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Cat Care Handbook

Prepared for the Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc. by Ginnie R. Maurer

This publication is copyrighted. Requests for permission to reprint any portion should be sent to Ginnie Maurer. Any usage would be accompanied with acknowledgement of PAW and the author.

Contents

  • Letter
  • Supply List
  • Bringing Your Feline Friend Home
  • Cat Carriers
  • Food and Water
  • Litter and Litter Box
  • Toys
  • Furniture and Bedding
  • Collar and Tags
  • Discipline
  • Health Care
  • Disease
  • Fleas
  • Spay/neuter
  • Grooming
  • Introducing the New Addition
  • Indoor/outdoor
  • Declawing
  • Saying Goodbye
  • Burial
  • Helpful Resources
  • Final Thoughts

Dear Adopter:

Thank you for choosing to adopt your feline companion from Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc. (PAW). To help make the transition from the cat's foster home to your home easier, please read this helpful handbook. If you have any questions, contact the PAW volunteer whose name and number is listed on your contract or call the PAW line 301-572-4729 and leave a message. Do not wait until a behavior or issue becomes insurmountable. Call immediately with your questions and concerns.

If you are bringing your adopted feline into a multipet household, one "parental" attribute almost as important as love is patience. A period of adjustment, which may range from several hours to several days, or even weeks, may be required to acclimate the animals to each other. PAW volunteers are willing to provide additional assistance to help with any questions or problems you may experience. Even if your new cat will be an only pet, you still want to give the cat time to adjust to his or her new surroundings.

Introduce the new cat to his or her room, which contains a litter box, fresh water, a bed, and a few toys. Wait about one hour before feeding kitty to allow his or her stomach to settle down. Acquaint kitty with his or her litter box. After a time, from several hours to a day or so (you will sense when the time is right), let the cat explore at his or her own pace. He or she may be the "explorer" checking out the entire house or be the "scaredy-cat" just hiding under the bed. With love, patience, and time he or she will become accustomed to the new surroundings.

Spend time alone with your new companion so that the two of you can bond. The rules of your house should be taught right away. Reward good behavior, lavishly praising for using the litter box and scratching post/box.

We recommend keeping your new cat on the same food as was fed at his or her foster home for at least two weeks. After that, if you wish to change the diet, do so gradually and with the advice of your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritional consultant. Sometimes, stress may result in a cat refusing to eat. If your cat refuses to eat, try some tuna fish water (from a can of people tuna) on the food, plain yogurt, chicken baby food, or other "treat" as may be suggested by the foster home provider. If your cat does not eat for more than two days, please contact your veterinarian.

Please be aware that a cat that has been on a special diet for health reasons must continue to eat that food (i.e., a prescription diet for feline urological syndrome). Always provide your cat with plenty of fresh water.

Please be patient. Your patience will be rewarded with a happy, well-adjusted feline friend.

We appreciate your adopting your newest family member from Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc. and wish you many years of feline fun.

Sincerely,
Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.

Supply List

The following is a checklist of items you will want to have on hand before you adopt your feline friend. The list is not meant to be all inclusive. You may add as many other items as you wish or need to make the transition from your cat's previous home to yours smooth and simple.

If you are picking up the cat, make sure you have a cat-approved carrier (either cardboard or molded plastic). Cardboard boxes not specifically designed as a cat carrier are inappropriate. You will need a cat carrier shortly after adoption if you don't pick up the cat because you will need a carrier to transport the cat whenever you take the cat visiting (the vet, relatives, etc.)

Items to have on hand when the cat/kitten arrives:

*Litter box (covered or uncovered - your choice) and litter (clay or clumping (except for kittens), biodegradable - all unscented)

*High quality food (canned and/or dried) - (i.e., Nutro Max, Iams, Science Diet or special diet as recommended by foster home provider)

*Cat/kitten safe toys - catnip toys, ping pong balls, wadded up paper (never tinfoil), pipe cleaners, rings off gallon jugs of milk/juice, small furry mice, etc.

*Scratching post/box - cat furniture/trees

*Bedding - clean and easy to keep that way - thick enough for comfort

*Water and food bowls - stay away from plastic for both bowls. Plastic holds smells and bacteria and can become rancid. Use porcelain or stainless steel

*Products like Simple Solution, Nature's Miracle, or Equalizer to clean up any "accidents"

*Collar and tag - break away cat collar and i.d. tag

Bringing Your Feline Friend Home

Whether you have had one or one hundred cats, you will want to prepare for the arrival of the new addition to your home. Make sure you have special supplies just for him or her. Fewer turf fights exist when additional equipment is supplied for the newest member of your family.

That is right - member of your family. Companion animals, pets, whatever name you give, your critters are members of your family, not possessions. As you make decisions for you and your family, make sure you include all its members. How will your decisions affect the four-footed, finned, feathered, scaled in your charge?

You may still make the same decisions, just keep your animals in mind as you do. Make provisions for them when you go on vacation, when you will be home late from work, when you move, when you become unable to care for them, when you die. They give you so much unconditionally; give them as much as you can in return.

Before you open the carrier containing your new ball of fluff, remember to kitty-proof your home. Look up as well as down. Look up at objects hanging off lamp shades, chandeliers, etc. Get on your hands and knees to see what dangers lurk under your sofa and bed, behind your desk. Protect kitty from his or her natural curiosity by removing tempting objects (this goes not just for the eight-week-old kitten but also for the eighteen-year-old cat). You may have to cover electrical outlets, especially for kittens, as you would for a human infant. You may need to tape up or cover electrical cords if kitty is showing any interest in chewing them - can burn or kill kitty.

Check for other dangers. For instance, are there shopping bags around? Kitties love to hide in bags. Make sure the handles have been removed so that kitty does not get caught in them, scaring him or her, possibly causing an accident. Are there plastic bags around? Just as plastic bags are unsafe for our human infants, plastic bags are unsafe for our feline friends. Some cats like to swallow plastic - definitely not a healthy behavior. So, be careful of dry cleaning, shopping, and newspaper bags - all dangers to our kitties. Venetian blind and window shade cords can also become dangers to our feline friends if they catch a limb or their neck in them.

