Make Your Home Cat-Friendly
If there’s one stereotype about cats that is true, it’s that they’re very curious creatures. After your new cat starts to feel at ease in your home, they will want to explore every nook and cranny. These tips will help make your home safe and comfortable for your new pet:
- Safety First
- Cat Supplies
Before you bring your new kitty home, you’ll want to cat-proof it as well as you can.
Cats love to climb, so pay attention to potential hazards up high as well as down low.
Hazards to watch out for:
- Remove small objects like buttons, rubber bands, needles, or plastic that your cat could choke on or swallow.
- Cover or move any electrical cords that are within whisker-range.
- Keep the washer and dryer doors closed, and check inside before using (many cats like to sleep inside the warm space in the dryer).
- Move plants out of reach (some plants are toxic to cats) – including tables or counters the cat could jump on.
- Remove anything cats might climb that could tip over and hurt them (for example, large plants).
- Make sure any chemicals (cleaning supplies, paint, anti-freeze, etc.) are securely stored somewhere your cat won’t be able to access.
- During the holiday season, be careful of glass ornaments, tinsel on the tree, and indoor light strings.
Once you’ve taken all of the kitty-dangers out of your home, it’s time to fill it up with all the things a happy cat needs!
Set up your cat’s supplies in safe places throughout the house. Cats prefer their resources spaced apart – for example, keep the food and water bowls in different areas.
What you’ll need:
Cats like dishes that are wide and shallow, so they don’t have to stick their faces deep into the bowl. You may also want to look for glass or ceramic bowls instead of plastic, which some cats can be allergic to.
A water bowl is a good start, but most cats really like to drink fresh, running water. Because cats often don’t drink enough water, a drinking fountain can be a great way to encourage them to drink more. Place the water fountain at a distance from the food bowl.
Cats like soft, comfy beds that are either enclosed or have deep sides. This makes them feel safe, because nothing can sneak up on them while they’re resting. If you are getting more than one cat, offer a few beds throughout the house so the cats can have their own space when they want to be alone.
Toys help your cat act out their instincts for hunting and stalking. Get a variety of toys and rotate them in and out, so your cat has something “new” to play with regularly. Purchase some interactive toys, like feather wands or ribbons so you can have fun playing with your cat.
Your cat’s litterbox should be large enough for them to turn around, scratch, and eliminate – about 1.5 times the size of your cat. If you have multiple cats, you should have one more litter box than you do cats, located at different places throughout the house.
Cats can have a preference for litter texture, so you may need to try different types if your cat seems unhappy with what you’re using. Most cats prefer unscented, clumping litter.
- Scratching Post
Scratching is an important natural behaviour for cats. You should provide at least one place in your home where it’s acceptable for them to scratch. You have lots of options, from small scratching posts, to scratching trees, or cardboard scratching boxes. It’s best if your cat can stretch out fully while scratching.
If you find your cat is scratching somewhere unacceptable (a couch or carpeted stairs), try putting an acceptable scratching alternative nearby and encouraging its use.
- Grooming Supplies
Purchase a brush to groom your cat (especially for long-haired cats) and a clipper to keep their nails from getting too long.
It’s time to set the tone for your new family member as you introduce them to your home, your family, and your other pets.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Let Your Cat Investigate
- Introducing Children
- Introducing Dogs
When you first bring your cat home, they’ll be feeling overwhelmed by all of the new things and people.
Initially, you’ll want to limit the space available to them by creating a safe room with everything they need. Once they seem comfortable with this area, you can begin introducing them to the rest of the house. Don’t rush your cat to explore faster than they feel ready to, or they could become fearful.
Cats love to explore – they will get into every available nook after they grow more confident in their surroundings.
Introducing Children to Your New Cat
Your kids are probably beside themselves with excitement about the new kitty – they can’t wait to play and show the cat just how much they love them!
However, it’s important to prepare your children ahead of time so they understand the boundaries and know how to approach the cat without being overwhelming. Kids don’t realize how they might be hurting or scaring a cat who is already on edge in an unknown environment.
For everyone’s safety, an adult should always supervise when kids are meeting or playing with a new kitten or cat.
