20 Common Mistakes of First-Time Cat People, Part 1

Cats are sweet, and kittens are arguably cuter, but are you really prepared for your new pet?

Help your cats avoid illness and behavioral issues by cleaning the litter box thoroughly and often. By: dave.see

Cats are so rewarding to have in your family, and they take a lot of work, despite the common misconception that cats are completely independent.

So aside from getting a cat on impulse, people who have just brought home their first cat often make many other common mistakes.

Here are the first 10 mistakes in my top 20 list.

1. No Parasite Control

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; the disease is not as treatable as it is 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 (e.g., indoor versus outdoor cats).

2. Not Spaying or Neutering Your Cat

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.

Do yourself and your cat a favor and have her fixed. Cats can become pregnant as early as 4–6 months of age, so don’t delay in discussing the procedure with your vet.

3. No Litter Box Training

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.

When grooming your cat, pay attention to the teeth, nails and ears as well as the coat. By: travelwayoflife

4. Ignoring the Claws

A cat’s claws are sharp and can grow to painful lengths without scratching posts or regular trimming, so implement a grooming regimen as early as possible. I’ve had the best success with waiting until the cat is tired or just woken from a nap.

Declawing is not recommended, is painful for the cat and is considered illegal in some areas..

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 for high-protein and low-carbohydrate ingredients. 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. Cleaning the Litter Box Once a Month

Cats are very clean animals, and they appreciate a clean area for their waste.

Check the box at least once per day for contributions, and keep it clean and fresh. And remember to introduce new types of litter gradually so your cat gets adjusted to the new textures and odors.

7. Ignoring 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, spend time at least once a week checking and cleaning the cat’s ears and teeth, and brushing the coat. Bathing is even sometimes necessary if their coats get muddy or sticky. This grooming will help reduce ear mites, dental problems, dander and the amount of fur ingested by your cat.

This obese stray is starting an exercise regimen to slim down:

8. Optional Vaccinations

While it’s true vaccinations come with risks and benefits, some are required by law depending on your location. Almost all U.S. states require rabies vaccinations, so check with your vet and local laws to determine if the vaccine is required every year or once every 3 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 and the feline immunodeficiency virus.

9. Ignoring Illnesses and Injuries

When cats become sick or injured, have them examined by your veterinarian immediately. Some minor injuries or illnesses can turn serious, while others may just need to be monitored.

Don’t take a chance — 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

Cats can become overweight if food is always made 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, and regulating your cat’s food intake ensure a healthy weight and reduce future health issues.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a 2-part series. Look for the next 10 common mistakes to avoid as a first-time cat person in Part 2 of this series.


This pet health content was reviewed by a veterinarian.

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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  1. Jen
    August 08, 2012

    Great article! We see a lot of owners come in to the vet because their cat is urinating outside of the litter box and they say they are ready to give them to the shelter because they can’t take it anymore.. We always ask how often they scoop the litter, dump the litter, and wash box. So many people have said they have never washed the box! Yuck! That’s like us walking into an out house with in bare feet!
    And so many people free feed their pets, hence the overweight pet population?

    1. David Deleon Baker
      August 09, 2012

      Ha… “walking into an outhouse with bare feet.” Pretty much nails it right there.

  2. Ernie Dogs
    October 14, 2012

    Good guidance!

    1. David Deleon Baker
      October 14, 2012

      Thanks Ernie. Glad you like it.

  3. Jane Broyles
    October 14, 2012

    Having lived with cats for more than 25 years I guess it is no surprise that I have made most of these mistakes 😉 But with the exception of inside vs outside ( don’t we all really want some freedom ?) I try to see the world from my cats’ perspective. I feed them what is appropriate for their species ( not mine ) ; I keep their potty areas and bedding clean but free of toxic chemicals and fragrances ( and I pass by all those “fresh scents” that humans prefer but cats actually find annoying ); I keep them inside because inside is the only truly safe place for them to be. We spay and neuter to prevent hormones from making “us” want what we can’t have. The cats that want attention get it, the ones that don’t are given plenty of space. Well, I admit that I do check in with our “loner” cat every day just “to make sure” she doesn’t want to snuggle. I pretty much bend over backward to keep them happy and feeling loved – as long as what they want is healthy and safe 😉

    1. David Deleon Baker
      October 14, 2012

      Jane, you sound like an amazing pet owner. Your cats don’t know how lucky they have it, right? I have a loner cat too. I think she appreciates me checking in with her, and she’ll come to me (on her own terms) when she wants attention, which is more and more these days. My biggest pet peeve — cleaning that litter box. I’ll confess I don’t get it every day.

  4. abbyowner
    October 14, 2012

    Lacoste has given us the best list I have seen in many years of cat-raising, a real keeper.I would add that kibble diets almost ruined two great felines of mine, and I hope the trend towards more wet diets is emphasized in every advice list. once you see that lithe and active ten year old cat with a marvelous coat you will never look back on dry food again. Freeze-dried treats are OK, I hope.

    October 15, 2012

    I’ve made my fair share of these mistakes over the years and I can still forget. I try to keep my two cats healthy, clean, inside, spay/neutered and clean the litter box daily. Gotta love ’em! They’re my responsibility!

  6. Carol
    October 15, 2012

    As a pet sitter I often look after Cats and found the above really interesting – I always meet my customers before taking on any job to find out what is normal behaviour for their cats and their routine, food is often a tricky issue with quite often lots of large cats to deal with!

  7. j3ssic4
    October 19, 2012

    I have a 1.5 yr old cat. I adopted him when he was just 10 weeks old. I am happy to say that I didn’t make any of the above mistakes BUT that was because I did A LOT of research before bringing my baby home. I did so especially because it had been years since I’d had a cat and I have an 11 year old dog that I so wanted the cat to get along with.
    I am happy to report that they got along well almost immediately (although at first we kept them separated when we weren’t home to make sure no fur went flying when we left the house). It is so cute to see them play with each other and I think the cat keeps my dog more active.
    The funniest thing though is everyone who visits tells me my cat acts like a dog. Ha ha. I guess she learned it from her “big sister!”

  8. Kimberly Groff
    October 24, 2017

    You really need to update “6. Cleaning the Litter Box Once a Month” in this article. It should be titled “6. Cleaning the Litter Box Once a DAY”. Also, there should be one litter box per cat available, and a litter box should be on each level in multi-floor homes. Litter box issues are one of the main reasons people dump cats at shelters, so please make sure you educate people properly in your articles.

    1. Melissa Smith
      October 25, 2017

      Hi Kimberly! The author was referring to a complete empty, scrub and refill – she goes on to say in the paragraph to check the box daily and keep it clean and fresh. Sorry for the confusion!


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