Cats and Kittens: Love Them and They Will Love You Back
Cats and kittens: The first thing to understand is that you don’t own them—they own you. Most cat-lovers know they are very lucky to have been chosen by “their” animals. It’s hard to put into words the relationship that exists between “owner” and feline, but we love and understand each other.
Most importantly, pets depend on us for daily care. It is (arguably) true that most cats have their “ways” of doing things, but we can teach them how—or how not—to behave in many situations, especially when they’re still kittens.
The Beginning: Adopting a Cat
So you’ve decided to bring a cat into your life! Excellent choice, but how? What? Where? Well, the where is easy; check out your local animal shelters. Yes, there are pet stores or breeders that sell animals, but adopting from an animal shelter is a “win-win” outcome for you and your feline-hopeful. For more information on shelter adoptions, visit petfinder.com; you can enter your zip code for access to shelters near you. Some pet stores also arrange adoptions from shelters.
Things to Ask Yourself About Adopting a Cat:
- Male or Female?—Animals have different behavioral patterns but females tend to be more affectionate and playful than un-neutered males, which become assertive and territorial. However, shelter cats are usually spayed or neutered before finding their “forever” homes so there wouldn’t be much difference in behavior between males and females. Determining the sex of a kitten can be very difficult; the anal and reproductive areas of males and females look quite similar when the animals are young.
- Kitten or Adult?—Kittens require more attention, especially during their first year. Playful kittens need supervision, as well as litter-box and behavioral training (shelter kittens are litter-box trained, as are most breeder cats). Kittens are (generally) easier to bring into the home if you have another cat and they can be trained at an early age. Adult cats do have their own “habits,” however, they need less supervision.
- Shorthair or Longhair?—Shorthair cats are easier to tend to when cleaning wounds and removing parasites. Shorthairs do need brushing (once a week), but they can better groom themselves. Longhair cats have beautiful coats that need daily brushing so that, upon self-grooming, clumps of fur and hairballs don’t upset the animal’s stomach. Longhair coats can become matted and tangled if not kept groomed.
- Which Animal?—Well, IF it’s your choice (remember, sometimes they choose you) … look for these traits: Is he or she lively, active and playful? Are the ears clean? Eyes bright? Nose clean and free of discharge? Healthy cats have pale-pink gums, white teeth and odor-free breath.
After the Homecoming: Make a Vet Appointment
Whether he or she came from a pet store or a shelter, your furry feline should have prompt medical care. Find a veterinarian with whom you are comfortable (ask a friend or neighbor for references) and make an appointment as soon as possible.
The cat must be evaluated (and vaccinated) for a number of diseases (including feline leukemia and rabies) and parasites (such as fleas and mites). Kittens need booster shots. Bring all medical records from the adoption agency or breeder to the veterinarian’s office; the doctor will set up an appropriate vaccination schedule.
If the animal is not spayed or neutered (and you don’t intend to breed from it), talk to your veterinarian about having the procedure done. If not spayed, a female will go into heat several times a year, preparing to mate. A grown male cat (tom), if not neutered, will spray urine, stray, and fight with other males.
Cat Accessories: Stuff You’ll Need
Visit your favorite pet store for:
- Litter box, box liners and shovel
- Water and food bowls
- Grooming brush and comb
- Travel cage or box (for safe transportation of your pet)
- Bedding (various types)
- Collar, toys, name tag, scratch pads, climbing perches, etc. (*outdoor cats should always wear a safety-collar with identity and rabies tags)
- Food (ask your veterinarian about specific nutritional requirements for kittens and adult cats
- Nail clippers
Find a quiet spot, keep it clean. If you have an adult cat and kitten eating together, supervise meal times so that the adult doesn’t eat from the kitten’s bowl (the smaller animal may not eat well, otherwise). Don’t overfeed or underfeed; check with your veterinarian on determining the right balance. Cats are carnivores — they must eat meat products regularly.