Help your kids make friends with their new pet in no time:
- Let your children meet the new cat before the cat comes home.
- When you do bring your new cat home, allow the cat to first explore their safe room. Once they are more comfortable, have your children enter the room and sit down to say hello. Let the cat come to them.
- Explain to your kids that they might scare the kitty with sudden movements, loud noises, or by trying to pick it up.
- Teach your kids not to pinch, pull, or squeeze the cat.
- Teach your kids not to chase the cat. They should know that if the kitty runs away, it’s had enough for now.
- Don’t let your kids tease the cat. Teach them that hands and feet are not acceptable cat toys.
- Show them the best ways to pet the cat, where not to pet, and how to be gentle.
Watch your cat’s body language. If your cat seems nervous or defensive at any point when interacting with children, take a break. Make sure your new kitty has a safe place to go that’s off-limits to the children.
Soon, your kids and their new cat will be getting along great and forming bonds that last a lifetime!
Hopefully the pets you already have are just as excited about the new addition as you are!
Here are 10 steps to help your whole household get along:
1. Let your dog meet the new cat before the cat comes home for the first time.
- When you first bring your new cat home, keep them separate until all pets are calm and relaxed, even if that takes several hours.
- Keep your dog on a leash when introducing to your new cat and encourage it to sit calmly. Bring your cat out on a leash or in a carrier at first, only letting the cat free after several positive encounters.
- Once your pets are more comfortable, keep the dog on a leash and let the cat go free. Allow the cat to approach the dog on its own timeline.
- Watch for signs that either pet is stressed and separate them if necessary.
- Crate the dog periodically to give your cat a break, especially if they seem stressed or annoyed. Likewise, enclose the cat in their safe room periodically to give your dog a break. A slow introduction is better for everyone in the long run!
- Spend time individually with the new cat and the resident dog.
- Supervise playing with toys to avoid spats.
- Slowly allow your new and resident pets more and more supervised time together until they’re comfortable with each other.
- Go back to a previous step in this list if your pets seem stressed or aggressive at any point! Don’t rush it and don’t try to force them to be friends too fast.
Kittens and cats love to play and investigate everything. They have no idea what is and isn’t allowed – they operate based on instinct and experience. If something is pleasurable, rewarding, or fun, they’ll keep doing it.
Of course, what our cats like to do and what we want them to do aren’t always aligned. Eliminating outside the litterbox, biting hands, and scratching the furniture lead to frustration. You are not alone; many cat owners have trouble addressing these behaviours.
● Cats Are Solitary Creatures
Cats don’t respond to social praise or disapproval in the same way a pack animal, like a dog, would. They do not have the intrinsic need to please others in their group.
Cats still care for their owners and want to be around you, but they don’t have the internal drive to submit to your desires and commands. Because of this, cats are sometimes seen as “untrainable”. However, cats are trainable – you just need to use the right approach!
- Understand the Why behind Your Cat’s Behaviours
From your kitten or cat’s perspective, there is a good reason why they’re behaving in a certain way.
For example, why are they scratching the furniture? Because scratching is instinctual, it feels good, and the furniture is the most appealing thing around.
Once you understand why your cat is doing something, you can take steps to change the behaviour or offer them an acceptable outlet.
- Avoid Accidentally Reinforcing Unwanted Behaviours
Be careful of unintentionally rewarding your cat for unwanted behaviours. If your cat starts waking you up at all hours of the morning wanting breakfast, the last thing you should do is give it to them! It can be tempting to do so, just so you can get a few more winks of sleep before the alarm goes off, but doing this will only encourage the unacceptable behaviour!
Think carefully about your reactions to your kitten or cat’s behaviours and ask yourself if you might be inadvertently giving your cat exactly what they want.
- Don’t Use Punishment
Cats do not understand punishment. In their eyes, whatever they are doing is completely reasonable and enjoyable (again, first understand the why behind your cat’s behaviours).
If you try to discipline them through yelling, scaring them, or physical punishment, they will never learn to associate it with the unwanted behaviour. Instead, they will only associate that negativity with you. They’ll come to see you as an unpredictable, irrational creature to be avoided, which will hurt the loving bond you want to create with them. Keep your relationship with your cat fun, loving, and rewarding.