Keep all medicine, under-the-sink, and laundry room cabinets securely closed (some cats can open just about any cabinet so use childproof latches on all cupboard doors). We must protect our precious furballs since they do not know what harm lurks in our homes. Remember, companion animals are terminally two years old. They are infantile in their trust and in their curiosity. Keep harmful objects (solids, powders, and liquids) out of their grasp so that they can exercise their curiosity in safety.

If kitty spends time outside (more on that later), be aware of other dangers. The obvious ones are motor vehicles and predators. Less obvious are such dangers as antifreeze (its sweet taste tempts our feline friends). If ingested, antifreeze can kill our companion animals. Clean up all spills immediately.

Cat Carriers

You can get cardboard carriers (some cats, however, will tear at the cardboard until they are free). There are inexpensive plastic carriers similar to the cardboard ones and then there are the more expensive plastic ones. Also, there are shoulder-bag carriers made of fabric and there are old-fashioned wicker carriers. Regardless of your choice, make sure the carrier is large enough for kitty to turn around in, sturdy enough to hold kitty securely, well-ventilated, and properly latched.

If you are travelling by air with kitty, you must use airline-approved carriers (one style for cabin travel and one for cargo travel). Always check with the airlines to find out what is acceptable to them and what their rules are regarding transporting animals. Each airline has its own rules.

For those who have leash trained kitty, put kitty in a carrier when he or she is being transported. What would you do if you were in a car accident? Having kitty in a carrier will protect kitty against some injury and will keep him or her contained until help arrives.

Food and Water

We cannot begin to tell you specifically what kind of food to feed your friendly feline. The variety of cat food (canned and dry) is staggering. The pet food industry is a multi-billion dollar-a-year business (8 1/2 billion dollars in sales in 1993).

A complete, well-balanced diet is essential to maintain your cat's purr-fect health. Many disease states can be traced to improper nutrition or failure to follow a prescribed diet. Name-brand commercial cat foods are formulated to provide all the nutritional needs of the cat. Premium foods (such as those purchased through veterinarians and pet stores) use higher quality ingredients and a fixed formula. Because of their nutrient concentration, lesser amounts of food are needed to maintain the cat's weight and meet nutritional needs. Please be aware that a cat that has been on a special diet for health reasons must continue to eat that food (i.e., a prescription diet for feline urological syndrome).

If you want to feed kitty human food, make sure it is healthy for him or her and make it a treat rather than a substitute for manufactured or home prepared feline food. Human tuna does not contain all the nutrients kitty needs so avoid giving that as a meal. A stray piece that happens to fall kitty's way is acceptable. Give kitty fresh fruit or fresh vegetables as a treat. Many of us have the image of a kitty drinking from a saucer of milk. Some cats may tolerate milk, but yogurt and lactaid milk are better choices especially if kitty is on antibiotics (keeps the intestinal flora working in harmony). Bones of any kind should never be given to your cat. Some foods, including turkey, can cause diarrhea.

If you wish to make your cat's food yourself, consult books and your veterinarian for nutritionally sound recipes. Home prepared diets rely on all-natural foods in their freshest state. Making kitty's food requires time and dedication and you may be just the right person to do it.

In deciding what to feed your feline, price should not be the sole consideration. Read labels. Are there unnatural additives and preservatives that could adversely affect your kitty? Saving on your food bill may increase your veterinary bill. You may pay less for a particular brand, but your cat may eat more of it because he or she is not getting good quality nutrition. Where are the savings there? The slightly higher-priced spread may be just the right balance for your cat and your wallet. For guidance on what and how much to feed your feline, ask your veterinarian.

Along with the many regular brands of cat food, there are at least a half dozen specialized diets for felines with health problems (i.e., kidney disease, lower urinary tract disease, allergies). Feeding your feline the right food for his or her age, health, weight, and life-style gives your kitty the best chance for a good life.

Once you have decided on the type of food you want to feed your cat, you want to determine how and where you will serve him or her. Put kitty's food (and water) in stainless steel or porcelain bowls without any painted surfaces (should the glaze wear, you don't want paint leaching into kitty's food). Avoid using plastic bowls because no matter how well you clean plastic, residue can remain and germs can grow. Suddenly you have a sick cat or one with feline acne because he or she was eating from germ-laden bowls. Wash these bowls daily. Do you eat off dirty plates? Well, okay, once in a while - but not as a rule. Neither should kitty. Place kitty's bowls in out-of-the-way areas so that kitty can eat undisturbed by the two- and possibly other four-footed beasties in his or her home.

Obesity is often a problem with kitties. Many cat owners feel that once a cat is spayed or neutered, he or she will become fat. What causes kitty to become fat is too much food or the wrong kind of food.

To determine if kitty is overweight, run your hands along kitty's rib cage. Do you feel ribs? If you do (and you cannot see them), kitty is fine. (If you can see kitty's ribs, kitty is underweight). If you cannot feel ribs, kitty needs to lose some weight.

Be careful not to radically change the amount and type of food you are feeding kitty. Such quick changes can cause tummy problems for kitty. However, if you have been leaving food down all the time (free-feeding), you may want to change to set meals (usually one in the a.m. and one in the p.m.) leaving the food bowl down for 30-45 minutes. Read the can and bag labels to determine the correct portion size for your feline.

Obese cats may face increased health risks similar to the health risks obese humans face. Unless kitty knows how to open the refrigerator door or the kitchen cupboard, you are the one in charge of his or her diet and you are the one who can create a healthy lifestyle for kitty.

Water is life. Without it, no one can survive. Make sure the water you give to kitty is clean, fresh, filtered if needed, changed daily, and placed in a stainless steel or porcelain bowl that is cleaned daily. Water is easy to obtain; make sure kitty has an ample supply.

Some cats like to drink out of receptacles other than their water bowl - dripping faucets, tubs wet from showers and baths, and toilets. Regardless of the bowl of choice, make sure it is clean - soap residue and bacteria can cause kitty health problems.

Litter and Litter Box

If you have an eight-week-old kitten, you will want a small litter box so that he or she can easily climb into it. You will also want to keep that new baby in a small area so that he or she can find the litter box easily. As your cat grows, so can the size of the litter box.

Make sure the litter box is large enough for your cat to move around and dig in as that is what most like to do (some even like to sleep in the litter box - especially when they are frightened). The box can be open or covered.

