Aside from getting a cat on impulse, people who have just brought home their first cat often make many other common mistakes. Here’s my top 20 list.
1. No Parasite Control
There are many pests that can plague cats, and prevention is key. While most people with cats are familiar with fleas, other pests such as tapeworms, mites, hookworms, roundworms, ticks and even heartworms can affect cats. Heartworm treatment options are limited — if not a death sentence for cats — and are not as treatable as with dogs. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to humans, so talk with your veterinarian about preventive care based on your location and cat’s habits (indoor versus outdoor cats, etc.).
2. Not Spaying or Neutering Your Cat
Even indoor cats can get outside, and it could take just one excursion for your furry friend to deliver a surprise bundle of kittens nine weeks later. I think we can all agree kittens are adorable, but unless you have the means to provide proper care for all of them, you’re contributing to the pet overpopulation problem.
Kitten season isn’t just a myth; it happens every year at every shelter, and cats and kittens are left looking for homes when prevention could have avoided their fate (not including the ones that continue to reproduce as strays or die on the streets). Do yourself and your cat a favor and have them fixed. Cats can become pregnant as early as 4 to 6 months of age, so don’t delay in discussing the procedure with your vet.
3. No Litter Box Training
Contrary to popular belief, not every cat is born with the instinct to use the litter box, and stray or feral cats may not be familiar with it at all. Some cats may need training to associate waste with this location, and others may avoid using the litter box due to other health issues. Work with your vet to rule out medical or behavioral issues and start training.
4. Ignoring the Claws
A cat’s claws are sharp and can grow to painful lengths without scratching posts or regular trimming. This can be painful for the cat and even you, so it’s best to implement a grooming regimen as early as possible. Not all cats enjoy having their nails clipped, but I have found the best success with waiting until the cat is tired or just woken from a nap (and working fast helps; just watch out for the quick).
Declawing is not recommended and is even considered illegal in some areas. Besides the legal issues, declawing a cat can be extremely painful and lead to problems later in life. It really only takes a few minutes once per week; if your cat is truly resistant, check out groomers in your area that can help.
5. Buying Cheap Food
Just because “Purr Paw Chow” is on sale for $1 per bag doesn’t mean it’s good for your cat. Check the ingredients and make sure the food you offer your cat is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. A lack of necessary nutrients and high-carb diets can cause myriad health issues and obesity in cats, so think twice before grabbing the cheap chow.
6. I Can Clean the Litter Box Once a Month
Cats are very clean animals, and they appreciate a clean area for their waste. You’d probably thumb your nose up if your bathroom offerings were saved for days and weeks on end, and just like the cat, you’d be looking for a different — and clean — place to do your business.
Check the box at least once per day for accidents and contributions, and keep it clean and fresh. Sudden changes in the type of litter you use can also throw a cat off balance, so try to introduce it gradually as your cat gets adjusted to the new texture and odor. Your cat and your house guests will thank you.
7. Cats Don’t Need Grooming
While cats spend a majority of their time cleaning themselves (next to sleeping, of course), there are still areas that need attention from you. In addition to keeping the claws trimmed, expect to spend time at least once per week checking and cleaning the cat’s ears and teeth, and brushing the coat. Some cats may even need a bath if they get into a puddle of mud or other substance that sticks to their coat. Keeping the cat clean and groomed with these methods will reduce ear mites, dental problems, dander and the amount of fur ingested by your cat.
8. Vaccinations Are Optional
While it is true vaccinations come with risks and benefits, some are required by law depending on your location. For example, rabies vaccinations are not required in England because they do not have a risk of rabies in that country. In the United States we do encounter rabies, and almost all states require rabies vaccinations. Check with your vet and local laws to determine if the vaccine is required every year or once every three years.
Other vaccinations are considered necessary and may include distemper, herpes and other viruses. Additional vaccines are available for other conditions, such as leukemia, bordetella, chylamydophila and the feline immunodeficiency virus.
9. Ignoring Illnesses and Injuries
Cats, like most animals, can recover from minor injuries. But how do you separate the minor from the major? When cats become sick or injured, it is always best to have them examined by your veterinarian. Some minor injuries or illnesses can turn serious, while others may just need to be monitored. Don’t take the chance that you know best; be proactive to provide the best quality of care for your pet. Catching major illnesses early can also be cheaper and bring better health benefits for your cat.
10. Endless Food
If you’re one of those people who worry about the cat always needing food readily available so you fill the bowl every time it’s empty, you might be providing too much kibble. Cats can become overweight not by choice but because, quite simply, there’s always food available. Read the labels and check with your vet to determine the right amount of food to provide for your cat. Obesity is a serious problem for all pets, and by regulating the food intake of your cat, you can ensure a healthy weight and reduce future health issues related to obesity.
11. Cats Belong Outdoors
Several beliefs about feline behavior fuel the desire for people to let their cats roam free, but are they all true? While cats do have a predatory instinct, they can derive the same pleasure from chasing an indoor toy and satisfy their curiosity by exploring the house. Another reason to leave cats outdoors is to reduce spraying because they’re not neutered. Allowing an unaltered cat outdoors is just asking for kittens, so get your cat fixed and don’t add to the overpopulation problem.