- Set Up the Environment
Since you can’t directly teach your cat not to do certain things, set up their environment to do it for you. Make the experience of engaging in an unwanted behaviour unpleasant for your cat, and offer a rewarding, acceptable alternative.
For example, put double-sided tape on the furniture where the cat likes to scratch – cats dislike the sticky feeling. There are also many smell sprays that you can use to coat the furniture in a smell the cat will not like to get on their paws (e.g. citrus). Then, put an acceptable scratching post somewhere nearby. Praise and encourage your cat when they use it!
Litterbox training can go smoothly if the cat owner provides the cats with the right conditions to succeed:
● Confine the Kitty Initially
When you first bring your new cat or kitten home, you’ll want to keep them in a smaller area of the house so they can get used to their new environment. Be sure to provide a large enough litterbox in this room (as well as other necessities, like food, water, toys, and bedding).
Cats instinctively eliminate in loose material, so they should automatically use the litterbox provided in their “safe area”.
- Kittens May Need Extra Guidance
Kittens who are having more trouble learning to use the litterbox can be picked up and put into the litterbox at times when they might need to go, such as after waking up or after eating. If you place the kitten in the litterbox and you see them eliminate, or if you see them going there on their own, give them a treat or praise them to encourage the behaviour.
- Make Houseplants Unavailable or Unappealing
Sometimes cats like to eliminate in houseplant soil instead of their designated litterbox. If this is an issue, either move the houseplant into an inaccessible location or add some decorative rocks on top of the soil to deter the cat.
- Move Accidents to the Litterbox
You can’t punish your cat for litterbox accidents – they won’t associate the punishment with the behaviour. Instead, if your kitty eliminates somewhere outside of the litterbox, move a small amount of the stool or the urine into the litterbox. Then, clean up the rest of the mess thoroughly with a product that eliminates cat urine odour. Next time your cat needs to eliminate, they will be attracted to the litterbox.
- Use the Right Type of Litter Material
Certain cats prefer certain types of litter material, and they may not use a litterbox filled with material they don’t like. Litter material comes in many variations, including clumping litter, clay litter, plastic pearls, recycled newspapers, and more. Most cats seem to prefer the clumping litter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your kitty will too! Also beware of scented litter, as many cats find it disagreeable.
If you adopt a cat from another home, ask what type of litter they used and purchase the same type.
- Use the Right Size of Litterbox
A good rule of thumb here is that bigger is better! Your kitty’s litterbox should be large enough for them to turn around in, scratch, and eliminate – about 1.5 times their length from their nose to the base of their tail.
- Location, Location, Location
The litterbox should be easy to access, but secluded. Cats don’t like feeling exposed or threatened while eliminating, which means you should keep the box away from main household areas and avoid anywhere with loud noises (especially if these loud noises are intermittent!).
Also keep the litter away from the cat’s food and water bowls.
- Clean the Litterbox Frequently
Cats are clean pets and they don’t like to eliminate in an overly smelly, dirty litterbox! Ideally, owners should scoop the litterbox daily and replace all of the litter in the box weekly. Some cats may like their litter cleaned more often while others may be okay with a slightly less frequent schedule.
- Provide Enough Litterboxes for the Number of Cats
If you’ve adopted two or more cats, you’ll want to have as many litterboxes as you have cats, plus one. So if you have two cats, you should offer three litterboxes. If possible, you should also place the litterboxes in different locations so the cats do not have to eliminate in the same location if they don’t want to.
- Spraying Urine Means It’s Time to Get Neutered
When unneutered male cats start spraying urine, they are marking their territory. If you see this behaviour, talk to your vet about getting your cat neutered as soon as possible.
Most cat owners want to share their home with a healthy, happy cat that doesn’t engage in destructive or other unwanted behaviours. The most effective way to do this is by reinforcing positive behaviour!
● Provide Proper Outlets for Your Cat’s Needs
All of an indoor cat or kitten’s needs (and we do recommend keeping cats indoors!) should be met by appropriate outlets in their environment. If their needs aren’t met, cats can grow bored and start engaging in destructive behaviours.
