Basic Health & Care Tips to Keep Your Cat Healthy

Thinking about adopting a cat? Or maybe you’re the owner of a brand-new kitten and are wondering how to best care for your new family member? Many people think that taking care of a cat is as easy as getting a litter box and some cat food, and while cats can be more low maintenance than dogs they still require more in-depth care and attention.  Here are some tips to keep your cat healthy.

Basic Supply Checklist

When caring for a new cat, you’re going to need to make sure you at least have these basic supplies on hand to get started. We’ll go into more detail on why some of these are important later on.

You’ll need:

  • High quality, age appropriate cat food
  • Food dish and water bowl
  • Interactive toys, scratching posts and/or pads
  • Brush and comb
  • Safety color and ID tag
  • Litter box and litter
  • Cat carrier
  • Cat bed or box with a blanket or towel

Food and Water

When choosing a cat food, ensure that you are choosing a brand that contains taurine. Taurine is an amino acid essential for a cat’s eye and heart health. If you’ve adopted a kitten or an adult cat who is refusing cat food or feeling sick, many people feed them baby food. This is safe to do, as long as you ensure that the food you’re feeding them does not contain garlic powder or onion powder, as these are both poisonous to cats. Your cat should also have clean water at all times, and the water dish should be cleaned and refilled daily.

Grooming Habits

For the most part, cats can take care of their grooming needs by themselves and will rarely need their human to give them a bath. However, regularly brushing your cat will help keep their coat clean, reduce shedding, and cut back on hairballs. If you have a long-haired cat, keeping a comb handy is also a good idea as they can sometimes get large mats or knots that need to be combed out. In some cases, a trip to the groomer may be necessary in order to have these removed.

Living Space and Outdoor Cats

While your cat will have freedom to roam the house as they please, it’s important to give them their own space to sleep and rest. Get them a cat bed and line it with a soft blanket or towel, and make sure you clean the bed and blankets regularly. It’s important to keep your cat indoors. Outdoor cats have a much shorter lifespan than their indoor brethren and are at much higher risk infectious diseases and flea and tick infestations. There are a multitude of other dangers, such as being hit by cars and fighting with other animals, including other cats, free-roaming dogs, raccoons, possums, and coyotes.

If the cat is allowed outdoors, they must wear a collar with proper identification. A safety collar with an elastic panel will allow the cat to break free should they be caught on something, and an ID tag or microchip implant will ensure that the cat is returned to you if they get lost.

Bathroom Habits

A litter box is always essential when getting a cat. When deciding where to place the litter box, just ensure that it is in a quiet and easily accessible location. In a multilevel home, one litter box per floor is recommended and in multi-cat households, one litter box per cat is recommended, plus one extra. Avoid moving the box, as this can cause confusion for the cat. Cleaning the box daily is important as many cats will not use smelly or messy litter. Dump everything, wash and refill the box at least once a week. When cleaning the box, do not use ammonia, deodorants or scented products, especially lemon and other citruses. The smell of citrus fruits is overwhelming for a cat’s senses and can act as a major deterrent.

If the litter box is clean of debris and has been properly sanitized and the cat is no longer going to the bathroom in the box, it is recommended to consult your veterinarian as this can be a sign of an underlying health problem.

Scratching and Declawing

Cats have a biological need to scratch. When they scratch, the other nail sheath is removed revealing the smooth and sharp claw underneath. Trimming your cat’s nails every 2-3 weeks will help to keep them relatively blunt and will help to minimize damage to furniture. Another way to minimize damage to furniture is to provide the cat with a scratching post or pad. The post should be at least 3 feet high should be stable enough that it will not wobble when in use. It should be covered with a rough material, such as burlap.

It is extremely important to never declaw a cat unless it is medically necessary. Declawing a cat is comparable to amputating a human’s fingers at the last knuckle and is extremely traumatic for the animal. Declawing can cause a cat to be more aggressive, and to bite more as they no longer have their claws for self-defense. It can also cause other behavioral issues, such as not using the litter box.

Veterinary Care and Spaying/Neutering

A good rule of thumb is to bring your cat to the vet once a year for a basic checkup and vaccinations. Your vet will make recommendations for vaccinations based on the age and health of your cat. As always, bring the animal to the vet immediately if they are showing signs of illness or injury.

Never give a cat medication that has not been prescribed by your vet. If they ingest a poisonous substance, call your vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (open 24-hours a day) at (888) 426-4435.

All cats should be spayed or neutered by the time they turn 5 months old. Not only does spaying and neutering prevent your cat from reproducing, but it’s also a great way to prevent certain cancers and other diseases from developing.