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Caring for Cats

How to Have a Happy and Healthy Cat

Cats depend on people for everything they need—food, fresh water, a clean litter box, veterinary care, and, most important, affection and love. Here are some essentials to keep your feline friend happy and safe.

Ricky, a rescued cat available for adoption

Explore the Great Indoors

Cats may sometimes act cocky and independent, but they are as defenseless as toddlers in the concrete jungle. Cats allowed to roam outside unattended may be attacked by dogs, stolen by dogfighters to use as “bait” or by thieves who sell animals to labs, or shot or poisoned by neighbors who don’t like them digging in the flowerbeds or climbing on their cars. Cats who roam outside are also exposed to deadly diseases like feline AIDS and feline leukemia, for which there is no cure.

Cats can adapt nicely to life indoors if they get plenty of playtime and other ways to exercise their agile minds. From paper bags and rolled up balls of paper to motorized “mice” and laser pointers, toys perk up even the laziest feline. All-time favorites are Cat Dancer and Cat Charmer.

Windows are cat “TV”—a birdbath or feeder placed near a window can provide hours of entertainment.

If window sills aren’t wide enough, build or buy a cushioned perch (available from pet supply stores and catalogs) to attach to the sill. A screened-in porch or an enclosure accessible through a window is a great way for kitty to safely commune with nature. KittyWalk Systems makes enclosures in a variety of configurations that can stand alone or be attached to a cat door. If your yard is fenced, another option is Cat Fence-In, a netting kit that attaches to the top of the fence. No existing fence is necessary to install another escape-proof system, called Purrfect Fence, although it is advisable to supplement it with sturdy fencing of some kind to keep dogs and other predators out.

Cats can safely explore outdoors on a leash—just be sure to use an ultra-lightweight, retractable leash attached to a harness, not a collar. Let your cat get used to the harness for short periods indoors, then pick a safe outdoor area to explore. KittyWalk Systems also makes a “pet stroller” that allows for longer, brisker walks and provides a measure of safety from free-roaming dogs.

Five out of Five Cats Prefer a Clean Litter Box

Nobody likes to use a dirty bathroom, which is why it’s important to scoop out your cat’s litter box at least twice a day, preferably every time your cat uses the box, but especially after meal times. If you have more than one cat, a good rule of thumb is to have one box per cat. Avoid scented litters, since cats are sensitive to smells. Place the litter pan well away from the cat’s feeding area and in a place that is quiet and feels “safe” to your cat.

Any cat who is urinating outside the litter box should be taken to a veterinarian right away to rule out a urinary tract infection, which is very common and can be fatal, especially in male cats, who can become “blocked” and die from a build-up of toxins very quickly. If a urinary tract infection is ruled out, your cat may be unhappy with the cleanliness of the pan (or lack thereof), the type of litter used, the location, or with the box itself (some cats prefer covered boxes and vice versa).

Dinner Is Served

It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget to check Fluffy’s water, clean her bowls, and feed her twice a day. Cats are finicky—they won’t drink dirty water—but if they eat kibble, they will need plenty of water to prevent urinary tract infections. Kibble shouldn’t be the cat’s sole food, and it doesn’t have to be in a cat’s diet at all. Canned or homemade food is more palatable and will help add moisture to the diet to help prevent a urinary tract infection. If you want to sever your last link with the slaughterhouse, it is possible to feed cats a vegetarian diet, but it must be done carefully to make sure that it is nutritionally balanced and that the cat is thriving on it.

Decline to Declaw

Cats love to scratch. It helps to remove broken claws, stretch muscles, and mark “territory.” Declawing is definitely NOT a good way to protect your furniture—in fact, it’s the most expensive and painful one: Declawing is actually 10 individual amputations, since it involves chopping off the last joint of each one of the cat’s toes. Declawing can make cats insecure, moody, and more prone to biting because they can’t use their claws to defend themselves. It can also lead to litter box problems, proving that there’s more than one way to ruin a carpet!