Specially-marketed kitten foods are recommended for animals that are less than one-year-old. Canned, semi-moist and dry foods are suitable for most adult cats. Canned food has a good balance of nutrients and its moisture helps keep the animal hydrated. Semi-moist foods are mostly low in fats but they don’t store as well as canned products and they can be costly. Dry food is convenient and economical; the “crunch” factor is generally good for the cat’s teeth.
Provide a lot of clean drinking water; cats must keep themselves well-hydrated. Cats need water—not milk— because milk is not essential to a cat’s diet and some cats cannot digest the lactose from cow’s milk; it can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. If you’d like to give your cat this kind of treat, pet food companies market milk-like products which may be more appropriate for your cat’s dietary needs.
- Nail Clipping: Indoor cats should have their nails clipped as needed; nails that become overgrown can tear into the cat’s paw pads. When cutting the nails, do not snip the pink area, called the quick; damaging the quick can cause pain and bleeding. Although outdoor cats need their claws for protection, they should also have their nails trimmed so that their paws aren’t damaged. Declawing is generally NOT recommended; ask your veterinarian about nail-cover products.
- Eyes: Check your cat’s eyes to clean out any goop-like discharge. Longhair cats (especially) tend to have problems because of clogged tear ducts. Cats can develop diseases that affect the corneal tissue, membranes and layers of the eyes. Your veterinarian should check the condition of your cat's eyes at each visit.
- Ears: Inner ears must be clean and light-pink. Cats are subjected to ear mites and wax. Signs of ear problems include: persistent scratching; bleeding; odor; black or yellowish discharge; head shaking; wax build-up; hearing loss and disorientation.
- Teeth: Just like people, cats can develop tooth decay and gum disease. The best thing to do (in an ideal world) is to clean your cat’s teeth once a week so that the animal is used to the routine — you can get specially-designed toothbrushes and paste from your veterinarian or local pet store (do not use “people” toothpaste). You can also have a veterinarian clean the animal’s teeth but keep in mind; it tends to be an expensive endeavor. Signs of teeth problems include: red, swollen gums; loose teeth; difficulty chewing food; discharge; excessive pawing of the mouth area and drooling.
- Brushing: Shorthair cats should be brushed at least one day a week so that their coats remain smooth and shiny. Cats love this! Keep a bristle brush, rubber brush and metal flea comb handy — the comb removes tangles in the fur. Check it for “flea dirt”— little black specks. Use the bristle brush from front to back and the rubber one to smooth out the coat and remove stray hair. Longhair cats should be brushed every day — use a comb and bristle brush. Tease out the knots and tangles first; brush out the body from head to tail. Don’t forget the belly, legs and tail!
- Bathing: Not likely necessary, but there may be occasions when a cat needs a bath — perhaps his/her fur has become very dirty or contaminated. This is really a “two-man” job because the last thing your cat wants to do is stay still for this … this … humiliation. There are special cat shampoo products; follow their instructions. Keep several warm towels handy and prepare for a struggle!
Tips and “Tails”
Introducing the New Cat to Other Pets
Keep them apart for at least a week or two — feed them separately and supervise all visits. Older cats may feel threatened by new kittens in the household. Allow the cats to sniff each other but separate them immediately if one hisses or swats at the other (or at fully attacks it). (*Your veterinarian may suggest specific products to help lessen the drama). If introducing a cat to a dog, keep the dog on a leash or put the cat in a small playpen.
Give them plenty of toys and access to windows (with views of bird feeders?) that allow for sunlight to stream in. If you wish acquire one kitten, why not two? This way, they can play together and keep each other company. Establishing (and maintaining) a routine is very important … indoor cats that are occupied and happy will be less apt to tear up household items. Provide scratching posts and pads to take the place of your good furniture!
Even though they don’t venture outside, indoor cats are still prone to parasites such as roundworm and fleas. Talk to your veterinarian about prevention and treatments.