If your kitty has been tracking litter around the house or is tossing it out of the box, or if waste material has landed outside the box because kitty sometimes hangs his or her butt over the side, place your litter box inside a larger and slightly higher box or use a covered litter box. You can use hemp door mats under the boxes to catch errant pieces of litter. These mats also make great scratching surfaces.

Clumping and clay litter, shredded paper, environmentally friendly litter, scented and unscented - all are available. Your choice often rests on what is best and easiest for you and, of course, what kitty will use! You can provide several litter boxes, some with clay and some with clumping litter. To avoid conflict, have as many litter boxes as you have cats even if the litter boxes are right next to each other. Also, have litter boxes on all floors of your home (especially in a multi-cat and/or multi-level household). Regardless of where your feline friends are, they should have easy access to a litter box. As kitty ages, he or she may not be able to make it from the second floor of his or her home to the basement without having an accident. Help kitty be the fastidious feline he or she is by making litter boxes easily available.

Make sure you remove the waste matter from the litter box daily. Would you want to use a toilet that has not been flushed for several days? Wash the box frequently with hot soapy water and a vinegar-and-hot-water rinse (if cats lick surfaces that have a soapy residue, they can get diarrhea).

Keep litter boxes in out-of-the-way places. You do not want an audience when you take care of your personal needs; neither does kitty. There are some beautiful screens that can be put in front of the litter box for privacy from both the cat's point of view and from yours. You can make your own screen of cardboard and a brace and then decorate the cardboard with photos of kitty in more socially acceptable poses.

Generally, kittens are litter box trained by eight weeks of age (some even younger), and most cats use the litter box for the rest of their lives with few mishaps. However, breaking litter box use is one reason cats are given up at shelters or simply let go. First, determine why kitty is messing outside the box. Then, look for a cure. Health problems, such as lower urinary tract disease, could cause kitty to miss. So, your first action is to take kitty to your veterinarian. Once kitty's health is restored, kitty should go back to using the litter box. Young kittens may get so excited playing that they have accidents; older cats may not be able to get to the litter box easily. Make personal hygiene easy for them by having several litter boxes near their favorite places. Changing the brand of litter or moving the box to a different location may cause kitty to miss. Make all changes slowly. Keep a box with the old litter next to the box with the new litter so that kitty can adjust. Of course, make sure that all boxes are cleaned daily. Kitty may be using the laundry basket because his or her litter box has not been scooped or washed recently.

Cats have been known to leave "calling cards" as a way of marking territory. If you find pee and/or poop on your bed, kitty may be telling you to come back to his or her favorite place. Do not be angry with kitty for leaving you such gifts; kitty just does not understand that his or her scent is not enticing to us.

Remember: never shove your cat's nose in his or her mess or force him or her into the litter box. Such actions on your part will not produce the desired results on your cat's part. In fact, forcing kitty into the litter box may have just the opposite effect - kitty will connect the litter box with negative feelings from you, so he or she may stay away from it permanently!

Toys

Inexpensive toys are everywhere. Ball up a piece of paper and let kitty chase it, take the plastic rings from milk jugs and toss them around, roll empty toilet paper rolls on the floor and watch kitty charge them. Tie a lightweight toy to a string and the string to a stick and you have an instant kitty teaser. Tie a string with a toy at the end to a door knob for another source of kitty fun. A hand inside an oven mitt can be a fun attack toy (never play with kitty with your bare hands as kitty may bite and scratch you, and you do not want him or her getting into the habit). Play a flashlight on the wall or make shadows on the wall and see kitty pounce. Put an empty paper bag on the floor and watch kitty investigate. Put a toy inside the bag and watch kitty wrestle with it. If you think like a cat, you will find endless games to play with your friend.

Of course, you can always buy or make toys for your friend. Many have catnip in them to keep kitty happy. Some cats do not respond to catnip and others go nuts (some go so nuts that they probably should be kept away from catnip!). You can buy catnip loose and make your own toys or simply spread the catnip on kitty's favorite resting place.

As with human infants, you have to monitor the toys with which your cat plays. String is a definite no-no unless you are holding onto the other end (a swallowed string can wrap itself around or block your cat's intestines with deadly results). If you play with a string, put it away after your game. Keep rubber bands, paper clips, needles, thread, and small objects out of your feline friend's reach. Remember, you have to protect kitty just as you would a human infant. But remember too, your kitty can get to places no human infant ever tried!

The best toy for your kitty may be another kitty. Yes, cats can and do love other cats and they may need the companionship of their own kind. Dogs, rabbits, birds, etc., may also be good companions for your feline friend. How you introduce them to each other is often the key to a successful sibling experience.

Furniture and Bedding

Cat furniture (store bought or made) will give kitty a sense of having his or her own place (and your furniture a reprieve). A scratching post, well-made, is a must - not just for scratching but also for stretching. The back of a carpet can be just as enjoyable for kitty to scratch on as the nap (try gluing carpet squares to your walls - makes for an easy scratch/stretch surface). Sisal and cardboard are wonderful surfaces on which to scratch.

Scratching is a natural act for kitty; it is kitty's way of planting his or her scent on an object and claiming the object as his or her own. That is why kitty scratches your favorite pieces of furniture because kitty wants to claim your place as his or her own. After all, you are the most important human in his or her life.

Whether you make your own (cardboard boxes make wonderful "playhouses"), or purchase fancy cat furniture (you can find some amazing climbing apparatus and jungle gym-like pieces costing several hundred dollars), or just provide safe and comfortable places for your feline friend, he or she will be infinitely grateful that you have thought of his or her size and needs for both comfort and play. Having a place in front of a window (or several places in front of several windows) gives kitty an eye on the world from a safe and sane perch. The various shapes, sizes, and structures keep cats happy, exercised, and safe.

Where is kitty going to sleep? Anywhere he or she wants to, basically. Be prepared to find kitty on the dining room table, on your angora sweater left on your bed, on the newspaper you were just about to read. However, just because kitty has found these places does not mean that you should not have a bed (or several) reserved just for him or her. Kitty needs to have something that is truly his or hers (even though those of us owned by kitties know that everything truly is theirs!).

You do not need to spend a fortune on cute little feline fantasy creations. You can use soft fabrics and cardboard boxes as beds. They are portable, easy to clean, and fit most of our felines just fine. If your cat is a heat seeker, make sure you have beds near heat sources (sunlight and radiators). Have a bed in a family member's room; kitty is part of the family and should be allowed to sleep with his or her family members. Make sure you keep kitty's bed clean (especially during flea season and if kitty has been sick).