The best way to save your furniture is to provide lots of “approved” places to scratch. Sisal cat “trees” and posts, cardboard scratching boxes, and those ingenious “cat tracks” (a ball in a circular plastic tunnel surrounding a cardboard scratching pad) are big hits. Sprinkle catnip on them weekly to keep cats interested, and be sure to replace cardboard inserts when they get worn out.

Trim your cat’s claws once every two weeks—you just have to remove the sharp “hook” at the end—and put double-sided tape on places that you don’t want your cat to scratch—cats don’t like the sticky feeling on their paws.

Making Fleas Flee

Fleas don’t just make cats uncomfortable, they can also cause skin allergies and tapeworm infestations (when cats ingest fleas through grooming). Cats who stay indoors are less likely to get fleas, but they can still catch them from you if you accidentally bring fleas inside on your pants or shoes. Monthly treatments with flea killers aren’t necessary unless you see fleas on your cat, nor are baths with hazardous insecticidal shampoos (since soap and water alone kill fleas). A nontoxic alternative to flea poisons is to use a flea comb, which catches the fleas in its fine teeth, and then dunk the fleas into a container of soapy water or put them in a container in the freezer.

Get to the Vet!

Spaying and neutering doesn’t just prevent the births of unwanted kittens, it also prevents cancer of the reproductive organs and, if performed before the cat reaches sexual maturity (at about 5 to 6 months old), can also prevent other cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer.

Any cat who is acting lethargic or “grouchy,” has diarrhea or frequent vomiting, isn’t eating, or is having “accidents” outside the litter box should be taken to the vet right away. Even “minor” illnesses can turn fatal if not treated, and regular check-ups can prevent or catch diseases before they become serious.

Commenting is closed.
  • Caroljean says:

    I wish that I had your information about declawing a cat before I took my cat in. He died shortly after the proceedure was done. He never fully recovered from what they used to put him under, at least that is what I was told when I brought him home. The only comfort I have is that he did not die in a cage because he hated being in one. I will never do this to another cat and tell people that they should not do it either because they could have the same loss.

  • Mingo says:

    Tell me about how to deal with lots of loose cat hair. Thanks.

  • Anthea says:

    I would also like to stress the importance of having a cat micro chipped and vaccinated, including for feline aids. This is especially critical for cats were are sometimes outdoors.

  • Janettte says:

    My best buddy, Shadow-Cat sits on our dining table checking the situation/safety before going to the door to be let outside. When the weather provides, I leave a window open for her to reach and she’ll perch on the sill for hours, perusing her “domain”. We’re fortunate to live on 12 wooded acres and she scouts every tree to see which ones are the best to climb. She’s even figured out how to get onto the roof! Mostly, she likes to walk with me into the woods and curious about every new smell – and more trees to climb. At night she curls up on my husband’s lap and at bedtime sleeps behind my pillow. She’s part of our family; we even keep the bathroom sink filled with water. (She has us very well trained.) I’m on the lookout for a vegetarian cat food and am considering Newman’s Own. Does anyone have luck with that brand?

  • skorne14 says:

    I scoop out my cat’s litter pan every night before my pre-bed shower and that works fine. I am NOT going to sit there in the back room and wait for my cat to pee or poo so I can scoop out her pan. That’s just psycho… Also my cat likes to come in there while I am scooping out her pan and poo right in front of me and look up at me and meow. She is the most shameless cat I have ever seen, no privacy issues there… Changing a cat’s water every day is common sense. If I wouldn’t drink her water, then I dont expect her to drink it. The whole forcing a carnivorous animal into a vegan diet thing seems kinda cruel to me and for sure that cannot be good for them. This article does not seem to be very pragmatic to me. I wonder does the author actually own any cats???

