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10 Cat Care Secrets All First-time Cat Parents Should Know

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Overview

Becoming a first-time cat parent is an exciting experience — but as a newbie, you may feel a little nervous and unsure of what to expect. After all, cats aren't like dogs (or any other species, really!)

You may wish you had an instruction manual to help address common cat concerns like marking and aggression. Luckily, you're in the right place. We have compiled 10 cat care secrets to help ensure your fur-baby starts off on the right paw!

Featuring advice from real cat parents on the Wag! team, this article will explore some lesser-known cat care tips they wish they knew before welcoming a new kitty into their pride.

Be careful with strays if you have other household pets

If you're reading this article because you've recently picked up a stray, congratulations! Bringing home a rescue is super exciting, but it’s important that you don’t rush introductions if you have other pets.  

Always quarantine strays before bringing them into a multi-pet environment. Strays probably haven't seen a vet in a while (if ever) and may come bearing parasites and contagious illnesses.

Before introducing your new feline to the rest of your furry crew, you should make sure they've:

It's a good idea to get a vet's seal of approval before making the official introduction. (Keep in mind that you shouldn't have to worry about these issues if you get a former stray from a shelter or reputable rescue.)

person wearing blue and white shirt cuddling with a ginger cat

Know that bonding won't be instant

Know that an instant movie-like connection probably isn't going to happen the first time you meet your cat. Like people, cats need time with their new pet parents to bond and get to know them — and you'll probably feel the same way!

Don't force your cat to cuddle or interact with you if they're clearly feeling uncomfortable. If you're not sure how to tell whether your cat likes being petted, check out our guide on reading cat body language.

Kittens tend to warm up to people much faster than adults, seniors, or rescues. But with some patience and lots of treats, you'll have a "furever" friend in no time.

two cats standing by a front door preparing to fight with claws raised

Not all people get along, and the same goes for pets! There's always the possibility your new pack member won't jibe with the rest of the crew — and that's okay. Sure, signs of aggression need to be dealt with, but a mutual dislike that goes no further than offering a wide berth isn't going to do much harm.    

It's important to mention that wild cats rarely cohabitate well with other animals besides their offspring. Cats are typically solitary creatures and are territorial by nature. They use urine and pheromones to tell others, "This is my turf," and aren't afraid to fight if an animal crosses their invisible boundary. 

Domesticated cats sometimes invite other animals into their pride, and when they do, they bond for life. But until your kitty decides they are okay with their housemates, you'll need to monitor their interactions for the first few weeks.

We suggest following this basic protocol to ensure everyone's safety when introducing a cat to your pack.

  1. Never force your cat to interact with other animals. Doing so could cause the cat to become fearful and reactive and may result in a fight or your cat being traumatized. Instead, give your cat a few days to warm up to their housemates. 

  2. If a fight breaks out, calmly separate the animals if it's safe to do so. Don't scold or hit your cat for showing aggression, either. Hitting and yelling will only heighten your cat's emotional response and may make them more reactive. 

  3. Once the animals calm down, try focusing on positive reinforcement. Encouraging your cat to tolerate the other animals by offering treats or pets for remaining calm in the presence of their housemates. This method is also helpful for reintegrating territorial or reactive animals after a period of separation. 

  4. If your cat isn't improving after trying these tips, you may need to chat with your vet. They can give you helpful strategies for dealing with cat aggression and prescribe medication or give you a referral for a specialist, if necessary.

person holding red toothbrush brushing a ginger cat's teeth

Make oral hygiene a priority from the start

Like humans, cats can develop tooth decay and gum disease if their teeth aren't properly cared for. Regular brushing and tooth cleanings are essential to maintaining your cat's pretty smile and keeping them out of pain — but you need to start this daily ritual from the get-go.

As you can imagine, most cats don't love getting their teeth brushed, but getting your cat accustomed to an oral hygiene routine from kittenhood will help them not be as fearful once they're older (and stronger)! For a step-by-step walkthrough, check out our guide on how to train your cat to let you brush their teeth.

As for supplies, we suggest a silicone finger brush for kittens and a larger plastic bristle brush for adults. Remember, only use toothpaste made specifically for cats!

person wearing gloves holding a spray bottle and sponge above stained carpet

Have appropriate cleaning chemicals on hand to tackle accidents

Sooner or later, your cat will have an accident, whether that means pottying outside of the litter box or spraying. You need to make sure you're prepared with the right supplies on hand to tackle these messes before they happen.

Along with helping restore your carpet's normal appearance, the right cleaning products will also remove the scent (both for you and your pets, who have a much keener sense of smell than we do). Getting rid of the odor will prevent your cat from returning to the scene of the crime and ensure other pets don't take their accident as permission to potty on the floor.  

