10 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat

There’s nothing that compares to the joy of adding a furry companion to the household. But like any pet, cats are a big responsibility, and there are some things to know before you make the commitment, whether you are a new pet owner or want to add a cat to your family of pets. In her book, “77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat”, Susan M. Ewing breaks down all of the important tidbits surrounding getting a cat, from picking a breed to how to care for it. Although we’ve condensed and summarized the book into the top 10 things to know, this is one of many publications that offers a complete guide to make owning your first cat easier.

1. Do you really want a cat?

This may seem like a silly question, but it’s important to ask before you take the steps to getting any pet, especially if you have never had a pet before. Cats are not like dogs, and they have their own personalities and needs. So if you are not keen on potentially receiving a dead mouse, having cat fur on your furniture or sharing your lap with a cuddly feline, then consider another pet or an alternative to a cat. Ultimately, consider all the possibilities surrounding owning a cat. For the sake of you and the cat, if you have any doubts, don’t pursue it.

2. Type of cat

Hairless, lots of hair or something in between? Male or female? Meows a lot or rarely meows? These are just some of the questions to consider when deciding on a type of cat. Ask yourself what you are looking for in a cat before diving into choosing. Like dogs, there is a wide range of cat breeds, and the personality of each breed is unique. Look into the different breeds – like Maine Coon, Siamese, Sphynx – to see which one matches what you are looking for in a pet, from fur coat to personality and more.

3. Indoor or outdoor?

Deciding whether to have your cat be indoor-only or go outdoors may be one of the tougher decisions to make. It is recommended to be open-minded to the benefits and risks of both options. For outdoor, be prepared for the potential risks your cat could be exposed to (nearby traffic, predators, pests, etc.) and learn the ways to keep your feline as safe as possible. If you choose indoor-only, be prepared to offer your cat more activities and attention to pique their curiosity and help fulfill their adventurous tendencies.

4. Where to get your cat

Adopt or breeder? Many would lean towards adoption, especially with how many cats are in shelters looking for homes. But this may not be the best option for a first-time cat owner who is looking for a particular feline that fits their lifestyle and needs. If you choose to go with a cat from a breeder, know that there will be more steps and costs to getting your pedigreed cat, but a breeder will be able to provide you with plenty of information about the type of cat you are looking for. If you want to adopt, know that you may not have as much information as you might like on the cat’s origin, but you will have plenty of cats to choose from, with many shelters offering discounts and benefits.

5. First day at home

Whether young or old, your home will be totally new to your new cat. Before you bring it home, you will have to make your space cat-proof (cords encased or secured, moving heavy books, etc.). Additionally, get in the habit of checking all appliances before you use them, as cats can squeeze themselves in places you didn’t think possible. It’s also recommended to bring home a cat on a day when someone can be home to supervise. Get cats started in a quiet, enclosed space, show them to their litterbox and let them get acclimated to the members of the household before you bring guests over. This acclimation process doesn’t take very long, but remember that this will be their home as much as it is yours, so do everything you can to make it comfortable and safe for them.

6. Meeting other pets/kids

Seeing children and pets interacting with cats is always a delightful sight, but don’t expect to just place your new cat with them and things will work out perfectly. For children, especially young kids, make introductions sitting on the floor and telling them how to gently handle the cat. If your cat exhibits any signs of discomfort, take it out of the situation. It will take some time, but encourage children to play with it and help take care of it to build trust. With other pets, leave your cat in a carrier or crate when introducing them to another pet. Then move your cat into a closed room with their essentials and crate your other pets when your cat wants to explore. Over time, gradually lessen the barriers. Keep in mind that this may not take days, it could take weeks, so be patient with all members. And be aware that your cat may not be best friends with your other pets, but they can at least coexist peacefully.

7. Cat behaviors

If you have never had a cat before, you may not be familiar with their typical behaviors. For example, cats like to scratch and claw, so if you don’t want to be the victim of friendly fire or have your furniture experience an undesired makeover, be sure to provide products like scratching posts that encourage appropriate scratching behaviors. There are also the “midnight zoomies” and “making biscuits” behaviors, where cats run around the house late at night and knead their paws on certain surfaces. Familiarize yourself with these and many other cat behaviors so you know what is expected and what is abnormal and potentially a sign of distress.

8. Know what’s safe and unsafe

From food to plants, there are things that are safe and dangerous to cats. Foods like scrambled eggs, corn on the cob and non-chocolate ice cream are safe to share with your cat in moderate servings. But foods like onions, chocolate and grapes/raisins are toxic. And if you get a cat, you have to say goodbye to some of your favorite plants (at least the real ones; you can always opt for fake versions). Lilies, mistletoe, poinsettias and oleander are just some of the common plants toxic to cats. Be sure to read up on the things that are unsafe for cats and properly remove them before bringing your cat home.

9. To train or not to train?

First and foremost, yes, cats can be trained. While you don’t have to train your cat to do crazy tricks, there is no downside to training them on a basic level, like staying off surfaces you don’t want them on or responding to your calls (also beneficial if there is an emergency). Training also increases your bond with your cat. If you are looking to train your cat, you can read up on methods or consult with a trainer. No matter what you choose, be sure to encourage and reward your cat whenever it successfully obeys a command.

10. The ABCs of healthcare

Like any animal, cats can have allergies and be prone to diseases. When you get your new cat, consult with a veterinarian about any vaccinations and procedures (including spaying/neutering) it may not have had done previously. And talk to the vet about what diseases to look out for and how to keep up with their health. Constant grooming, keeping their bowls clean, keeping their teeth and mouths clean, etc., are all ways to maintain and improve their health. Keeping your cat healthy is not just beneficial for them, it’s also good for you. Like with many pets, studies have shown that cats can relieve stress and positively impact our health.