Hello Everyone! Anyone who shares a house with a loving (or maybe not so loving?) feline companion knows that you don't own cats, they own you! We will begin with the moment you decide that you just have to have a cat. This 'ible is packed with facts, tips, and even some neat tricks that you can teach your cat or kitten, like sitting, begging, and even giving a high-five! It will also include answers to some frequently asked questions as well as a whole section dedicated to the Felid Language. Let's get started, shall we?
Note: Some of the photos aren't the highest in quality because I'd taken them before I got my good camera.
Note 2: So far almost all of my instructables have had something to do with cats, but don't worry, the next one will be a cooking tutorial ;-).
Edit (May 10, 2015) : Changed/added some photos, fixed a typo, reworded a few hard-to-understand sections to make them easier to read, and added another word to the Felid to English dictionary.
Edit (July 3, 2015) : Updated "common mistakes pet owners make".
Since this is practically a book, here is an index so you don't get lost.
1: things to consider before you get out the Temptations® and kitty litter
2: choosing the right cat for you
3: bringing kitty home
4: introducing kitty to other pets
5: methods of discipline and positive reinforcement
6: simple tricks
7: advanced tricks
8: feline faq
9: ten common mistakes pet owners make (and how to avoid making them)
10: six fun ways you can play and bond with your cat
11: how to speak felid, the international domestic cat language (incomplete)
12: a quick, final note
Step 1: Things to Consider BEFORE You Get Out the Temptations® and Kitty Litter
How often will someone be at home?
How much time and money am I willing to devote to care such as feeding, bathing, vet visits, and training?
Is anyone in the family allergic to pet dander?
How much do I really care about my furniture?
Do I mind wearing clothes with cat fur stuck to them?
Who will keep the kitten company while I'm out of the house?
Is it safe to let my kitten outside where I live?
How will my current pet(s) react to a new kitten?
Are pets permitted where I live?
This is pretty self-explanatory, so it's up to you to figure out if you're ready for a cat.
Step 2: Choosing the Right Cat for You
When looking for a kitten or cat, here are the things to look for:
A clean, smooth coat
Bright, clear eyes
A clean rear end
An easy-going personality
A good personality is essential. You might think that you want a hyper cat to play with, but what happens when Kitty isn't so little anymore? A gentle cat will still play a lot, just not as roughly as a hyper one. I can say this from experience.
Step 3: Bringing Kitty Home
Option A: allow the cat to explore the house. If you already have an established dog or cat, this option can lead to a tussle, so if this is the case, it would be best to go with option b.
Or Option B (only necessary if you have other pets): place the cat into a single room with food, and a litter box (also, preferably, an appropriate place to scratch).
You will know when Kitty feels at home, because she will start to groom herself.
Step 4: Introducing Kitty to the Other Pets
Have the two meet underneath the door. They will be able smell each other and maybe even feel or see each other, but they won't be able to fight. It is completely normal for both cats to hiss or growl at each other. Giving them a special food or treat on either side of the door helps. When the cats are comfortable with the door set up (which can take anywhere from a day to a week) you can put child safety gates on the door. This allows them to get a good look at each other without any worry of either cat getting hurt. Once again food and treats are a great way to positivily renforce their being together. Once you are sure they don't mind being around each other, hold the new cat while standing up. Let them see each other. If both behave, crouch down and let them sniff each other. If the new cat tries to swat the resident cat, immediately place him/her back in the designated room. If the resident cat is the aggressor, stand up and walk a few feet away. If they do fine, loosen your grip on the newbie, eventually letting go. Be sure to have a squirt bottle handy in case the cats fight. Feed the cats together. After about fifteen minutes, if all has gone well, reward both cats and place the new cat in the room. Have about two or three meetings a day, lengthening the time both cats are together until eventually, they are both out all the time. This process can take from three days to over a year. Swapping beds and letting them explore each other's domain can potentially speed up the process.
Some cats will never really get along, with some just avoiding each other or hissing at each other when they get too close and some fighting every chance they get. My sister's cat, Anna, hates my cat, Sam. She let's him know when he has gotten too close, but they still live together in semi-harmony and don't really mind sharing. Sammy and my other cat, Anna's sister Sarah, are inseparable. Sammy was born feral and abandoned by his mother. When we took him in, Sarah acted like a substitute mother, teaching him, grooming him, and keeping an eye on him. They've been that close ever since.
