminate the problem of shedding by shaving some of your pet’s hair off but don’t do it. A cat’s fur actually helps them regulate body temperature to stay warm in winter and cool in the summer. In some instances, like if your pet needs surgery, the vet may tell you to shave a certain area as a necessity. That’s fine if the cat vet tells you to but not otherwise. People do this sometimes because they think it will help them get rid of shed hair or they saw it in a movie and thought it was funny. Believe it or not, there is a reason your cat has so much hair.
- Do not give your cat medication meant for humans
You should always check with your veterinarian before giving any medications to your cat. Medication meant for humans can harm pets because it is not calculated for their body weight. Acetaminophen, which is an ingredient in pain medicine, is highly toxic and can harm your pet. Pain medication that is prescribed by your vet is formulated for animals and dosages are determined by the animal’s size and weight.
- Don’t leave your cat alone for long periods.
Although cats are independent and like to be left alone, figuratively, you shouldn’t leave them alone for more than 24 hours. They do take care of themselves for the most part but they should be checked periodically to make sure that they haven’t gotten stuck somewhere or eaten something they shouldn’t.
If you will be away longer than a day, try and get a friend or neighbor to come over and make sure they are alright. They can feed them, give them water and play with them for some much needed human interaction. Cats that are left alone too often can become antisocial or depressed because they think they have been abandoned.
- Brush your cat to reduce excess shed hair.
Cats love to be brushed because they associate it with being petted. Brushing your pets helps to catch stray hairs that would be deposited on clothing or furniture. Once a day is enough to keep down on the pet hair.
There you have it. The 13 rules of good cat care. There are others but these are the most important for a healthy cat. Healthy food, clean water, and plenty of love is the best possible care you can give as a pet owner.