We highly recommend investing in an enzymatic cleaner for cleaning up pet stains — bonus points if you can find a concentrated version that you can dilute! Enzymatic cleaners disintegrate urine molecules, unlike other cleaners, which just lift the stain and freshen the area. It's important to avoid cleaning solutions that contain chemicals like ammonia or bleach since these can actually attract your pet back to the area. 

black and brown cat using a litter box

Put some thought into their litter box

You should consider your cat's bathroom habits when choosing a litter box. Cats who like privacy tend to do better with a covered box, whereas an open pan might be best for kittens who are still uncertain of their environment. If your cat is enthusiastic about burying their deposits, you might want to invest in a high-sided or covered box to minimize the mess.

Pet parents tend to hide the litter boxes away from sight (and smell), but hiding your pet's bathroom might cause them to do their business elsewhere. We recommend putting the litter box in an area where your cat spends a lot of time (like your living room or bedroom) until they get the hang of it. It's also important that you have at least one litter box per cat in your household, and you might need even more than that if your house is large.

If you're adopting a young kitten, you'll need to teach them the purpose of a litter box. Some kittens will nap in their pan or even try to eat the litter until they learn its function — but luckily, kittens are quick learners.

When your kitten has an accident on the floor, put the waste in their litter box and cover it with litter. Encourage your kitten to sniff the box so they learn precisely what it's for. Do this every time your cat has an accident until they catch on.

Lastly, keep the litter box clean! You should be scooping your cat's pan at least once a day, both for sanitary reasons and to prevent your cat from going elsewhere. Cats are meticulous about their hygiene and are not above soiling the floor to avoid stepping in a dirty box!

brown glass essential oil bottles surrounded by herbs and lemons

Know that the holistic route isn't always the best health approach for beginners

Many first-time pet parents want to take a holistic approach to their pet's health and try alternative treatments. While herbal medicine has many wonderful applications, we strongly suggest you talk to a vet before trying any herbal remedies. Herbal medicine can be harmful or even deadly  if you don't know what you're doing.

Many herbs and essential oils are toxic to felines, and there are countless websites with conflicting (and frankly dangerous) recommendations about which herbs and oils are pet-safe. We recommend that you always get a vet's advice if your cat is sick and ask a professional's opinion before trying home remedies for parasites or illnesses.   

white and ginger cat scratching a tree to shed their claws

Learn the difference between instinctive and problem behaviors — and how to address them

Behavioral problems are the most common reason pet parents return their cats to shelters, but many behaviors that pet parents classify as problematic are actually instinctive — like nighttime zoomies and scratching furniture. The good news is that there are ways to help your cat to fulfill those natural urges in a positive and less intrusive way.

Wanting to stop your cat's late-night escapades is completely understandable. But it's important to realize cats are nighttime predators. When you see your cat darting up the halls at 2 AM, know they're just acting on their predatory instincts — but there is a way to minimize this behavior (and help you get your shut-eye).

To reduce the frequency of those late-night wake-up calls, try enriching your cat's environment and making playtime a priority every day. A fun tower to climb and a few rounds with the teaser toy can go a long way toward satisfying those unmet natural desires. 

Scratching is another instinctive (and very healthy) behavior cats use to groom their claws. With scratching, the key is to redirect the behavior rather than eliminate it. You can do this by offering your cat an appropriate place to scratch (like a scratching post) and incentivizing them to use it by sprinkling catnip on the surface or offering treats when they use it.

By creating a space where your cat is free to be a cat, you can encourage them to express their instincts constructively rather than waiting for them to do what's natural in an inappropriate place (like your couch) and getting mad.

tabby cat hissing with heckles raised

Stress behaviors and fear responses can also be mistaken for behavioral problems. Aggression, constant grooming, hiding, and not eating are all signs that your cat could be overwhelmed or scared. If your cat is exhibiting any of these behaviors, you should make an appointment with your vet to have them checked for any underlying conditions.  

Pay attention to the events that surround your cat's unusual behavior. Does your cat get antsy when you run the vacuum, or when the kids get loud? Can you think of a recent life change that may have triggered your cat's stress? Getting to the root cause will help you to anticipate and avoid your cat's triggers when possible.

Luckily, there are a few ways cat parents can help their fur-babies cope with stress. Pheromone therapy, compression wraps, and giving your cat space to decompress are all ways you can help sooth your pet. Severe cases may require the help of an animal behaviorist or prescription medication, so talk to your vet if your efforts aren't making a difference in your cat's symptoms.

veterinarian wearing blue scrubs petting a white and gray cat

Don't forget to insure your pet

Between routine checkups, accidents, and illnesses, cats can rack up quite the vet bill during their lifetime. That's why it's important to insure your pet from the moment you bring them home.

But with all the pet insurance providers and plans out there, it can be hard to know where to start. Use Wag!'s pet insurance comparison tool to see how plans from leading providers stack up and save over $270 a year on vet care.



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