Caring for Cats


Cats need a cosy bed in a quiet, dry, draught-free area. Some cats prefer soft beds with a roof – especially suitable for a shy cat – whereas others prefer an open basket lined with soft bedding. The bedding should be easily cleaned and washed weekly.

7510If you have more than one cat you will need to provide separate beds for each cat, which are well apart from each other in your house. A good general rule is to provide one more sleeping area than the number of cats – so if you have two cats, provide three beds.

Cats feel safest when they are high up, and this gives them a sense of security in their living environment. They should have safe access to places like shelves or tops of cupboards.

Cats like places where they can go to hide. If they don’t have anywhere suitable they can become stressed. Ideally they need an enclosed bed or box, or safe access to underneath a chair or bed.

Hazards and poisons to watch out for

Every year vets see many pet injuries that could have been prevented. There are lots of pet hazards which can easily be overlooked, but by being aware of these you can help prevent your pet from suffering unnecessary injury.

Litter Trays

Cats need somewhere suitable to toilet. This needs to be a quiet, easily accessible area away from food and water. You should provide a litter tray or an outside area, or both. When they toilet outdoors, cats dig a hole then cover it up with soil or other material. If using a litter tray, kittens often develop a preference for a certain type of litter that lasts throughout their life. If you change from this type of litter when they are older, this may cause them to stop using the litter tray.

If you have more than one cat you should provide as many litter trays as there are cats, plus one. So for two cats you should provide three litter trays. Each litter tray should be in a different part of the house. This is because cats need their own separate toilet areas. Having to come close to other cats to go to the toilet can be a cause of chronic stress. This can result in medical conditions, such as stress-related diseases of the urinary system.

You should always wear gloves when cleaning out your cat’s litter tray. Pregnant women should take additional precautions due to the possible risk from toxoplasmosis, a parasite which can be found in cat faeces.


If more than one cat is kept, each should have their own litter tray, cat bed, hiding place, scratching post and feeding bowl. These should be positioned all around the house so that the cats can choose to avoid each other. The commonest cause of stress in cats is when they have to come into close contact with other cats because there aren’t enough of the things that they want to use.

Cattery or Pet Sitter?

If you go on holiday, you need to arrange for someone responsible to care for your cat. Cats can be booked into catteries or, alternatively, a friend or professional ‘petsitter’ could look after them. Well-run catteries won’t allow cats to board if they haven’t been vaccinated, so make sure you check well in advance that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date.

If a friend or petsitter is looking after your cat while you’re away, make sure they know about your pet’s requirements. Leave behind a list of information, such as how much food and exercise your pet needs, any medication they might be on and how to give it, and your vet’s contact details for emergencies.

Feeding Kittens

Kittens start to eat solid foods from about three weeks and are fully weaned at about eight weeks. At first they need small meals often (about four or five a day) but by about six months, two meals a day are usually fine. This can continue throughout their adult life, depending on your cat’s preference.

Feeding Cats

Cats should be fed a healthy balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. Cats are true carnivores, meaning they have to eat certain nutrients that are only found in meat or commercial cat food.

Feeding a complete, commercial cat food is normally preferable to a homemade diet. It’s not easy to achieve the correct balance of nutrients if you make your cat’s diet yourself.

One of the best ways to achieve the correct balance of nutrients is to feed according to ‘life stage’. This means feeding a different diet according to whether your cat is a kitten, adult or senior cat. This is because cats of different ages have different nutritional requirements. For example, kittens need more calories in their food because they are so energetic.

Several leading brands of commercially available cat food offer different foods for different life stages. Buying these is a good way of ensuring your cat gets the right nutrients.

Follow the packet feeding guidelines so you know how much to feed. Weigh the food out to check you’re getting it right. Feeding the right amount of food is important because obesity is the commonest nutritional problem seen by vets and causes health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

It’s a good idea to weigh out your cat’s food at the start of the day, following the packet feeding guidelines. Then you can put the entire measured amount down at once, give it as several small meals or divide it into a meal for morning and one for evening. It depends on the cat’s preference and your lifestyle but you should try to cater for your cat’s preferences as far as you can.

Most cat foods these days are complete, meaning they contain all the nutrients that a cat needs, in the right amounts. If extra food is given, as treats, your cat must do something with the extra calories. If your cat isn’t exercising enough (which can be a problem with cats kept permanently indoors), the calories will be turned into fat.

Cat obesity is a big problem and causes health problems such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.

If you can’t resist feeding treats once in a while, give a small amount of lean meat. Reduce the amount of food in their main meals that day, so that the overall amount fed stays the same.


Your cat will need constant access to fresh, clean water from a clean bowl.

Kitten socialisation

The experiences a kitten has during the early weeks of life are crucial in shaping their behaviour as an adult cat.

Kittens have a sensitive period (their first 8 – 10 weeks of age) which is when they get used to the things around them. Once they’ve experienced things during this period, called the ‘socialisation period’, they are less likely to be scared as adults. During this period kittens need to get used to people, other animals and everyday sights and sounds.

Good, early socialisation leads to friendly, well-adjusted cats. Sadly, without positive early experiences, cats can become nervous, which often leads to behaviour problems.