Other dangers exist outdoors aside from the stalking behavior or “thrill of the kill” you think your cat needs. Dogs can bite, cars can hit, raccoons can transfer rabies, the weather can get extreme, the neighbor doesn’t clean up an antifreeze spill or your cat could get locked in a building while exploring; the possibilities are endless. If you feel the need to allow your cats outdoors, please make sure to have them spayed or neutered first, as well as keep them updated on vaccines. While I firmly believe cats will have longer, happier lives indoors, I know there are others who have both outdoor and indoor cats and enjoy giving them that freedom.
12. Cats Can Eat Anything
No, they can’t. Several foods, plants and other items are toxic to cats and can cause illness or death. Giving cats the wrong medications, medications designed for dogs or even human medications is a leading cause of death among our household pets. Always use medications and products specifically designed for cats and review the link above from the ASPCA on cat toxins. See Dr. Deb’s article “Got a Cat? Poison-Proof Your Home.”
13. The Other Pets Won’t Mind
Are you sure about that? If you have existing pets, you should spend the time to properly introduce and socialize them with your cat. Some small animals and rodents may be considered prey by your new feline addition and need to be regularly secured and supervised. Some breeds of dog have high prey instincts and cannot be trusted with cats, so do your research and find out if adding a cat to your household is a good idea. Even if your dog doesn’t attack the cat, the cat can attack the dog (we’ve all heard of cats shredding a dog’s nose with their claws, so take precautions to keep every pet safe).
14. My Cat Doesn’t Need a Checkup
Yes, your cat does need an annual wellness check. Many people may think their cats don’t need to see the veterinarian every year, especially if they are indoor cats. The truth is they should be checked so the vet can evaluate their coat, ears, teeth, eyes, skin, blood work, weight and many other concerns.
Something may show up in the evaluation or blood work that can be managed or eradicated with treatment, but allowing it to go unnoticed will only increase your pet’s problems and your expenses.
15. My Cat Will Never Get Lost
Cats allowed outdoors normally stick to a specific area, especially when it is a constant food source, but their proximity is not guaranteed. If you have an outdoor-only cat or allow your cat outdoors regularly, there is always the possibly he will get curious or distracted by something and venture farther than he realizes. Finding his way back depends on the distance traveled and his scent or instincts.
Don’t chance your cat being lost. Always have a collar and tag on your cat for easy identification. Another option is microchipping, just as with dogs. Microchips are as inexpensive as $25 or less and will ensure your pet’s return if he is lost and scanned. You can also take advantage of one of several different pet amber alert systems, but it’s best to have a plan in place in advance in case your pet becomes lost.
16. Pet Meds Are Good for Any Pet
No, they’re not. Some medications and treatments for dogs can be deadly to cats. Even the wrong type or dosage of flea medications or collars can kill a cat. Always read the label before giving anything to your cats to ensure it is specifically made for them. Never give them items or medications created for dogs or humans.
17. She’s Just Acting Funny
Is she acting funny, or is Anastasia suffering changes in attitude, appetite or missing the litter box? Some of these symptoms can be telltale signs of bigger problems and should not be ignored. Check to see if you’ve made any recent changes in food, litter or furniture, or other household changes and additions that might have thrown Anastasia off track. If nothing stands out, prepare to make a vet trip to get her checked out.
18. Cats Always Vomit
Cats vomit to expel hairballs from time to time, but this should not be a regular occurrence. Additional grooming attention from you can help curb the frequency of hairballs. If your cat is vomiting regularly, there could be a more serious problem with her digestive system. If you haven’t changed foods recently and can be sure the cat didn’t ingest anything, it may be time to have the veterinarian check out her stomach and intestinal track (and possibly test for illness).
19. Training Is Unnecessary
Much like dogs, cats won’t understand why you’re whacking them later in the day when you come home to find an accident on the carpet or your favorite shoes shredded (or a surprise waiting in your shoes).
Cats and dogs mostly learn best from positive reinforcement; getting rewarded for a behavior makes them want to repeat the desired behavior. Unwanted cat behavior can also be a sign of another problem; if you notice your cat changing habits or acting out, there’s likely a stressor causing it to happen. This may be as simple as a new litter box location or a more serious medical condition. If you haven’t made any changes around the house or to your cat’s litter or food, it’s time for a vet trip.
20. All Cats Are Affectionate
No, not all cats are affectionate, and my little ball of fluff can attest to that fact. He will plop himself in my lap when I’m trying to work, but if I pick him up and want to snuggle, I get the rawr of displeasure while he jumps out of my arms and runs away. Not all cats like to be snuggled, held or even stroked, so be prepared to adapt to the cat — not the other way around.
Certain cat breeds can be very friendly, but genetic predispositions will not determine every personality. Prepare for this possibility before you adopt a cat. If you’re getting a cat just to have a snugglebunny, be realistic and patient — or get a stuffed teddy bear instead.
Photo: sneakerdog (top), MelvinSchlubman/Flickr