Owning a Cat For The First Time: Helpful Tips
By Elizabeth Racine, DVM April 05, 2019
You have just gotten your first cat – congratulations! Getting to know your new furry friend is a wonderful experience. Hopefully you have given your cat a name and got some of the basics covered – you’ve purchased a scratching post, set up a few litter boxes, and cat-proofed your home. Now what?
The First Days
Your cat’s first day in his new home can be a stressful one, particularly if he is not used to big transitions like this. While it is tempting to want to play and snuggle with your new pet immediately, give your cat some space for the first day or two to allow time for them to get acclimated to their new surroundings. Ideally, keep your cat confined to a small room for the first few days. This is especially important if you have other cats, other pets (like dogs), or children in the household because you will need to introduce your cat to each new housemate gradually. Your cat’s room should contain all of their basic needs such as food, water, litter, litter box, scratching post, toys, and comfortable resting areas. You can visit your cat in their room, but keep the interactions brief and positive. Bringing some tasty treats each time you visit will quickly teach your cat that you are a friend!
After your cat has had a chance to settle in, you can allow him to explore the rest of your home. Again, take this time to hang back and let him investigate at his own pace. This is also a time to keep other pets and children out of his way so he does not feel overwhelmed. As he explores, keep an eye out and make sure he finds his way to all of his important resources – food, water, litter box, etc. If he does not make his way to these areas on his own, you may need to show him where they are.
Once your cat has settled in, you will notice that he seems more relaxed and confident. At this point, you can start to allow him to roam the house more freely. This is the time when you can break out the toys and really start getting to know your new cat.
Getting to Know Your Cat
There is a reason why the internet has fallen in love with cats – their unique antics are an absolute joy to watch. If this is your first cat, you will undoubtedly have many moments of discovery and laughter as you learn to love your cat’s quirky behaviors. As you are getting to know your cat over the next few months, pay close attention to the details of his normal behavior. Things to look for include:
- Does your cat come running for his meals, or is he more of a grazing type?
- What type of food does he prefer?
- How often does your cat visit the litter box?
- Is there a particular toy he goes nuts for?
- Where are his favorite sleeping spots?
- What does his normal daily routine look like?
It may sound silly, but getting to know your cat’s personal preferences is one of the most important steps you can take to keep him healthy. Cats are masters at hiding signs of stress, pain, and illness. A change as simple as making a few extra trips to the water bowl or declining to play with a favorite toy can be an early sign of a problem. Unfortunately, these signs are so subtle that pet owners often miss them until their cat is seriously ill. By making a point to acquaint yourself with your cat’s individual habits, you will be better equipped to catch a potential problem before it turns into an emergency.
You should bring your cat to a veterinarian within the first few weeks of bringing him home. Even if your cat is currently healthy and up to date on his vaccinations, it is important that you find a veterinarian and establish yourself as a client so that you will know who to turn to when a problem arises. Your veterinarian will review your cat’s prior medical history and make recommendations for your cat’s routine preventive care. Your veterinarian will also perform a full physical exam to ensure your cat is healthy and to identify any potential problems. At this initial veterinary visit, it is important that you take this opportunity to ask any questions you may have about your cat. Good items to discuss include:
- What vaccinations are recommended for my cat, and when will they need to be given?
- Should my cat be on flea, tick, or heartworm preventive medications?
- What is the best diet for my cat?
- What are some common diseases that my cat may be exposed to, and how can I prevent them?
- When should my cat be spayed or neutered?
The answers to these questions often vary depending on your cat’s age, health, geographic location, and lifestyle. Taking the time to ask these questions at your veterinary visit ensures you will get expert information that is specific to your cat’s individual needs.
The initial veterinary visit is also an excellent time to discuss pet insurance. Similar to human health insurance, pet insurance provides financial assistance for your cat’s health care. This is especially important in the event of a major illness or emergency, which can quickly become costly. Pet insurance plans vary, so do your homework before you sign up and talk to your veterinarian to find out which companies they recommend. Unlike human health insurance, pet insurance does exclude pre-existing conditions. This means that if your cat has previously been diagnosed with a disease prior to enrolling in the insurance plan, the insurance company will not pay for medical care relating to that disease. If insurance coverage is something you want, then enrolling your cat early while he is young and healthy will ensure the best coverage possible.
Your cat has settled in and is happy with the new surroundings. He is up-to-date on his medical care.
You’ve bonded with him and you have a good sense of what his typical day is like. So how do you know when something is amiss? And if there is something wrong, what do you do about it?
Cat behavior is subtle, so even seemingly minor changes can be significant. Signs that your cat may be feeling unwell include:
- Changes in appetite or thirst.
- Changes in energy level.
- Changes in litter box habits.
- Restlessness or hiding.
- Decreased social behavior.
- Increased or decreased grooming behavior.
- Any overt signs of illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, etc.
If you are concerned that your cat may be unwell, your veterinarian is your best resource for advice.
While it may be tempting to scour the internet for answers or home remedies, doing so delays appropriate care and can even be harmful to your cat. Many veterinary clinics are willing to answer questions about current patients over the phone, so you can always call for advice if you are concerned.
If your cat’s behavior changes are significant, your veterinarian will likely recommend bringing him in for an examination. As always, it is better to be safe than sorry!
Bringing home your new cat is fun and exciting, but it is also an important transition for both of you. By allowing your cat to settle into his new environment gradually and taking time to get to know his particular needs, you’ll be setting him up for success. Congratulations on adopting your new feline friend!