Keep your cat(s) safe from indoor hazards such as open washing machines and dryers, stovetops, plastic bags, houseplants, small objects (nails, rubber bands, staples, adhesives, etc). Don’t allow access to cupboards and cabinets (especially house-cleaning products and other chemicals). If it’s hazardous for a real (human) baby, it’s hazardous for YOUR baby!
After a couple of weeks of getting to know you and the inside of your home, you can let him/her out ... under supervision. Make sure the animal has been vaccinated, spayed or neutered (or else you may have many more furry friends to care for!) and wears a collar and tags. Don’t let him/her out in bad weather. A cat door — if you wish to mount one — should be installed at about six inches from the floor. Be sure that your cat’s collar fits properly.
Outdoor hazards may include (but are not limited to) pesticides; carpentry tools; other animals; poisonous plants; ponds; poisonous chemicals; busy roads and garden tools.
When You Travel With Cats
In general, cats do not like to travel. NEVER let cats stroll around in the car. For their safety (and yours), place them in a suitable carrier; your favorite pet store should have a variety of them. Cat carriers are made of a number of materials including plastic, wicker, wire and cloth. Be sure it is strong and well-ventilated.
When You Move to a New Location
Have you heard stories of cats leaving their new homes, only to journey back to their old ones? It does happen; they have a strong homing instinct. When you move to a new home, take the cat in the car with you (or another member of your household); do not place the animal in a moving van. Upon arrival, place your kitty in a room with a litter box, food and water. Spend time with him/her as much as possible during the move.
In the Mind of a Cat
- The Hunter: It’s a basic, natural instinct for cats—they are hunters. It’s not about looking for food; even well-fed domestic cats will hunt for small rodents and birds. Cats often play with their prey . . . a little mouse makes a great toy! Your feline friend, as she/he comes trotting up to you with a mouthful of mouse, may want to present you with a special gift. Accept this gift (dispose of it) and pat the kitty on the head because he/she wants to please you. And watch out for what’s under the bed . . .
- Territorial Marking: Generally, cats mark their “territories” when outdoors but indoor cats may do this if there has been a change in the household routine (or if a new cat enters the realm). A cat defines his/her territory by rubbing its head and body against chairs, other items . . . and people. Special scent glands release pheromones—chemicals that are perceived as smells. Cats deposit their scents—pheromones—on us when they rub against our legs. Cats may, sometimes, spray urine to mark their territories. This behavior is mostly seen from animals that are not spayed or neutered.
- Aggression: Cats do not typically behave aggressively to humans but if he or she suddenly attacks—scratches, hisses, pulls the ears back or bites hard—it may be that the animal is hurt, ill or you’ve handled him/her roughly. Playful nips aren’t anything to worry about, but you may want to teach your kitty how to play without biting. A little squirt from a water bottle can help with that.
- Discipline: Disciplining adult cats is difficult; they are set in their ways. But kittens, as well as adult cats, are apt to get the message from your harsh vocal tone, water squirt or, as a last resort, a light tap on the nose. Inflicting pain on an animal is more than just cruel, it is an ineffective form of discipline and could lead to more behavior problems.
- Fleas are a reddish-brown color; they drop tiny black specks of dirt into an animal’s fur. Fleas and droppings are difficult to find. Check for fleas if your cat is losing fur or scratching constantly. INDOOR CATS CAN GET FLEAS through screens in open windows. Once the flea is in the house, it lays eggs that turn into larvae. The larvae become pupae, which in turn produce baby fleas. The babies become adults and the cycle continues.
- Heartworm comes from a single mosquito bite, if the insect is infected with the tiny (microscopic) heartworm larvae. According to Pfizer Animal Health, there is no recommended treatment for the infection but prevention can keep a pet safe from heartworm, fleas and other parasites. The American Heartworm Society says outdoor cats are at a greater risk for heartworm but indoor cats can also be infected.