Most kittens are still at home with their mother during the socialisation period, so it is up to the owner or breeder of the litter to make sure that the kittens are well socialised. If you are thinking about getting a kitten, check that they have been exposed to different people and other pets, as well as normal household sounds at the breeder’s house. If they are not properly socialised, you may have problems later. You should continue to give kittens lots of positive experiences when they arrive at their new home.


Most cats love playing, which provides good exercise and allows them to behave naturally. Many people think that kittens stop playing when they get older, but many adult cats enjoy daily play with their owners, using suitable toys.

The best types of cat toys are those that encourage chasing and hunting-type behaviour. Toys that do this are those that move quickly and unpredictably. Good examples are fishing rod-type toys, or balls intended for cats and kittens. Suitable cat toys are available from most pet shops and pet supermarkets.

Scratching (claw conditioning)

Scratching (or claw conditioning) is part of normal cat behaviour and is used to keep their claws healthy and leave scent marks.

A scratching post needs to be stable and tall enough for your cat to exercise at full body stretch. If it doesn’t allow this, the cat may choose your furniture instead!

Cat flaps

A cat flap can be a good way of giving a cat free access to a garden but can also cause problems if other cats are using the flap to come into the home. This can be very stressful for cats and can be linked to stress-related medical problems. If this is happening you should consider using a cat flap that is operated by a collar or microchip.

Registering your cat with a vet

When you get a new cat, you should register with a local veterinary practice straight away. Make an appointment as soon as you can for a check-up. Your vet can then devise a care programme for your cat. Write a list of the questions you want to ask, so everything can be covered.



Vaccination protects your cat against various diseases which can cause pain, distress and are often fatal such as:-

  • cat flu
  • feline chlamydia
  • feline infectious enteritis
  • feline leukaemia virus

By vaccinating your cat you have peace of mind, knowing that you have provided protection. As well as safeguarding your own pet, it also prevents diseases from being passed onto other animals.

Vaccines contain a harmless form of the virus or bacterium that causes a particular disease. They work by stimulating the body’s immune system in a safe way. If the cat then actually comes into contact with the disease, the immune system ‘remembers’ what it did to deal with the vaccine, so can fight the disease. This protects the cat.

Pets should receive a ‘primary’ vaccination course early in life, followed by ‘booster’ vaccinations throughout their life.

The primary vaccination course for cats varies with the type of vaccine used. The first vaccine can sometimes be given as young as nine weeks of age, with the second usually given two to four weeks later.

Booster vaccinations are needed because the body’s immune response gradually fades over time. They are often given every year, depending on the vaccine. Ask your vet when it is best to vaccinate your kitten or cat.

Kittens should be vaccinated before they mix with other animals. It is essential for their normal development that they are allowed to socialise with other animals while they are very young, so you should get them vaccinated as soon as possible. Ask your vet when they can start meeting other animals and begin to socialise them as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Parasites – fleas and worms


Cats should be given regular treatments to prevent them from suffering from fleas and worms. Worms can also be harmful to cat owners, which is another reason why it’s important to prevent them. Ask your vet for advice about which products to use and how often to use them.

‘Over-the-counter’ flea and worm treatments bought from pet shops and supermarkets may not be as safe or effective as those from veterinary practices. Your vet will be able to advise you about which products work and which ones don’t.

NEVER use a dog flea treatment on cats, as this can be fatal.

Fleas can cause itching, chewing and licking. The skin may become red and inflamed. You might see fleas on your cat (though this is quite uncommon), or you might see small dark flecks (flea ‘dirt’) in the fur and on the skin. If you notice any of these signs, take your cat to see your vet. As well as causing severe skin irritation, fleas play a vital part in the tapeworm’s life cycle.

If your cat has fleas it’s important to treat the house, your cat and all other pets in the household. Your vet can recommend safe and effective products to use. The house should be treated with an effective household spray after vacuuming, because flea larvae and eggs live off the animal, in places like carpets and rugs. Particular attention should be paid to areas where your cat spends time, as well as warm areas such as near to radiators.

As well as thinking about fleas, it is important to follow the worming regime recommended by your vet.


Neutering is an operation carried out by a vet. In male animals, the testicles are removed – this is called ‘castration’. In female animals, the ovaries and the uterus (womb) are removed – this is called ‘spaying’.

There are hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals in need of homes. Neutering stops animals from adding to this problem by having unwanted litters. It also reduces the risk of our pets developing some serious diseases. This can help them live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.

Spaying female cats

Spaying stops your cat from having unwanted kittens and stops her from developing cancer of the ovaries or uterus. It also stops her from coming into ‘heat’ frequently which may be upsetting for her.

The operation is often done at around five to six months of age, but can safely be done when your cat is younger or older. Ask your vet when the best time is for your cat.

Castrating male cats

Castrating your cat prevents him from fathering unwanted kittens when he’s away from your house. It also makes him less likely to fight, so reduces his chances of getting feline AIDS (FIV) (which is spread by bites).

Castration also makes your cat less likely to roam, which can reduce his chances of getting hit by a car, and he is less likely to spray urine in the house.

The operation is often done at five to six months of age, but can safely be done when a cat is younger or older. Ask your vet when the best time is for your cat.


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