Basics of Caring for a Cat

gray cat and black and white dog
By Pet Expert Team
Updated: 5/13/20242-4 minutes
Cat Care Basics

Bringing home a new kitten or adult cat means you’ll need to learn some cat care basics. Everything from food and litter to veterinary care and grooming are essential.  

Being equipped with a basic amount of knowledge and having the right supplies can get you and your new cat started on a long and loving relationship together.  

Select a Veterinarian

The first step in bringing a cat home is finding a local veterinarian you can trust and communicate with openly. Once you’ve decided, you can reach out to your cat’s veterinarian and set up vaccine appointments, ask vital questions and get essential tips about how to keep your cat happy and healthy.  

A good veterinarian isn’t just there to give your cat their annual checkups. Veterinarians are a wealth of information any time you’re concerned about your cat’s health, behavior or anything else.  

Feeding & Fresh Water

Learning how to feed a cat starts with selecting the proper nutrition. Since kittens and adult cats have different nutritional needs, it’s essential to start your cat on an age-appropriate kitten food or adult cat food to make sure they’re getting the right nutrients their body needs to thrive. The amount of food you should feed your cat is usually located on the cat food label itself and is relative to their size and age.  

Develop a feeding routine so your cat knows when to expect they’ll eat. If you plan to feed dry cat food, you can put an entire day’s serving in their food dish every morning and let them graze throughout the day. If you give them wet food, it should be consumed within 20 or 30 minutes of serving and any remaining food should be refrigerated and eaten within 24 hours of serving.  

Provide Fresh Water

Always keep a supply of clean, fresh water for your cat to help them stay hydrated. Wild cats avoid stagnant water that may be home to harmful bacteria or parasites. As a result, many domesticated cats may instinctively avoid drinking water that hasn’t been replaced, so make sure to replace the water in their bowl daily. Choose a shallow, wide bowl that won’t irritate their whiskers. You can also try a recirculating water fountain. 

Familiarize Your Cat With the Litter Box

As a cat owner, a litter box and plenty of fresh litter should be a priority, as should proper litter box training. Since adult cats often instinctually look for a sandy surface when they need to eliminate, litter box training might not be necessary. Kittens usually need some training.  

As early as four weeks, kittens can start to learn how to use the litter box. Find one that is appropriate to the size of your cat. For example, a kitten might find a large litter box scary and try to avoid it. Therefore, find one that’s a bit smaller.  

Introduce your kitten to the litter box or boxes you have in your house and let them explore. Then, put your kitten in the litter box. On many occasions, kittens will instinctively know to eliminate in this location. If they don’t, however, don’t worry. Continue to place them in the litter box after naps, after meals or drinks of water. Eventually, they’ll get the hang of it and start to use the litter box independently.  

The general rule of thumb is to have one litter box per cat, plus one. So if you have two cats, you need three total litter boxes. You also want to keep the litter box separate from their food and water bowls.  

Groom Your Cat

Although cats are excellent at grooming themselves, grooming your cat will be necessary from time to time, especially for longhaired breeds. Whether it’s nail trimming, bathing or brushing, make sure you have the right tools on hand to get the job done.  

For shorter-haired cats, you may need to brush your cat only once or twice a month; with longer-haired breeds, it may be a daily requirement. Nonetheless, when your cat is shedding, it’s advisable to brush them with increased frequency to prevent the floors and furniture from being covered in hair.  

Bathing your cat can occur less often. Cats are adept at keeping themselves clean; however, if your cat’s fur has accumulated stubborn dirt or your cat has mobility issues preventing them from grooming themselves, it may be necessary. Also, hairless breeds need to be bathed weekly to remove body oils usually absorbed by cat hair. Make sure you have cat shampoo on hand and plenty of treats to reward their cooperation. Talk with your veterinarian to get specific recommendations for your cat. 

Cat Playtime

As an experienced cat owner can tell you, cats need to be mentally stimulated. Fortunately, there are plenty of games you can play with your cat that can give them physical and mental exercise at the same time while helping the two of you bond.  

Whether it’s having them chase a toy on a string that you drag across the floor, giving them a catnip toy or introducing them to cat enrichment games, some of the best times you and your cat will have together will be during playtime.  

Cat Supplies

Finally, make a new kitten supply checklist to ensure you have all the things you need. A collar with an ID tag (even if they’re indoor only), bedding, a scratching post and cat carrier will be must-haves for you and your new cat or kitten as you start your new life together. You should also get your cat microchipped, just in case! 

Cat Care 101: Cat Care Do’s & Don’ts 

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when owning a cat. Here’s a handy list of things to practice and avoid when owning a cat. 

Do 

  • Play with your cat every day. Your cat needs mental enrichment, and daily play will do wonders for their health and quality of life. Controlled access to the outdoors through a “catio” (enclosed or screened-in patio or similar area) or teaching them to walk with a harness can be beneficial as well. 
  • Provide a scratching post or pad for your cat. Scratching posts allow cats to exercise, stretch out their bodies to full length, clean away dead scales from their claws and mark their territory. Without a scratching post, your cat might choose your furniture as the place to express this natural behavior. 
  • Keep litter boxes clean and inviting and in a quiet area. Remove soiled litter at least once a day. For multiple cats, more boxes are necessary. We recommend one box for each cat, plus one more. Boxes should be placed in different areas of the house, if possible. 

Don’t 

  • Pick up your adult cat by the scruff of their neck. While mother cats often pick up their kittens this way, an adult cat is too heavy for this treatment, and it could result in pain or injury. Instead, pick up your cat with both hands—one under the chest behind the front legs and one under the abdomen, supporting her rump. 
  • Let your cat chew on string, especially if you’re not watching. If they swallow it, it could create an intestinal blockage that might make them sick. 
  • Give your cat access to windows that don’t have screens. They could jump out after a bird or something else exciting and seriously injure themselves in a fall. 

Perhaps this seems like a lot to keep in mind, but don’t worry—caring for a cat becomes second nature in no time. Once you and your new cat have developed a routine, you should have no problem ensuring your cat lives a long, healthy and happy life. 

Learn more about kitten and cat ownership with tips from our experts on our Pet Expertise page.   

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