Thinking of getting a cat?

You’re in good company: in 2022 the Office for National Statistics stated that there were 12.2 million cats in the UK, meaning that they are second only to dogs (12.5 million) as the nation’s most popular pet. It is thought that over a quarter of British households now have a pet cat.

Caring for cats and kittens

In many ways, looking after a cat could not be simpler. Not only are they small, quiet and largely unobtrusive; but they exercise themselves and their key personality trait is their fierce independence. To own a cat is to give a home to a single-minded creature that will be happy to spend much of the day keeping their own company. Combine this with some of their other remarkable physical and evolutionary traits and you’ll perhaps sometimes start to wonder if your cat needs you to do anything for them at all: they are graceful, powerful, athletic acrobats; inquisitive and canny problem solvers; and silent, deadly assassins.

For all this, however, cats are also extremely sensitive. They are easily upset by changes in their routine, by new objects or people, or by unusual sights or sounds. In addition to the obvious role you will play in their feeding, hygiene and general health, another key role a cat owner plays is to provide a stable and safe sanctuary for their pet: somewhere they can retreat to with feelings of comfort and security.

One great way to accelerate building a bond with your cat is, naturally enough, to raise them from a kitten. It is a tremendously rewarding thing to do and can also be an incredible amount of fun: kittens are immaculately adorable, playful, energetic and endlessly spectacular. However, these same traits also mean that looking after a kitten can be a real challenge. Their curiosity knows no bounds, and their physical prowess can often get them into some truly unbelievable comic book-style scrapes. In other words, looking after a kitten can be a very involved and time-consuming job, and is neither for the faint of heart nor those who are not fully-committed to the cause.

The final thing a prospective cat owner will always need is a thick skin. It has been said that while dogs look up to humans, cats look down on us; and there’s a lot of truth in this. If you come up short of your cat’s exacting standards, they will usually find a way to let you know all about it. If you are emotionally or psychologically unable to deal with receiving angry, quizzical or disappointed glances from your pet even though you are trying your best, you’re probably better off choosing a different kind of animal!

How to keep your cat healthy and happy

Diet

The most important factor in deciding on your cat’s diet is understanding the limitations: cats are obligate carnivores and therefore will quickly become unwell if they are not fed a diet which is predominantly made up of meat or meat-derived products.

However, this still leaves owners with a lot of choices to make, as anyone who has ever casually browsed the pet food aisle at a supermarket will know. Ultimately there are three main choices. The first is a raw food diet. This is by far the most complex and expensive option, and also requires the addition of some vital nutritional supplements that cats will be unable to derive from a diet of raw meat and vegetables alone. These have to be purchased from specialist pet stores.

Most cat owners instead choose between a diet of wet food or dry food, or a combination of the two. These all have these important nutritional supplements added by the manufacturers, which is one potential worry checked off the list. However, it still makes for a vast and potentially baffling array of choices. Exactly which food you then choose to buy for your pet is based largely on your own budget, but it is reasonable practice to try and get the best that you can afford. Your cat’s vet should be able to provide recommendations of brands that they trust to provide the right balance of nutrition.

There is, of course, one further complicating factor: your cat. Generally speaking, cats will happily eat most food that they are given but over time you may well begin to notice they favour certain brands over another, or even refuse to eat one flavour of food that is always included in the selection box. Cats, like people, thrive on a little novelty in their diet once in a while.

Ultimately, much like feeding ourselves, feeding a cat is a balancing act of cost, individual tastes and nutritional benefits. Sometimes it may take a little experimentation to find the right balance, and you should never be afraid or ashamed to ask for some help or guidance in making the best decisions.

Home and environment

While it is undeniable that cats thrive in a warm environment, it is just as important to remember the importance of stability and consistency. Cats are very particular about maintaining a regular routine and never take kindly to people moving their things about. 

While you might think your pet will love their expensive and plush new bed, your cat is just as likely to shun it to continue contentedly sleeping on the smelly old hair-covered cushion they’ve had for years. It is good practice for cat owners to maintain their pet’s favourite spots for eating and sleeping as close to identical as they can reasonably manage.

Temperature-wise, cats like it hot. A cat can comfortably tolerate much higher ambient temperatures than most humans and will happily sleep next to fires or lying on radiators for hours on end. However, with the soaring costs of energy bills in mind, it is important to remember that your cat is unlikely to walk out on you just because you can’t afford to make your house all toasty. 

