[an error occurred while processing this directive]

General Cat Care

Note: Please see the Table of Contents FAQ for a complete list of topics.

Author

Originally written 1991 & updated through 1997 by Cindy Tittle Moore. Maintained by the Fanciers website as of July 1999.

Vaccination and Worming Schedule

Sources: Preventative health care schedule for cattery cats and pet catsPreventative Health Care and Infectious Disease Control, pp. 391-404 in Sherding, Robert H. (ed) The Cat: Diseases and Clinical Management, v1. Churchill-Livingstone Inc, NY.

All cats should be vaccinated, even strictly indoor ones. Cats may escape. Some diseases use mice, fleas, or other insects as vectors and do not require the presence of other cats. Natural disasters: consider earthquakes, hurricanes, etc., may let your cat out of the house.

3 weeks fecal exam 6 weeks fecal exam 9-10 weeks FHV/FCV/FPV vaccine ELISA test for FeLV FeLV vaccine fecal exam 12-14 weeks FHV/FCV/FPV vaccine FeLV vaccination Rabies vaccine fecal exam 6 months FeLV vaccination fecal exam 12 months fecal exam 16 months FHV/FCV/FPV vaccine (repeated annually) FeLV vaccine (repeated annually) Rabies vaccine (repeated according to manufacturer's instructions) fecal exam (every 6 months)

FCV= feline calicivirus
FHV= feline herpes virus (formerly called feline rhinotracheitis virus)
FPV= feline panleukopenia virus = distemper
FeLV = feline leukemia virus

FIP is a yearly vaccination, but its effectiveness and safety are questioned. Talk with your vet.

The FHV/FCV/FPV kitten shot also commonly includes a vaccine against Chlamydia, which is another respiratory disease.

A vaccine for ringworm has just come on the market in the US. It is said to be good for both treatment and prevention. It may or may not be available in your area, and it is very new, so there is not much data on its effectiveness. You may want to ask your vet about it if ringworm is a problem in your area.


What Your Vet Should Check

On a standard annual physical/examination, your vet should check: (more on cat health/medical information in Medical Information; also Internet Vet Column)

Cat Food and Diets

Ragdoll Picture

Premium cat food

Although more expensive than average brands, these foods are often better for your cat. They are low-bulk, which means that cats will digest more of the food, thus eating and eliminating less. They contain little or no dyes, which can be important if your cat vomits regularly (easier to clean up); probably also good from a diet viewpoint.

Examples of these kind of brands include (but are not limited to) Hill's Science Diet, Iams, Wysong, Nature's Recipe (Optimum Feline), and Purina (One). These foods are also beneficial for the cats coats and many readers have attested to their cat's silky fur and good health on these diets.

Cat food composition

The Guaranteed Crude analysis provides more nutrition info than you can get on the vast majority of human foods. If you want more, ask the vendor. E.g. Purina is 800-345-5678. Any major commercial cat food is formulated with either natural ingredients (including meat byproducts which supply nutrients to cats that meat itself doesn't since cats in the wild eat the whole animal) or are supplemented with the required nutrients to make them balanced diets for cats.

Wet foods

Canned foods contain quite a bit of water. It is expensive. Tartar build-up may be a problem. Smell (of the food, the cat's breath, or the cat's feces) and gas may be a problem. The food can spoil quickly. The dishes will have to be washed every day. Stools will be softer. On the other hand, cats that have medical conditions requiring higher water intake may benefit from the water in these products.

Dry foods

Cats will require more water on this kind of diet, but tartar-buildup may be lessened as a result of crunching on the kibble. Generally less expensive and less smelly. Dishes will remain clean and food will not build up nor spoil quickly. Stools will be firmer.

Moist foods

These are "soft kibble". The benefits are difficult to ascertain. They are more appealing to humans than anything else. There is no anti-tartar benefit and not much difference from canned food. They are fairly expensive. A lot of dye is typically used, which makes vomit very stain prone. Some are actually bad for your cat: proylene glycol found in these products (as a preservative) can damage red blood cells and sensitize the cats to other things as well. (Source: August 1992 edition of Cats Magazine.)

