Responsible cat ownership has a lot to do with vet visits, cat-proofing, poop scooping, and proper integration with your family and any other pets in your home. If you’re a first-time cat owner, fret not. This article will tell you what you need to know about raising a happy, healthy feline friend.
The Cost Of Cat Ownership
Cat ownership does not come cheap and may cost a bit more than you’d expect. While resourceful cat parents can spend as little as $50 a month caring for and feeding their cat, first-time owners will have to shell out for bigger-ticket items like beds, litter boxes, and bowls at the outset of your cat ownership.
According to the ASPCA, cat ownership typically costs an annual average of $634. These expenses cover food, treats, toys, and recurring medical payments. The ASPCA recommends having some additional funds saved up as a safety net because costs can vary depending on brand choices, lifestyle, and the risk of illness (and the subsequent vet bills).
Frequent travelers will also have to account for cat-sitting or boarding facility fees.
In addition, you may face unexpected costs, such as some household damage from those claws, veterinary bills, and other emergencies. If you live in a higher-risk environment - such as with other pets or especially if you allow your cat to go outdoors -you might consider applying for pet insurance. Budgeting for a monthly plan will eliminate the challenge of paying costly veterinary bills out of the blue.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats
Whether your cat will fare better indoors or outdoors is a choice you’ll have to make. While outdoor environments can be enriching for adventurous felines, you must be prepared to deal with the increased risk of injury or illness. In urban areas especially, it is often too much of a risk.
Keeping your cat indoors can mitigate these risks, but you’ll want to provide them with enrichment in the form of scratchers, toys, and a dedicated space for play to make up for the lack of outdoor stimulation.
Even if you choose to house your cat indoors, occasional time spent outdoors can be incredibly enriching. Consider building a catio or using something like a cat tent, or taking your cat out for a short walk on a secure harness and leash.
Finding a Vet
Veterinary care is an unspoken must. Just because you did decide to make your new pet an indoor cat doesn’t mean you can forego regular vaccinations. Viruses and infections are not limited to cross-contamination from other animals - some foods and some places inside your home can still pose health risks for your feline friend.
Prioritize a vet visit after adopting your cat. A detailed examination should reveal any underlying conditions and what you need to do to accommodate them. Most vets recommend spaying or neutering your cat to prevent chronic illnesses and reproductive diseases.
Picking the Right Diet
Considering the many available options, choosing the appropriate diet for your cat can seem daunting. However, understanding their basic nutritional needs can help narrow your decision.
When deciding on a diet for your cat, ensure that it has the following:
- A second protein source other than meat
- Low-starch ingredients
- Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO)-approved ingredients.
While you need not be an expert at dissecting cat food labels, knowing how to determine the nutritional adequacy of your cat’s food can go a long way. Nutrients should be balanced - you shouldn’t provide too little or too much.
Dry Kibble or Canned?
The debate between feeding dry kibble or canned food is an ongoing one. While dry kibble is relatively inexpensive, a basic issue is that it can spoil if stored badly for too long. In addition, many cheap dry cat foods often contain unnecessary carbohydrates and fillers. And they lack moisture which your cat habitually gets more from food than from drinking.
On the other hand, canned or wet food contains an abundance of moisture, but it can also be nutritionally inadequate for your cat. Plus, it can negatively affect dental health, causing plaque buildup and tar.
Consider incorporating dry kibble with a balanced topper. Alternatively, consider raw options. Raw diets are incredibly beneficial for your cat, but they can be expensive and time-consuming to maintain. Biologically appropriate diets provide optimal nutrition, but you’ll have to monitor additional risks of bacteria in poorly prepared raw food.
There are some very good options in both the best dry cat food and wet cat foods, but just take your time and try well-reviewed recipes with your cat to see what they prefer. And, of course, look at the long-term cost of whatever you choose.
Preparing Your Home
Integrating your cat into your home requires equal parts patience and preparation. You should begin cat-proofing and thoroughly preparing your home at least a few weeks before adoption. Put away fragile and potentially toxic items.
Designate a space that is uniquely theirs where they can choose to be away from activity and noise when they want peace and quiet. Block off nooks and crannies where they might try to escape outside or where they might get stuck with no way out.
Allow your cat one to two weeks at their “base camp,” where you’ll keep their crate, bed, litter box, and food to become acclimated.
Introducing Other Pets
If you have other pets in your home, don’t expect them to be instant friends. Introductions should be gradual and positively reinforced.
Always provide safe spaces for each pet to decompress if they become stressed or agitated. When your feline pals demonstrate calm behavior, reward them! Build positive associations between them by providing plenty of treats and praise.
working with a behaviorist or trainer if you feel the need for some help with a cat who seems a little hard to manage These professionals can help you better comprehend feline body language and how to respond when a cat becomes stressed.
Grooming and Dental Care
Many first-time pet owners need to pay more attention to the importance of grooming and dental care. While cats are infamously “self-cleaning,” they will benefit from the occasional groom. New cat owners often think this is unnecessary and miss the signs that grooming would be good for their cat as well as good for creating a bond between them.
If you neglect to brush through your cat's fur regularly, it can quickly become matted and even infected. Clearly, this is a bigger issue with longer-haired cats and is then something you really need to deal with.
In addition, cats are notorious for developing dental issues. Brushing your cat’s teeth regularly and early on can reduce dental plaque and other oral infections. However, as you’d expect, your feline friend may not be fond of toothbrushing, so take it slow! Most cat owners just don’t take this seriously, but it can really help your cat’s long-term health and avoid unwanted vet bills if you learn how to brush cats’ teeth.
The Bottom Line
A lot of work goes into ensuring your cat is happy and healthy. While cats may seem like independent creatures, a little TLC and thorough preparation can go a long way. Introducing a balanced diet, undergoing regular vet check-ups, and providing opportunities for socialization and enrichment make the ultimate go-to recipe for a satisfied feline friend!
About the Author
Dexter, head of content at We Love Cats and Kittens, is a certified Mad Cat Dad and avid rescuer. Dexter relocated from Croatia to Ibiza, where he continues his support for feline advocacies on the Island of Pag.