Your kitty wants to stalk and catch prey, explore, and scratch. Provide your cat with lots of interesting toys to play with, acceptable objects to scratch, comfortable places to sleep, and a proper litter area. Cats also like having elevated areas to perch and watch goings-on in the house or out the window.
When selecting toys, you should begin with a variety of toys and determine which types your cat prefers. Rotate through different toys every few days to keep them novel and interesting. Interactive play with your cat is a must, to engage their mind and simulate hunting. You can use wands, feathers, string, or any other toy that offers fun interactive play for you and your kitty.
You can also use feeding toys or hide food inside bags or boxes to help your kitten satisfy their need for hunting and exploration.
- Encourage Handling
Depending on your cat’s previous experiences and personality, they may enjoy or dislike certain types of handling and petting.
With a kitten, it’s easy to instill good experiences right away. Never handle the kitten roughly, only associate the human hand with positive experiences, and give the kitten some treats during the first few handling sessions.
For adult cats, it can be more difficult to undo previous experiences or ingrained preferences. Start with the types of handling and stroking that the cat enjoys or tolerates, and then provide treats. Once the cat is more comfortable with you and the idea of being handled, you can increase the duration or try a new type.
Remember when handling any cat, remain positive and back off if the cat seems stressed or frightened. You never want to force any type of handling onto a cat, as this will only reinforce a negative experience.
- Make the Carrier a Positive Place
To keep your cat’s carrier from causing fear and anxiety, you should try to create positive associations with it, starting as early as possible. Use treats, food, and toys to entice your cat or kitten to explore the carrier. Leave it open so your cat can come and go as they please at first, sometimes finding goodies inside!
Once your cat voluntarily uses the carrier, you can begin to briefly close and reopen the door. This will accustom your cat to being closed into the carrier. Never open it if the cat cries or scratches, or you cat will figure out that those behaviours will get them what they want. Instead, wait until they’re calm and then open the door, praising them and reinforcing a positive experience.
- Introduce a Range of Experiences (Kittens Only!)
Most kittens are social, curious, and outgoing – but often this only lasts for a few months. As soon as you get your new kitten, introduce them to as many new environments, people, other pets, and other stimuli as possible. Try to build positive relationships with each of these things, through giving treats!
Kittens who get used to more different things in early life typically become less fearful cats as they grow older.
Contrary to popular belief, you can actually train cats to respond to some simple commands! They are intelligent pets who can enjoy the challenge of learning new things.
If you want to teach your cat to “come”, “sit”, or “paw”, here’s how it can be done:
- Start early! The younger a cat is, the more likely it will respond to this type of training.
- Use food to encourage the behaviour. For example, show your kitten a treat and as the kitten follows you, say its name and the word “come”. When your kitten comes to you, praise them and give them the treat.
- Keep repeating the behavioural encouragement followed by food and praise. Be patient and don’t go too quickly!
- As the kitten is increasingly successful and confident in the task, you can start phasing out the food rewards so treats are only used occasionally (but always give lots of pets and love!).
What does a happy and healthy cat need in life besides a loving family?
Talk to your veterinarian about choosing a diet for your new cat based on their age, breed, and requirements.
A healthy diet can keep your cat’s organs, bones, muscles, and teeth healthy, enhance the quality of their coat, improve their immune system, and give them better overall health. A cat eating the right food has a longer, happier life ahead!
Once you’ve chosen the right food, you should transition your cat to their new diet and feeding schedule slowly. Find out what your new cat was fed previously, and then replicate that diet to avoid gastric distress. If you are switching to a new brand, do so over a period of at least a week – for the first few days, add one part new food to three parts old food, then switch to half and half, and finally one part old to three parts new. A slow transition will help keep your cat’s tummy happy!
Establish a regular feeding schedule; we don’t recommend “free feeding” (leaving out as much food as your cat wants to eat throughout the day). Free feeding can lead to stomach upset and eventually, obesity, which can cause further health complications.