Snack foods

Many snack products are out there for cats. Most are fine as supplemental feeding, but of course they should never take place of regular food. Try to use treats that are nutritionally balanced so as to minimize any disruption in your cat's overall diet. Treats like dried liver, which are not balanced food, should be used sparingly. In addition, these products can be useful in training.

Milk

Most adult cats are lactose intolerant and drinking milk will give them diarrhea. Otherwise, milk is a nutritious snack.

Cream is even better than milk -- most cats can handle the butterfat just fine and it's good for them. A small serving of cream will satisfy the cat more than a saucer of milk and will contain less lactose.

Homemade Food

Check Frazier's The New Natural Cat. She gives a number of recipies and general information on making your own cat food and on what foods are good for sick cats.

A number of cat books contain recipies for making your own kitty treats. These can be fun to make and give to your cat.

People Food

It is a poor idea to feed cats table scraps or food from your own meals. First, table scraps do not meet your cat's nutritional needs and only add unneeded calories or undigestibles to its diet. Second, you risk having your cat become a major nuisance when you are eating. Stick with prepared cat treats. Any food you give it should be placed in its food dish, or you can give it treats as long as you are not eating or preparing your own food.

That said, there is a pretty wide variety of food that cats will eat and enjoy. Rec.pets.cats abounds with "weird food" stories ranging from peanut butter to marshmallows.

Cat Grass

Cats benefit from some vegetable matter in their diet. When devouring prey, the intestines, along with anything in them, will also be eaten. Many owners grow some grass for their cats to munch on, both for a healthy diet, and to distract them from other household plants!

In general, seeds that are OK to grow and give to your cats (but do not use treated seeds, identifiable by a dyed red, blue or awful green color):

Seeds that are NOT okay: sorghum or sudangrass, which have cyanogenic glycosides, and can cause cyanide poisoning. These are commonly found in bird seed and look like smallish white, yellow, orangish, or reddish BB's, or the shiny black, yellow or straw colored glumes may be intact.

Dog food

Dog food is not suitable for cats since it does not have the correct balance of nutrients. Cats need much more fat and protein than dogs do and will become seriously ill if fed dog food for an extended period of time.

Ash

"Ash" in cat food is the inorganic mineral content left over when the organic portion has been removed. It generally consists of potassium, magnesium, and sodium salts, along with smaller amounts of other minerals. It used to be thought that the total "ash" content of food contributed to FUS, but recently, attention has focused on magnesium as the culprit. Many commercial foods now list the magnesium content as a separate item in the list of nutrients on the bag, box, or can.

Feeding Schedules

You can feed your cat in one of two ways. One is to put down a set amount of food at specific times of the day. This is necessary if the food will spoil (canned food, for example) or if your cat will overeat. Some cats *do* overeat, do not be surprised if this is your situation. Put it on a fixed schedule to avoid weight problems. Do *not* assume a cat will only eat what it needs: if it starts putting on too much weight (check with your vet), give it two feedings a day, putting down half the recommended daily amount each time. The other method (called "free-feeding") is to leave food available all the time. The food must be dry to avoid spoilage. There is no preference between the two; it will depend on your cat and the food you give it.

Special Diets (incl. vegetarian diets)

You may need to change your cat's diet for any number of reasons. Often, you will find that your cat refuses the new food. Don't worry. Leave food out and keep it fresh until your cat is hungry enough to eat it. Your cat will not be harmed by several days of low food intake: as a carnivore, it is biologically adapted to going without food for several days between kills. If you give in to its refusal to eat the provided food, your cat has just trained *you* to feed it what it wants.

If you need to decrease the total amount of food the cat normally eats, the best way to do this is to reduce the amount of food gradually. This way, you don't have an upset cat after its meal.

If you have a cat that bolts its food down (and throws it back up), you can slow its eating down by placing several one to two inch diameter clean rocks in its food bowl. Picking the food out will slow it down. Be sure the rocks aren't so small it could eat them by accident.