For introducing to dogs:
Put the dog on a leash. Hold the cat firmly, but not tightly. Let the two see and smell each other. If they misbehave, end the session. If they behave, walk a little bit closer. Have meetings like this about four or five times a day. Once you know the dog will not chase the cat, you can set the cat down and allow her to approach the dog on her own. Reward them if they do well. After about a week of doing this, let the dog off of the leash. Let them eat together, this will reinforce positive experiences. If they do fine like this, you can have supervised meetings three or four times a day, increasing the length until both are out all the time. This process can take from three days to over a year. Some dogs and cats might never get along.
Step 5: Methods of Discipline and Positive Reinforcement
Cats send each other messages by scent. Their noses are over twice as sensitive as our's. They have scent glands located in many places throughout their bodies, including their toes. When a cat scratches on the furniture, she is leaving her scent on it, marking her territory. You see this activity, called scraping, in pretty much all members of Felidae, from Tigers to Asian Golden Cats. It is a part of their day-to-day life.
Step 6: Simple Tricks
To teach your cat to sit on command, grab a treat. Hold the treat a few inches above the cat's nose. Most cats will sit quickly, but some may take their time. Any cat will eventually sit. As soon as Kitty sits, say 'sit' then give her the treat. As the cat gets more consistent, lengthen the amount of time between initial sitting and the reward.
This is very useful, especially if your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat. Start relatively close together (about 2 to 3 feet away from your cat). Call the cat's name or just say 'here kitty' and set a treat in front of you (make sure she knows it's there). Any reasonable cat will come to get the treat. Gradually increase the distance until she will consistently come when called from the other end of the house.
For most cats, this trick isn't hard, but others just don't quite get the picture. Ask your cat to sit. Hold the treat above her head. If she 'stands up' from her haunches and lifts her paws slightly, say 'beg' and give her the treat. If your cat tries to grab the treat, lift it higher. Some cats will beg if you lift it higher, while some will just sit back down. All I can say for the cats that just sit back down: keep trying. They will eventually get the idea.
Step 7: Advanced Tricks
Make sure your cat is standing. Let the cat know that you have a treat. Hold the treat to the side of the cat and let her follow it for a full 360° (a circle). Give her the treat and say 'spin'. Do this again, only faster. Eventually, you will no longer need the aid of a treat to make your cat spin.
Have your cat sit. Put a treat in your hand. Put your hand just at Kitty's eye-level. If the cat puts her paw in your hand, say 'shake' or 'shake paw' and give her the treat. If she tries to bite the treat, pull your hand back and try again. Once she is consistent, move your hand up and down slightly before giving her the treat. Soon, every time you hold out your hand, your cat will place her paw in it!
If your cat already knows 'shake' this trick should be easy to teach. If this is the case, simply have her sit, then hold up your hand, as if for a high-five with a human friend, and Kitty should put her paw on it. If she hasn't learned 'shake' or won't give high-fives, place a treat in between your fingers. Make sure Kitty knows that it is there. When she paws at your hand, say 'high-five' or 'give me five' and give her the treat. Eventually you can remove the treat from the hand you high-five with and hold it in your other hand (so you can still give it to her quickly).
For this trick, your cat needs to know 'high-five' already. Hold your hand up for a high-five, but before Kitty touches it, move it up and down. Most cats will move their paws up and down with it. Say 'wave bye-bye' or 'bye-bye' and give her the treat. Gradually move your hand more naturally when giving the signal until it is just like you are waving goodbye to a human friend.
Step 8: Feline FAQ
Q: Does my cat love me, or just what I have to offer her?
A: Laugh at this one all you want, but come on, who hasn't loved a cat and wondered if the cat really loves back? Some people say that animals are not capable of such complex emotions as love, hate, or sorrow, but anyone who has ever had a real animal friend knows that just the opposite is true (in some circumstances). A great example is my baby, Sarah. When I'm gone for any longer than a day, my family says that she will run around the house, room to room, meowing. Sometimes she will even refuse to eat unless her bowl is placed in my room. She has everything she would have normally during these times, except me. When I get up to feed my cats in the morning, Sarah will often follow me back to my room, food uneaten (and she likes her some kibble!), if I do not stay with her in the kitchen. If that isn't true love, I'm not sure what is.
