Are you considering getting a cat or have finally made the purrfect decision to go for it? Then you know there are some things to consider as you begin introducing a kitty to their new home. Regardless of if you’re adopting a kitten, adult, or senior cat, or even temporarily fostering, it’s important to cat-proof your home and become familiar with all the do’s and don'ts surrounding their needs. Don’t worry though - we’ve got you covered with our first time cat owner’s guide!
Cat Care Essentials Checklist
Here is our first-timer cat checklist, full of tips for new feline pet parents, to ensure you have everything you need to start your relationship off on the right paw.
Before your new cat arrives home, you must be prepared with the essentials, with healthy cat food being the number one priority. Choose food that specifically meets the need of your cat’s age and needs. Pet specialty stores carry premium quality food tailored for kittens, adult and senior cats, as well as indoor or overweight cats.
If you’re adopting from a shelter or a breeder, it's best to give your new pet whatever food they’ve been accustomed to at the beginning, and gradually transition to a new diet if you choose to switch it up.
Feeding a combination of dry and wet food is a great way to ensure your cat gets the nutrients they need with added moisture and tasty flavor. You can also use their daily dry food as treats for games and obedience training (yep, you can train cats!), which helps to keep them engaged with you and active without adding too many extra treats to their diet.
Food and Water Bowls
It’s best to have separate bowls for food and water. Cats can be fussy, so replace the water multiple times per day to keep it fresh or try a cat water fountain if your cat prefers flowing water. If your cat doesn’t drink enough water, try adding multiple water dishes around the house to give them more options.
We recommend avoiding plastic water dishes as they’re more susceptible to bacteria growth and are harder to keep clean. Opt for stainless steel or ceramic dishes instead. Bowls should be cleaned daily and placed far away from the little box.
If you need to use an automatic feeder, choose one that can be programmed to dish out a controlled amount of food throughout the day; free feeding with no limits can lead to unhealthy eating habits and an obese cat.
Rotation Feeding for Your Picky Cat
It’s been said that variety is the spice of life, and the same can be true for cats! Rotation feeding is when you give your cat a variety of foods with different flavors and textures. Feeding your cat a rotational diet makes it easier to change their recipe in the future while helping to avoid common food allergies, intolerances, and nutrient deficiencies that can develop after a lifetime of eating only one kind of food.
If you’re adopting a kitten, it’s a good idea to start rotational feeding at a young age to prevent picky eating habits. With a little time and patience, older cats can accept a rotational diet as well. If your cat has been eating the same food for a while, transition to any new diet gradually over a 10-day period to help their body adjust and avoid stomach upset.
Sometimes cats take time to adjust to a new type of food, so if your cat is only used to kibble and won’t eat wet food, read our how-to guide for transitioning a stubborn cat from dry food to wet food.
Do Cats get Tired of the Same Food?
Cats, like people, can become bored eating the same meal every day, but it can sometimes be hard to figure out what your cat likes. Try putting out a few different flavors and see which one your cat runs to first and make a mental note when a certain type of food gets them particularly excited.
Cats, like toddlers, may love something one day and refuse to eat it the next, so it’s a good idea to keep at least three different flavors on hand for a variety of options.
Playing (Scratchers, Toys, Engagement)
Cats have a reputation for being pretty independent, but before you bring one home make sure to plan for the mental stimulation and exercise they need to thrive. While a shoestring or an empty box might do the trick, try mixing it up with engaging toys with squeakers, feathers, or catnip to see what excites them the most.
A scratching post and cat tree are also a great idea for a new cat parent – it will give your cat a human-approved spot to scratch and naturally ‘trim’ their claws, plus provide a fun jungle gym to exercise and nap on.
Providing your new cat with a few safe, cozy napping spots around the house is a great way to help them settle into their new home. Cats often feel most secure curled up in a small, enclosed bed up high and out of the way. Try putting a covered bed on top of a shelf or cupboard they can safely access and help your new kitty decompress in a safe space. But cats being cats, don’t be discouraged if they choose the empty pizza delivery box for their bed instead.
Collar and ID Tag
The thought of losing your friendly playmate isn’t something any pet owner should have to think about. Having a way to find your cat is essential, even if your furry friend spends most of their time indoors. The best way to do this is to equip them with a collar and an ID tag. Include information such as the pets name, your name, address, and telephone number.