If you have multiple cats, and one of them requires special food (from medical to weight-loss diets), then you must go to a fixed feeding schedule to ensure that that cat not only gets the food, but doesn't get any other food. If you have been free-feeding, switch them over. Don't put out any food the first morning; that evening, put out the dishes and supervise the cats. They will most likely be hungry and eat most of the food. Take the dishes up after 1/2 hour or so and wait until morning. Thereafter, remain on the morning/night- or even just night- scheduled feedings and your cats will adapt quickly enough. If you have trouble with one cat finishing quickly and going over to feed on other cats' food, you will have to put them in separate rooms while feeding.

As for vegetarian diets, cats require the aminosulfonic acid taurine, which is unavailable in natural vegetable except for trace concentrations in some plant sources like pumpkin seeds; not enough to do a cat any good. Lack of taurine can cause blindness or even death by cardiomyopathy. There are also a few other similar nutrients, such as arachidonic acid (a fatty acid only found in animals), but taurine is the most widely known.

Some small manufacturers claim to have produced synthetically-based supplements that when combined with an appropriately balanced all-vegetable diet will provide the complete nutrition required by cats.

No one has been able to find studies which demonstrate that cats which eat such a diet over the long term stay healthy.

Some references (books, articles, and mail-order companies) are included at the end of the Resources FAQ.


Litter

Kinds of Litter

There are various kinds of litter available. Some cats seem to prefer certain kinds of litter over others, you may need to experiment. A cat displeased with its litter box generally makes its feelings abundantly clear by finding a "better" litter box, such as your bed or sofa.

Disposal

When disposing of litter, it is best to wrap it up in two bags and tie securely, for the benefit of the garbage collectors. For disposal of solid matter, it is best to put it in the trash in a bag as well. Some people flush solid matter, but be aware that septic tanks will not do well with clay litter pieces (even the small amount clinging to scooped items). Clumping litter is supposed to be flushable, except with septic tanks.

Do not use kitty litter as a fertilizer in your garden. It is not a manure since cats are not vegetarians and should not be used as such. It can be incredibly stinky, can attract neighborhood cats, and there's a chance that it would be unhealthy for your plants and for you (if you eat fruits/vegetables which were fertilized by it). Keep in mind that when an outdoor cat "uses" your garden, it usually varies its poop-place and so there's not a concentration of feces, whereas if you dump litter, it's usually concentrated in a single spot.

Litter boxes

Cats can be fussy about the cleanliness of their litter box. Many people scoop solid matter out on a daily basis. If a cat is displeased with the litter box for a variety of reasons ranging from cleanliness to the type of litter used, it may well select another spot in your house more to its liking!

Litter boxes are shallow plastic pans. Some cats have a tendency to scatter litter outside the box when they bury their stool. This can be solved by getting a cover for the cat box, commonly available at pet stores. Another way to minimize litter tracking is to put a rug, especially a soft rubber one, just outside the litter box.

For easier litter-changing, some owners will use litter box liners. Some cats rip these while burying their feces; if the problem persists, just don't use liners.

To contain litter tracked outside the box, it is often worthwhile to put the litter pan in a larger shallow cardboard box that will collect most of the litter stuck to the cat's paw pads when it jumps out. Keep the area around the litter box as clean and free from spilled litter as you can. This helps the cat distinguish from outside and inside the litter box. Guess what can happen if this distinction is not clear.

If you have multiple cats you may have to put out several litterboxes. If you have a young cat and a large house, you will either need to place several litterboxes down so that there will be one near enough at any point or you will have to confine the young cat to an area of the house within easy reach of the litter box.

Disinfect the the litter box and top (if any) on a regular basis to prevent illness and disease. Bleach is a good disinfectant around cats, although you should be sure to rinse thoroughly and air out all the fumes. Do NOT use pine-oil based cleaners as these are toxic to cats.

Toilets

It is possible to train a cat to use the toilet rather than a litter box. One book is How to Toilet Train Your Cat: 21 days to a litter-free home by Paul Kunkel, published by Workman Publishing, 708 Broadway, New York, NY 10003, and simultaneously published in Canada by Thomas Allen and Son Publishing (no address given). ISBN no. 0-89480-828-1. Cost, $5.95.