Please remember this isn't so for all animals. Many are really in it for themselves. I can't tell you if your pet is one of these special creatures or not, so it is really up to you to examine the evidence given.
Q: My young, male cat is constantly wanting food! He doesn't have worms or hyperthyroidism, but I can't seem to fill him up! He is beginning to get a little on the pudgy side. I don't want a fat cat, but his begging is so annoying that I'll do almost anything to quiet him down! Is there a way to fill him up without getting him overweight?
A: This is typical adolescent feline behavior, particularly in males. The best way to deal with this is to get a decent sized bowl, pour his food into it, then fill it with water. If he is as obsessed as you think he is, he will drink the water, trying to get to the food, until he is full. Cats typically don't drink a lot of water, so it will get him good and hydrated too. We are fostering a cat just like that.
Q: Do cats really like music?
A: When someone sings or hums, two of our cats will come into whatever room the person is in, so I'd say a yes. They prefer calm music to things like rock and roll. If I sing or hum a fast-paced tune, Sarah usually kindly asks me to zip it.
Q: How do I keep my cat from scratching up the furniture?
A: They make sprays specifically designed to repel cats from clawing the furniture. Once a cat scratches a location, it has the cat's smell on it, so she will keep going back to it to scratch. Use the spray on any undesirable scratching spots and scatter scratching posts around the house. If you give your cat a treat wherever she uses the scratching posts, this will further reinforce good behavior. Regular claw trimming helps. Keep in mind that cats like to stretch all the way out when they scratch, so the longer the post, the better the chance Kitty will use it. BY ALL MEANS, DO NOT DECLAW!!!
Q: How do I trim my cat's claws?
A: This is a great instructable for that: Cat Nail Trim. Here are a few tips to add to it: when trimming, line up the broad side of the claw with the broad side of the clippers. If you do it the regular way (with the clippers going horizontally and the claw going vertically), you risk tearing the claw off or chipping it if the cat jerks suddenly. Trust me, this isn't fun for you or the cat. The picture in the link provided of trimming the claw should give you an idea of what it should look like right before cutting. Lining the sides up also makes for a cleaner cut with less of that powdery stuff to get all over wherever to choose to trim. If your cat is difficult, try to trim her claws when she is half asleep. I do this for Tiny and she does fine now.
Q: My cat refuses to use her litter box. Why is she doing this?
A: So many cats automatically use the litter box that most people just assume that they will use it. If your cat had previously been using her litter box, ask these questions and find some answers:
A: Is my cat sick?
B: Is the litter box clean?
C: Have I moved the litter box to a different location recently?
D: Have I switched litter brands recently?
E: Is my cat mad at me?
If the cat had not previously used the litter box, you may need to train her. It isn't hard. Any time she looks like she's about to go (look for signs like circling and digging) pick her up and put her into her litter box. Praise her if she uses it. If she jumps out and moves to a different place to do her business, there may be something about the litter that she doesn't like. Cats often do not like scented litter. Be sure to put out at least two litter boxes for your cat, one at each end of the house.
Q: Is my cat smart?
A: Most cats are very intelligent. They have a brain to body mass percentage almost equal to that of an ape (according to one book; the name of which I cannot remember), as well as having thousands more brain neutrons than dogs. Some also display complex emotions similar to ours. As mentioned above, some cats really can love, hate, and mourn loss.
My cat Sarah has figured out how to open the treat drawer, pull out the treat container and open the treat container to get to the tasty morsels inside! She taught herself how to do this, but it wasn't hard to get her to do so on command at the start of a training session.
Remember, this is the average. There are some dogs that are smarter than some cats and vise versa. It really depends on the individual.
A test you can do to at least get an idea of the level of problem-solving skills your cat has, is to place a bowl with a few treats on the floor, then cover it with your hand; leaving a small opening just large enough for their paw to fit through. Sam immediately used his paw to scoop out the treat. Sarah and Tiny sniffed the opening first before doing the same. Anna sniffed and pawed at the sides of the bowl until I got bored and let her have the treat. Poor Anna.
