Basic Care

Feeding

The cat is a carnivore (meat eater) requiring a whole lot of meat-based protein every day. Because he/she metabolizes protein and fat so efficiently, they get more of their energy from these sources than from carbohydrates.

Additionally, certain essential amino acids must be supplied by the cat’s diet. Taurine is one of the most important. A taurine deficiency can cause serious health issues including retinal degeneration and blindness, and feline cardiomyopathy and heart failure.

When choosing a cat food, it is important to insure it has been formulated to meet all the daily protein, fat, vitamin and mineral requirements. While the federal law requires manufacturers to provide a listing of ingredients in their rations, the required labels usually do not contain enough information for you to determine the exact nutrient content. An important indicator of quality on the label is a statement that the diet has been found adequate by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Also look for the statement that describes the contents as “complete, balanced, perfect, or scientific.” If it does not state such, you can assume it is not a complete diet and you should choose another product.

Feeding your cat a premium food such as Science Diet, Iams, Royal Canin or Eukanuba (check with your veterinarian for other high end brands), is your best insurance against taurine deficiency as well as the right amount of other necessary nutrients. The better your cat’s diet, the better your pet should look and it will definitely decrease potential health issues as your friend ages.

As of late, there has been a considerable discussion as to whether you should feed dry or canned food. Dry food is easy to store and some say it reduces the buildup of tartar and plaque on the teeth. In checking with a veterinarian, who’s expertise in feline care, I was advised that recent studies show this is a myth. Some cats, like people, are prone to tartar build up while others experience minimal problems. Brushing the teeth is your best option but not many cats are open to the idea. Canned food is closer to the cat’s natural diet, and  usually has less fillers and carbohydrates. It also contains a lot of water helping with hydration reducing problems with constipation. You may want to consider a diet that includes both. In either case, read the labels. Avoid animal byproducts and the use of grains like corn, wheat or soy. Look for foods that minimize these ingredients and lists them further down the label. Foods with less fillers are more healthy and will assist in weight control. Many of your “light” diets are high in carbohydrates. Look for foods that are higher in protein. 

While your premium foods are significantly more per ounce than the cheapest brand, your cat requires less to obtain the same nutritional benefits. Because of the higher quality meal, your cat can eat less and still be satisfied. Again read the labels and feeding guidelines. Often you will find that you need to feed twice as much of the less expensive brand for the same body weight as that of the premium brand thus actually costing more to feed a less expensive food.

Cats can be choosey about their food and will refuse to eat it if it does not suit them. They will hold out and may lose considerable weight and develop health issues if they do not like the food. The old adage of “they will eat it if they get hungry enough” does not ring true with most cats. If you have questions about your cat’s diet, consult your veterinarian.

Always keep fresh water available, changing it at least twice a day. It is best to use ceramic, glass, or stainless steel bowls and to use a clean bowl at each feeding. You may want to steer away from plastic bowls, as they tend to harbor bacteria.

 Litter box

The litter box should be in a convenient (for the cat), quiet out-of-the-way place.  Keep boxes away from loud noises and vibrations (such as furnaces) that may make the cat nervous. Many cats do not like hooded boxes so you may want to steer away from them. Select a box that is large enough for the cat to easily get into. The cat may hang over a box that is too small and accidentally defecate on the floor. You may need to have two litter boxes, as some cats prefer to urinate in one and use the other for solid wastes. Once you find a spot that is acceptable for you and your cat, avoid moving it.

When shopping for a litter box, don’t be fixed on only the options available in the pet section or in the pet stores. Depending on the size of the cat, and their idiosyncrasies, you may want to consider other options and check the storage isle for longer, wider or higher plastic box. Some cats are to big for the average litter box and others can toss litter a country mile. Look for a box that suits your cat’s size and personality.

Cats won’t use a messy, smelly box so scoop out the wastes at least once a day. Dump everything, and wash weekly with a mild detergent and refill. If you use a high quality clumping litter, you can do this less frequently. Also, lower quality litters tend to produce a lot of dust. Do not use ammonia, deodorants or scents (especially lemon) when cleaning the litter box. Also, some cats will not use a scented litter. Once you find a litter acceptable to your cat, avoid changing brands. Like people, change is hard to accept.

If you feed the cat in the same room as the litter box, do not place the cat’s food dishes near the box. Your cats will not find this appealing and could lead to other issues.

Grooming

Most cats are relatively clean and rarely need a bath. However, you should brush or comb the cat regularly. Frequent brushing helps keep the coat clean, reduces the amount of shedding, and cuts down on the incidence of hairballs.

Cats with long hair should be brushed daily to prevent tangling and matting. Mats can quickly develop and get out-of-hand. Mats are not only uncomfortable for the cat, but may also cause skin problems. Cat’s skin, unlike humans, is thinner and more sensitive to pain and injury. If a mat forms, it may be easier to clip it out versus trying to comb it out. Always cut away from the skin and slip a comb under the mat to prevent cutting the skin. If the cat is badly matted, you may want to take it to a professional groomer or your veterinarian.

Routine ear cleaning is not normally required. However, ears should be cleaned when there is an excessive amount of wax, dirt or debris in the ear. To clean a dirty ear, it is best to use a veterinary ear solution such as Epi-Otic® then gently wipe out the ear with a cotton ball. Do Not swab out you cat’s ears with alcohol or other irritating solvents. If you have any concerns about ear care, consult your veterinarian.

For indoor only cats, you may wish to periodically trim the claws. Outdoor cats do not need to have their claws trimmed, as activity keeps then worn down. Additionally, they may need their claws as a defensive weapon.

As a rule, you will only need to clip the front nails, as most cats chew their back claws splitting and pulling off the old sheaths. This keeps them relatively short. Even so, for indoor cats, you may choose to trim the back claws as well.

Nail clippers with two cutting edges (scissor versus guillotine) are best. Lift the cat’s paw and squeeze one toe between your thumb and finger to extend the nail. Identify the quick (pink part of the nail that contains the nerves and blood vessels). Be sure to cut the clear part of the nail well in front of the quick (pink part). If you can’t see the quick then cut the nail just in front of the point where it start to curve downward. If you are not sure, ask your veterinarian to show you or take your cat to the groomers.

Bedding

Again, like people, each cat is different. Some like a soft bed some like it firm. Most cats seem to prefer something they can curl up in but again, take the time to get to know your cat before you make an investment. If they don’t like something you are not going to convince them they should. So before you buy an expensive bed, you might want to note their preferences. If they usually choose a soft blanket to lay and curl up in a ball, then a small fleece lined bed might be a good option. If they sprawl out on the couch or floor then you might check out the dog section for a larger bed where they can stretch out.

You may find lining you cat’s bed with a soft blanket or towel helpful. In the event of an accident or a regurgitated hairball, it is much easier to wash the blanket or towel than the entire bed.