The cat must be well trained to the litter box first. Move the litter box into the bathroom next to the toilet. Little by little (2 inches every two days) raise the litter box until the bottom of the litter box is at the level of the toilet (seat down, lid raised). Then slowly move the litter box over to the top of the toilet. This accustoms the cat to jumping UP to the toilet to eliminate. When the cat is comfortable with this, cover the toilet (under the seat) with strong plastic wrap like Saran wrap and fill the middle with litter. Decrease the amount of litter until the cat is peeing into the plastic and then make a hole in the middle of the plastic so the cat gets used to the sound of urine and stool hitting the water. Sooner or later you eliminate the plastic.

Placement of litter box

Beyond making the litter box readily accessible to your cat, there is some consideration as to an aesthetically pleasing placement. Utility closets that the cat can always access are useful. Laundry rooms work well, bathrooms less well (especially in guest bathrooms). One suggestion was to build a chest with an entrance at one end big enough to contain the cat box. The chest can be displayed like furniture and yet be discreet. If you can't build a chest yourself, it should be relatively easy to saw an opening in the side of a pre-made chest.

Trimming Claws

As an alternative to declawing and to help stem the destruction from scratching, many cat owners keep their cats' claws trimmed. This is easiest if you start from the beginning when your cat is a kitten, although most cats can be persuaded to accept this procedure.

Use nail clippers available at pet stores. Look for the guillotine type (don't use the human variety, this will crush and injure your cat's claw) and get blade replacements as the sharper the blade is the easier this procedure is.

There are also clippers that look like scissors with short, hooked blades. These may be easier for some people to handle.

Set your cat down securely in the crook of your "off" arm, with the cat either in your lap or on the floor between your knees, depending on the size of your cat and your own size. Pin the cat to your side with your arm and hold one of its paws with your hand (this is sometimes a little much for an "off" arm, you may wish to practice).

With its back away from you, it cannot scratch you, or easily get away. With your "good" hand, hold the clippers. If you squeeze your cat's paw with your off hand, the claws will come out. Examine them carefully (you may want to do this part before actually trying to trim them, to familiarize yourself with how the claws look).

If the claws are white (most cat's are), the difference between the nail and the quick is easy to see (use good lighting). The quick will be the pink tissue visible within the nail of the claw at the base. This is comparable to the difference between the nail attached to your skin and the part that grows beyond it. DO NOT CUT BELOW THE QUICK. It will be painful to your cat and bleed everywhere. When in doubt, trim less of the nail. It will just mean trimming more often.

Clip the portion above the quick for each nail and don't forget the dewclaws. On cats, dewclaws are found only on the front paws, about where humans would have their thumbs -- they do not touch the ground. Some cats are polydactyl, and have up to seven claws on any paw. Normally there are four claws per paw, with one dewclaw on each of the front paws. Rear claws don't need to be trimmed as often or at all; they do not grow as quickly and are not as sharp. You should be able to hold any of the four paws with your off hand; it will become easier with practice.

If you have too much trouble holding the cat still for this, enlist someone else to help. You can then pick up a paw and go for it. Be careful; this position often means you are in front of its claws and a potential target for shredding. Older cats generally object more than younger ones; this means you should start this procedure as soon as you get your cat if you intend to do this.

Trimming claws should be done weekly. Different claws grow at different rates; check them periodically (use the same position you use for clipping: it gives you extra practice and reduces the cat's anxiety at being in that position).

Claws grow constantly, like human nails. Unlike human nails, however, to stay sharp, claws must shed outer layers of nail. Cats will pull on their claws or scratch to remove these layers. This is perfectly normal and is comparable to humans cutting and filing their own nails. You may see slices of claws lying around, especially on scratching posts; this is also quite normal.


Grooming

Start early with your cat. The younger it is when you begin grooming it, the more pleasant grooming will be for it. A cat that fights grooming may need sedation and shaving at the vets for matted fur; it is well worth the time to get your cat to at least tolerate grooming. Start with short sessions. Stick to areas that it seems to enjoy (often the top of the head and around the neck) first, and work your way out bit by bit. Experiment a bit (and talk with your vet) to find the brush and routine that seems to work best with your cat. Even short-hair cats benefit from grooming: they still shed a surprising amount of hair despite its length.

Thick, long fur

Inexpensive pin-type (not the "slicker" type) dog brushes work well. You may choose to followup with a metal comb; if you use a flea comb, you will also detect any fleas your cat may have.