We’d recommend not giving your cat any table scraps, but we know a lot of pet owners like to treat their pets with human foods every now and then. If you are going to feed your cat any “people-food”, it’s important to know that some foods that are safe for humans are toxic, and potentially deadly, for our pets.
Never feed your cat these foods:
- Dairy products (many cats are actually lactose intolerant)
- Fat trimmings
- Raw meat/eggs/fish
- Grapes and raisins
- Garlic, onions, onion powder (or anything in the onion family!)
- Moldy or spoiled foods
If you’re unsure about which foods are safe, ask your vet or look it up on the Pet Poison Helpline!
It is important to encourage your cat to drink water, because about 33% of cats will experience kidney disease in their lifetime. When cats are not drinking enough water with kidney disease, it becomes harder and harder to treat. Insufficient water intake can also cause urinary tract infections, which are painful and can become fatal in male cats.
Providing your cat with multiple ways to access water and catering to their specific preferences will promote your cat’s overall health!
Tips for getting your cat to drink enough water:
- Place water bowls everywhere! Keep fresh water bowls in multiple locations to maximize your cat’s comfort.
- Wet food is a great way to provide more liquid to your cat. Discuss with your veterinarian what type of prescription diet would best suit your feline friend. Not all cats enjoy wet food, so be sure your cat is eating enough of the new diet to maintain their energy level and weight.
- Adding water or low sodium chicken broth to your cat’s canned food can encourage them to ingest more fluids as well.
- Similarly, adding low sodium tuna or clam juice ice cubes to your cat’s water will add an enjoyable flavor to encourage your cat to drink more. The ice cubes will also keep the water cold longer. Be sure to use a separate ice cube tray for these than for your own!
- Alternatively, tuna or clam juice ice cubes can be used for your cat to play with.
- Using cat drinking fountains can be a fun way to entice your cat to drink and can make a great decoration in your home.
- Try using different bowls – believe it or not, cats can be picky about which bowls they drink out of. Try using different sizes and shapes of bowls around the house for drinking water and see which one drains the fastest.
- Lastly, encourage your cat’s drinking preferences. Some cats prefer to drink from the faucet; if that’s what it takes, let them have it! A few drops before turning the tap off will encourage your cat to drink more.
Cats can become destructive if they are bored and not getting enough stimulation in their day – which can mean a scratched up couch or over-grooming resulting in sores!
No matter what age, your cat needs mental and physical stimulation. It is important to increase your cat’s activity levels in order to develop a bond with your cat and increase their quality of life.
Increasing activity also improves health, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping muscles strong. It reduces the incidence of obesity, promotes heart health, and helps prevent fatty liver disease, commonly found in obese cats (and can be fatal).
They need to be able to act out their instincts to hunt and stalk prey. There are many different ways to increase your furry friend’s activity levels with exercises, toys, and food games.
You should offer a variety of interesting toys in your home for your cat to play with, and switch them up frequently so they seem “new”. Puzzle feeders, hiding food around the house, cat trees, windows, and perches are all ways to enrich your cat’s indoor experience.
You should have a play session with your cat at least daily, using toys that mimic prey. Make sure your cat is able to “catch” their prey during your play session or they can become frustrated!
Do not use hands or feet for play, as this teaches kittens and cats to scratch and bite.
Here are some fun ways to exercise your kitty:
- Throw kibbles down a long hallway for your cat to catch
- Use puzzle feeders for mental stimulation and slower eating
- Have your cat chase a laser pointer (don’t shine in any pet or person’s eyes!)
- Engage in interactive play using feather teasers and wand toys
- Hold a treat a little high up on a wall so your cat must stretch to reach it (this promotes healthy mobility)
- Attach a toy to a shoelace and drag it around the house for your cat to chase
- Provide a multi-level cat tree to encourage stretching and muscle strength
When using toys, take into account how your cat’s natural prey would move. If using feather teasers, you want to mimic the prey’s moves. For instance, a bird will land and take off – the toy should be jumping and moving in a similar style. Waving the toy in your cat’s face will not entice them to play.
