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6 things you should know if you’re a first-time cat owner

Siamese cat gets chin rubbed by owner advice © Pexels

If you’re a first-time cat owner, some cat behaviours may surprise you. 

By Justine Seraphin

Cats and dogs are Britain’s favourite pets. However, they are very different species, with very different needs.

While dogs have been domesticated for anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 years ago, cats have only been domesticated for around 10,000 years. They have therefore kept a lot more of their primitive traits and are much more independent and wild than their canine counterparts.

That doesn’t mean they don’t love to live with their humans, sleeping in plush, comfortable beds, and getting all the treats and ear scratches they please. It just means you have to accommodate to their natural needs to make them happy and comfortable. Here are some things you should know if you’re thinking of adopting a cat.

1.Cats are picky eaters

If you’ve ever known a dog, you know they’re constantly looking for a scrap of food to fall to the ground so they can claim it as their own. Cats are somewhat more picky about what and when they eat. They won’t scarf down their food as rapidly as a dog does, they’ll eat in small quantities throughout the day. That’s why you shouldn’t feed a cat at specific times. You should leave a bowl filled with cat food out and available 24/7. In this way, the cat can come back to eat at any point during the day.

The food bowl should be kept away from the litter tray – as cats (and understandably so) do not like to eat close to where they defecate and urinate.

In terms of water, you should keep a bowl of water out and readily available throughout the day as well, but away from the food bowl. Yes, cats are also picky drinkers. They are less likely to drink from a water bowl that is placed side by side with their food bowl. Some cats will even prefer to drink running water, from a tap or an automatic dispenser, for instance.

2.Cats have claws and love to use them

Unlike dogs, cats have sharp retractable claws that they can notably use for climbing. Trimming down their claws as well as marking their territory through scratching is a perfectly natural behaviour for a cat, and as such, should not be prevented.

Cats should not be de-clawed, so future cat owners should keep in mind that furniture is likely to get damaged by claw-marks. However, you can avoid this becoming a problem by providing scratching posts for your cat. You should have several placed in different areas in the house/apartment, and use positive reinforcement to encourage your cat to use them.

3.Cats are easily litter-box trained

Cats are naturally clean animals that go towards sandy substances to do their business. In fact, cats are so clean that defecation and urination outside of the litter box are often the first signs of health problems developing. To keep your cat happy, you should have at least two litter boxes per cat, especially if you have several cats. Giving your cat a choice of where to go will avoid any behavioural issues from developing.

4.Cats are independent

The amount of affection you receive from your cat will be completely dependant on the individual as well as the breed you have chosen. However, know that cats are generally more independent than dogs, and tend to be more loyal to their food source and territory than they are to people. Cuddle sessions will be on their terms, not on yours.

Cats can be trained, but with their independent streak, it takes more time and patience to get results with them. This is why a cat owner should focus on habituation, particularly to places or situations that your feline friend will likely encounter.

Most cats, for instance, are terribly afraid of the cat carrier, because they associate it with something bad, like being taken to the vets! To avoid this, cat owners should always leave the cat carrier out in the house, with its door open. You can even place some treats in it from time to time and line it with your kitty’s favourite blanket to make it seem more appealing. In this way, your cat will be more likely to cooperate when comes the time to travel.

5.Cats shed a lot

If you want a cat that doesn’t shed, get a hairless one! Pretty much every breed of cat sheds, and this is usually all year around. You’ll find clumps of fur everywhere – so be sure you’re ok with that before you get a cat. They have thick double coats, and it is preferable to habituate them to being brushed, so you can help them brush out the noughts in case their coat ever gets matted.

6.Cats are likely to need pet insurance

Cats love to be outside. They love to hunt (and bring you back ‘gifts’), and to explore neighbouring territories. Being very territorial animals, they are likely to get into scuffs with other cats. As they also like to wander, they can easily stray too far from home and get lost, or worse, get injured. This is why your cat should always be micro-chipped and covered by a good pet insurance. Know that cats can live a long time, generally from 12-20 years!

Bringing home a cat is a big commitment. You will have a new family member with you for the next decade or two of your life! But if you’re committed to making your cat happy, despite the fur and the scratch marks and the litter, having one in your home is truly one of the most joyous experiences of a lifetime.