June was adopt a cat month and many shelters and rescue organizations featured special promotions to help cats and kittens find loving forever homes. Perhaps you have recently adopted a new cat or kitten. Like many of us, you may already have one or more cats as loved members of your family. As with most things, experience is a great teacher! To help you blend your beloved cat into your home, we would like to offer some tips to assist you in making your home cat friendly.
Kitten life stage: Kittens are adorable balls of energy that seem to have only two speeds- full on or asleep! To help your kitten and you, here are some suggestions for this life stage.
- When you first bring your kitten home, it is helpful to keep them in a smaller space, such as a bathroom. Freedom to wander the whole house can be overwhelming for a little one. Each day you can supervise him or her as they wander a bit more. Soon they will feel comfortable in all the areas you want them to be in. It may be helpful to initially keep them close to where you will place the litter box. Just be sure you do not confine them too close to it, as most cats do not like to sleep or eat near their litter box.
- A kitten’s claws allow him or her to access lots of things. If you have delicate fabrics, drapes or throws, you may want to swap them out for now or put them out of reach.
- Check your cabinets to be sure kitty cannot get inside them. A general rule of thumb- if it is dangerous for a child, it can be dangerous for a cat.
- Be very careful if you have any reclining furniture. Kittens like to hide in small spaces and they can become trapped and severely injured in reclining furniture. Don’t assume they will run out if you hit the side or call them. You need to visually check they are not inside before you close the furniture.
- Many plants are toxic to cats. Be sure to check your houseplants to see if any are harmful to cats.
- Like all babies, a kitten’s ability to regulate its temperature is not fully developed. Make sure the inside temperature is not too warm or too cool. Be sure to provide lots of cool water in summer and a warm blanket or bed to snuggle in during winter.
- To help your kitten develop correct boundaries, do not use your hands as play toys with him or her. What may be “cute” now may cause serious injury later. String, balls with bells in them, etc., are all good choices for playtime.
Adult life stage: From about 2-10, whether you have watched your kitten grow to adulthood or are bringing home an adult cat to join the family, there are lots of ways you can help your cat be comfortable in your home.
- Most cats like to have spaces they can hide. These spaces can be as simple as a bed in a corner or an elaborate climbing tree with multiple platforms. One word of caution regarding climbing trees- although they look great when you bring them home, since most have lots of carpeted areas, if your cat sprays the carpet, you will have great difficulty getting it clean. Climbing trees made of wood with resting spaces where the bedding can be laundered may work better for your cat.
- Many people want to get heated beds for their cat. These are delightful for most cats, but again, if they get soiled, they can only be washed so often before the foam in them begins to fall apart. You can make your own “heated bed” using a shallow, rectangular plastic storage box, folded bath towels and a pet safe heating pad (DO NOT USE A HUMAN ONE) sandwiched in between the towels. Every part of this bed is washable and it costs much less.
- Many cats are very sensitive about their whiskers. Avoid deep food and water dishes. If a cat has to push their face down too deep, it bends back their whiskers, which bothers many cats. Invest in stainless steel bowls with rubber bottoms so they do not slide. These bowls will last forever, can be sanitized, and do not harbor germs like plastic can.
- Water, water, water! Making sure your cat drinks enough water is crucial to their health, especially if you choose to feed dry food. Most cats love moving water, so investing in a pet fountain is a great way to make sure your cat drinks enough. Besides the movement, aerating the water also entices the cats to drink. Be sure to change the water and filter as needed. If you have regular water bowls, be sure to change the water every day, even if it looks clean. Fresh water is more appealing to cats.
- An important way cats exercise and strengthen their toes is by scratching. Scratching is not misbehavior, it is necessary, NORMAL behavior for animals with retractable claws. Some cats like to scratch in a vertical manner, some in a horizontal. Watch your cat to see what they prefer and select scratching posts that they will use. Wood or sisal rope make better choices than carpet. Buy one that is long or tall enough so your cat can get a good full stretch in. You may notice what look like claws at the base of the scratching post. Scratching posts help your cat slough off the top part of their claws, keeping them healthy. You may want to have multiple scratching posts, especially in a multi-cat household.
