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It seems Australians just can’t enough of cats! Of the 29 million pets in Australia in 2019, more than three million (or 27%) of those were cats – making them the country’s second-favourite choice of pet behind dogs and ahead of fish.1

And why wouldn’t they be, what with their soft, round faces and cute little paws? And that’s not to mention their vast catalogue of YouTube videos.

So, whether you’re welcoming a new cat into your life or brushing up on your cat-care knowledge, our guide on how to take care of a cat takes you through some of the things you need to know.

Note: This is a guide only. Consult your vet for advice and guidance on the individual needs of cats. It’s essential you understand the work involved in keeping a pet and have the capabilities to do so before you bring one into your life.

How to take care of a cat: Initial cat care

Desexing

Desexing can have several health benefits for your cat, and it should ideally be done before they reach breeding age (around 16 weeks old).2

The most apparent benefit of desexing your cat is preventing unwanted litters, but it can also reduce your cat’s risk of getting mammary cancer and eliminate the risk of uterine infections. Desexing can also positively affect your cat’s behaviour, as desexed cats are less likely to roam around outdoors (and in turn less likely to get injured in an accident or pick up an infection) and aren’t as aggressive.

Cats can be desexed once they reach one kilogram in weight or from eight weeks old. If you’ve adopted your cat from a shelter, they may have already desexed the animal for you.

Vaccinations

Vaccinating your cat is a sure-fire way to protect them against diseases that would otherwise have a detrimental impact on their health.

The core cat vaccine is a combination of vaccines for feline panleukopaenia (enteritis), feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus (both forms of ‘cat flu’).3

There are also non-core vaccines for disease like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukaemia virus (FeLV). However, these vaccines are only recommended for cats with a higher risk of these illnesses (consult a vet for more information).

Getting your cat microchipped and registered

Arguably one of the most important ways of caring for cats is by getting them microchipped and registering them with your local council.

Microchipping is the process of implanting a tiny microchip under your pet’s skin, which is linked to a database with your and your pet’s details.4 Microchips ensure that lost pets can be reunited with their owners, and so it’s vital that you keep your contact details up to date.

In most places in Australia, cats and dogs must be microchipped, with the states and territories mandating the age by which they should be microchipped. Make sure you check your state/territory’s laws around cat microchipping as well as your local council’s.

Whether or not you’re required to register your cat with your local council will depend on which local government area you live in, as each council has different rules – and fees – for registering cats.

Since there are so many councils around Australia, we’ve compiled below the registration requirements for just the capital cities. Be sure to check your local council’s registration rules if you don’t live in these areas.

Sydney, NSWCats must be registered with the City of Sydney before they are four months old.5
Melbourne, VICAll cats must be registered with City of Melbourne.6
Brisbane, QLDCats aren’t required to be registered with Brisbane City Council, but you must apply for a permit if you wish to keep more than three cats.7
Perth, WAAll pet cats over the age of six months have to be registered with the City of Perth.8
Adelaide, SACats aren’t required to be registered with the City of Adelaide.9
Hobart, TASCats aren’t required to be registered with the City of Hobart.10
ACTCats aren’t required to be registered in the ACT.11
Darwin, NTYou’ll need to register your cat with the City of Darwin if it’s more than three months old or has been in Darwin for at least one month.12
All information up to date as of 03/06/2020

You’ll probably find as well that your local council requires your cat to be microchipped before they can be registered.

How to feed your cat

Now that you’ve sorted all the immediate needs of your cat, it’s now time to take care of them in the long run. This includes knowing how to feed your feline friend properly. So, what can cats eat?

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means their diets must include meat.13 They can have a small amount of vegetables, but they can’t survive on a vegetarian diet.

Cat food can be either wet (e.g. meat, canned food) or dry (e.g. biscuits), and both have good health benefits for your kitty; the RSPCA recommends a balanced diet of wet and dry food for your cat, with fresh water always available for them to drink.

As well as commercial cat food, you can also feed your cat fresh, raw, human-grade (i.e. for humans) meat like chicken and lamb. The RSPCA recommends avoiding pet food that contains raw meat as it might have preservatives that aren’t good for your cat’s health.

Cats also enjoy meaty bones as it helps to keep their teeth sharp but these need to be raw, as cooked bones splinter easily and cause catastrophic and sometimes fatal damage to your cat’s insides. Cats can also have fish (including canned fish) as an occasional treat, but not as a full diet.

As for what cats can’t eat, the list is rather long. According to the RSPCA, just some of the foods that are toxic to cats include:

  • tomatoes
  • avocado
  • onions (including onion powder)
  • grapes, raisins, sultanas and currants
  • chocolate
  • garlic
  • caffeine
  • mushrooms,
  • nuts, fruit stones/pits and fruit seeds.

Contrary to what popular culture would have us believe, you also should not give your cat milk to drink because it causes gastrointestinal problems.13

Adult cats usually prefer to eat several, smaller meals throughout the day, so you should offer your cat some food four to five times a day. Kittens should also be offered food at least four times a day, but be careful not to overfeed them.14

Cat eating from a food bowl

How to litter train your cat

Litter training is an essential part of caring for cats; after all, you probably don’t want them to be leaving little presents for you all around the house!