  • Kozue says:

    Cats get into and onto just about anything, so to preevnt items from getting broken you have to either keep them out of reach, such as behind doors in a cabinet, or use a putty like Quake Hold that will keep the items in place. It is not all that different from when there are young children around the home, except they can get into more places.Cats are quite independent, and usually need love and attention, along with food, water and litter. But the larger bills are for vet care, as those are not spread out over the month. They are not high, and often just once a year is all that is needed, but it is usually costs up front. Typically, perhaps $100, and if you have to have the cat spayed or neutered, it will be a larger hit to your wallet.I am giving a link to an article on introducing a kitten into your home. There are suggestions, and a list of things to get. I ignore a bed, as they find a place, and I would get one of those inexpensive cardboard scratchers.Monthly care costs can usually be handled through a normal household budget. They are not large, but can vary. Some feed small cans of very expensive food, and others find a quality food that serves just as well at a much lower cost. And litter is not expensive. If monthly costs are a real concern, you may not be ready for a cat anyway.

  • Kpeekaboo says:

    HelloEmily, I have 2 adult cats I adopted from a shelter this year, they are absolutely terrified of the outdoors. I have a screened in porch and they won’t even set foot on it. My point is just that not all animals want to go outdoors, even if it is natural for their species to live there. Besides, life in an apartment complex parking lot isn’t exactly a natural habitat for anything.

  • kath says:

    yes! I grew up walking my cat on a leash. Our neighbours thought we were quite weird, but I never understood why people rarely do it! Everyone should do it!

  • Angela says:

    My one cat loves running outside on his cat harness, but my other cat seems to hate the feel of the harness. I love watching my cat try to catch bugs in the grass. He doesn’t seem to like the street too much, though.

  • Allan says:

    I adopted a stray cat who had become completely wild after an apparently brief encounter with humans as a kitten. He was fixed early in his life, but was abandoned or lost, and lived outside for years before winding up in my family’s backyard.

    Now this former stray is a wonder lap cat who follows me around like a little puppy. But he lived outside for years. He CRIES if I lock his cat door and don’t let him go outside. I want what’s best for him, and I know the statistics about outdoor cats. But I just think there are shades of gray in that rule.

  • Confused says:

    My cat has no desire to go outside, even if the door is wide open he won’t go outside, he’s the perfect cat too!

  • yoyo says:

    I personally feel sad that PETA thinks cats are just as happy inside as outside. of course if you live in a city or have a cat that was declawed before you adopt, inside may be the only answer. I totally disagree with the quanitity over quality arguement with kitties. Cats have neurotic and unstable (unnatural behaior) when forced to live soley indoors. there are of course natural consequences to letting your cat out but within reason, I think it provides a happier life.

  • RAaE says:

    Laser pointers aren’t a good form of play. If you search on it you can read more.
    Staring out a window, as in HelloEmily’s point, is not natural. It also can cause unnecessary frustration if the cat sees another feline and can’t communicate with it.
    I also think this article should have specified a bit more on the “one box per cat”. Specified to state the litter boxes need to be in separate areas for multiple cats.
    I will not state my opinion on a vegetarian cat diet, though I think it is healthy for cats to consume some greens.
    Other than that, this information is fairly accurate from my point of view.

  • HelloEmily says:

    You guys have some really skewed views of animal rights. Free the chickens, they’re meant to be running free, but keep your pet cat inside? -.- Cats are carnivores, and as we know, carnivores are hunters. And what do hunters need to do? Oooh got it in one! Hunt! Well done you 🙂 Secondly your idea of “windows are cat TV” amused me greatly. After coming straight here from reading your articles on zoos, especially the bit about zoo animals never exhibit natural behaviours, I found that bit particularly hypocritical. No part of sitting on a windowsill is part of a cats “natural behaviour.”

  • Andy says:

    Firstly, I think you guys do a great job and at least provide some reassurance that there are people out there willing to speak out against disgusting animal atrocities. However I don’t feel you indoor cat advice is helpful, surly the whole point of PETA is to liberate animals and give them freedom. Our cat has a brilliant life outdoors and indoors but if it rains and he can’t go out for a while he gets in a right huff. If you live near a main road or next to a dog fighting cat eating madman than don’t have a cat. Its a responsibility that you take on as soon as you get a cat.