Q: Why do cats purr?
A: This is a question that still leaves scientists scratching their heads, along with the question 'how do they purr?' Based on the situations in which cats usually purr (happy, sad, in pain, nursing young) I think they do it to remind themselves of their mother and for comfort. This accompanied with the kneading action mimics that of a nursing kitten.
Q: My vet said that I need to start brushing my cat's teeth. How do I do this and why?
A: Your vet is right. Just like people, cats can get tarter build up and cavities. So, ideally, you want to brush their teeth every day. Every other day will work too. If your cat has bad breath, you definitely need to brush her teeth. A cat's mouth is not supposed to smell like that!
To brush your cat's teeth, you first need to associate the brush with good things. Put a treat or a piece of food on the brush and let her eat it. It'll be the most interesting thing in the world. Next put a dab of toothpaste on the brush. Never ever EVER use human toothpaste!!! They sell pet toothpaste at Walmart®, but the better tasting ones are found at pet stores. Let the cat lick the toothpaste off of the brush. If the cat bites the brush, use this to your advantage and move the brush around to get them used to the feel of brushing. Keep doing this until your cat will let you brush her. You only need to brush her teeth once a day, but have practice sections twice a day until she is used to the brushing. Whatever you do, don't restrain your cat when you brush her. I found out the hard way that this only makes cats hate getting their teeth brushed to the point to where I would only dare to do it once a month...
Q: Can I feed my cat table scraps?
A: It depends on the table scrap. If it's anything with onions, garlic, chocolate, grapes, or anything else poisonous to cats, absolutely NOT. However, if it is safe for them, i.e. a little bit of white bread, meat trimmings (raw or cooked), egg (cooked), or cheese, then the answer is yes. As a matter of fact, some vets will even recommend feeding pieces of plain, raw or cooked meat or fat trimmings (but not ham unless thoroughly cooked) or some scrambled eggs (plain) to your cat. Feeding your cat bread in a very small amounts is also fine, but not recommended as it is hard for cats to digest.
Step 9: Ten Common Mistakes Pet Owners Make (and How to Avoid Making Them)
1. Not spaying or neutering pets.
This is at the top of the list because people often ignore this one. Some people even believe that letting their cat have a litter or two will calm them down or something like that. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! You will only be putting your cat's life at an unnecessary risk, as well as spending hundreds of extra dollars to properly care for the kittens, whom you will eventually have to find good homes for. If you want your kids to "experience the miracle of birth" this still isn't a good option as cats usually give birth very late at night. Do you really want your kids staying up until 2 o'clock in the morning on a school night to watch something that might very well just make them sick?
2. Not putting an ID tag, tattoo, or microchip in/on pets.
Thousands of pets are lost each year, and of those, only a handful make it back home. If more people would put some form of ID on their pets, that few would probably turn into about 2/3 of all lost pets. Even if your cat never leaves your house, it is still a good idea to give them a tag... just in case.
3. Buying the cheapest food you can find.
Think about this: if beef costs $4 or so a pound, shouldn't a 15lb bag of beef-based food cost around $60? The fact is, grocery brands suck. They are filled with by-products, meals, and wheat. While gluten actually isn't bad for people (unless you have a wheat allergy), it is not good for cats. It is hard for cats to digest and can cause stomach issues. By-products can sometimes give cats diarrhea. Meals aren't much better. Cats, being some of the few truly carnivorous animals (dogs are actually omnivores, needing some amount of vegetation in their diet), need meat. REAL meat. Don't worry if you can't find a food with only meat and non-grain fillers, just try to find one with meat at the top of the ingredients list.
When looking for a food, get one that:
A: has some kind of real meat at the top of the ingredients list
B: has no wheat and, preferably, no fish
C: has a protein percentage of at LEAST 30% (found in the guaranteed analysis)
D: has some amount of taurine
And E: contains NO ash (ash is a by-product that comes with the way that some pet food companies process their cat food. It is very bad for cats and a potentially fatal illness known as FLUTD, or feline lower urinary tract disease, has been linked up to high ash content foods. Sadly, pet foods are not as regulated as they should be, so some foods still contain ash. Ash, if present, can be found in the guaranteed analysis).
NOTE: If your cats are very healthy on the brand you currently use, there is no need to change it.
