Cat Care Cheat Sheet: A Simple Guide to Cat Parenthood

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Cat Care 101 header

 

There’s a mewling kitten in a box on your lap. Your heart is racing, partly from excitement, partly from nerves. Or that stray you’ve been keeping tabs on has finally ventured into the warmth of your home.

However a cat decides to make its way into your life, the fact remains—everything you know is about to change.

(But like, for the better.)

 

The 5 pillars of cat ownership

Cat ownership is easy, straightforward, and incredibly rewarding. It all boils down to 5 main tenets:

  1. Shelter
  2. Food
  3. Litter
  4. Vertical space
  5. Play

Easy enough, right?

Consider this your cat ownership cheat sheet. Here, I’ll walk you through the basics of providing a happy, loving home for the new feline companion(s) in your life.

 

 

Shelter heading

 

Shelter is the most basic of kitty needs. Decide now: Will your cat be an indoor cat, or indoor/outdoor?

I highly recommend keeping your cat indoors, with optional supervised outdoor walks on a lead.

 

cat napping on bedHere’s why:

 

  • Indoor cats live over twice as long as cats allowed to roam outdoors
  • Indoor cats are prevented from decimating bird and wildlife populations, which causes incredible damage to local ecosystems
  • Owners who keep their cats indoors pay drastically lower vet bills, as indoor cats are far less likely to contract diseases like FIV, pick up parasites, or get into fights

 

Don’t worry about your cats going stir crazy if confined in your home. There are simple steps you can take to ensure their lives are fulfilling and stimulating (we’ll get to that later!)

 

Level up!
Want to go pro? Teach your cat to walk outside, on a lead. As daunting as this might sound, it’s actually very simple if you begin acclimating your cat to the outdoors from kittenhood.
Even if you have an adult cat, outdoorsy adventures can still be yours! It’s all about going at your cat’s pace, providing plenty of positive reinforcement, and a bit of preparation.
A fantastic, easy-to-read article detailing the process here.

 

 

Food heading

 

Cats are carnivores! Feed them accordingly.

 

The rule of thumb for finding quality, nutritious cat food:

 

cat feeding station

The first FIVE ingredients listed on the cat food packaging should be ideally be a whole protein of some kind.

Not a by-product, not protein “meal,” and definitely not corn, rice, or soy, which are little more than cheap fillers manufacturers use to increase their profit margins.

 

See my guide to high-quality cat food here, where I break down the best cat food brands by price, ingredient quality, and type.

 

 

 

Portions and schedules

I personally find that portion-controlled feeding works best for maintaining healthy weight in cats. That means I feed my cats a set amount of food, twice a day. Since kittens are growing and require more nutrition, feed them 3 times a day.

Here’s a handy chart from Abound that details recommended daily portions for kittens:

kitten feeding chart_abound

Remember, this isn’t an exact science, so no need to bust out your mini scales and measuring spoons. If your kitten is malnourished, speak to a vet about how to help her safely gain weight.

 

cat licking lips

 

For adult cats, a good rule of thumb for weight maintenance is 1/4-cup of dry food (or approximately ONE 3-ounce can of wet food) for every 5 lbs of cat.

So if your cat is about 10 lbs, her daily ration would be 1/2-cup or TWO 3-ounce cans.

Remember to split her daily portion into 2 separate feedings (once in the morning, once in the evening).

 

Make sure your cat always has fresh, clean water readily available. Keep water bowls away from your cat’s food dish and rinse/refresh the bowls every day. Cats can be picky little buggers.

See a breakdown of my top (and bottom) cat food brands, here.

 

Level up!
Go pro by feeding your cat a 100% raw diet. You can purchase raw cat food at certain specialty pet food stores (they’ll be in the frozen section), or learn to make your own.
The benefits of feeding cats a completely raw diet are well-documented. Learn more about the benefits of raw feeding here.

 

 

Litter heading

 

One of the most immediately-obvious perks of owning a cat is the fact that they come (for the most part) potty trained. Simply present them with a box of dirt, and they’ll happily do their business!

Before bringing your cat home, invest in a good, sturdy cat litter box. A covered box will come in handy for keeping messes (like litter kick-up) contained.