  • Seriously? says:

    The preface: I’m glad someone out there is looking out for the wellfare of animals, but I don’t agree with the extremist values that PETA seems to hold onto so tightly. Like, for example, suggesting that vegan diets are all right for cats. Seriously? You don’t see your cat stalking the chickpeas, do you? Nope, good o’fashioned meat please. Now, some pet foots will only use organic products (which I certianly hope includes the meat products that are included). Perhaps that might be a safe medium for those who are suffering pangs of concience over their cat’s carnivorous needs?

  • Cara says:

    Don’t be so quick to dismiss vegetarian diets for cats. Exactly what scientific studies prove they can’t thrive on vegan cat food? It’s enhanced with every vitamin and mineral cats need, including taurine which is usually only found in raw meat. (And it’s the same synthetic taurine found in ALL commercial cat food on the market because the cooked meat in them does not naturally contain taurine either!) Many vegan cat foods meet the nutritional requirements set by AAFCO as well. Thousands upon thousands of cats have thrived on a vegan diet! There’s a great book called Obligate Carnivore that explores this issue more deeply.

  • mazzakat says:

    I would never feed my cats a vegetarian diet even though I am vegan myself. Cats are carnivores and are meant to eat meat!

  • Anna says:

    To Aquatictraining: two options – either
    (a) enclose an existing area or make an enclosed area, say the back (not front) veranda or patio (easy to do yourself and cheap – I would be happy to give you some ideas) and install a cat flap on back door. This option is a bit of work but has the advantage of giving the family a relaxation area too or
    (b) move out because that witchy neighbour will not.
    Of course, I don’t know what your house looks like and how caring your kids are, but please don’t let your cat get caught again so you need to act fast. No animal should be hounded or under threat of extermination.

  • Poh says:

    See, I mostly agree with PETA except for “no clothing” and “no eating”. I mean, animal skins put frowns on my face, but there’s still shearing, and shearing is fine. SHEARING ANIMALS NEED US. They’ve been raised to grow more wool, and if we let them out in the wild they’d all die from the heat. And also, there’s a reason meat and lactose are part of the food plate symbol. It’s for a healthy diet! And if we shouldn’t eat animals, then why do they always eat each other? >__>

    Poh out. And yes, that is a weird name. Peace.

  • aquatictraining says:

    We try and want our cat to be inside. With kids and teenagers in and out all of the time, she gets out. My neighbor hates her and has called animal control on us several times. Last night she caught our cat in a trap. Animal control said if she gets out one more time, they will take her. Can anyone sugggest a safe but effective “shock” collar or anything to keep her away from the doors and inside?

  • chizzy says:

    The rest of this article is great but…

    Feeding a cat a vegetarian diet? Seriously?

  • karina says:

    this is very good but my kitty loves being outside with my dogs 🙂 they all hang out together and even if they are different. i disagree with the vegitarian diet. my animals deserve the best that includes food like dog can food and if they like meat ill give them meat! 😛

  • Cat Enclosures for Outdoors says:

    “I think that this artical is great! But the only thing is my cat refuses to stay inside for more than 9 hours!”

    We love the outdoor cat enclosures in our backyard. It gives us kitties a chance to get some fresh air and do some safe birdwatching.

  • Elskip says:

    I have two cats, and as a vegan and a cat lover it is a little difficult to separate my morals and their dietary needs. Are there any cat food products you’ve come across that contain meat that are compassionate towards animal welfare?

  • MissyT says:

    Sydney, if you buy VegeKit/VegeCat (I get mine at it comes with a bunch of recipes, using seitan, chickpeas, lentils, tvp, etc.

  • Sydney says:

    I just want to know how i should make a homeade meal for my beautiful baby girl!

  • Abz says:

    My cats don’t mind staying inside, but Fleetwood doesn’t mind running outside to chew grass! And I don’t think that’s a good vegetarian diet for him!

  • Serena says:

    I think that this artical is great! But the only thing is my cat refuses to stay inside for more than 9 hours!