Tiffany is a public historian & lover of history, anthropology, food, & animals. She has taught college courses & loves spreading knowledge.
Think First About the Logistics of Your Lifestyle
Your first step in getting a cat should be to consider the kind of environment and lifestyle you will give the cat. Most cats are fairly independent, but their personalities can vary greatly. You should consider how a cat needs to fit into your lifestyle.
- Are you away from home a lot? Cats do need attention. They are awake about 8-9 hours a day and need varied stimulation. Much like a dog needs regular walks, cats need regular exercise and human companionship to stay social and healthy. What will you do when you need to go out of town? Where will the cat go?
- Do you have young children? Some cats do not get along well with children. If the cat is for one of your children, you need to expect to take care of the cat (no matter what your children say) and to supervise most interactions. Plan to supervise all interactions if your children are young.
- Do you have other pets? How do these pets behave around cats or other animals? If you've had one pet for a long time, it may be a difficult adjustment bringing a new pet into the house. There are many resources out there for how to introduce a new pet to your existing pets, and I suggest researching these using Google. Your local humane society or veterinarian should also be able to provide guidance.
- Do you have the resources to care for a cat? Cats are not simply animals you can leave at home with food and water. You should monitor your cats diet, as changing in eating habits can be signs of more serious problems and you should not overfeed your cat. You should also expect vet bills to be quite high—cats need annual checkups (at least), and can have a myriad of health problems. Be prepared to face other bills for deworming, heart-worm/flea/tick prevention, nail clipping or other grooming (if you choose not to do it yourself), and regular checkups.
- Cats with Special Needs. If you do have the resources and then some, consider whether you are able to handle a cat with special needs (e.g., requires a special diet, has ringworm, has allergies, or a cat who needs a more quiet, adult-only home). There are many cases of cats with special needs—from those who have been injured to those who are simply not very social and need special, devoted attention. If you can provide a home for one of these cats, then please consider it.
- Do you rent? Your landlord may have policies regarding pets, so you should be familiar with these. Damage will happen no matter what you do to prevent it, so make sure you are prepared to put valuables away and provide scratching posts and other toys for your cat.
- Do you expect to move anytime soon? A cat is a commitment for 10-20 years, sometimes more. Are you willing to always look for cat-friendly housing? If not, then it's not the right time to get a cat. You should be able to make a 20-year commitment without saying "well, if next year we can't find a place, we'll just return the cat". A cat is not a possession. It's something you care for, much like a child. Would you return your child to the hospital? No. So please, don't "return" cats unless it is your only option. (And if you must return a cat, do so to a no-kill or humane society shelter.)
How to Prepare for Getting a Cat for the First Time
Once you've decided to get a cat, you must prepare. Keep counters and other surfaces clear of sharp objects. Put your valuables away or in places where cats cannot jump onto them (like a curio cabinet with enclosed doors).
Consider going to the shelter to find a cat, but asking if you can pick him/her up at a later time or the next day, so that you can gather supplies.
Also, ask the shelter which foods and litter they are using, and whether the cat you are adopting likes those choices. No matter what food or litter the shelter uses, you should buy some. If you plan on changing either, mix the two together for a while so that your cat will get used to the new material without having accidents outside the litter box or refusing to eat. Changing an animal's habits requires patience and respect. You wouldn't want to be told you can no longer eat chocolate without having the last few pieces in the bag, would you?
- A litter box. Preferably one with a removable lid. Some cats like privacy in the toilet, others don't care.
- Litter. Again, ask your shelter what they use, and buy some of that to start. You can wean the cat off it to another brand later.
- Food bowls. One for water, one for food. Do not buy "continuous feeding" bowls for the food, only for the water. Allowing your cat to chow down is unhealthy.
- Food. Get primarily dry food, though you may want to occasionally give him/her wet food. Also get a small bag of treats, which are helpful in training your cat.
- Cat carrier. Don't use it just for car trips. In order to have your cat comfortable during long rides in the car, double the carrier as a bed. Take the door off when you are at home, to avoid having the cat accidentally lock itself in.
- Toys. Provide a variety of toys, even if it's just a few. To keep your cat entertained, hide a few toys for a while, and then switch the ones he/she plays with. Also consider common household items as toys.
- Cat furniture. Don't go out and buy the expensive kind, despite how pretty it is. Your cat will probably claw it anyway.
- Scratching post(s). Cats need something to claw. It's a natural instinct and helps to keep them healthy and comforted. To discourage clawing your furniture, provide at least one scratch post per cat.
- Harness and leash. If you want to walk your cat, get a harness and leash. As most cat collars unlatch when the cat gets caught, a harness and leash can help to train your cat for walks. Walking is a fun and healthy exercise for cats, and helps to keep them occupied (and you healthy as well!).
