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The Cat's Meow
Basic domestic cat care, pictures, and other information.
(This page is dedicated to Princess, my feline friend for over 14 years.)
Note: I am not a veternarian. The advice given here is my informed opinion. Use it at your own risk.
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Choosing a cat is an important decision because it will soon become part of the family. Before making the final choice, read some books about cats and visit your local pet shop or animal shelter. Look at different types of cats and decide whether you want a short-haired or long-haired cat. Some people prefer longhairs because they think they are prettier, but they also need a lot more brushing to stay neat.
You should decide if you want a purebred (one whose ancestors are all from the same breed), or a mixed breed (one whose parents are from more than one breed). Mixed breed cats are usually cheaper--sometimes even free. If you do have to pay for your cat, you will probably find that animal shelters charge less than the pet shops.
You should also decide if you want a tomcat (a male) or a queen (a female). Then carefully examine all the cats of the breed and gender you have chosen.. Choose one who looks healthy and alert. You may want the shy cat who looks at you from the back of its cage. Or you might prefer the playful one who comes right up to you. As long as it looks healthy, follow your heart!
If you decide to buy a purebred cat, you can find some books at your local library that describe the characteristics of each breed. (Or you can always surf the Web!) There is not much difference between breeds of cats. Purebred cats do have characteristics in common with others of their breed. Rex cats, for example. have curly hair. But even a purebred cat can have kittens of different colors. In appearance, as in everything else, cats are full of surprises.
Personality is more difficult to predict. For example, Siamese cats are said to be more nervous and need more attention that other breeds. However, many are very calm and independent.
The best thing to do is to see each cat as an individual. Look for one whose appearance and manner appeal to you.
Both young and old cats make excellent pets. A full-grown cat, handled gently and with respect, will soon settle into a new house. A kitten will need a bit more training. Choose any age cat that appeals to you.
When you buy a cat, you should receive their shot records. If your cat is a purebred, you may also be given a registration certificate, which tells what breed it is, and who its parents and grandparents were. You might also received an instruction booklet telling you what to feed your cat and how to take care of it.
Check with your local police station or town hall to find of your cat needs to be licensed.
If you are going to let your cat outside, it should have a collar with an ID tag. The ID tag can be bought at some hardware stores and vet clinics. Sometimes they can be ordered from cat food and toy packages. If your cat strays too far from home, the information on the ID tag will tell the finder who your cat belongs to. The best collar to use is elastic, or has an elastic section on it. Then, it the collar gets caught on something, it will help prevent the cat from being choked. The collar should hug the cat's neck without being tight. If your cat is still growing, the collar should be checked often to be sure it hasn't gotten too tight.
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Toys: All cats, especially young ones, love to play. They do appreciate a few favorite toys. Pet shops and department stores sell many cat toys. However, I have found the best cat toys are inexpensive, fluffy pom-poms "balls" sold in craft departments. Another toy cats like to play with are ping pong balls. You can also make toys for your cat. Try punching two small holes in a ping pong ball (like a bead has holes), and pass a string through it. Hang the ball so that it is about a foot above the cat's head, and she will spend hours stalking and catching it. Yarn is another fun toy for cats--Kittens love to chase a strand of yarn while you drag it across the floor.
Collar and ID tag;Another important item for your cat is a collar, with an ID tag. This topic was discussed in "Choosing and Buying a Domestic Cat".
Leash and halter, and/or a carrier: A leash and halter are very useful items for your cat. [If you plan to do a lot of traveling with your cat, consider buying a carrier instead of a leash and halter. I don't do much traveling with my cats. Therefore, I have found a leash and halter to be more versatile, AND much less expensive, than a carrier.] Some veterinarians require your pet to be on a leash with you bring them in. Cats are very nimble animals--Hooking the leash to a halter (which goes around the cat's chest as well as neck) is much more secure than hooking it to just a collar. When choosing a leash and halter for your cat, buy light nylon ones, available most department stores and pet shops. Make sure the halter is small enough to fit your cat snugly, but not too tight.
Scratching post: Cats have an instinctive need to file down their claws. They do that by scratching on rough surfaces. A cat who spends a lot of time outside often uses a tree for that. However, an indoor cat will look for something else. To make sure they don't choose your furniture for a scratching post, provide a good scratching post for your cat. Cats can be trained to scratch a post instead of furniture. (Some people have their cats declawed to protect their furniture. You will not need to buy a scratching post if your cat is declawed. Declawing a cat is a personal decision that should be thought over very carefully. If your cat will spend a lot of time outside, they will need their claws for defense and climbing. If your cat will spend a lot of time indoors, declawing may be an option to consider. Some of my cats were declawed, went outside occasionally, and did just as well as my cats who had all their claws--But my declawed cats were mainly indoor cats.)