Your pet is extremely clever and resourceful: more often than not they will find themselves a cosy nook somewhere in your house where they can curl up and doze in peace. After a few years with a cat, your home is likely to have several of these spots. The chances are that there will turn out to be ones you were never even aware of. These can tend to reveal themselves at the most inopportune and inconvenient moments, for example when you realise that your favourite winter jumper is covered in a thick disc of cat hair, just minutes before you were planning to wear it out of the house…

Another key aspect to your home environment is to try and ensure that, as far as is reasonably possible, you avoid too much noise and chaos. Continually moving things around; the appearance of lots of new or different items; or any sudden or sustained loud noises are all likely to upset your cat. If you throw a party, you can more or less guarantee your cat will hide away somewhere no-one will think of looking for them. Cats prefer to do all their partying outside.

You will find that cats are mostly control freaks and as such, prefer any novel sights and sounds to be the result of what they are up to. As far as your cat is concerned, your job is to be calm, quiet and respectful of the schedule. Predictability is a key trait that a cat would look for if they were to choose an owner.

Grooming a Cat

On the whole, cats take care of much of their own grooming. However, as anyone who has ever woken up to find a wet hairball coughed up in their slipper will attest, they do occasionally need a little help. It’s important to remember that a cat’s fur coat is an important evolutionary adaptation that keeps them as happy and healthy as they can be, and as such it is as important to look after as many other aspects of their overall well-being. A well-groomed cat will be a happier cat.

Exactly how much grooming your cat will need depends on a variety of factors, including the length of their coat, the time of year and your cat’s age and level of mobility. Whatever the case, it is a good idea to have a couple of good grooming tools to hand at all times so that they are ready whenever you need them. We recommend an all-purpose brush with thin metal bristles and a fine-toothed flea comb, for working on specific problem areas.

If you have a long-haired cat, the recommendation is to brush your pet every day in order to avoid their coat becoming tangled or matted. Short-haired cats need much less rigorous attention: perhaps just once or twice a week. However, as cats get more elderly one of the first things that they start to neglect are their grooming rituals, so you may need to step up your sessions to help keep their fur as healthy as possible.

Cat grooming tips

Perhaps the best and most versatile grooming aid is the kind of rubber-backed brush with thin, pin-like metal bristles that can be strapped onto your hand. These are particularly good at removing shed hair that can get trapped in your cat’s undercoat and, as they mimic the feeling of a giant cat tongue, many cats actively enjoy a few minutes petting and attention from one of their humans using this tool. The only thing to bear in mind with this type of brush is not to get carried away and press down too hard, as this can scratch your cat’s skin and hurt your pet.

Work your way around as much of your cat’s coat as they will allow you, to try and remove fur equally from every area. Your cat will usually make it very clear when they have had enough – although in some cases you may need to be a little more persistent and perseverant. This will ultimately require a little give-and-take between you and your pet, but once they start to feel the benefits of regular grooming they may well start to come round to your way of thinking!

It’s a good idea to try and work regular grooming into your cat’s routine. It will help keep their coat in good condition and also help to prevent any fear of brushing or apprehension in your cat, since most of the negative feelings cats can develop towards grooming often begin as the result of the need to remove the kind of tangles and knots that regular brushing will help you to avoid.

Health

Cats are generally pretty robust animals but there comes a time that every pet owner has to save their companion from themselves and somehow wrangle them to the vet for a check-up. This, for understandable reasons, is somewhat more difficult to do with a cat than it is with almost any other commonly-owned domestic pet.

Nevertheless, sometimes you need to gird your loins and put on your best suit of armour for the greater good: it is recommended that cat owners take their pet to the vet at least once a year for a general assessment of their health. During this time your vet will also be able to give your cat any medications or supplements they require and give them their vaccinations, which is particularly important if you allow your cat to roam around outdoors. Even if your cat is strictly an indoor pet, it is still important to make this appointment for a regular check-up.

It is also a good opportunity to stock up on your cat’s regular treatments for worms, ticks and fleas. These can be bought over the counter in supermarkets and pet shops, but are unlikely to be as effective as those that your veterinarian will be able to prescribe.

Spay or Neuter Your Cat

Our advice here is very straightforward: you should do it. 

As we said at the beginning of this article, there are thought to be 12.2 million cats in the UK by the Office of National Statistics. However, this figure only counts the animals that are declared by owners: the true number of cats in the UK could be far, far higher. Cats are so adaptable and such exceptional hunters that they can very easily live as strays in the wild for many years.