- Shampoo. You will need to regularly bathe your cat, and the best way is with water and shampoo. There are resources out there on how to train your cat to like bath time, and I suggest checking them out. Introducing your cat to water in a calm way will help to make bath time less stressful (and hazardous).
- Collar. One with latch that comes undone if the cat is stuck and a bell. Trust me, you want the bell. Cats hide.
- Brush. Regular brushing is essential to keeping the shedding down, especially if you have allergies.
First Steps When You Get Home
Remember that bringing a cat into his/her new home is stressful for both of you. It is key to introduce your cat slowly, and make sure the cat knows where his needs can be met.
For information on litter training, I recommend this article by Petfinder.
Training and Tips
- When you get a scratching post, rub some catnip on it and then bring your cat to it. Gently put his/her paws on it and move them like the cat is scratching. You can also demonstrate scratching to the cat. This is like a mother teaching her young.
- Be patient with litter training. While you may get a cat that has been litter trained, each cat reacts differently to different types of litter. It may take a few tries to find the one he/she likes best. I would recommend going for unscented litters with odor-blocking technology. Clean the litter every day with a scoop and fully change it once a week.
- If you have indoor plants, I suggest getting cat grass or catnip plants. This will help deter the cat from chewing your beloved herbs or flowers, as well as giving them something to do. Remember that eating plants - especially grass - is natural for cats, as it helps their digestive system when the tummy is upset.
- If you don't want the cat on furniture - like your bed - train them early. Don't allow him/her to be on the bed the first few nights and then decide not to allow it.
- Make a vet appointment within the first month. Some shelters will recommend a time for you, based on when the cat may need additional shots or de-worming. Some shelters even offer a free first vet visit or a free period of health insurance for the pet. Even if your cat shows no signs of problems, make a first visit with your vet within a month, to establish a relationship and familiarize your cat with such visits. A good first visit can mean less stressful visits when real problems arise.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, have patience. It can take a few weeks or even a month or two for your new cat to be fully adjusted to his/her surroundings. Let them wander the house supervised for the first few days, and slowly allow them the freedom to explore. Avoid introducing your cat to your entire extended family until he/she is comfortable with you and those living with you. Keep a gentle eye on your cat, and discuss any concerns with your veternarian.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: We took in a stray cat. How do we help her gain trust in us? She is sweet and not at all aggressive.
Read More From Pethelpful
Answer: Give it time. That is my best advice. Strays very often need lots of time, and to be given the space to interact with you on their terms. Be sure to have her fully checked by a vet (given she is a stray) and talk to your vet about any behavioral concerns you may have. They can provide the best assessment about whether her trust issues simply need time for her to trust you (the way any human would) or if they may be indicative of a biological problem or disease (sometimes sick animals will isolate themselves or act mean - it's like being really grumpy because you're sick). Your vet is the best person to advise you on your cat's specific situation.
© 2011 Tiffany Isselhardt
Zoe Campos on May 12, 2020:
Thank you for reminding me that I need to train our pet kitten early if we don't want them to defecate on our furniture pieces. My daughter had requested for a kitten and since it is her birthday, we can't say no to her. It might be a good idea to purchase the best cat litter for the odor that is available in the nearest pet stores before getting one.
Jamie Oliver on April 29, 2020:
This really helped me with my new cat.
JJ on April 22, 2020:
"You will need to regularly bathe your cat"... what?
Manar on December 21, 2019:
I`ve the same case here! adopted a stray cat that ran away from my friend`s house when he took her from a street at first. She is getting along slowly, started to like me a bit but she is still afraid of my 9 years old son and runs and hides when he is around! what to do to make her gets along with him?
Jim Kernicky on July 30, 2019:
Very informative. I was going to link to your article for an article I'm about to post but you have way too many ads.
giada on November 28, 2018:
thanks for advise !
Tiffany Isselhardt (author) from USA on July 02, 2018:
AZ Cat on June 28, 2018:
You've really done your research and written an informative and interesting hub. Great tips for first time cat owners.
ttilmo on July 05, 2011:
I spend a lot of my time giving advice to cat owners who think they know everything there is to know about cat ownership but sometimes discover that some of the things they know are in fact just myths.
Yvonne L. B. from South Louisiana on July 01, 2011:
You've really done your research and written an informative and interesting hub. Great tips for first time cat owners.
theboblover on July 01, 2011:
Good luck with sadie
Madeleine Salin from Finland on July 01, 2011:
Very good information and a great hub. Good luck with your new family member!
Kathy from The beautiful Napa Valley, California on July 01, 2011:
WOW! Southern Muse..what a great fact filled helpful hub on learning how to live with your cat. Absolutely fantastic! So many great suggestions and such respect for your new family member. good for you! I know, even as a basically dog person, you will grow to totally love your kitty ... of course, it seems like you already have....and you'll want MORE! Voted UP and Useful and Awesome. Great advice, great suggestions, great descriptions with lots of care!!
Sadie is Beautiful, too