- If you are considering buying new furniture and you have dogs or cats that are welcomed on your furniture, you may want to consider sofas and chairs that have easy to remove washable slip covers. Some even come in super hard wearing denim fabric! In addition, you can use throw covers ( old cotton bedspreads work great) on furniture that you can toss in the wash anytime.
- If you are considering updating your flooring, you will want to consider wood laminate and/or ceramic tile in your pet areas (or throughout your home). With both wood laminate and tile, you can thoroughly sanitize your floors after pet accidents. Many natural home builders are completely moving away from carpet to provide healthier indoor air and an easier to clean surface.
Senior/geriatric life stage: Your dear feline friend has gotten older and there are some things you can do to help them make the most of their senior years.
- It is very important that you visit your veterinarian at least twice each year once your cat becomes a senior. Health problems are often easier to deal with when caught early. Changes in behaviors such as avoiding the litter box, accidents outside the box, excessive vomiting, yowling, etc. can signal a physical problem.
- Arthritis is a fact of life for our senior pets just as it is for humans. Some accommodations that may be helpful for your senior cat include steps to access a favorite location on the bed or sofa; a litter box that has a low, easy entry end and plenty of room to turn around in; a heated bed for those achy joints and relocation of cat beds, dishes, and litter boxes if they currently involve climbing stairs.
- Just as with kittens, senior cats can have some difficulty regulating their body temperature. Be sure to keep their areas a moderate temperature and provide lots of clean, fresh water and warm areas to snuggle in.
- Senior cats may begin to lose their hearing and their eyesight may not be as keen as it once was. They may be easily startled because of these changes. You will help your senior cat by maintaining regular schedules and minimizing stress. Always make sure they have a safe, accessible place to retreat to.
For all life stages- Helpful hints
- Distilled vinegar helps to freshen soiled bedding. Just add about ¼ cup to your washer’s rinse cycle
- Many cats enjoy grazing on cat appropriate grass/plants. Catnip or “cat grass”, usually a combination of oat, rye, barley and wheat grasses, often sold in pet stores, can be a good source of entertainment for cats.
- All cats need mental and physical stimulation. They are natural predators. Stalking, chasing, and catching prey is hardwired into them. As a pet parent, you need to provide opportunities for them to exercise and play. A well chosen selection of toys that you rotate in and out can be helpful. Playing with your cat is important. Set aside some time each day to engage your cat in healthy, fun activities.
- Window/blind cords are attractive, potential play toys for cats. Keep them up out of reach to prevent damage to your blinds and injury to your cat.
- Pine-based cleaners and those containing phenol (the most popular being Lysol disinfectant) are particularly toxic to cats and shouldn’t be used on food bowls or in pet areas, sleeping quarters, or litter boxes.
- Most cats do not like scented litter. They are highly sensitive to smell so using a mild cleaner and unscented litter helps keep you cat thinking “inside the box”!
- Is your plastic litter box over 1 year old? If so, your cat may be avoiding it because it smells. A cat’s claws scratch the plastic everytime he/she uses it and just like all plastic items, those scratches can harbor bacteria and odor, no matter how often you clean it. Replacing plastic litter boxes each year will help keep your home smelling fresh and your cat in the box.
- Do you like breathing clay dust? Probably not, and neither does your cat. Inexpensive clay litter can create harmful clouds of dust as it is poured and scratched. This is not good for your cat or anyone else in your home, especially individuals with breathing difficulties. If your budget allows, consider clumping, natural based litters made of corn, wheat, newspaper or barley. Because these litters are more effective than plain clay litter, you will use less litter, making the cost close to equal.
- Cats who live in multi-story homes or apartment buildings can and do go through windows and off balconies. Be sure that all windows have pet proof screens and that you do not let your cat out on a high rise balcony. A quick chase after a bird or butterfly can send your cat to his or her death.
- For the truly pampered feline, consider creating a “catio” for your cat. The catio is a screened in area for your cat. It can be as elaborate or simple as you want. Be sure to use heavy duty screening material and consider cleaning needs such as a concrete, sloped floor for drainage. Be sure your cat has a way back inside the home also. Most companies that build screened porches will help with the design of your cat’s special outside zone. Ideas can also be found online.