Taking Care of Tabby Cats
How to Take Care of Your Tabby Cat
I'm clearly an expert when it comes to taking care of tabby cats.
Sure, there are plenty of people who love cats, and decorate their homes with cat-themed décor, and send people cards with cats on them, and will happily talk your ear off about Mister Tiddums. But when it comes right down to it, who are you going to believe, some human with an adorable kitty sweatshirt or me, an actual cat?
Good, I'm glad you see it my way.
The fact that you're reading this suggests that you have an admirable desire to improve yourself. Whether you're new to tabbies or you've lived with us for years, learning more about how to meet our needs, wishes, and whims can only make you a better person. And if you're a better person, you'll be a better person to your tabby cat. So you see, we all win.
What is a Tabby Cat?
First things first.
As I discussed in my classic article, The Truth About Tabbies, a tabby cat is any cat with tabby markings. These markings can be in any color and a variety of shapes. They can also occur on any number of breeds, from slender Egyptian Maus, to tailless Manxes, to enormous Maine Coons. Different breeds of cats have dramatic differences in size, hair length, and coloration, but all of them are members of the same species, Felis sylvestris catus.
When most people say "tabby", they're thinking of your normal, generic, domestic shorthair cat. The nice thing about tabbies like us is that we're easy. We don't have thousand-dollar pedigrees. We don't need to brushed twice a day. We're not prone to a lot of weird hereditary diseases like some purebreds.
We're just straight-up cats, created by thousands of years of genetic success to be efficient, adorable little hunting machines.
Getting Adopted by a Tabby Cat
Or another sort of cat. If you must.
It's great that you've decided to share your life with a tabby cat. But before you run off to procure a cat, there are some things to consider.
The first is whether you want a kitten or an adult cat. On the one hand, kittens are a bit more trainable, and yes, we all know how cute they are. On the other hand, an adult cat might already be litter-box trained. An adult cat is also less likely to damage your belongings when you're not home to keep an eye on it.
Then there's the question of whether you want one cat, or more than one. Sometimes, two cats can be easier to live with than one. Cats provide each other with companionship and entertainment, which keeps us out of trouble. (Don't tell her I said so, but life would be pretty boring around here without my co-kitty, Piglet.)
Speaking of more than one cat, do you have any animals in your home already? What about kids? Some cats get along well with strange cats, dogs, and children. Others not so much.
Give some thought to these questions. Then go to your local animal shelter and describe your living situation to them. The adoption counselors there will help you find a cat that will be the perfect addition to your household.
Tabby Cat Facts
We are a lot like you, but we are not you.
Bringing a tabby into your home shows that you have excellent taste, but cats differ from humans in many important respects. Expecting us to act like you, eat the same food as you, and even to understand your language is a recipe for disaster. Below are some quick and dirty facts about cats that ever tabby-lover should know.
Cats are not born knowing how to "fend for themselves" in the wild.While we have an innate drive to chase things, we don't know how to kill prey unless our mothers taught us. If we are suddenly abandoned outdoors, we are facing a short life and a very painful death.
Tabby cats are obligate carnivores.That's a fancy way of saying that we eat other animals, and only other animals. Well-meaning vegans have made their cats very sick trying to impose their animal-free diet on us.
Cats need to eat cat food, not people food.Cat food is specially prepared to give us the nutrients we would get by hunting and eating prey in the wild. It has just the right balance of vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy.
Tabby cats need plenty of fresh, clean water.Drinking dirty water can make us sick, so if water smells bad or stale, we might avoid it. We can get dehydrated just like you.
Tabby cats need a clean, well-kept litter box.Our litter-box needs to be big enough to use, and kept clean enough that we won't go elsewhere.
Tabby cats have emotions, just like you.Cats have complex brain structures that allow us to feel afraid, angry, sad, and happy.
Our emotions are like yours, but our motivations are not.If we do something you don't like, it's not because we're deliberately being "naughty". There's a good reason for it that's rooted in our nature as cats.
Tabby cats need regular veterinary care.Taking us to the vet once a year ensure that we're healthy. Since cats are good at hiding illness and injury, it takes a vet to catch a problem while it's still small.
Tabby cats need our claws to defend ourselves.Declawing is a traumatic operation that many veterinarians now refuse to perform. Prevent problems by giving Tabby ample places to scratch to her heart's content.
Spay or neuter your tabby!Failure to spay and neuter leads to untold numbers of homeless, unwanted cats ever year. It is the only responsible choice. Besides, it makes us much easier to live with!
Spaying and Neutering
It's NOT optional.
If a cat chooses you to be its human minion, you are accepting a responsibility to spay or neuter that cat.
