Cat Care

Living with cats can be rewarding and challenging, as they tend to have their own ideas about life. There are many considerations when bringing a cat into your life, those that are important to both dogs and cats are covered in the "Pet Care" section, including a healthy diet, brushing teeth, and grooming, so be sure to check there as well. I will try to cover the most important cat-specific topics here, and rather than re-invent the wheel, I would like to direct you to some great resources for cat owners. is a great overview of cat care developed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) - has some nice links to other resources including:

Partners in Animal Health from Cornell University has a great selection of videos on cat care - look at the "Resources for Pet Owners" section.


Diet is covered more thoroughly in the "Healthy Diet" section, but I want to mention here as well how important it is to feed more than just dry food to cats. They need the added moisture found in canned foods or homemade diets to reduce the chances of having urinary/kidney problems, constipation, diabetes and other issues common to our feline friends. This may be THE most important thing about cat care - if you can make one change in your life, feed your cats canned food - any canned food is better than an all dry diet.

Be careful however and make dietary changes gradually--cats can be particular about changes in their diet and it is also important that they not go without food for too long. Cats can develop a life-threatening liver condition (hepatic lipidosis) within 3 days of going without food.

Vomiting in cats is often accepted as "normal", especially when associated with hairballs, but this is truly not the case. Cats are famous for eating string and other "foreign objects" that can cause intestinal distress, signs of this are usually acute, but can sometimes become longer lasting if not identified. Vomiting in cats can indicate a dietary sensitivity that can be improved with dietary adjustments or a more serious condition such as chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), pancreatitis, liver or kidney disease or cancer. If inflammatory conditions are left untreated, they can be more likely to progress to cancer as well. Discuss any vomiting at veterinary visits and options for further diagnostic testing and treatments can be considered.

Exercise and Enrichment

Though they can sleep up to 20 hours a day (13-16 is more realistic), cats still require exercise during their waking hours. Exercise is important not only in combating obesity, which can be a common problem with indoor kitties, but it also keeps their muscles, brains and attitudes (mind, body & spirit!) healthy. Anxiety and inactivity have been associated with cystitis (bladder inflammation) and urinary problems in indoor cats (again - moist food and water intake are important here too). There are many great toys and climbing structures available for cats, and taking some time to play with them and get them moving every day can help to keep them fit and healthy.

Here is a link full of enrichment ideas for indoor cats: The Indoor Pet Initiative

Scratching Behavior

Scratching is normal behavior for cats to keep their claws sharp and fresh, but also stretches the muscles in their forelimbs, shoulders and back. Cats need a good TALL scratching post to get the full stretch. Each cat also has individual preferences for textures (carpet, sisal rope, cardboard, wood) and positioning - vertical vs horizontal surfaces, so work with your cat to find their favorites then provide them in comfortable locations. If your cat has already picked out some inappropriate (in human opinion) locations to scratch, it can help to place a good scratching post in that area to re-direct the behavior, or obstacles, double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil or other objects to make clawing in that area less appealing until more acceptable habits are established (these obstacles can also help with urination or defecation in undesirable locations). Regular nail trimming keeps the claws from becoming too sharp and plastic nail caps are also an alternative to protect sensitive skin and furniture.

Video link and more nail trimming info

Declaw surgery should be considered only if other attempts to reduce scratching fail. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a video discussing declawing cats and showing the surgical procedure which includes the amputation of the nail as well as the bone at the tip of the toe. This is a painful procedure and pain medication should not be optional during recovery and healing time.

AVMA video on surgical cat declaw

Litterbox Training

Most cats naturally prefer to use sand or dirt for urination and defecation, so teaching them to use a litterbox indoors is usually pretty easy, especially when you start with them in a smaller space such as one room. The problem usually comes when the cat develops either a medical condition that affects its litterbox use, such as diabetes, urinary tract infections, or arthritis, or behavioral issues that lead to urine marking. Sometimes cats develop an aversion to their current litterbox due to a scary incident in the area such as a washing machine suddenly coming on, or perceived threats from other cats or children. Litterboxes need to be placed in quiet areas and need to be plentiful -one for each cat in the household plus one more is the recommendation.

There are a few different types of substrate to choose from such as clay, newspaper pellets, or wheat litter, so try a few different kinds of litter in different boxes to determine your cat's preference if you are having problems with training.

Most importantly, keep the litterbox clean. Cats don't like to step into a dirty litterbox (would you?), so scoop it at least once daily and completely change the litter and clean the box weekly. Prevention is the key with housesoiling issues. Once the habits are started, they are much harder to break, so a little effort every day really pays off here.

If you are already having litterbox issues, it is important to act fast in order to break any bad habits. A veterinary visit can be very helpful here to rule out medical causes and to lay out a plan to re-establish potty habits that you can live with!