Collar and Tags

For those of you who let your kitty outdoors (PAW recommends keeping cats indoors), make sure he or she is wearing a collar and tag. Many cats brought to animal shelters could easily be reunited with their owners if the owners had put a collar and tag on their friends. Some kitties would never get to the shelter because the person finding kitty could return him or her immediately to you.

You say your kitty will never go outdoors so why a collar and tag? What if you have workers in your home and one inadvertently leaves the door open, there goes kitty. What if there is a fire in your home, there goes kitty. What if you have company, there goes kitty. What if a natural disaster such as a hurricane strikes, there goes kitty.

Always, always have a collar and tag on kitty so that when that one-time opportunity that you thought never would occur does occur, kitty has some identification.

Make sure you use a break-away collar in case kitty gets tangled. Although the idea seems to defeat the purpose, we do not want kitty to hang him or herself if the collar gets caught on furniture, or, if outdoors, on a bush or post.

To avoid the problem of kitty losing his or her identification, you can permanently identify kitty through ear tattoos or micro-chips implanted under the animal's skin. Talk to your local shelter personnel and your veterinarian to find out if either of these possibilities is available in your area.

Discipline

Has kitty just knocked over your Ming vase? Did you have it in a place kitty could easily reach? Often our kitties get into trouble because we have created situations just too enticing for them to pass up. Before you get mad at kitty, look around your home. Arrange objects to make them less interesting to kitty's wild imagination.

Next, look at what kitty does in the way of negative behavior (your perception, remember). Some of kitty's habits are purely instinctive. Be aware of what is natural for kitty to do and what is not. For instance, is your cat peeing on the inside door mat? First, determine if he or she has a urinary problem by taking a urine sample to the veterinarian. If that proves negative, observe your cat's behavior. Maybe there is an outdoor cat "marking" your outside door mat. Your cat was simply responding naturally to the behavior of one of his or her kind.

There are some methods, however, that will work in deterring kitty from behaviors that are not acceptable. Whenever considering discipline, realize that you must catch kitty in the act of doing whatever it is you do not want him or her to do; otherwise, kitty will not connect your disciplinary actions with his or her actions of earlier in the day.

A water pistol (please, no supersoakers!) or a plant spray bottle works well when kitty is misbehaving. Spray kitty so that kitty does not see you doing it. Kitty will think the kitchen counter just squirted him or her and will usually leave it alone. Of course, there are the exceptions, especially those kitties who love water. They will not be deterred and may, in fact, find that being sprayed is quite a bit of fun.

You can shake a can filled with coins or marbles to startle kitty (again, do this so that kitty does not see you). Strike a magazine or newspaper against the side of a table or a wall to startle kitty. Remember: never, never hit kitty.

Do you want to keep kitty off your dining room table or other surfaces? Put double-sided sticky tape on that surface. Kitties do not like that. Or, place plastic runners upside down. The bumpy surface will feel uncomfortable to kitty's delicate paws and he or she will go elsewhere.

Instead of deterring your cat from what he or she is doing, why not take kitty's energy and redirect it toward positive actions? Maybe kitty is "misbehavin'" because he or she is bored. If you are involved with your cat's play, he or she may find you much more enjoyable than your cherished treasures (besides, isn't kitty one of your most cherished treasures!).

Health Care

Veterinary care is critical if Felis domestica is to live through all proverbial nine lives. Ideally, you will have researched a few veterinarians before you bring kitty home since he or she should be seen within a few days of joining your family. If possible, visit these veterinarians with your cat to see how they handle you and your animal. Ask for a tour of the clinic including the operating room, the hospital/boarding room, and the lab. Most veterinarians will be grateful for your interest.

Vaccinations are a must to keep kitty feeling fine. The two important ones are rabies and distemper. If you have a multi-cat household or intend to let your cat go outdoors, discuss with your veterinarian vaccines against feline leukemia and feline infectious peritonitis. If you want kitty to prosper, make sure he or she has the very best protection against feline diseases. And, make sure you keep kitty's vaccination record up-to-date. At a minimum, kitty should receive the following:

Rabies vaccination. This vaccination is required by local law. In addition, if your pet bites someone and is not vaccinated (even if the animal is strictly indoors), he or she may be subject to quarantine or seizure by local authorities which may result in your cat being euthanized. Don't take chances. Vaccinate against rabies.

Feline distemper vaccination. This combination vaccine helps prevent several diseases in the cat (distemper and agents of upper respiratory disease). The initial vaccination is given in several doses (depending on kitty's age) three weeks apart with a yearly single-dose vaccination.

Usually a once-a-year veterinarian appointment is all that is necessary. However, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you see any changes in kitty's behavior (especially if kitty cuts back on or increases considerably eating or drinking water), if you see any changes in kitty's bathroom habits (urinating and/or defecating outside the litter box, blood in either the urine or stool, diarrhea, etc.), lethargy (sleeping sixteen to eighteen hours a day is normal - more may be a sign of illness), or if kitty shows any abnormalities whatsoever.

At the yearly physical, a fecal examination should be performed to screen for intestinal parasites. Even though kitty never goes outside, he or she is still subject to worms. A cat's stool is usually firm. Any change in bowel consistency, appearance, frequency, or the cat's habits may be caused by parasites or other health problems.

Kitty cannot tell you what is wrong; you have to be observant of his or her general health and well being so you know when something is amiss. If you suspect anything, do not wait, take kitty to your veterinarian. Cats can be very good at masking illness. Sometimes a simple health issue can become quite complicated, leading to serious health problems or even death, if not dealt with immediately. You and kitty will be better off if you make that appointment now. Along with the standard emergency numbers (fire, police, doctors, etc.) listed by your telephone(s), list the number of your veterinarian and of any after-hours/emergency clinics in your area.

Consult with your veterinarian on proper dental care. Just like kitty's two-footed owner, he or she can lose teeth, get gum disease, have an abscess, have halitosis. You can brush kitty's teeth (have your veterinarian show you how) or have your veterinarian do the job while kitty is under general anesthesia. At kitty's yearly checkup, your veterinarian will let you know what needs to be done. In between checkups, be on the alert for any problems kitty may have eating or swallowing.

