Adopting My First Cat & Helpful Tips on Cat Care
The question has been in my head for years: Should I get cat? A couple months ago, I adopted my first cat, Guster / Gus, from Woods Humane Society in San Luis Obispo, CA. My roommates and I have never owned a cat before, though we were thinking about getting one for quite a while. When we went to our local shelter to see what cats were available, we immediately fell in love with Gus. He was incredibly shy when we met him but he was so responsive to our pets. We were able to bring him home the day after. Follow his journey through his Instagram (@ThugsterGuster)!
It can be pretty overwhelming to be responsible for another life, so preparation is key. Here are some tips that I found helpful when adopting a cat for the first time.
Basic Shopping List - Cat Essentials
- Water bowls and food bowls: We started out with feeding Gus out of two bowls, one for dry food and one for wet food. Now we feed him with a toy so that he can be more stimulated. Knowing how to take care of a cat is a lot of trial and error, so be patient!
- Food (wet or dry): After trying out several varieties of wet and dry food, we noticed that Gus wasn’t too interested in the wet food. Our vet recommended feeding Gus about ¾ cup of low-calorie dry food per day since he is mostly indoors and a bit on the heavier side.
- Litter box(es) & Litter: Generally, you would want to have one more litter box than the number of cats in the house because they may not want to use a dirty litter box. After Gus got used to his open litter boxes, we switched to a covered litter box to reduce the smell.
- Scratching post: Gus is a big fan of this. We got one that has a perch on top of the scratching post. It is placed near a window so that Gus can sharpen his nails, stretch, and enjoy the view all in the same location.
- Toys: According to Gus’ adoption packet, his previous owners stated that he did not like to play with toys as much. We decided to get a couple of toys anyways and found out that he prefers the mouse on a fishing pole, tennis balls, and cardboard boxes! Wondering how to get a cat to like you? Play with them! If you want to try it, go ahead and grab some catnip as well.
- Collar and identification tag: Woods Humane Society provided us with a microchip and identification tag for his collar. We purchased a separate collar with a bell and made our own ID tag with his name and address.
- Cat carrier: This is necessary for those dreaded vet visits or if you plan on traveling with your cat. We use a soft shell carrier but hard ones are great as well.
- Nail clippers: Gus likes to sit on laps to we make sure his nails are properly trimmed to prevent any scratches. Make sure not to trim the nails too much or they will start bleeding! This is an important part of grooming your cat, as well as preventing hairballs.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste: Cat’s teeth can be subjected to the problems humans face as well! Since our cat has gingivitis, our vet recommends brushing his teeth every day or at least a few times a week. Even if your cat does not have any dental issues, it is still recommended to brush their teeth a few times a week to prevent any future problems.
- Cat trees: These are great especially for indoor cats. Cats love to climb and for apartment living putting a tree or cat perch in front of a window allows them to look out and see the world in safety. These also work great in outdoor catios too and allow them to get the exercise they need.
What to expect
If you are adopting a shelter cat for the first time, don’t be concerned if your new cat hides out for a few days. When we first let Gus out of his carrier, he was too scared to come out. After a bit of coaxing with treats, he bolted out and hid in the far corner behind the couch. We left food and water out in the same room he was in but he did not eat at all for the first night. During the second and third nights, he ate a little bit and used the litter box. As time progressed he became more comfortable leaving his safe space behind the couch. He began responding to our pets with gentle purring and kisses while eating treats directly from our hand.
Now that it has been a few months we discovered a few things about him that was not in his adoption packet. First, Gus is VERY food motivated and we can use this to teach him tricks or tell him to go where we want him to go. We also discovered that Gus has the “zoomies” during the night where he is in a very active and playful mood. This cat can also be very affectionate and vocal. When he sees another person, we will greet them with a soft “meow” before he sits by their feet, waiting for pets. When Gus is hungry (all the time), he will let you know with a lot of meows to get your attention before walking to his food bowl.
I get the question a lot: “How long does it take a cat to adjust to a new home?” The answer completely depends on the cat. For us, it took a few days. For younger kittens, it could be instantaneous. Bringing a new kitten home means being prepared for an adjustment period; act with patience and trust that they will eventually see this new place as their home.
Changes in your daily routine
There are some expected and unexpected changes to my daily routine with the addition of Gus. I expected to clean the litter box and feed him every day, but I did not expect to spend as much time with him as I do. I believed that I can devote 1 - 2 hours to Gus every day but I end up spending at least 2 hours with him every day. We get so excited when he responds to us when we pet or play with him because he was so shy at first. Even now, he will jump into my lap when I am trying to do work so I end up taking twice as long to do the job.
Cat-proofing your home
If your cat is anything like Gus, make sure to hide all the food. We used to leave a lot of snacks or cat treats on the counter, but Gus would break into the sealed bag during the night when he had the munchies. To combat this, we would put all the food in the cupboards and the cat food in hard plastic containers.
You should also make sure that anything that can be harmful to the cat (cleaning supplies, medicine, poisonous plants, broken cords) is put away. Cats can also be pretty devious so make sure you put all your fragile items in a safe location.
The first vet visit
Our shelter told us that the first vet visit was free if we scheduled it within 3 days of adoption. In the adoption packet, a list of recommended veterinarians were included. To pick our vet, we took into account the locations that were closest to our house and what our friends recommended.The hardest part of the vet visit was getting Gus to go into the carrier. We ended up turning the carrier vertically and using gravity to get him in. The first vet visit is a great time to ask about any health concerns that you may have. Gus was a bit on the heavy side so we asked our vet what kind and how much food we should feed him. If you are wondering whether to microchip your pet, take a look at the benefits of microchipping your pet. Another big question that Woods made for us was the question of neutering. If you face this question, read our pros and cons post in The Truth About Spaying and Neutering.
Kittens and Cats
We brought Gus home as an adult cat. Being a first time cat owner and a new kitten owner can be very different. On one hand, a kitten will be quicker to pick up training, and will grow to feel comfortable around you. An older cat might be less inclined to having a new owner (or an owner at all). Know that adopting a kitten is like adopting a puppy; everything starts from scratch--literally!
Outside cat vs inside cat
There are a few considerations of letting your cat go outside rather than keeping them inside. If you are rescuing a cat, look into their adoption packets to see if they were indoor or outdoor cats previously. Gus was an indoor/outdoor cat with his previous owners so we introduced him to the cat door after 2 months of living with us. This leads to an enclosed backyard so he can still enjoy the outside without all of the risks. If this is something you're considering, check out these tips for Pet Door Training your pet!
Risks are greater for an outdoor cat than an indoor cat. Not only are there the physical risks of getting attacked or run over, there are also the risks of diseases and fleas. If you are going to let your cat outside, make sure you take your cat to the vet to vaccinate your cat to prevent diseases. On the other hand, outside cats get a lot more exercise than indoor cats which can increase happiness and health.
If you decided to keep your cat indoors, be sure to provide enough stimulation to keep them engaged. Invest in a scratching post to keep their natural scratching habits at bay and keep a rotation of toys to maintain the excitement of new toys. You can also place a perch near a window so your cat can watch whatever is going on outside. Grooming is also very important and a cat hole door can help with that!Here at PetDoors.com, we highly recommend letting your cats go outside in an enclosed area. We recommend building or purchasing a catio so that your cats can enjoy all the benefits of the outdoors while mitigating most of the risks. You can install a cat door in your window to a catio to provide the safe passage from your home to a cat home. Let your new family member experience the new surroundings that every cat needs!