If that idea upsets you, it probably should. Cats can do terrible damage to the ecosystem around them if left to their own devices, particularly with regard to the populations of birds and small mammals which make up much of a stray cat’s diet. Worse still, cats breed as effectively and efficiently as rabbits – another animal whose wild populations can be negatively affected by large populations of stray cats. According to pethealthnetwork.com, a single male and a single female cat could be responsible for over 400,000 kittens within just seven years.

However much you love cats, that is far too many cats. It is the duty of any responsible cat owner to make sure that their pet will not be responsible for any unexpected or unwanted furry bundles of joy.

Seasonal advice

It is unclear whether or not your cat considers Christmas to be the most wonderful time of the year. 

On one hand, it is a time that usually brings with it a lot of upheaval: furniture is moved around, decorations start to appear and strange people might even occasionally start to fill their homes. All of this is guaranteed to put a cat on edge, so it is safe to assume that there are aspects to the holiday season that your cat finds fairly inexplicable and stressful.

On the other hand, however, there are plenty of potential upsides. Fires are lit and houses become more warm and cosy. There’s an abundance of delicious food all around. And for some cats, a Christmas tree is no more than a climbing frame or an assault course. Some cats enjoy Christmas decorations to the extent that their owners might even start to wonder about keeping a tree inside their house all year round.

The best advice we can give about enjoying a harmonious Christmas with your cat is firstly to make sure you keep disruption to a minimum in their favourite places in the house, so ensure they always have an area they can retreat to in order to feel safe and secure.

Secondly, sometimes you have to save cats from themselves. Horror stories about cats destroying elaborate decorations, or eating an entire turkey by themselves, always abound at this time of year. It is your responsibility to make sure they don’t get the opportunity to add to the legends!

Thirdly, at the time of giving and goodwill, don’t forget to get your cat a little something. It might be a treat they can eat, or a new bed or toy. They may not show it, but cats are far more appreciative of these little things than a lot of people think. We’ve got a cat gift guide if you’re stuck for ideas on what to get.

And fourthly, if you are one of these people who simply has to dress their cat up in a silly festive costume: please ensure you don’t impair the functions of their ears or whiskers. It is extremely stressful for your pet, not to mention annoying for all your friends and relatives.

What does your cat or kitten need?

The good news is, not a lot. Aside from a few basic items – some of which your cat will simply ignore and find alternatives to instead – you need not break the bank getting ready for the arrival of your new furry friend.

Cat Care Supply List

Let’s start with the absolute basics: your cat will need at least two bowls, one for water and one for food. It’s also a good idea to buy a wipe-clean mat to put underneath the bowls, because cats are not necessarily possessed of the neatest or most fastidious eating habits.

You will also need a litter tray and cat litter. The type you choose is up to you and as likely as not to depend on your budget. Even the simplest plastic litter tray will suffice, however. Don’t forget to also invest in a good scoop, to help you keep their tray in prim and proper condition: a lot of cats are very particular about this!

It’s also a good idea to get some sort of scratching post or box. Cats need to keep their claws in good condition and will do this by stropping them on any available rough surface. If you don’t want this to be your carpet or favourite chair, a scratcher of some description is a vital investment.

Lastly among the absolute essentials are some toys. The toys and games that cats like to play vary from cat to cat, but having some toys to hand is a must. Play is not only a good bonding experience for you and your pet, but it also helps them to exercise as well as hone their natural hunting instincts and stave off boredom.

There are a baffling array of cat toys to choose from, ranging from simple ping pong balls and feathers to vast cat towers that fill a corner of a room. Our advice is to start simple, unless you have money to burn. The most effective cat toy we have ever found is, in fact, a ball of string: it can be turned into hundreds of hours of entertainment for a cat.

You may be surprised that we have not yet spoken about getting your cat a bed. Naturally, you should definitely do this. However, we have not included it in the essentials because there is no guarantee that a cat will ever use their official bed: they may well prefer to sleep on a sofa, your bed or curled up in the airing cupboard. Some cats will even choose to sleep in the box their cat bed came in. Still, it is always nice to give them an extra option and who knows? They might love it.

Understanding cat behaviour

This is a subject worthy of several hundred books, none of which we are particularly qualified to write. No matter how many cats you have owned or known, it is virtually impossible to quickly or concisely provide a catch-all guide to what motivates a cat to act the way that they do.

Nevertheless, keep your eyes peeled on the site because we (nevertheless!) have future plans to produce a series of articles looking at and trying to explain some of the more common, mysterious and frustrating things that our furry friends like to do. If you can’t wait that long, the naturalist Desmond Wilcox’s classic book on the subject, Catwatching, is well worth a read.