Disease

Kitty may live to a ripe old age - like T. S. Eliot's Old Deuteronomy - without ever having any health problems. However, there are three common health issues you should be aware of: upper respiratory infection, lower urinary tract disease, and toxic substances. Keep your cat healthy and he or she will reward you with years of fun and frolic.

Upper respiratory infection: a common health condition that often occurs in cats adopted from multi-cat environments (shelters, in particular) is upper respiratory infection. Basically, the cat has a cold. However, without treatment, serious complications can occur. If your cat starts sneezing or if there is any discharge from the nose or eyes, take kitty to the veterinarian immediately.

Lower urinary tract disease: kitty may suffer from the formation of crystals in his or her urine. In a male, these crystals can block his ability to urinate. When that happens, kitty must be taken to the veterinarian immediately as he can die from this blockage. Keeping your kitty indoors allows you to observe him or her in the litter box. If your cat squats in the litter box frequently or for periods of time without producing any urine, he or she is a good candidate for a trip to the veterinarian. The crystals form when the urine is too alkaline. Urine can turn alkaline because of the type of food kitty is being fed (the lower the magnesium, potassium, and protein levels the better), genetics, and stress. If you suspect kitty is having a problem (some kitties will urinate outside the litter box as a way of letting you know they are having a problem), take kitty immediately to your veterinarian. The delay of even a few hours can be fatal.

Toxic substances: kitty grass (a mix of grains sold in pet stores) is healthy for kitty but many other green plants and shrubs can kill kitty. The following is a list of the more common plants toxic to kitty (unless otherwise noted, all parts of the plant are poisonous):

aconite
anemone (windflower, tumbleweed)
autumn crocus
black locust - bark, sprouts, foliage
buttercup
caladium
castor oil (castor bean, palm, koli, christi) - seeds
cherry tree - twigs, foliage
christmas pepper - fruit causes burns
christmas rose
clematis (virgin's bower)
cycads - seeds
daffodil (narcissus, jonquil)
daphne
delphinium (larkspur, staggerweed)
dicerna (bleeding heart, dutchman's breeches, squirrel & turkey corn)
diffenbachia (dumb cane)
elderberry
elephant ear
english ivy - leaves, berries
euphorbia (annual poinsettia, spurge, Mexican fire plant, fire- & snow-on-the-Mo
untain)
four-o'clock - seeds, roots
foxglove (a pet who even drinks the water from a vase containing this flower may
 be poisoned)
garland flower
glory lily (climbing lily, gloriosa)
golden chain
holly - berries
hyacinth
hydrangea - leaves, unopened buds
iris - underground stems
indian spurge tree (pencil tree, malabar tree, pencil cactus, monkey fiddle)
jack-in-the-pulpit
jerusalem cherry - berries
jessamine - seeds, berries, flowers
lantana camera (red sage) - berries
laurels
lilac
lily-of-the-valley - leaves, flowers
marsh marigold (cowslip)
matrimony vine
mayapple - apple, foliage, roots
meadow saffron
mistletoe - berries
mountain laurel
mushroom (amanita muscaria, amanita pholloides)
nightshade
oaks - foliage, acorns
oleander
oxala - leaves
philodendron - leaves
phytolacca (poke weed, poke berry, ink berry)
pine - needles
poinciana (bird-of-paradise bush)
poison hemlock
pothos
privet - berries, leaves
pyracantha (firethorn)
rhododendron (laurels, rose bay, azalea)
rhubarb - leaves
rosary pea - seeds
snowdrop
spring adonis (pheasant's eye)
star-of-bethlehem
strelitzia (bird-of-paradise) - seeds, capsules
sweet pea - seeds
trumpet flower (chalice vine) - leaves, flowers
water hemlock
wisteria - seeds, pods
yellow oleander (lucky nut, tiger apple)
yew - berries, foliage

For more information on poisonous plants, contact your local department of agriculture.

Other toxic substances are decorative tinsel (Xmas trees are major-league toys for kitty - make sure that toy does not turn into a kitty killer), chocolate, aspirin, Tylenol, most household cleaners, antifreeze, and soap.

Poisoning is an ever present danger. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, sleepiness, shaking or trembling, twitching, staggering, convulsions, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, and paralysis. If you suspect that your pet has ingested or come in contact (i.e., skin contact) with poison, call your veterinarian immediately. If possible, identify the source of the poison. Do not induce vomiting unless so directed by the veterinarian. If your veterinarian cannot be reached, call the emergency animal clinic in your area. Remember, the best antidote is not to need one. Please, keep pets away from toxic substances. Common household poisons include:

acetaminophen		furniture polish	paint & paint remover
  (Tylenol, etc.)	gasoline  		permanent wave lotion
antifreeze*		hair coloring		phenol
aspirin			herbicides		photo developers
bleach			insecticides		rat poison
boric acid		kerosene     		rubbing alcohol
brake fluid		lawn chemicals		shoe polish
carbon monoxide		laxatives		sleeping pills
chocolate		lead   			snail/slug bait
cleaning fluids		lye 			soaps/detergents
deodorizers/deodorants	matches 		suntan lotion
disinfectants		metal polish		tar
drain cleaner		mineral spirits		turpentine
dye			mothballs		windshield washer fluid
fungicides		nail polish & remover	wood preservatives
			

(*Antifreeze is a common poisonous substance because its sweet taste is attractive to pets. Watch that radiator for leaks!!)

Please note that seemingly innocent substances can be toxic to your pet. The two lists presented here should not be considered all-inclusive. If in doubt, please contact your veterinarian for advice.

If kitty must chew on a plant, offer him or her some safe ones to nibble on. Grow some alfalfa, bean sprouts, parsley, spinach (available from many garden centers), or catnip (available from many pet stores). Locate the plants in the same warm, sunny spot kitty chooses for naps. When kitty nibbles on allowable plants, praise him or her lavishly.

Medications: never, never give medications to your cat unless prescribed by your veterinarian. However, when you do have to give kitty a pill, how will you do it? Very carefully!