I know what you're thinking. "Really, CC?" you say. "You hate the vet. And now you're advocating surgery?"
Yes. Yes I am.
It is estimated that a pair of breeding cats can produce about 400,000 kittens over their breeding lifetimes. That's four hundred thousand. From a single breeding pair of cats!
Those kittens will lead short, brutish, nasty lives, with an average lifespan of only two years. They fall victim to cars, disease, and predation by larger animals -- but not before producing more kittens, who will in turn lead short, brutish, and nasty lives.
Furthermore, feral cats have a significant and negative ecological impact. We are not native to most parts of the world. We've migrated there in the last few hundred years, along with European humans, and we've landed in all kinds of places. Feral cats have decimated bird populations in Australia and the Americas, even causing extinctions on numerous islands throughout the world. Ferals also interbreed with local wild cat populations, causing some species to be threatened with extinction through hybridization.
So please, for the good of all cat-kind, make sure your tabby companion is neutered or spayed!
What Tabby Cats Need
Just between us, we cats aren't that different from you humans. Like you, we need food, water, shelter, decent sanitation, and regular medical check-ups to keep us healthy.
So You've Been Adopted By A Tabby
Cats are not the kind of high-maintenance pet that dogs are. You've never heard anybody say "I'm as sick as a cat", now, have you?
Didn't think so.
Cats are cool. We're independent. We don't need to be walked twice a day, and we're not praise junkies who get sad if you fail to keep up a steady stream of "So who's a good boy then?".
But that doesn't mean we don't need you. There's a reason we adopt you as our personal minions. Contrary to widespread belief, we're not born knowing how to hunt food for ourselves. If our mother didn't teach us, we never learned, and that means we rely on you.
We rely on you for healthy food, clean water, a well-kept litter box, and -- as much as I hate to admit this -- regular veterinary care. We rely on you to keep us out of harms way, whether it come in the form of toxins, speeding cars, or other animals in the neighborhood. We also rely on you for companionship, entertainment, and a nice, warm lap.
If you share your life with a tabby, you've accepted a responsibility to be an educated caretaker. To put it more bluntly, you need to know what the heck you're doing. Learn as much as you can about cats -- what kind of food we need, what things are poisonous to us, what shots we're supposed to have, and how our brains work. Believe me, you and your tabby will both be happier for it.
There Are Hazards for Tabbies in the Great Outdoors
Tabbies, at least of the most proudly "generic" sort, are a healthy bunch. We're robust, intelligent, and hardy. I myself have only needed one visit to the vet that wasn't for routine preventive care, and that was because I got bitten by another cat during a fight and it got infected, but that's OK because you TOTALLY should have seen the other cat! It was bigger than me and I absolutely KICKED its BUTT!
Anyway, the fact that we're generally pretty fit does not mean that our lives are without their dangers. My story (as clearly awesome as it is) illustrates why many humans think cats should be kept strictly indoors. If your tabby companion is a barn cat, like me, it might not be possible to keep it indoors; but if you adopt a kitten or cat from a shelter, it's a good idea to keep Tabby in the house. Outside, we might get hit by a car. We might get lost. Other animals can injure cats, give us diseases, or even kill us.
Tabby Hazards In The Home
So if you keep Tabby inside, you're good right? No worries!
Well, not so much. There are plenty of things in the average home that can pose a hazard to Tabby.
For instance, did you know that aspirin is extremely toxic to cats? And yet, many well-meaning people have inadvertently killed their injured cats by administering aspirin as a painkiller.
Numerous plants are also toxic to cats as well. Various lilies are popular houseplants, and this entire family -- the allium family -- is highly poisonous to cats. Since this family includes garlic and onions, you should be aware that these human-friendly foods are also toxic to cats. Other human food that can be a problem for cats include avocados, chocolate, grapes, and macadamia nuts. It's rare (but not impossible!) for these foods to kill Tabby outright, but over time they can cause organ damage.
Other household items can pose a threat to cats. Electrical wires, such as those for lamps and appliances, can electrocute a cat that chews on them. Feline curiosity might lead us to jump up on a stove, unaware that it's lit, leading to severe burns. Even string and yarn, which we love to chase, can cause intestinal blockage if we're allowed to ingest it.
Tabby Cat Emotions
Tabbies are cats, and cats are mammals. That means our brains structure is not that different from yours. Like humans, cats experience fear, sadness, anger, disgust, desire, and happiness. These emotions are based on our brain physiology, and are responses to stimuli in our environment. Cats can also experience frustration, anxiety and depression.
It's important to realize that the emotions we share with humans do not give us human motivations. We don't "act out" or "misbehave" in order to "punish" you. If we're doing something you don't like, there's always a reason, and it's always rooted in our needs as a cat.