Feeding dishes: A feeding bowl and water bowl are useful items to have. My favorite kind is the "self-feeding" type, which has a section for dry food and a section for water. However, if you have an older cat who is loosing her teeth, she will need a separate dish for moist food.
Litter pan: An essential item to have is a litter pan. If you browse through a pet shop or catalog, you may notice there are several styles to choose from. My cats use a standard litter box, with a cover, and we change the litter every couple days. My sister's cats use a "sifting" litter box, which easily separates the clean litter from the soiled litter.
Miscellaneous: Some people may suggest you buy additional items, such as a cat door and a cat bed. These items are nice, but not necessary. A cat door is very handy--If your cat has all it's claws, and you are comfortable allowing it to come and go as it pleases. Some cats will use a cat bed, and other cats prefer to find their own. For example, one of my cats likes to nap in an old cat basket, with an old towel for a cushion, hidden away under my dresser. The other cat is content to curl up in a shoe box, which my husband sat on top of his dresser to hold his odds 'n' ends.
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As soon as kittens are weaned from their mother's milk, at the age of six to eight weeks, they are ready to start solid food. You can ask your vet for advice. Some vets recommend small meals four or five times a day. Some vets prefer that the kitten's first solid food be softer and more finely chopped than adult cat's food. They may recommend an egg-milk mixture, baby cereal, or scraped meat. Other vets may advise using "kitten chow" dry food. In general, kittens need one ounce of food per each pound of body weight. So if the kitten weighs 2 pounds, you can start by giving him 2 ounces of food, divided into several meals.
An adult cat eats only once or twice a day. Whichever schedule you choose, you must stick to it. Cats are happier when they know when to expect their next meal. An extra meal or skipped meal only confuses or upsets them. Adult cats need about 1/2 ounce of food for every pound of body weight. So an adult cat weighing 12 pounds needs 6 ounces of food each day, which can be divided into two meals.
Cats need several different types of food to stay in top health. Proteins are the most important. They help your cat grow and give him strength. Proteins are found in meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and milk. Around 1/4 of your cat's daily food should be protein. Fats are also needed in your pet's diet. They help build muscles and nerves, and provide energy. Fats are found in oil, margarine, butter and fatty meats. Carbohydrates are not very important in a cat's diet. Most cats felines don't like them at all. Carbohydrates are found in bread, spaghetti and noodles.. Vitamins and minerals are also needed for good health. Cats who eat a good variety of the foods mentioned above will probably take in all the vitamins and minerals they need. Your vet will tell you if extra vitamin or mineral pills are needed. You should check with your vet before giving any pills to your cat.
The easiest way to feed your cat is to base his diet on prepared cat foods, which you can find in any grocery store or pet shop. Some of these foods have been tested by scientists and contain a "balanced" meal of all the types of foods your cat needs. If the label on the cat food says "balanced diet", or "complete diet", or something similar, it means the food will keep your cat in good health. These prepared cat foods come in three basic forms:
Every cat should have a bowl of water available at all times. Wash the bowl and fill it with fresh water every day. You can give your cat milk once in a while, if they like it. But do not substitute it for water. And do not give it too often. Too much milk can upset an adult cat's digestive system.
Older cats have similar needs to kittens. Older cats need to eat smaller meals because their stomachs can't always handle large quantities of food. Therefore, they have to eat for frequently to get all the food they need. You can try giving an older cat four small meals a day, instead of two large ones. Older cats often need food that is easy to digest. As an older cat looses it's teeth, it will also need soft, easy to chew foods. Usually canned food works well with older cats. You can ask your vet what they would recommend.
You can mix some table scraps with your cats food. However, don't make your leftovers a major part of his diet. They may not provide enough of the kinds of food your cat needs to stay healthy. Do not give your cat uncooked pork. Do not give your cat any meat with small bones in it. The bones may splinter and catch in his throat. If you give your cat turkey or chicken, remove the skin and bones before he eats it. Skin can upset his digestive system.
Many cats are fussy eaters. If you change cat food brands, and your cat snubs the new brand, just keep giving it to him at his regular feeding times. After a few sessions, your cat will get the message--eat what there is, or be hungry. Your cat will soon decide to eat. (The only time when this method won't work is when your cat roams around outside. Many cats are expert hunters, and may decide to start eating what they catch. Or, they might even get handouts from neighbors. If your cat is not eating properly, he may be getting fed elsewhere. Keep him inside for a while until he begins to eat properly.)