Lastly, it is possible to do agility training with your cat. While you may not be interested in competing, with a small investment you can encourage your cat, with toys and treats, to crawl through tunnels, climb ramps, or jump through small hoops or hurdles. This is beneficial for cardiovascular fitness, muscle toning, range of motion, and circulation in their joints.
Cats typically keep themselves very clean, devoting a lot of their time to cleaning their coats and claws. However, regular grooming can help build the trust and emotional bond between you and your cat.
No matter your cat’s coat type, regular brushing will keep it shiny, healthy, and free of matting and knots. Most cats particularly like to be brushed around their faces and necks.
How often you should brush your cat, and with what tools, depends on their breed. Certain cats may require more grooming than others, particularly if they are long-haired.
If you notice that your cat looks unclean or disheveled, you should make an appointment with your vet as this can be a sign that something is wrong.
- Trimming Toenails:
Your cat’s nails should be clipped regularly. Get your cat used to you handling and touching their feet, even when you’re not using the nail clipper! Increasing their comfort with this will help them stay relaxed when you are giving their nails a trim.
Using a nail clipper meant for cats, hold their foot gently (but firmly) and trim off the end of the nail. Be careful to avoid cutting too far down or you could hurt your cat by cutting the “quick” (soft tissue) inside the nail. Give your cat a treat after to help make nail trimming a more positive experience for everyone.
Do you want your cat to be a fully indoor cat, or to spend some of their time indoors and some time outdoors?
We recommend keeping all cats indoors. Indoor cats have less risk of injury, illness, and parasites, as they’re not exposed to any outside dangers or contagions.
Try to make the indoor environment as stimulating and interesting as possible, ensuring all of your cat’s needs are met and they have outlets for all of their natural behaviours (scratching, stalking, perching, exploring, etc.).
It’s easiest to start a cat as an indoor cat when they are very young, before they get a taste for the outdoors.
Your Cat’s Health
Bring your new cat in to the vet for a complete health check in the first week you have them. Newly adopted pets are usually up-to-date on vaccines, so this visit will be all about getting familiar with the clinic – and lots of love and treats (no ouchy needles)! Your vet will do a thorough examination to create a baseline for your cat’s health.
These are the best vets to take your cat to, because that designation means the clinic meets high standards for feline care and is committed to creating a less stressful environment for your cat.
Once you’ve had your first vet visit, you’ll want to make sure you keep your cat healthy through all their years. Below, we’ll talk about some of the important things to know about your cat’s health:
- Medical Emergencies
- Vet Check-Ups
- Parasite Protection
- Dental Care
- Pet Insurance
Unexpected injury or illness can happen to even the best cared-for cat.
Keep an emergency veterinarian’s number handy (a lot of emergency vet clinics have fridge magnets) so you can call if anything happens. The emergency vet should be able to tell you what to do next, depending on your cat’s symptoms.
It’s important to protect yourself when transporting an injured cat to the vet – even gentle cats may bite or scratch out of fear and pain. If your cat becomes agitated, back away.
We recommend at least yearly appointments for your cat to make sure they are healthy. Your vet will do a nose-to-tail examination and identify any underlying conditions that might impact their overall health – now or in the future.
It’s important to catch any health concerns or symptoms of illness as early as possible – that way, your vet can make proactive recommendations and possibly treat it, or at least avoid any serious complications. Cats are masters at hiding pain and illness, so it can take an expert to recognize that something is wrong.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, you should make a vet appointment (even if it’s been less than a year since their last check-up):
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting (if there is blood in the vomit, this is an emergency!)
- Blood in stool, diarrhea, or constipation
- Difficulty urinating or blood in urine
- Hard of breath, excessive panting, coughing, or sneezing
- Constant scratching or biting
- Fatigue or listlessness
- Lumps or bumps
- Discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth
- Anything out of the ordinary that you’re concerned about!
The veterinarian is also your best source for specific information about your cat’s needs, particularly in terms of nutrition, exercise, and general wellness.
Parasites are creatures that live off of your pet, either on the inside or outside. At best they make your cat uncomfortable and at worst they can cause life-threatening diseases or health conditions.
No matter where you live or how careful you are, your cat can still pick up a parasite. Luckily, most of them can be prevented with some simple parasite prevention treatments!