Cat Care for the New Owner – A Guide to Feline Basics


A cat can be a wonderful addition to your household. If you’re adopting a cat for the first time, and have no idea what you’ll need, I’m here to help!

Before you bring your new cat home, you should already have on hand the following items:

  • Food bowl
  • Water bowl
  • Cat food
  • Litter box
  • Kitty litter
  • Litter scoop

These items are necessary for the cat’s well-being. Whether you end up feeding your cat wet food or dry food — or combining the two — depends on whatever compromise you and your cat end up reaching together. It will depend on your cat’s preferences, your vet’s recommendations, and the feeding schedule you will set up. The water bowl should always have clean water in it. I recommend that you keep the food and water in the kitchen. You may want to keep the dry food in a plastic container with a tight lid since it will go stale quickly.

A basic, plastic, rectangular litter box will do for most cats. For the most part, litter is made from paper or clay. Clay is more common, and will come as either clumping or non-clumping. Some cats do better with paper litter, especially if their paws are sensitive. Both types of clay litter will stick to solid waste. However, clumping litter is specially designed to cause the litter to clump liquid waste together. This means that instead of drying out, and possibly smelling, you can scoop the liquid waste out along with the solid. A litter scoop is a small shovel that has a slotted blade. Scoop the litter daily, or as often as possible, to prolong the life of the litter, to keep your house from smelling, and to keep your cat happy. A cat that is unhappy with its litter box will go elsewhere. If you’re diligent about scooping the litter, you should only have to change out the litter box completely every 3-4 weeks. I recommend keeping the litter box in a utility room, or bathroom.

Some other items you may want on hand are:

  • Scratching post
  • Cat toys
  • Cat treats
  • Catnip
  • Brush
  • Pet bed
  • Nail trimmers

Cats will scratch, and it’s best to have an approved spot for them to do so. Your cat will try out the carpeting and upholstery — it’s just so appealing — and when it does, you’ll need a place to redirect it to. You can buy scratching posts or trees, or you can make your own. Simply secure a carpet remnant around a piece of wood. Be sure that the staples or nails you use are on the back side so the cat’s claws don’t get caught in them. Add catnip to make it more appealing.

Just like children, your cat will have prefer some toys over others. It could be feathers, bells, crinkly paper or furry mice. It could also be a ping-pong ball, or rolled up socks. Play is essential to a cat’s emotional well-being, as is socializing. Domesticated cats are not loners. They enjoy your company, even if they’re enjoying it from across the room. That said, it’s good to have a spot for your cat to hang out in away from all the action when it feels the need.

It’s good to have cat treats and catnip on hand to encourage and reward good behavior, or to encourage your cat out from hiding. Do not try to pull a cat out from an enclosed area, especially if it is stressed. You will only earn a new set of scars. Instead, encourage your cat to emerge by shaking the treat bag and offering treats, or by spreading out some catnip in an open area.

Brushing your cat and trimming its claws are important grooming habits. Brushing will help keep down the shedding and hairballs. Most cats enjoy it, and will help the two of you bond. Clipping claws, on the other hand, is very low down on the list of activities your cat will enjoy. If it’s something you’ve never done before, I encourage you to ask your vet for a demonstration, and then decide if you’ll be the one clip your cat’s claws, or if you’ll be making a trip to the groomers every month.

It’s important to find a veterinarian you’re comfortable with. Ideally, you’ll only be seeing him or her once a year. However, if something should come up, you’ll want to know you can count on your vet and their staff. Vets are a great source of information for new cat owners, and can help with a wide range of topics, including nutrition, behavior issues, and health. Cats require vaccinations and should be seen by the vet every year. At your first visit, the vet can go over vaccination schedules, and what else you can expect.