For those fussier felines who cannot bear to wear something around their neck, a microchip may provide an ideal way of permanent identification that will always stay with your pet. A microchip contains a unique ID number that can be read by a scanner and then matched to the owner.
Every feline loves to groom themselves; sometimes it's all they do with their day besides sleeping. To help them, there are some grooming practices you’ll want to adopt to keep your cat’s fur, skin, and teeth spotless. Simple measures like weekly brushing, regular nail trimming, and occasional ear cleaning will make a significant difference in your pet’s long-term health. It can even strengthen the bond between you and your cat.
Many people think cats are too independent and stubborn to be trained, but that’s often not the case! Obedience and trick training is a fantastic way to connect with your cat and teach them the meaning of a few key words while eliminating unwanted behaviors. On instinct they will know how to use a little box but training a cat not to do something starts with putting measures in place to avoid unwanted behaviors, and rewarding good behaviours every time your cat displays them.
Just like with dogs, luring behaviours and body positions with treats and getting them familiar with a reward word such as “yes” or “good” is a great way to build in some basic obedience (and impress your friends when your cat can ‘sit’ on command!).
Steer clear of any harsh discipline such as swatting, spraying or starling as this will just lead to a timid and nervous pet rather than stopping the unwanted behavior, and will harm your ability to build trust and bond with your cat. It will take some time and a lot of treats, but over time you will develop your cat into well socialized, mentally stimulated and content companion.
A carrier is necessary for all cat owners! Regardless of if you think you can safely and securely hold your cat in and out of the car, it’s best to never transport them without one to keep both your cat and yourself safe.
A simple cardboard carrier or box the vet provides when bringing a new cat or kitten home is sufficient in the short term, but you'll need to replace this eventually with an enclosed carrier with secure latch and a screened opening the cat can look through. Pet stores will carry a wide variety of shapes, sizes and materials that are best suited for your cat.
Make sure to take the time to get your cat accustomed to the carrier before you need to use it to keep your cat’s stress levels low, especially when their in medical distress and need to go to the vet.
One of the benefits of adopting cats is that they can use a litter box, rather than having to go outside. Make sure to get a litter box that is big enough for your cat, place it in a quiet place that’s free of frequent activity and invest in a non-toxic, fragrance-free clumping litter. Be sure to clean the litter every day, and if you welcome more furry friends into your home, have the same amount of litter boxes as you do pets plus one more (i.e. for two cats, have three litter boxes).
One area of pet owners that is often overlooked is first aid kits. Keep in mind that prevention is key, but also not always possible. Be prepared with the essentials in a first aid kit, and make sure to research nearby veterinaries incase of emergencies.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
A common dilemma many cat owners face is the decision to let their feline friend outdoors or to keep them secured indoors. It’s normal to feel guilty for keeping them cooped up, worrying you’re depriving them of natural instincts or fresh air and sunshine, but not all cats should be let out or frankly have any interest in the matter.
Some people believe that letting cats go outside gives them a better quality of life. If you are letting your feline friend roam about the jungle of a backyard, be aware of their surroundings and the potentially dangerous elements that lay ahead, and be mindful of the small prey animals who may be affected by your cat’s presence.
For peace of mind consider having a kitty door to allow them access to the home easily, keep their vaccinations up to date, and ensure they have a collar with an ID and bell to help prevent them from sneaking up on birds and small animals, and to help get them home again if they wander off.
Here are a few things to consider if you choose to keep them purely indoors, outdoors or a combination of both.
It’s one of those things that is inevitable… your cat is going to want to take a nibble or knock over one of your house plants. Take this as a sign that they should be kept away for a variety of reasons. Not to mention you’ll be avoiding a mess or a damaged plant, but to further prevent serious health concerns if they were to digest parts of it. There are on the other hand plants that are ‘pet safe’ so be sure to ask your local greenhouse or plant expert on how to safely incorporate some budding blossoms without harming your little companion.
Read more about which plants are poisonous to your kitty.
Want the best of outdoor access while keeping your cat safe at home? A catio is a patio for your cat – an outdoor cat enclosure where they can enjoy fresh air and mental stimulation while staying healthy and safely ‘inside’. Catios are not one-size-fits-all. Depending on your current living space, a catio can be any size – from just big enough for one kitty, to large outdoor cat enclosures that serve as playgrounds for multiple feline friends.
Introducing Them to the Neighborhood
Your cat is now familiar and comfortable with all the smells, sounds and happenings associated within your new home. But now you’ve decided it's time to finally let your cuddly best friend roam outdoors.