Silky long fur

Soft bristle brushes work well.

Short hair

Try an all-rubber brush, often sold as kitten or puppy brushes.

Bathing

You should not ordinarily need to bath a cat. Cats are normally very good about cleaning themselves, and for most cats, that's all the bathing they will ever need. Reasons for giving them a bath are: If you just trimmed your cat's claws, now is a good time. Having someone help you hold the cat definitely helps.

If your cat is long haired, groom it *before* bathing it. Water will just tighten any mats already in the coat.

Bathing methods:

To dry the cat, towel dry first. You can try hair dryers on low settings depending on your cat's tolerance. Otherwise, keep them inside until they are fully dry. If your cat is longhaired, you will want to groom it as the coat dries. Give the cat a treat after the bath, this may help them tolerate the process.

If the problem is greasy skin, you may wish to try a dry cat shampoo instead.

If you are attempting to remove grease, oil, or other petroleum products from your cat's fur, try using Dawn brand detergent first to remove it, and follow up with a cat shampoo. Dawn is used by volunteers who clean up birds after oil spills. Also reported to be successful is Shout laundry stain remover.


Playing

Most cats will love playing with you. There is the usual string or ball chasing; a few will even retrieve thrown items. "Hide and seek" and "Peekaboo" are also popular. Cats commonly display interest by dilating their pupils; look for this to see what catches its attention.

Try a small pencil flashlight or a small laser light for a game of "flashlight tag". Cats love to chase the light across the floor, over furniture and up walls. The lower-wattage laser pointers (0.1mW or less) are quite safe for something like this. It would take many days of non-stop direct exposure to the beam to even *start* to do any damage to eyes.

Cats will often display behavior commonly called "elevenses," since it seems to occur most often around 11PM. This consists of the cat's eyes dilating, its tail poofing out, and alternating between hopping sideways and racing all over the house. Your cat wants to play. Take it up on the challenge. Chase after it, play hide and seek. This can also be useful; playing with a cat just before bedtime reduces the chances of your cat wanting to play with you at 3AM.

Other Toys

In general, cats perversely favor the cheap homemade toy over the expensive supermarket toy. Toys commonly mentioned foil or paper balls, superballs, little plastic rings from milk jugs, ornaments on christmas trees, pencils, paper bags, cardboard boxes, Q-tips, cat dancers ... the list is nearly infinite.

A new "cat toy" seems to be the production of videotapes for your furry feline. Tapes of birds and mice complete with intriguing noises have kept several reader's cats entranced. If your cat seems to like watching TV (some do), this might be fun for your cat. Don't give it access to your remote, though.

Take sensible precautions with toys that can injure the cat: avoid toys small enough to be swallowed or choked on; avoid toys with loose or potentially sharp parts; avoid toys that can strangulate the cat or shred the intestines if swallowed (including string and rubber bands). Put strings away when you are not at home.

Scratching Posts

You can order a large catnip tree from Felix (1-800-24-Felix), especially if you cannot make one on your own because of lack of skill, time, or workspace. Cats especially enjoy being able to climb up and down these structures. Big ones should be bolted to the wall for stability. Most pet stores sell these things. Expect to pay no more than US$100 for a good sized one. Look for sturdiness and balance.

Sisal has been recommended over carpet for a scratching post cover. Cats seem to like the texture better, and it helps avoid confusion over which carpet is the "right" carpet to scratch.

You can also buy rectangular chunks of catnip-treated corrugated cardboard scratching 'posts', available at pet supply stores for about US$8 each. They can be either hung from a door, tacked to a wall or just laid flat on the ground. You might have to "show" them how to use them. Most cats love the texture of the cardboard (as well as the 'nip).

You might try used automobile tires placed upright and tied securely. Cats that like horizontal scratching posts jump up on it and scratch and cats that like vertical scratching posts stretch up and scratch. The tires can be bare or themselves covered with scratching material. In addition, cats have fun going through and around the tire.

Other readers have reported using wooden boards wrapped several times around with burlap. The burlap can be replaced as it is shredded.


Cat Safety in the House

Besides some of the more obvious things like electrical cords, here are some other things to watch out for: [an error occurred while processing this directive]