A 10-Step Instruction Manual for Your New Cat

As a former dog lover, I didn't really know what I was in for when I got a cat. I could have benefited from a cat instruction manual like this one.

If only this really existed, right? Photo illustration by: ragsac, University of Queensland
If only this really existed, right? Photo illustration by: 123rf/University of Queensland

Most of my life has been spent with dogs. I never needed or wanted a cat until recently, and I probably wouldn’t have chosen to get one had I not been tricked — err, convinced – that I actually needed one to function effectively in this world.

The main problem I ran into was finding an easy manual. I mean, why can’t instructions for controlling a cat be as simple as the one you get when you buy a GPS for the first time? It might look something like this:

Cat User Guide (v. 2015.6)

Your device: Domestic cat (Felis catus)
Released: 7,500 BC
Key functions: Eating, grooming, head butting, slow blinking, generally being annoyed
See also: A Quick Guide to Cat Body Language

Welcome, and congratulations on your recent feline acquisition. Our limited warranty is virtually worthless, so get over your silly human expectations and get on with the business of trial and error. Especially the error.

1. Let’s get this straight: Your cat owns you, not the other way around.

He put out his invisible, magical claws one day and hooked you. You might have been bathing, eating, working or sleeping at the time. No matter, once selected, you were reeled in, and eventually you were brought together.

You probably were too entranced to hear your cat’s relatively inaudible victory chant: “Gotcha!”

2. Your cat will tell you which room is hers.

When you first enter your home with your cat, don’t say things like, “This is your room, Fluffy!” You will only convince your cat that she’s right about you being an idiot.

Simply let her loose, and she will tell you which rooms are hers. Be prepared to find out that your room is now shared quarters. Give in quickly and save yourself much aggravation.

3. Be prepared for the first (and every) veterinary visit.

Make the cat carrier a home away from home: blanket, food, catnip, water, mousies, etc. Your cat needs to believe he is simply going on a comfy vacation.

Do not, under any circumstances, change your tone of voice when you put him in the carrier. He will make your life a living hell for the time it takes you to finally get him inside.

In the car ride over, he will change his usual voice to something you’ve never heard from him. If his usual sound is a high-pitched “Meh,” it will become a baritone “Me-yowooooo.” This is to make you feel horrendously guilty. You should.

4. Teach your cat to get along with the rest of the family.

Do want to teach her to get along with other beings in the household? Your first error is the word “teaching.” She’ll teach them how to get along with her (you are included in “them”). There is no reward great enough to manipulate her around this issue, so once again, acceptance will be key to your sense of well-being.

5. Show some love.

He will show you how to love him. This is where trial and error comes in. You may have to try things out because he just sits there and looks at you. If you end up with a scratch or bite, probably don’t do that one again.

He may be more demonstrative, but don’t make assumptions. Sitting on your lap does not necessarily mean “pet me.” Head butting does not necessarily mean “kiss me.”

Getting hooked by a cat nail can be really painful. By: theogeo
Get hooked by a cat nail and you’ll often enter a world of pain. By: theogeo

6. Ask not what your cat can do for you…

…Ask what you can do for your cat.

7. Remember that your cat chose you.

Try daily to understand why your cat chose you. You will likely learn that it was always in your interest, and your life will only get better.

8. Practice gratitude.

Enjoy the benefits of having a cat in your family. You will smile and laugh more, be comforted when you are anxious, be warm when you are cold, and have a strong companion and ally.

9. Be prepared.

Make sure your phone has a good camera and that you know how to use it, quickly!

10. Make new friends.

Don’t expect that your friends who are not attached to a cat will understand your new obsession. They won’t. They will just shake their head and find ways to avoid you. From here on out, be on the lookout for crazy cat people with whom to fill your social calendar. They will understand you and will make you feel like you belong.

Should you find yourself having regrets, remember: The cat is working fine, so there are no refunds. There are no defective cats, just ineffective humans. Reach out for counseling and training. Classes are for changing people behavior, not cat behavior. (Hint: The one will automatically change the other.) Cats get this.

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This article was written by Casey Moffett-Chaney, who lives in Portland, Oregon, with her wife, Berdell, and their 2 cats, Mitchell and Flopsie. Casey and Berdell invented MeowSpace to keep Flopsie away from Mitchell’s food. They spend their free time with their 3 grandchildren and paddling the Willamette River with their Dragonboat racing team.

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