You might ask your vet or people at the animal shelter what they recommend for your particular cat.
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Cats are one of the cleanest animals in the world, even if they are never given a bath. This is because cats groom themselves by licking their fur, or by wiping themselves with a wet paw. You will probably never have to give your cat a bath. This may make you both happy, since most cats do not like taking baths.
However, if your cat falls in a mud puddle or some other dirty place, you may have to clean her up. You can make the bath as easy as possible by putting a rubber mat in the bottom of bath tub. If she has something to sink her claws into, she feels more secure. Also, you may want to wear some heavy clothing to keep yourself protected from her claws. Use only pure, white soap to clean your cat. Rinse her well in warm water. After the bath, you can carefully dry most of the cat's fur with a towel. Keep her in a warm, draft free place until you are sure she is dry. (If your cat gets just a spot of mud on them, it would be easier to "spot clean" the area with a washcloth.)
Cats "brush" dead hair from their fur with their bristly tongues. Then they swallow the hair. If they swallow too much hair, they may have a problem with hair ball--thick wads of fur that collect inside their body. Most of the time, cats vomit up the hairballs without much problem. However, they hairball can get too large, and get stuck. It is best to brush your cat at least a few times a week. This takes out most of the dead hair, leaving only a little for the cat to swallow. Use a brush made especially for pets, which you can buy at a department store or pet shop. Your cat may be nervous about being brushed, at first. If you make it part of a regular routine, they will begin to enjoy it. Cats come to love the attention they get while being brushed.
A cat gets her permanent teeth by the time she is 7 or 8 months old. As the cat eats, tartar begins to build up on her teeth. If this tartar is not removed, the teeth can decay. You may want to take your cat to your vet regularly to have her teeth cleaned. You can ask your vet for advice about having your cat's teeth cleaned. Feeding your cat hard, crunchy food will help scrape off the tarter and keep her teeth clean between visits to the vet.
The tufts of hair growing in front of a cat's ears help keep dust and dirt out. However, sometimes dirt does get in and her ears will need to be cleaned. To clean your cat's ears, hold your her on your lap. With a piece of cotton gently wipe the dust and dirt out of the ear. If wax has built up, put some baby oil on the cotton. Don't pull or stretch the ear to get deep inside. Wipe only the part you can reach easily. If your cat's ears are itchy or sore, call your vet. She may have ear mites or an infection that needs professional treatment.
Cats that play outside usually wear their claws down. The rough bark of trees they climb and the concrete they walk on help keep cats' claws short. If your cat spends a lot of time inside, she can use a scratching post to keep her claws the proper length. If you cat is indoors all the time and doesn't use the scratching post much, you may have to help her keep her claws trimmed. Use a clippers to do this, not a scissors. Clippers give much greater control in cutting. If you cut the inner part of the claw, the quick, it will be very painful for her. Be sure to trim only the outer part, the tips, of your cat's claws.
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The easiest way to find a veterinarian is to ask your friends who owns cats about their veternarians. If none of your friends have cats, look in the yellow pages of your telephone book for a vet near you. Call them first to see if they take care of cats, and to make an appointment.
When you buy a kitten, the seller will give you a vaccination certificate. The certificate will show what shots the kitten has received, and when his next shots are due. (If you did not receive a vaccination paper, or if your kitten has never been vaccinated, take them to the vet immediately and have vaccinations done. It is safer to possibly redo vaccinations, than to risk leaving him unprotected.) Soon after you get your kitten, take them to the vet for a check-up. The vet will check for worms, fleas and other illnesses. They can also give you advice on how to take care of him.
All cats need to be protected a gainst a disease called feline distemper. This dangerous illness kills over half the cats who get it. Your vet may also recomment vaccinations against rabies, and other diseases. Your vet will tell you what shots are necessary in the area where you live.
A vet's office can be a strange, frightening place for a cat. You will probably want to make this trip as easy on your cat, and you, as possible. Some people suggest a carrier to take your cat to the vet in. Others use a leash with a halter, and wrap the cat in a towel or old sweater. Keep him in the carrier, or towel, until he is on the examination table. During the examination you can help your cat by talking to him gently, and keeping your hand on his back (without getting in the vet's way).