To start, you’ll need to place your cat’s litter tray in an area that can afford them some privacy, and not near their food and water.15 It’ll also have to be a permanent place, as moving the tray around can confuse your kitty.

As for getting your kitten to actually use the tray, start by taking them to tray after they’ve eaten and let them dig around in the litter.15 Praise them when they use it, but don’t punish them if they accidentally go outside of the tray. You’ll also need to change the litter often, as cats are pretty fussy creatures and will refuse to use a dirty litter tray.

If you notice your cat isn’t using the litter tray, you can try changing the type of litter you use, but you may need to consult a vet as well in case there’s an underlying medical reason as to why your cat has changed its toilet habits.

Grooming your cat

For the most part, cats will groom themselves, but as their owner, you still have a role to play.

Regularly brushing their fur will help remove the loose hairs that would otherwise be swallowed by your cat and form a hairball.16 Hairballs aren’t usually a cause for concern but sometimes can grow large enough to block the intestines, which can have deadly consequences.

Cat grooming will also help keep their coats nice and healthy, enable you to check for fleas and prevent tangling and matting. However, bathing your cat isn’t typically recommended as most cats don’t enjoy the experience. Bathing can be used to treat skin conditions, but your vet will advise you on this.

Taking care of your cat’s teeth

Like in humans, taking care of your cat’s teeth can go a long way to making sure their overall health is in good shape. Keeping your cat’s teeth in good nick will help prevent plaque and tartar from building up, as well as more serious conditions like periodontal disease.17

Luckily for you, cat dental care can easily be done at home. Brush your cat’s teeth daily (using special cat toothbrushes and paste) and ask your vet about dental diets for your cat. You can also give your cat dental chews and toys that can help reduce the build-up of plaque and tartar.

An annual vet check-up can also help keep your cat in good health, both dental-wise and in general.

Leaving your cat at home

It’s possible to keep your cat safe and happy by containing them at home, rather than letting them roam around outside.

By keeping your cat at home and preventing them from roaming around your neighbourhood, you can reduce the risk that they will get into fights, catch an infection from another cat, be hit by a car or be involved in another traumatic accident.18

That doesn’t necessarily mean that your cat has to be kept indoors at all times. You can provide your cat with an outdoor enclosure or install escape-proof fencing around the perimeter of your yard. Alternatively, you can always just supervise your cat when it’s out in the garden.

If you don’t have an escape-proof backyard or perhaps live in an apartment block, you do have the option of taking your cat for a walk. The RSPCA doesn’t recommend this for cats but advises that, if you do decide to walk your cat, you use a lead and cat-harness and make sure they’re up to date with their vaccinations.19

Cat wearing a cat harness and lead out in the garden

Insuring your cat

One more way you can take care of your cat is by taking out pet insurance.

It’s not nice to think about, but our pets can and likely will get into accidents or become ill no matter how much we try to protect them. When these things happen, the last thought on our minds is dealing with the vet bills, which can quickly climb.

This is where pet insurance can help you. Depending on the type of cover you have, you can claim a portion of your vet bills back as well as enjoy a host of other inclusions, like annual benefits for tick treatment and routine care.

Finding the right insurance for your cat can be tricky, though, so why not compare your options?

Compare pet insurance with us

Our pet insurance comparison service is a quick and easy way to weigh up policies side-by-side. To get started, all you need to do is input yours and your pet’s details! And if you find a policy you like, simply apply for it right there and then. Simples!

Further reading

Sources

1. Animal Medicines Australia – Pets in Australia: A national survey of pets and people. Published October 2019. Accessed April 2020.
2. RSPCA Knowledge Base – Why should I have my cat desexed? Last updated August 2019. Accessed May 2020.
3. RSPCA Knowledge Base – What vaccinations should my cat receive? Last updated March 2020. Accessed May 2020.
4. RSPCA Knowledge Base – Is microchipping mandatory for cats and dogs? Last updated November 2019. Accessed May 2020.
5. City of Sydney – Register your pet. Last updated July 2019. Accessed April 2020.
6. City of Melbourne – Pet registration. Accessed April 2020.
7. Brisbane City Council – Cat and dog permits. Last updated April 2020. Accessed April 2020.
8. City of Perth – Register a cat. Accessed April 2020.
9. City of Adelaide – Dog and cat registration. Accessed April 2020.
10. City of Hobart – Cats. Accessed April 2020.
11. ACT Government: Access Canberra – Cats in the ACT. Last updated April 2020. Accessed April 2020.
12. City of Darwin – Pet registration and microchipping. Accessed April 2
13. RSPCA Knowledge Base – What should I feed my cat? Last updated October 2019. Accessed April 2020.
14. RSPCA Knowledge Base – What should I feed my kitten? Last updated October 2049. Accessed May 2020.
15. RSPCA Knowledge Base – How do I litter-train my cat? Last updated August 2019. Accessed May 2020.
16. RSPCA Knowledge Base – How often do I need to groom my cat? Last updated April 2019. Accessed May 2020.
17. RSPCA Knowledge Base – How should I take care of my cat or dog’s teeth? Last updated September 2019. Accessed May 2020.
18. RSPCA Knowledge Base – Is it ok to keep my cat at home all of the time? Last updated May 2020. Accessed May 2020.
19. RSPCA Knowledge Base – Should I walk my cat on a lead? Last updated August 2019. Accessed May 2020.

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