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 20 common mistakes of first-time cat people:
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.
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 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 health problems and obesity in cats.
6. Cleaning the Litter Box Just Once a Month
Cats are very clean animals, and they appreciate a clean area for their waste.
Check the box at least once a day for contributions, and keep it clean and fresh. Remember that if you introduce new types of litter, do so gradually.
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.
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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.
11. Cats Belong Outdoors
A common reason people leave cats outdoors is to reduce spraying because they’re not neutered.
The solution? 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. Cars can hit, raccoons can transfer rabies, 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 allow your cats outdoors, have them spayed or neutered, as well as keep them updated on vaccines.
12. Cats Can Eat Anything
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 household pets.
Always use medications specifically designed for cats.
13. The Other Pets Won’t Mind
If you have existing pets, 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 dogs with high prey drives cannot be trusted with cats, so do your research. And even if your dog doesn’t attack the cat, the cat can always attack the dog.
14. My Indoor Cat Doesn’t Need a Checkup
The truth? They should be checked so the vet can evaluate their coat, ears, teeth, eyes, skin, blood work, weight and many other concerns.
Allowing hidden illnesses to go unnoticed will only increase your pet’s problems — and your expenses.
15. My Cat Will Never Get Lost
Outdoor cats’ nearby proximity is not guaranteed. They may get distracted by something and venture farther than they realize. Finding their way back depends on the distance traveled and their instincts.
Don’t chance it — always have a collar and tag on your cat for easy identification.
Another option is microchipping, which is inexpensive and ensures your pet’s return if they are lost and scanned.
16. Pet Meds Are Good for Any Pet
No, they’re not. Many medications and treatments for dogs and humans 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.
17. She’s Just Acting Funny
Notice a change in attitude or appetite — or is your cat missing the litter box?
Some of these symptoms can be signs of bigger problems.
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 your cat off track. If nothing stands out, prepare to make a vet trip to get the kitty checked out.
Sometimes cats and dogs really do get along:
18. Cats Always Vomit
Cats shouldn’t vomit hairballs all the time. 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 the digestive system. Have the veterinarian check out the stomach and intestinal track.
19. Training Is Unnecessary
Cats and dogs mostly learn best from positive reinforcement. Getting rewarded for a behavior makes them want to repeat the desired behavior, so try training your cat to, say, not scratch up the furniture.
20. All Cats Are Affectionate
Sure, certain cat breeds can be very friendly, but genetic predispositions won’t determine every personality.
If you’re getting a cat just to have a snuggle buddy, be realistic and patient — or get a stuffed teddy bear instead.
This pet health content was reviewed by a veterinarian.