Frequent scratching: A cat who scratches a lot may have fleas, lice or ticks. These tiny pests also carry germs that cause illnesses, so it is important to get rid of them right away. Hold your cat and run your hand carefully through his fur. If you see a tiny dark colored animal hop away from your hand, it's probably a flea. To get rid of fleas you will have to treat both the cat, and his bedding, and his favorite places, since fleas lay eggs. If your cat has fleas, buy some flea powder at a store or pet shop. Buy only the kind that is labeled "safe for cats". You may also want to buy a flea comb. Stand your cat on some newspaper and dust him with the powder. Put it all over his body, rubbing against the direction his fur grows. Then carefully comb in out. The dead fleas should fall off. If you see any powder left on your cat's body, be sure to brush it out. It's not healthy for your cat to lick the powder. When you have finished the procedure, be sure to wash your hands. You should also use flea spray to spray cracks and corners where your cat spends a lot of time. Wash the cat's bed, or the place where he sleeps.
Lice look like bits of ash on the cat's skin. They can usually be killed tih the same powders or sprays that kill fleas. Make sure to treat both the cat, and his bedding and favorite places, thoroughly.
Tick look like little pieces of dirt, but if you look closely, you will see they are alive. They are tiny flat spiders, and have eight legs. When you remove a tick from your cat make sure you get all of it. If part of it breaks off and is left on your cat, it could cause an infection. To remove a tick from your cat, soak the tick with a cotton ball saturated with alcohol. Then pluck it off with a tweezers and flush it down the toilet.
If your cat is itching frequently, and you don't find ticks, fleas or lice, take him to the vet immedicately. He may have a skin condition that needs treatment.
Limping: If your cat is limping, look at his paw. If you see a cut, wash it with soap and water, and sprinkle some germ-killing liquid or powder on it. Use a germ-killer, or antiseptic, that is safe for babies since cats will often lick it off. Never use a medicine marked "for external use only", as it will poison your cat. If the cut won't stop bleeding, take the cat to the vet. If you don't see a cut, check for a splinter. If there is a splinter, remove it with tweezers. If there is something stuck very deep in the paw, you may have to take your cat to the vet to have it removed.
Problems urinating: If your cat strains when urinating, call your vet immediately. If you notice anything unusual about your cat's urination, call the vet right away. It can be very serious.
Tearing eyes: A healthy cat's eyes are always clear and bright. If your cat's eyes are red or tearing, something is wrong. The problem could be a number of things. He may have a cold, be allergic to something, or have an eye infection. You should check with your vet.
Worms: Worms may give a cat a pot belly, make him itch, cough, or have diarrhea. They cat may also become restless and loose weight, even though he is eating normally. If you think your cat might have worms, you can check by picking up a sample of his bowel movement with a plastic bag. DO NOT touch it with your fingers because it may contain worms' eggs. Seal teh plastic bag and take it, and your cat, to the vet. They will examine the sample to see what kind of worms your cat has. Then they will prescribe medicine. Whenever your vet prescribes medicine, ask your vet to show you how to give it to your cat. Many vets may give your cat a dose while you are there, and demonstrate how you should do it.
Vomiting, Diarrhea, and Constipation: Cats vomit occasionally to bring up a hairball. An easy way to treat, and prevent, hairballs is by brushing your cat regularly and giving them hairball "medicine" sold at stores and pet shops. (Hairball medicine is usually a flavored petrolium "gel-like" substance that comes in a tube. Sometimes a cat will lick it off your finger. Some reommend to put it on your cat's paw so the cat licks it off. However, I don't. My cats always run off, and the gel falls off or gets mushed in the carpet. For my cats, it works better if I smudge it along their mouth.) If your cat vomits, and shows other signs of illness like irregular bowel movements and tiredness, call your vet.
If your cat has diarrhea and otherwise seems to be feeling well, he probably just ate something that disagreed with him. Give him a meal of finely chopped lean beef for a day and see if his diarrhea goes away. If it doesn't, or if he seems to feel sick, call the vet.
Most cats occasionally have constipation. It could be caused by a hairball, or by not drinking enough liguids. Try giving your cat a meal of raw liver. If this does not help, or if your cat refuses to eat and acts sick, call your vet.
Call the vet immediately when: Here are a few of the symptoms which could mean something serious: if the whites of the eyes turn red or yellow; matting or "gunk" in the eyes; hair falls out in patches; vomitting for more than one day; diarrhea for more than one day; any problems with urination (straining, blood traces, etc.); constipation for more than two days; unusual tired or weary behavior.
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