Let me give you an example. In the photo above, Stuart has picked me up even though I didn't want him to (after all these years we're still working on his obedience training). In the photo, I'm merely annoyed, because I know Stuart won't hurt me. If I didn't know him well, I would be afraid because he's actually 20 times as big as I am. Of course I would scratch and bite him in order to get away! I wouldn't be trying to "punish" Stuart, I'd just be trying to protecting myself. If you were picked up by a strange giant with dubious intentions, wouldn't you do whatever you had to escape?
All Work and No Play Make Tabby a Dull Girl
Cats are intelligent, sensitive animals who can easily become bored with their surroundings.
A Word About Declawing - And that word is DON'T
I'm gonna say it again. DON'T DECLAW.
Unwanted scratching is a common cat behavior that drives humans nuts. Some humans try to address this by declawing their cats -- sometimes before the cat has even developed a scratching problem!
Declawing cats used to be a common, routine practice. Fortunately, this fact is changing, because declawing is incredibly traumatic for the unfortunate cat.
Humans think of declawing as if the operation involved their own fingernails being removed under anesthetic. First of all, does that sound fun to you? Would you subject yourself to that operation voluntarily?
Then why would you do it to your cat?
But as it turns out, declawing is even worse than that.
Declawing is Mutilation!
Declawing a cat is physically painful and emotionally scarring. The operation and its aftermath are so cruel that many vets flat out refuse to declaw cats! If your cat has a scratching problem, there are dozens of effective, compassionate solutions. Don't traumatize and mutilate your cat!
Declawing is Needless Amputation
And healing might not be possible
Now imagine that those finger joints are your chief defensive weapon. Without them you are completely defenseless, at the mercy of every other animal you meet for the rest of your life. You are unable to protect yourself in any way, and you know it. Do you think you might go a little crazy?
Unlike spaying and neutering, which are fairly simple operations, declawing is amputation. It is therefore much more painful than either of those operations, and it takes significantly longer to heal from the operation physically. Except that, in a way, you never exactly heal from an amputation. Your muscles and bones are an integrated structure, and when you remove something, the rest of the structure no longer fits together properly. The result can be a lifetime of pain.
Tinkering with a musculoskeletal structure is, of course, preferable to death. A life-threatening injury is the only time when amputation should be considered. If the problem is that you failed to get Tabby a scratching post, amputation is out of the question.
Aside from the physical scarring of declawing, declawed cats suffer psychological trauma. It's not uncommon even for humans to experience depression after a major illness or surgery, and in the case of declawing, the cat in question is well aware that they are now virtually defenseless. Declawed cats can develop anxiety and depressive disorders as a result. They can also undergo radical personality changes. Some of them might become fearful, hiding even from the humans they know well. Others can become extremely aggressive, compensating for the defenses they no longer have.
Alternatives to Declawing - Tabby needs to scratch!
Many veterinarians absolutely refuse to perform declawing amputations. Some of them will only declaw a cat if they're certain that the human "owner" will abandon the cat if it is not declawed.
Cats need to scratch. It is a physical need that cannot be changed. It can, however, be channeled. If you provide your cat with scratching toys, unwanted scratching should not be a problem. If it remains a problem, you can try double-sided tape on the objects you don't want scratched -- we hate having sticky things on our paws. Ultimately, there are claw caps that can be used, much more cheaply and kindly than a declawing amputation.
It might take some time to train your cat not to scratch the rugs or furniture. You might need to try several different scratching toys and various other solutions. Some of us have strong preferences for what we scratch. Please be patient.
And if you really value your furniture over the health and well-being of a living creature, do not consider bringing a cat into your home. Close this browser window, right now, and get yourself a chia pet instead.
The End of the Beginning
Because there's always more to learn about tabby cats!
I hope I've covered some of the important basic things you should know about tabby cats. Spaying and neutering is key. So is finding an alternative to declawing. So is healthy food, clean water, a nice litterbox, regular veterinary care, and lots of love and attention.
That being said, if you share your life with tabby cats, you will always be learning more about us. We will continue surprise you with our curiosity, our intelligence, and our unique personality quirks.
Since there's always more to learn about tabbies, I'll be writing more about them in the coming weeks. I might even let my co-kitty Piglet in on some of the fun.
Maine Coon Tabby by Tomitheos, retrieved from wikimedia commons
Feral tabby by Stavrolo , retrieved from wikimedia commons
Male Mackerel Tabby Cat by CalistaZ wikimedia commons
Red Tabby with Green Eyes: "Ginger" by Gage Skidmore wikimedia commons
Wet Tabby by Lamiot retrieved from wikmedia commons
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.