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I remember when I first adopted Class Act Cats' Chief Purr Officer, Zoloft. I had plenty of experience as a pet sitter to numerous dogs and cats through the years, but had never had a cat of my own. I was already so attached to him from our single meeting that I just wanted him to be happy.
I was so stressed out thinking of all the things that I needed! I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for advice and there was a lot of contradictory advice. I really could have used a behavior consultant to help me pick out the right things for him as I wasn't sure who to listen to.
Zoloft unfortunately was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer and, while I'm obviously hoping that we have a lot more time left, we may parting ways in the near future. I've been reflecting a lot on our time together and how much he changed my life. I've learned a lot from this cat and he's been very tolerant of the many mistakes I've made with him. This was especially true when he first came home!
Inspired by this, I wanted to share some tips for new cat parents who are bringing home their cat for the first time. I'm going to focus on what supplies you'll want for today's post, but will offer some other tips in future blog posts. Seasoned cat parents may also find some of this useful as chances are you can always improve or do things differently. With some preparation, you'll be all set up for a lifetime of purrs!
Meet Their Basic Needs
The first thing you'll want to think of is meeting your cat's basic needs. This includes food, water, and a litter box. For food, you'll need to decide how to feed your cat. A great option would be feeding them in food puzzles. This is both mentally stimulating and slows down fast eaters. A great resource to check out on food puzzles is Food Puzzles For Cats as it reviews a lot of the food puzzles available and can help you select which one is best.
If you opt to not go with a food puzzle, a stainless steel or ceramic bowl is your best option. They are easy to clean and less likely to cause cat acne compared to a plastic bowl. Bowls that are flat and elevated may be easier on your cat's neck and whiskers so consider choosing one of the many options available online or at your local pet store. If you're local to Minneapolis, Urban Tails is a great place to shop for your cat's needs!
As for what type of food to pick for your cat, that depends a lot on your cat's individual preferences and is too broad of a topic to squeeze into a quick paragraph. I suggest looking at a reliable, trustworthy source like the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine's guide on feeding your cat for some insights. Cat food is a surprisingly contentious area and people have a lot of strong opinions on which cat foods are best. Make sure the source you are getting your information from actually knows what they're talking about!
For water, you can use a (slightly deeper) ceramic or stainless steel bowl, but another option to consider would be a water fountain. Many cats prefer flowing, moving water (especially if you have a bengal!) so this may encourage your cat to drink more water. Just make sure you wash and clean the fountain once at lest week or per the manufacturer's instructions! There are a lot of different fountain options including this really cute flower fountain from Catit and more decorative options available so chances are you'll be able to find a fountain that you (and the cat!) like.
The Litter Box
Probably most people's least favorite part of having a cat is the litter box. Unfortunately, it's necessary unless you want your cat to use your couch as a litter box. Many people go to the store and just pick out the first litter box that they see. For some cats, they're fine with this. For others... not so much.
So what makes a good litter box? There is some variation from cat to cat, but generally cats prefer large litter boxes. Getting the biggest litter box you can find or making your own litter box will help it be more appealing to your cat. There is some variation as to whether cats like covered or uncovered litter boxes, but be cautious if you go for a covered box. While it may contain the odor for us, your cat is the one who has to use the box. It's actually even more important that you're scooping your box regularly compared to an uncovered box even if you can't smell it.
I see a lot of cats that stop using their box when they are given a top entry box so generally, you want to pick out one that is easier to get into. Remember, you want to make it easy for your cat to choose to use the box. Don't add extra barriers to them getting into the box such as having to climb up and then down into the box. A box with a relatively low entrance is helpful, especially as your cat ages.
Similarly, I see a lot of cats that don't particularly like self cleaning boxes. Some prefer them if they're extra finicky about cleanliness and, if you're disabled, they may be a good choice if your cat will use it if cleaning the box is too much of a challenge. However, in other situations don't be surprised if your cat suddenly stops using the box as they're mostly designed with humans in mind.
Once you've picked out a good box, you want to get litter. In general, if your cat is using a type of litter regularly you don't want to change litters. Cats prefer unscented litter with small particles that are softer on their feet. In nature, cats typically go in sand so material that's close to sand (or, you can even use sand) is a good idea.
