How to take care of a cat: Initial cat care
De-sexing can have several health benefits for your cat and should ideally be done before they reach breeding age (around 16 weeks old).
The most obvious benefit of de-sexing 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. De-sexing can also positively affect your cat’s behaviour, as de-sexed cats are less likely to roam outdoors (and, in turn, less likely to get injured in an accident or pick up an infection). De-sexed cats are also less aggressive than those not de-sexed, reducing the risk of your feline friend getting into a scuffle.
Cats can be de-sexed once they reach one kilogram in weight or from eight weeks old. If you’ve adopted your cat from a shelter, they may already be de-sexed.
Vaccinating your cat is a surefire way to protect them against specific infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria.
The core cat vaccine is a combination of vaccines for feline panleukopaenia (enteritis), feline calicivirus, and feline herpesvirus (both forms of ‘cat flu’). This vaccination combination is commonly known as the F3 vaccination.
There are also non-core vaccines for diseases like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia 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
One of the most important ways of caring for cats is by getting them microchipped and registering them with your local council.
Microchipping is a permanent method of electronic identification. It involves implanting a tiny microchip under your pet’s skin, which is linked to a database with your and your pet’s details. Only vets or authorised implanters are allowed to microchip pets. Microchips ensure that lost pets can be reunited with their owners, so it’s vital that you keep your contact details up to date.
It’s important to remember that microchipping is mandatory for cats and dogs in Australia, with the states and territories mandating the age by which they should be microchipped. Ensure you check your state/territory’s laws around cat microchipping and your local council.
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 hundreds of local councils around Australia, we’ve only included the registration requirements for each state and territory broadly. Be sure to check your local council’s registration rules as well.
You’ll probably find that your local council requires your cat to be microchipped before it can be registered.
How to feed your cat
Now that you’ve sorted all your cat’s immediate needs, it’s 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. They can have small amounts 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. kibble), 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 can 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 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:
- onions (including onion powder)
- grapes, raisins, sultanas, and currants
- 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.
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 given food at least four times a day but be careful not to overfeed them.
How to litter train your cat
Litter training is an essential part of caring for cats. You don’t want them to leave little ‘presents’ for you around the house!
To start, you’ll need to place your cat’s litter tray in an area that gives them privacy and isn’t near their food and water. It’ll also have to be a permanent place, as moving the tray around can confuse your kitty.
As for training your kitten to use the tray, take them to the litter box after each meal and let them dig around in the litter. Praise them when using it, but don’t punish them if they accidentally go outside 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 why your cat has changed its toilet habits.
Grooming your cat
For the most part, cats will groom themselves, but you still have a role to play as their owner.
Regularly brushing their fur will help remove the loose hairs that would otherwise be swallowed by your cat and form a hairball. 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 it. Bathing can treat skin conditions, but your vet will advise you on this.
Taking care of your cat’s teeth
Taking care of your cat’s teeth can go a long way in ensuring that their overall health is in good shape. Keeping your cat’s teeth in good nick will help prevent plaque and tartar from building up and more serious conditions like periodontal disease.
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 of them getting into fights, catching an infection from another cat, being hit by a car, or being involved in another traumatic accident.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that your cat must always be kept indoors. You can provide your cat with an outdoor enclosure or install escape-proof fencing around the perimeter of your yard. Alternatively, you can supervise your cat when it’s out in the garden.
If you don’t have an escape-proof backyard or live in an apartment block, you can take 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 should use a lead and cat harness and make sure they’re up to date with their vaccinations.
Insuring your cat
One more way to care for 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 and enjoy a host of other inclusions, like some annual benefits for routine care.
Finding the right insurance for your cat can be tricky, so why not compare your options?
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