Giving a cat a pill is simple (well, for some it is). You may have to wrap your friend in a towel so that no claws are exposed. The quickest way is to hold kitty by the scruff (nape of the neck) and tip the head back. The jaw naturally opens (okay, so maybe you have to do a little prying with your other hand) and then you pop the pill in kitty's mouth as far back as you can being careful not to send the pill into his or her windpipe. The trick now is to make sure kitty swallows the pill. They are clever and will even lick their noses while still keeping that pill safely tucked in their mouths. So, stroke under their chin and keep stroking for several minutes, if necessary. A light puff of air in their face will sometimes startle them and that will get them to swallow. Release kitty gently so that if kitty does spit out the pill, you will see him or her do it and you can begin the games again!

You may be fortunate to have a cat that will take his or her pill in wet food. You must watch kitty eat to make sure the pill was ingested. And, for the truly fortunate, you may have a kitty who will eat his or her pills right out of your hand. One can always hope!

For giving liquid medication, follow the same procedure for holding kitty, then squirt the liquid into the side pouch of his or her mouth. Never aim the liquid down kitty's throat as you could get it into his or her lungs instead of his or her esophagus.

Remember if you have to pick kitty up (for any reason, not just to medicate), do so gently and supportively. Never pick kitty up under just the front legs. Make sure you are supporting the hindquarters so that the weight of kitty's body is in your hands and not swaying in the breeze.

Fleas

So much has been written about the poor flea. Would this creature have been created if there were not some purpose for its existence? So much for philosophy - let's get rid of them critters!

Many cats are allergic to the flea bite so keeping them flea free is an imperative. Also, fleas carry diseases so keeping cats flea free is critical to our feline's health.

There are tons of products and a gizillion suggestions about how to rid your cat, home, yard, etc., of fleas. Remember, many of these solutions involve using chemicals.

Be careful with chemicals around cats. Cats are fastidious; they clean themselves constantly, ingesting anything on their bodies. That means they can be getting major concentrations of substances either placed on their bodies (flea sprays and dips) or that they have picked up on their paws (sprays around the house and yard). Read directions, talk with your veterinarian, discuss options with pet store personnel on what is the best approach to control fleas in your home.

Be alert to products that can be harmful to your kitty. Cats can die slow painful deaths from being flea dipped or from wearing flea collars. Be careful of products that you use in your home and on your lawn as well. You want to rid your cat, home, and yard of fleas - but you do not want to harm your kitty in the process.

You may not need to use any chemicals to rid your cat of fleas - comb your feline friend with a flea comb (the teeth are close together so that the fleas become trapped in the comb). During flea season, daily combing will let you know if your cat is hosting any unwanted critters. Keep a dish of soapy water handy to drown the fleas. Then, flush the contents down the toilet - fleas are hardy!

If you do have a major flea problem, you must treat home and kitty simultaneously. Ridding your home of fleas may become a part-time job but one that will relieve your cat of a serious pest.

Spay/neuter

The miracle of birth should be an occasion for celebration. Too often, the miracle of birth is soon followed by the despair of death. Too many animals, too few homes: our surplus companion animals die by injection, cars, predators, poisoning (death by antifreeze is prolonged and painful), vicious people, etc. Therefore, when we take kitties into our homes, we are responsible for them and for the offspring they may produce. Spay/neuter your cat(s) (spay females; neuter males).

Be a responsible animal owner - spay/neuter your felines before additional unwanted souls become part of the statistics that permeate our throwaway culture. According to a spokesperson at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), one female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats over a seven-year period. HSUS also estimates that over half of the approximately 12 million cats and dogs brought into the approximately 3,500 shelters in the United States are euthanized. HSUS estimates that over half of those euthanized are cats. (Cats Magazine 8/94) Spay/neuter your cat(s).

Be responsible, spay/neuter your cat(s). No, he or she will not get fat (only if you overfeed your cat will kitty become obese). And, if you have heard that their personalities will change - no, there is no change, but you may have about twenty-four hours of mellow kitty as the anesthesia wears off. Do not let that fool you; he or she will be knocking over your potted geraniums again very soon. Spay/neuter your cat(s).

Research shows that spaying/neutering reduces your cat's chances of developing mammary, ovarian, and testicular tumors. Your female cat will experience less stress on her system from repeated heat cycles and your male will find less interest in getting into fights or spraying. And, no, a female is not better off if she has one litter before being spayed. Spay/neuter your cat(s).

Be responsible, spay/neuter your cat(s).

Grooming

Start your kitten off on the right paw and brush and/or comb him or her gently. By getting used to the feel of the brush or comb early in life, your kitten will find grooming sessions pleasurably purrable! If your kitty has long fur, you may have to keep his or her coat combed to avoid mats. Should your kitty's fur tangle, be careful not to pull on the mats as you can hurt kitty. If kitty's mats are massive, take kitty to a groomer who can professionally cut out the mats and start kitty on his or her way to good grooming again. Also, play with kitty's paws; get him or her used to the feel of your hands massaging his or her paws. Then, you can begin clipping your kitty's claws.

If kitty comes to you as an adult and is skittish about grooming, go slowly. Make the time you spend with kitty enjoyable for both of you. Introduce the grooming tools before you ever attempt to brush or clip clawsólet kitty sniff and play with them (not the scissors, of course) so that kitty feels comfortable with the tools before you start using them.

If you are unsure how to clip claws, have a groomer or a veterinary technician show you how. It really is easy (okay, okay, we have heard stories, but most kitties will tolerate their claws being clipped) as long as you handle kitty gently and get kitty in a quiet mood before you start. If your cat is experiencing the "kitty krazies," wait until he or she calms down before attempting any grooming activities.

Hairballs - those slimy looking slug-like deposits you find in the wee hours of the morning on your bed, in your slippers, or on the bare floor between your toes - can be eliminated by giving kitty help in moving hair through his or her system. Give kitty a fingerful of petroleum jelly (usually twice a week during shedding season, especially) or other products made just for kitty. Check with your veterinarian on what he or she recommends. Kitty grass can also help push hairballs through kitty's system so you do not have to encounter them on your furniture. A good daily brushing and/or combing can cut down on hairballs - the more hair you remove, the less kitty ingests during personal grooming sessions.

Introducing the New Addition

Introducing resident felines to newcomers (and vice versa) requires patience on everyone's part, especially yours, to achieve a successful meeting with a minimum of fur loss. Before you introduce a new cat to your clan, make sure your animals are up-to-date on vaccinations and ready for the new arrival. Also, check with your veterinarian on what medical risks may be involved in bringing a new animal into your established clowder/pack.