First, make sure they have a good form of identification, be it a collar and ID Tag, microchip, or a tattoo. Next, get them used to wearing a harness and a leash while still indoors – good luck with this part, some cats will absolutely refuse! You’ll then want to start with supervised outdoor time. Go out with your kitty and sit nearby while they explore the environment while safely on-leash. Give yourself a window of time and then bring them back inside. Allow the outdoor visits to extend a little in length every day until you are comfortable with your cat being outside.
It’s one thing to impulse buy a new pair of jeans, but when it comes to animals, there’s no easy return policy if it’s just not the right fit. Be sure to do your homework when it comes to cat breeds, behavior, and the basics of their care. Look out for these common mistakes often made by new cat owners.
Not Letting Them Adjust
Moving to a new home is stressful for anyone, especially a four-legged feline. Cats by nature are territorial and transitioning from the home or space they’re used to into a new one can cause some stress.
Some cats feel at home right away, while others can take a long time to adjust. Let them go at their own pace and don’t just plop them right into your home. Create a ‘safe room’ where they will remain until they show they are ready to start exploring the rest of the home. Include the essentials such as a little box, bed, scratching post or pad, toys, and food dishes. Try to avoid a room that has hiding spots where they can get under large pieces of furniture, where you cannot access them, pet them, play with them, or offer treats and encouragement.
Once your cat is eating, drinking, and using the restroom normally, it is time to start the introduction process to the rest of the home. You will know they are ready, as they will begin to shower eagerness when you enter the room and curious about what is on the other side of the door. Just remember to be patient!
Switching Their Food Too Quickly
Cats are notoriously picky eaters and can be very sensitive to not just taste, but smell and texture as well. If you’re bringing home a kitten, it’s a good idea to get them used to a variety of foods early on, both to strengthen their digestive system’s resilience to new foods, and to avoid developing overly picky habits.
Adult and senior cats can be more difficult to transition to new diet, and provided they’re getting the nutrients they need and don’t develop food-related health issues, your cat can realistically eat one complete and balanced diet their entire lives. However, when switching foods becomes necessary due to aging, allergies, or other health related concerns, do not quit old food cold turkey!
Switching food too quickly can lead to your kitty having an upset tummy, constipation, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Gradually introduce the new food over a 10-day period by mixing it with the old recipe, and gradually decreasing the previous food while adding in more of the new food until your cat is eating the all-new food.
Read more about how to transition your cat to a new food.
Ignoring Warning Signs
Could your cat be getting sick? It is always a good idea to err on the side of caution when strange and even very subtle symptoms arise; cats can hide illness and pain very well so it’s important to be vigilant. Here are a few warning signs that require immediate attention.
Your cat isn’t eating
Cats have a reputation for being finicky when it comes to their appetite, but you’ll soon start to catch on to what is normal for your pet. A missed meal here and there isn’t too concerning, but if your cat stops eating entirely or is only eating tiny amounts, you need to get your vet involved. Lack of eating for even a few days can lead to serious problems.
Your cat isn’t drinking
Just like all animals, cats need water to survive. Clean the cat dish regularly and ensure fresh water is replaced daily. If your cat has gone over 48 hours without a sip of water or if their reduced water consumption is accompanied by other unusual symptoms or behaviors, be sure to have them looked at.
Your cat is throwing up
Occasional vomiting of food or hair is typically normal, but a common misconception is that vomiting is normal behavior for cats. When there is repeated vomiting it may indicate that something is wrong. If your cat continues to eat, drink, and use the litter, contact your vet to discuss the symptoms. However, if your cat stops eating, drinking, and urinating, it should be considered a medical emergency.
Your cat has diarrhea
There are many causes for your cat to have a spat of diarrhea. Often it occurs when they have eaten something unusual or when their meal plan changes abruptly. If it’s an isolated incident that resolves in a few hours and doesn't involve other symptoms, it’s no cause for concern. However, over a prolonged period accompanied by significant changes in demeanor or other signs, should be treated as an emergency and taken to the vet or right away. Bright red blood or darker tarry stools are also considered an emergency.
If you're wondering what cats need in a new home, all these things are essentials and should be included on your cat proofing and need-to-know list. It may seem overwhelming at first, but in the end it’s totally worth it! With a well-prepared home, your kitty will adjust faster, and soon you'll have a purring, content best friend to pet and play with for many years to come.