Caring for a cat
Cats depend on their owners for shelter and protection. Owners are also responsible for feeding, grooming, training and providing veterinary care for their pets. In addition, owners have an obligation to prevent their cats from mating if a good home cannot be provided for the kittens.
Cats need a balanced diet. Such a diet supplies the proper amount of various nutrients, which provide energy and are essential for growth and replacement of body tissues. Cats require proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in their diet. The easiest way to meet cat nutritional needs is to buy high-quality cat food. The label should indicate that the food is complete and balanced. Cats should not be fed dog food because it does not meet their dietary requirements. A diet of only meat or mostly meat is also nutritionally unbalanced.
Cats are not naturally finicky eaters. But owners should give them variety of foods to prevent them from developing fussy appetites. Cats may occasionally be fed small amounts of such cooked foods as beef, liver, eggs, fish and vegetables. Many cats also enjoy milk, cheese and other dairy products. However, such foods cause diarrhea in some cats. Owners should provide fresh drinking water at all times. Food and water bowls should be cleaned daily.
Kittens that have been weaned should be fed small amounts four times a day until they are 3 months old. They should eat three times daily until they are 6 months old, and then twice a day until they are fully grown.
Adult cats require only one meal a day, but many seem happier with two smaller meals. Food may be kept available at all times for a healthy cat that does not overheat. Sick cats, pregnant and nursing female and old cats often need special diets.
Cats instinctively clean themselves. They do so by licking their fur with their tongue. They also rub and scratch their fur with their paw and wash its face and head with the wet paw. But not all cats groom themselves well.
Owner should brush or comb a cat fur daily to clean it and remove loose hairs. In the case of long haired cats, such care is essential to prevent the coat from tangling and mating. Daily brushing or combing also reduces the amount of loose hairs that cats swallow when they clean themselves.
Swallowed hair may wad up and form a hairball in the cat’s stomach. Hairballs can cause vomiting and loss of appetite. If a cat cannot spit up a hairball, surgery may be required to remove it. Owners may feed their cat small amount of mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or a commercial preparation once a week to prevent hairball formation. A vet can suggest safe methods of administering such products. If necessary, owners may clean their cat ears and teeth with a soft cloth. Owners may also trim the tips of a cat claws, but it is better for a vet to do this.
Some cats, especially those allowed outdoors, become so dirty that need a bath. But bathing a cat is hardly ever necessary, since regular grooming will keep a cat clean. Kittens should also be groomed so that they will be easier to care for when older.
Training should begin when a kitten is about 8 weeks old. A cat can learn to respond to its name. Some cats have been trained to walk on a leash and to perform such tricks as a shaking hands and retrieving a ball.
The most effective way to train a cat is with praise, petting and food rewards for good behavior. Correct a cat immediately with sharp ‘No’ if it misbehaves. Always react to a particular action in the same manner so that the cat can learn what to expect. Owners should be patient with their pet and avoid using physical punishment. Squirting a cat with water is a good way to stop undesirable behavior.
Indoor cats should learn to use a litter tray. Cats instinctively bury their body wastes, and so training them to use a litter tray is easy. Kittens raised with a mother that uses a litter tray will usually begin to use it themselves before they are 5 or 6 weeks old.
Any smooth-surfaced plastic or enamel tray can be used as a litter tray. Put the tray in a quiet spot. Place a layer of commercial cat litter, sand, sawdust, shredded newspaper, or sterilized soil in the bottom. Clean the tray and change the litter whenever it is very damp. Most cats will not use a wet or dirty litter tray. Cats that have not learned to use a litter tray at an early age must be trained. Place the cat in the tray after it eats, when it wakes up, and after play. Praise the cat when it uses the tray. The cat will soon learn to go to the tray by itself.
Cats should also be trained to claw a scratching post instead of carpeting, curtains and furniture. Cats naturally scratch objects to pull off the worm outer layers of their claws and to mark their territory. A bark-covered log of a piece of wood covered with carpeting, cork or fabric makes a good scratching post. Rub some catmint, a strongly scented herb that many cats love to sniff, into the post to attract the cat interest. Guide the cat front paws down the post. Whenever the cat begins to claw another object, correct the animal immediately and take it to the post.
Some cats cannot be trained to use a post, however some owner take their pet to a veterinarian for declawing. Declawing is a surgical procedure in which the claws are removed from the paws.
Some cats enjoy chewing plants. But owners can train their cat to leave house plants alone, especially if they provide a pot of grass or oats for the pet.