Following a quarantine period but before nose-to-nose meetings occur, rub your hands over the new addition and then have your animals smell your hands (and vice versa).

Next, you may want to take the new kitty out of his or her quarantine room and put the resident kitty in it. Let the newcomer have a chance to get to know his or her new surroundings while the resident kitty gets to inhale the newcomer's scent. Keep switching them back and forth for several days, a few hours at a time. By then, they will be ready for a nose-to-nose and a nose-to-butt meeting.

Some cats will literally hug each other and others will hunt each other. There is no telling who will get on and who will not. However, the human in this whole process can have a profound effect on the results. Lavish loads of love on your current resident. Remember he or she has been in your home longer than this upstart. Keep the spray bottle ready to break up any serious rebellions, but mostly let them get to know each other on their own terms. It may take them weeks (nay, months or even years) before they act friendly toward, play with, or simply tolerate each other. Provide the newcomer with his or her own toys, bedding, litter box, bowls, etc., to avoid turf fights.

The value in keeping the new addition separate is threefold: one, depending on the origin of your new kitty (shelter, breeder, the streets), he or she may carry transmittable diseases. You do not want your current resident(s) to become infected; keeping them apart until the new one is healthy is a must. Second, keeping them apart gives each one a chance to hear and smell the other without there being any face-to-face confrontations. There may be a major amount of hissing and growling going on on either side of the closed door, but they both will feel comfortable because they cannot see or get at each other just yet. And third, by keeping them separate, the new addition has time to adjust to his or her new surroundings and people without having to immediately deal with the resident kitty (or other creature!).

Your goal is to have them, at the minimum, tolerate each other. Love can grow over time if they both survive the initial meeting. Keep yourself calm. Animals can pick up their human's emotional states and vibrations quickly. If you are anxious, your cats may be anxious also. Remember, they can communicate with each other in ways that are foreign to us. Much of the noise and bluster may be just that and nothing more. But, give them ample time.

Often animals are returned to rescue groups, shelters, pet stores, or breeders or are dumped on the road because the resident kitty did not get along with the new one. When questioned, the owners admitted that they simply opened the carrier and let the new kitty out in the middle of the living room, expecting everyone to start purring. If that is your expectation, you will be disabused of it quickly. Protect both the resident kitty and the addition by letting them meet slowly and deliberately.

Naturally, if you are introducing your new cat to other species, you will want to talk with your veterinarian or other knowledgeable animal people on the proper ways to introduce the new arrival to the resident dog(s), rabbit(s), bird(s), iguana(s), etc.

Indoor/outdoor

Never let your cats outdoors except under supervision and control, if at all. There are too many dangers outside (predators, automobiles, people who harm our friends, people looking for animals to sell to laboratories, diseases such as rabies, etc.) for Felis domestica to handle.

Many people have built screened enclosures (attaching them to their homes) - fenced in on all sides and the top to protect their precious purr machines from the dangers of the great outdoors. You can give your cat the freedom of the outdoors without the danger of the outdoors by purchasing or creating your own jungle enclosure.

In the screened enclosure, your cats can enjoy soft comfortable lawn chairs to recline on and toys to play with. They can have a tray of kitty grass, large enough for them to recline on while nibbling away. If the enclosure is large enough for humans, join them and you can all bask in the glory of nature, safely.

You can control their access to the outdoors another way - by taking them on walks using a harness and leash. You must use a harness that the kitty cannot slip out of (harnesses come in figure "8" and letter "H" styles). A collar is not secure enough since, by design, cat collars should break away to allow the cat who has become tangled the opportunity to break free. Never tie your kitty's leash to a tree or post and then leave him or her. He or she will be totally defenseless should anyone or anything come along to harass, maim, or kill kitty.

The average life expectancy of an outdoor cat is two to five years; of an indoor cat, twelve to fifteen years. Yes, yes, you had an outdoor cat who lived to be twenty. Of course, there will always be exceptions. However, many who adopt cats for the second time do so because their first kitty was killed by a car or simply disappeared. With that second adoption, they are firmly committed to keeping kitty indoors and making the indoors so attractive, warm, friendly, and loving that kitty may never want to venture outside.

If you are still unconvinced about the indoor/outdoor controversy, consider your wallet as well as your kitty. Veterinarian bills mount up when kitty comes home dragging a broken leg, with open wounds, chewed-off ears, lost teeth, and flea-related problems. Veterinarian bills mount up when kitty picks up feline diseases. Keep kitty from having to experience any of these horrors and your wallet from having to pay for them. Keep kitty indoors.

Declawing

Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc. does not condone, nor recommend, declawing. Declawing is major surgery. Not only are the claws removed, but the first digit of each toe is amputated. Declawing can cause nerve or tendon damage and lead to behavioral problems. The scratching motion is natural for cats (even declawed cats may "go through the motions"). To train kitty from scratching unauthorized items, we suggest:
  • vertical scratching posts covered with sisal rope or carpet backs
  • horizontal cardboard scratching boxes and boards
  • tree bark posts

Claws are natural parts of cats and necessary for planting kitty's scent in important places (that is why kitty scratches your favorite chair). Claws are necessary for protection. Claws are necessary for gripping objects to climb and for stretching. Claws are necessary. Do not declaw.

Learn how to clip claws. Ask your veterinary staff to show you how. Place scratching posts near your favorite chairs and get kitty to use them. But please, please, do not declaw kitty.

If you must absolutely have a declawed cat (certainly someone with an immunosuppressed condition would be safer with a declawed cat), adopt one that has already been declawed. Do not take a clawed cat and put it through this kind of surgery (the first joint and the claw are amputated - not just the claw). If you adopt a kitten, you will have to wait several months to have him or her declawed. Why not, during that time, train kitty to be respectful of your belongings and teach kitty some fun play habits that he or she will keep forever?