A few good options:

 

catit jumbo hooded pan

Catit Jumbo Hooded Pan

natures miracle cat litter box

Nature’s Miracle Covered Box

clevercat litter box

Clevercat Top Entry Box

 

Now comes the silly technical part:

 

What to fill it with?

Cat litter preferences vary from person to person nearly as much as it does from cat to cat. However, there are still a few handy rules of thumb to follow:

 

kitten in a litter box

  • Avoid clay-based litters. They are toxic and harmful for your cats, especially when ingested during grooming.
  • Avoid scented litters. Cats have highly sensitive noses—what smells lovely and fresh to you likely smells overpoweringly offensive to your cat. Like that one guy in your office who insists on drowning himself in aftershave.

 

A few awesome, biodegradable, cat-friendly litter brands I recommend:

 

Worlds best cat litter

World’s Best: Made from corn. Clumping and flushable.

yesterday's news cat litter

Yesterday’s News: Made from newspaper, non-clumping

Swheat scoop cat litter

Swheat Scoop: Made from naturally-processed wheat. Clumping and flushable.

(You can pick up these brands at nearly any pet supply store or major health food chain.)

 

Make sure you have at least one litter box for every cat in your house, scooped at least every other day.

 

Level up!
Soon, you too will discover the myriad joys of containing cat litter tracking. It’s a nuisance. It can be an aggravation. But when it comes to cat ownership, it’s pretty much a given.
Get crafty and creative in eliminating litter scatter from your life with this step-by-step plan of attack.

 

 

Vertical space heading

 

Vertical space is an absolutely essential cat need that many first-time cat owners accidentally overlook.

And yet, it’s one of the most effective ways to provide your cats with adequate stimulation, a sense of security, and passive exercise.

 

cat on a window seatcat on a bookshelfcat on a windowsill

 

 

Catissa cat condo

Cat friendly vertical space can be anything from a dedicated piece of cat furniture (like a cat tree), to a cat-proofed and easily accessible bookshelf, or simply just a cushion on a high windowsill.

It’s not complicated, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. (Although fancy cat climbing spaces are definitely a metric-ton of fun.)

Without adequate elevated climbing space, cats can easily become restless and destructive, or listless, overweight, and unhappy.

 

See my complete guide to awesome, cat-friendly vertical space here.

 

 

Level up!
Win extra cat parent points (and frugal points) by building your own cat tree. There are tons of DIY tutorials out there, like this one (natural and premium-looking), or this (DIY shelf that doubles as a cat condo).
Or, go in the complete opposite direction and customize your own wall-mounted cat superhighway with Catastrophic Creations’ epic cat condo units.

 

 

Play heading

 

Here’s where it gets fun. (Not that cat bathrooms aren’t fun…) There are few critters on this planet more playful and fun-loving than cats. Surprised? I don’t blame you.


playing kitten leaping for toyCats live to play.

They’re particularly fond of stalking, chasing, and messily eviscerating small mammals, but are happy to make do with a convincing substitute.

Healthy adult cats should get at least 30 minutes of rousing playtime per day. Whether that means with you and an interactive toy, without you and with an automatic toy, or with a fellow kitty, play is a vital aspect of ensuring cat happiness.

Invest in a few sturdy wand “cat-fishing” toys, a few catnip mice or balls, or go DIY by entertaining your cats without spending any money.

 

Another vital part of kitty play is satisfying their urge to scratch. Pretty much all cats will scratch as a way of sharpening their claws and keeping themselves limber. So unless you’re game for some ultra-shabby-chic decor, provide them with a few super enticing scratching spots.

Two popular heavyweights in the cat scratcher world:

 

PetFusion-Cat-Scratcher-Lounge

PetFusion Cat Scratcher Lounge

pioneer pet cat scratching post

Pioneer Pet SmartCat Scratching Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Condition your cats out of scratching your furniture early on by covering sofa arms and corners with strips of double-sided tape (cats hate stickiness on their paws). After a few weeks of your cats avoiding your furniture, you should be able to remove the tape.

 

 

maru and hana playing

 

Level up!
Go pro by adopting a friend for your cat. Cats are social creatures (despite the common misconception), and thrive in multi-cat households. That said, bringing cats together is no trivial matter. While they can happily form deep and lasting bonds with other cats, they need to be introduced properly. Cats are not dogs. Botch their first impressions, and things can get ugly.
Follow Humane Society’s excellent step-by-step guide to cat introductions, and start reaping the many advantages of a multi-cat household!