- Ear Mites can live in the lining of the cat’s ear canal, causing a brown, waxy build-up. The cat’s hearing and balance may be affected if the mites cause an infection that gets into the inner ear. If the animal is scratching or shaking his/her ears a lot, check for mites.
- Worms can live in the cat’s small intestine and cause anemia. Symptoms of internal parasites may include diarrhea, anemia and weight loss. Kittens can become very weak. Roundworms, tapeworms and blood-sucking hookworms can be treated by a veterinarian.
Felines can be afflicted by a number of illnesses in different ways; note these symptoms, especially:
- Vomiting might be because the animal swallowed something it shouldn’t have — like a plant leaf — or it could be part of getting rid of hairballs. Seek medical attention if vomiting episodes occur a lot and discharge contains blood or if the cat has diarrhea. Abdominal pain and excessive thirst may mean that the animal has been poisoned.
- Diarrhea can come about for a variety of reasons such as a food allergy or infection. The cat needs hydration! Check with your vet if diarrhea persists, and make sure the animal drinks plenty of water.
- Loss of Appetite can occur if the cat is ill or just over-heated. Just like with people, very warm weather can hamper a kitty’s appetite. Don’t force him/her to eat but tempt your finicky feline with something else. If the cat refuses to eat for more than 24 hours, consult your veterinarian. Make sure his/her food is always fresh.
- Urinary Problems are not uncommon. Cats’ urine should be a pale-yellow color. Your cat may be ill if he/she is straining or the urine is cloudy or discolored. Bladder infections, kidney diseases or diabetes are major causes of urination problems Feline Urological Syndrome or Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, a blockage of the bladder, is very painful — the cat must strain to produce blood-stained urine. Contact a veterinarian immediately.
- The Third Eyelid protects a cat’s eye; each eye has one. It is a membrane in the eye’s corner that stays visible when the cat is hurt or ill. If one (or both) “third eyelids” are showing, take your cat to the vet.
Symptoms of Kidney Disease
A kitty’s kidneys are vulnerable … Cats can be born with irregular kidneys and some animals inherit the problems from their parents. Chronic kidney disease is common in older cats; aging kidneys begin to deteriorate.
Symptoms of Chronic kidney disease include:
- Weight loss and appetite loss
- Frequent urination and-or bloody/cloudy urine
- Increased thirst and dehydration
- Mouth sores or ulcers
- Bad breath
- Aversion to the litter box
Younger cats may develop acute kidney disease; it is generally caused by an infection. Symptoms of acute kidney disease are similar to the chronic type and may include vomiting. Medical treatment is necessary.
Cats will usually vomit if they have swallowed something poisonous, but sometimes the substance will absorb into the animal’s body. The following are signs of poisoning (and items that may have caused it); some instances can be fatal! Contact your veterinarian or an animal hospital immediately if your kitty ingests:
- Insecticides and Pesticides (muscle twitching, drooling, convulsions, coma)
- Alcohol (dehydration, vomiting, collapse, coma, depression)
- Antifreeze (lack of balance and coordination, vomiting, convulsions, coma)
- Rat and Mice Poisons (vomiting, bleeding, restlessness, abdominal pain, diarrhea)
- Medicines, Drugs and Painkillers (for Humans) (loss of coordination and balance, vomiting, possible discoloration of gums)
- Cleaning Chemicals (diarrhea, severe vomiting, loss of coordination)
- Garden Pesticides (muscle twitching, drooling, convulsions, coma)
If your cat has ingested some type of poison, do NOT induce vomiting; call your veterinarian or local emergency animal hospital immediately. You will need to know what kind of poison the cat swallowed; bring the container to the facility, if possible.
We Love . . .
our furry, snuggly, loveable felines. We are their “parents.” Take care of your kitties! Love them, and they will love you back!
Resources and Further Reading
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.
© 2012 Teri Silver