To acquaint your cat with the post or box, use a kitty tease toy to attract your kitty to the scratching surface. Put catnip on the scratching surface and watch kitty bond with his or her new toy. If you catch kitty "in the act" (on an unauthorized place), move him or her to the post or box and reinforce the scratching motion. Praise kitty lavishly every time he or she uses the post or box. Cats respond very positively to praise. If kitty has a favorite, but inappropriate, spot to claw, put some clear mailing tape or contact paper, sticky-side up, on the area. Kitty will not like the sticky feeling on his or her paws. Purchase furniture protectors at pet stores to help keep kitty from doing harm to your treasured heirlooms. Keep a post or box nearby and steer him or her to that. Cats like to stretch and scratch when they awaken, so a scratching box near his or her favorite napping place is a good idea.

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to a loyal and trusted comrade is not easy. His or hers was a precious life, and we hope he or she will have a peaceful death.

The loss of our companion animals represents the loss of unconditional love and acceptance. They take us as we are; they do not try to change us (although we may try to change them). They never withhold their love (even if we are a little late at feeding time).

To what extent do you go to care for your feline friend? Will cost be a factor? Will the ability to care for kitty's physical needs be a factor (are you prepared to give insulin injections or attach intravenous lines to kitty)? Will emotional strength be a factor? Will family and friends' support be a factor? What will the quality of life be for your feline friend? You may not be able to answer these questions until and unless you are faced with tough decisions. Use your support system (veterinarians, family, friends, religious leaders, counselors, etc.) to help you through this difficult time in your and your kitty's life.

You and your veterinarian should work together to determine if it is the right time to humanely end kitty's life. Often kitty will give you the signal if you just observe his or her actions. Kitties often hide when seriously ill or ready to die.

Those who do not have companion animals may not understand your grief and suffering when a beloved kitty has to be put to death or dies naturally. Seek out people and support groups in your area (check with your veterinarian and your local animal shelter for resources) who understand the pain and suffering you are experiencing. You may experience the typical stages of grief (i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) when you lose a kitty just as you would if a two-footed family member or friend died.

Burial

Where you decide to bury kitty may be determined by cost and availability of sites. You can bury kitty in your backyard (check local ordinances) or in a pet cemetery. You may wish to have the body cremated and keep the ashes in an urn or bury or scatter the ashes. You may wish to have your veterinarian dispose of kitty's remains. Make your decisions while kitty is hale, hearty, and healthy so that when the time comes, you are not faced with frantic decisions that you may question later on.

Helpful Resources

This handbook represents a grain of litter in the world of cat reference books and resources. The following is a sampling of the many books, magazines, and other resources available to cat lovers.

Books:

  • The Complete Book of Cat Care, Katrin Behrend and Monika Wegler, Barron's
  • The Indoor Cat, Patricia Curtis, Perigee Books
  • How to Get Your Cat to Do What You Want, Warren and Fay Eckstein, Villard Books
  • ASPCA Complete Cat Care Manual, Andrew Edney, Dorling Kindersley
  • Supercat, Dr. Michael W. Fox, Howell Book House
  • The New Natural Cat, Anitra Frazier, Plume
  • Catwatching and Catlore, Desmond Morris, Crown Publishers, Inc.
  • Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, Richard and Susan Hubble Pitcairn, Rodale Press
  • Simon & Schuster's Guide to Cats, Mordecai Siegal
  • You & Your Cat, David Taylor, Alfred A. Knopf
  • The Cornell Book of Cats, Mordecai Siegal, Villard Books

Magazines:

  • CatFancy, Fancy Publications, Inc.
  • CATS Magazine, CATS Magazine, Inc.

Newsletters:

  • Catnip, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
  • Perspectives on Cats, The Cornell Feline Health Center, Cornell University

Hotlines:

  • Cornell Feline Health Center - 1-800-548-8937
  • National Animal Poison Control Center - 1-800-548-2423
  • Pet Lover's Helpline - 1-900-776-0007
  • Tree House Animal Foundation, Inc. - 1-312-784-5488
  • Dial-Pet - 1-312-342-5738

Organizations:

  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • American Humane Association
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
  • The Delta Society
  • Defenders of Animal Rights, Inc.
  • Friends of Animals, Inc.
  • Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
  • The Fund for Animals
  • Doris Day Animal League
  • Alley Cat Allies
  • Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Final Thoughts

We can learn much about living life gracefully from simply observing our feline friends. Notice that cats sleep when they are tired (naps are so delicious) and eat when they are hungry. And, when confronted with a sudden, unexpected burst of energy, cats make the most of it.

Let's dispel a few myths that surround cats.

Myth. Cats are low-maintenance animals; they require little attention on your part: We certainly hope the previous pages have disabused you of that thought. Cats require care and attention equal to that of any other animal who has captured your heart and your soul. (Plan on spending between $300 and $500 a year for routine veterinary care, food, litter, grooming aids, toys, etc., for your companion animal.)

Myth. Cats always land on their feet: Depending on how high the cat is when the fall starts, he or she may be able to right his or her body. However, any fall can cause serious injury. Make sure screens are secured and that kitty stays off railings and other precarious perches.

Myth. Cats are untrainable: Cats are smart enough to be trained and wise enough to thwart every attempt! Seriously, cats can be trained if you work with their nature. They can learn their names and sometimes may even come when they are called!

Myth. Cats are not happy unless they go outdoors: Bah humbug! Bring the outdoors indoors and they will live healthier, happier lives. Create a safe, happy, secure environment indoors and kitty will not want to go outside. Even cats that have been outdoor kitties may be motivated to remain indoors if given enough stimulation.

Myth. Cats become fat and lazy once spayed or neutered: Cats become fat because they eat too much and lazy because they are fat or do not have enough stimulation. If you feed kitty the right amount of food at the right times, maintain a proper weight for kitty, and give kitty enough play stimulation, kitty will retain his or her sleek physique and will remain active and playful for many years.

Myth. Cats are independent, aloof: Cats want, need, and crave human attention on their own terms. Once you become comfortable with those terms, you may find yourself with "velcro" kitty - one that clings to you constantly, wrapping him or herself around your legs as you walk, planting him or herself firmly on your lap when you sit down (even when the seat is a commode!). They are living, breathing, sentient beings who have a need for love and security plus proper care for the rest of their lives.

Now that you know the facts about felines, Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc. wishes all of you happy, healthy cats. We humans must continue to learn the ways of Felis domestica and to enjoy, enjoy, enjoy our furry feline friends. And to all the adopted kitties out there, remember the words of writer and journalist Paul Gallico: When in doubt - wash!

Last Updated: December 24, 2015 (LET) PawSupport