 

 


 

There you have it! The 5 simple pillars of happy cat ownership. Now go forth and revel in kitty nirvana! Things are about to get awesome. :]

 

Want more? See my list of Top 10 Must-Have Cat Things. (After a few years of cat parenthood, you’ll likely find your way to these products on your own—they’re that awesome. This list will just help you cut right to the chase.)

 

Now that you’ve got the basics down, dig around and achieve true cat parent mastery:

How to get your cat to like you more

How to get your cat to stop liking you so much

How to leave your cats home alone (without all the drama)

How to help your cats get along

 

Pin it!

Cat care cheat sheet_Why Cat Why

 

 

(New content goes up about once a month!)

 

14 comments

  1. Tess says:

    Such a good post! While I agree with everything you said, I must share that we had a cat growing up who was an outdoor cat but lived for 14 years. His name was Kaos which ended up being very fitting. When he was a kitten he got stuck in a tree, then a couple years later got a huge hole in his neck from being picked up by a great horned owl. A few years after that, he got his stomach torn open from a muscrat. He was also allergic to bees, but he was a good cat and definitely used all 9 of his lives! For some reason this has also inspired me to create a halter for my current cat so I can take her outside! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Wow! 9 lives indeed! He sounds like an incredible little guy.

      And yes, I’m currently in the process of harness-training my most adventurous cat, and it’s slow going. I have to keep reminding myself to go at her pace. Cat treats (like bonito flakes) are super useful in this situation though!

      Thanks for sharing about Kaos! :]

  2. Anna says:

    Such a brilliant post, my cat will say thank you too. 🙂

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Thank you! Glad it was helpful!

  3. What a perfect resource for anyone thinking of owning a cat. I completely agree that cats are healthier and safer indoors. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Absolutely. I’m glad it was helpful!

  4. This is great. The basics are so helpful! You should promote this post on other cat sites. So useful!

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Thank you! And that’s a great idea! :]

  5. Courtney says:

    I am so glad I found your blog, I have 3 indoor cats and I take care of two stray cats outside. My babies are everything to me and I am always trying to learn and grow to give them the best life possible.

    La Belle Sirene

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Aw, good job taking care of the strays! I’m like you, constantly looking for ways to improve my cats’ lives. I swear they have it better than I do :p

  6. Aarika says:

    This is an awesome post! I appreciate the suggestions for cat litter. This is such a fabulous resource! Thanks.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Thanks for commenting! I definitely recommend World’s Best. I’m currently looking for a cheaper dupe, but it’s the best I’ve used so far!

  7. Loptr says:

    I came across this blog while trying to find the best food for my kittens. I’ve never had a cat before, and I’m trying to be the best cat-parent I can be. This blog has been VERY helpful…but I have a few questions that I hope you can answer!

    My primary concern at the moment is food. My husband bought cheap food that I know isn’t very good. Due to changing jobs, we have no income for the next two weeks, and can’t really afford to go out and buy more food right now (at least not enough to feed them for two weeks)…will feeding them low-quality food for two weeks hurt them? Is there something cheap I could supplement with? I definitely plan on feeding them high-quality food ASAP, but will a low-quality diet in the short term impact their long-term health? Am I just being a paranoid first-time cat-parent?

    Also, a slightly less concerning question–how high should vertical space be? I’m planning on buying or building something for them soon (they’ve mostly been climbing on chairs and laundry baskets).

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      So glad you’re commenting! Sorry about the late reply.

      No, cheap food over a short amount of time shouldn’t be irrevocably damaging (–for most cats. Those with a low thirst drive or who are more prone to urinary crystals are a different story).
      I’d liken it to eating McDonald’s every day for a month. It won’t kill you right away, and it is DEFINITELY damaging if kept up, but switching quickly to a long-term healthy diet/lifestyle should negate any negative effects.

      The best vertical space should be at least 5 feet high (or at least high enough to make them feel like they’re out of your reach–5 ft usually suffices to provide the illusion), and can extend as high as your ceilings go. If you have a home with vaulted ceilings, I’d caution against platforms that are higher than the standard 8-ft walls–an accidental fall can break bones!

      Best of luck– you’ll be amazing! The fact that you’re doing your research is already an awesome first step.

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