There are a variety of different types of litter available with their own advantages and disadvantages. Most commonly you'll see clumping clay litter so that usually is a good place to start. Another great option that a lot of cats seem to like is World's Best Cat Litter Multicat. If you're concerned about your cat not using the box, you can consider using Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract litter. It has a mysterious, special blend of herbs that draw cats in to use the box. I've seen some cats that it works wonders with, but it's not perfect so not every cat will be lured in. If you want to use a different type of litter with Cat Attract, they also make a mix in version that you can mix with any type of litter.
Climbing and Scratching
Two species specific needs that cats have are climbing and scratching. A lot of behavior concerns I see clients for relate back to these two needs not being met so yes, if you're getting a cat you will need to get some cat furniture.
Cat towers are the easiest way to add vertical space to your home and are so important for allowing your cat to feel secure in their space. If you don't have vertical space for your cat, your cat may develop territoriality issues, be more likely to climb on your counters, or develop other behavior concerns. You want to make sure your cat has their own vertical space so simply letting your cat climb on your couch doesn't count as vertical space. You're often on there so it may not always be available to the cat.
Thankfully, there are a variety of cat towers out there and many don't look like a traditional cat tower. I have a whole blog post on cat towers so I suggest you read that for some hints on picking out a great cat tower.
Scratching is a normal behavior for cats. Scratching posts are just as important and if you don't provide your cat an appropriate surface to scratch on, you can't really be upset when they go after your couch. A good scratcher is made of a material your cat likes to scratch such as sisal or cardboard; is at an angle your cat wants to scratch at (either vertical, flat against the ground, or angled); and is sturdy and tall/long enough that your cat can really dig into it. Cats like getting a nice, firm scratch in!
If you're not sure where to start, you may have to experiment with a few different materials and types of scratchers to see what your cat prefers. If you're looking for a good one to start with, the SmartCat Ultimate Scratching Post is the one I recommend most to clients and is used by a lot of their cats! It is a good material for scratching, is sturdy, and is tall enough for your cat to really stretch as they scratch.
Speaking of scratching, you'll also want to make sure your cat's nails are trimmed regularly. Clipping your cat's nails doesn't need to be challenging if you do it correctly and are patient with your cat. Getting the right clipper is the first step in a successful nail trim! You'll also want a brush to make sure your cat's fur doesn't become matted. My favorite (and Z's favorite) is a glove brush. It turns brushing into petting and makes the experience more pleasant for all involved.
Rest and Relaxation
Lastly, we can't forget about the fun parts of being a cat parent. Cats like to have fun and relax so you want to get them enough things to keep their minds occupied while allowing them to unwind and recharge!
Cats have different preferences for resting spots. Many may like sitting on a chair or couch while others may prefer sinking into a cozy cat bed. Many cats like donut style beds as they feel cushioned and safe in them. Some others may like a cave style hiding spot as it allows them to feel safe and hidden. Can't decide which style to try? They make convertible beds! Start with a cave and switch to a bed or the other way around to see what your cat likes most.
Part of relaxation is making sure you can can play. Don't skip out on the toys! Playing helps keep your cat happy and satisfies their natural instinct to hunt. Each cat has their own preferences for what types of toys they like to play with so you'll want to try a variety to learn what your cat likes.
Wand toys are an excellent choice and you should at least have a few. They key is picking out a toy that is similar to prey cats would hunt in the wild rather than something that is appealing to you as a human. A few great options include Da Bird, the Cat Dancer, the Cat Charmer, and these wiggle worm toys. This feather propeller was a recent hit with Z so you may want to check that one out!
Of course, you can't always be playing with your cat live. It's a good idea to engage with them regularly, but sometimes you need to help them occupy themselves. Small solo play toys, such as these mice toys or these springs, can be a great supplement to wand play. You can also use an electronic toy to occupy your cat for a while if needed, though don't rely solely on it. Playing with your cat builds your bond and is part of the fun of being a cat parent!
A word of caution about cat toys: Many people use laser based toys. There's evidence that laser pointers are associated behavior concerns in cats. Your cat can never catch the laser so they won't be able to fully satisfy their urge to hunt and may end up frustrated. If you do use a laser pointer, only use to to get your cat engaged and then switch to a physical toy as quickly as possible.
There are a lot of things to consider when you bring home a new cat. Contrary to the idea that cats are easy pets, they're pretty complicated and not meeting their needs can create trouble. Thankfully, by starting out on the right paw you'll end up with a happy cat and a happy human. Best of luck to you and your new best friend!
About the author: Joey Lusvardi CCBC is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. He is available for consultation in the Twin Cities or virtually wherever you are located.