4. Buying the food with the best sounding commercials/advertising.
Just as bad as buying cheap food, try to avoid Hill's Science diet® and Blue(Buffalo)®. They aren't as healthy as they'd lead you to believe. I recommend Canidae's® grain free, pure elements canned food, or, if you prefer to feed dry food to your cats, Natural Balance®. I personally feed my cats a combination of Natural Balance's® Venison and Lamb meal formula and Purina Naturals®. The Natural Balance® seems to give them a lot of energy. Not long after switching to it, all of our cats became more active and playful, and Anna's stomach problems and gas bloat pretty much vanished. We later decided to mix in the Purina Naturals to make it more cost effective and because Purina's foods seem to give cat's fur a healthy, glossy sheen. These two combined seem to be a very good mix. Cats are happy with the food and I'm happy with the cost, so win, win!
5. Leaving food out all day for pets to snack on.
If you do this, your pet will get fat. People like to blame weight gain on hundreds of other things including under activity, but really, the only thing most pet owners have to blame is themselves for over feeding their animals. Feline obesity can lead to health problems such as diabetes, though contrary to popular belief, obesity in cats usually has little to no impact on the cat's heart. If you think you're okay with having a fat cat, then you need to start practicing your insulin injections, because Kitty is going to need them. You should be able to feel your cats ribs and a thin layer of fat over them. If you have to push to feel the ribs or can't feel them at all, your cat is overweight. On the other side of things, cats need to have access to fresh water at all times.
6. Following the label on the back of the bag/can of food.
Concluding the food issues, the amount suggested for feeding is always going to be for the average cat, but no cat is average in all areas, so chances are, you will end up over or under feeding your cat. To find out the best amount of food for your cat, consult your veterinarian or figure it out yourself through trial and error. Feel free to start with the recommendation, but as soon as you notice a change in your pet's physical state, you should change the amount accordingly.
7. Ignoring the vet's recommendations/suggestions.
Unless your vet is inconsistent or unreliable (in which case, why do you even use him/her!?), he or she knows better. If she says that you should stop feeding Kitty those sour cream and onion chips she so enjoys, you'd better listen, or else, you might find out a little too late that onions are deadly to cats.
8. Not getting pets vaccinated or checked up annually, and ignoring problems.
Getting your animals checked up annually and vaccinated when necessary is essential to their long life. Even indoor cats can get sick from germs we bring inside. Some diseases do not show obvious symptoms until the sickness is terminal, so annual check-ups are the key to catching disease before it gets out of hand. Another thing to think about: problems will not just 'go away'. It is necessary that a sick or ailing cat be brought to a vet immediately. 'Little' things like diarrhea (especially if it is bloody), straining in the litter box, or suddenly refusing to eat can be symptoms of some VERY serious and potentially fatal diseases.
9. Declawing, Devocalization, Cropping and Docking
Declawing: the cruel act where the tips of a cat's toes are chopped off. This operation can cause numerous problems for a cat, including the inability to defend itself. It also makes the paws vulnerable to infections. This surgery is illegal in most first-world countries.
Devocalization: even though this, as well as the next one have more to do with dogs than cats, they are still cruel and completely unnecessary. Debarking/Demeowing is an operation in which tissue is removed from the vocal cords to reduce sound. The practice is illegal in most first-world countries.
Cropping and Docking: these often go hand in hand to the same poor dog just because of some dumb fashion or breed standard. Both are cruel, pointless, and, just like the other two, are illegal in any reasonable country.
10. Allowing pets to wander the neighborhood.
A big no no if you live in a highly populated area. If you live in the middle of nowhere and your pet is fixed, up to date on shots, has an ID tag, and knows the area, letting your pet roam is fine, but still very risky. You should NEVER keep your pet out at night. If you have a fenced in yard that you know your pet will not be leaving, that is another story. It is much safer than letting your pet run free, and, if you provide some kind of shelter, you can keep your pet outside. Just make sure you let him/her inside of some sort of sturdy building during bad weather or events that might scare Kitty away.
Step 10: Six Fun Ways You Can Play and Bond With Your Cat
1: Laser Chasing!
Who doesn't smile when they see a cat chasing a little red or blue dot? This game kind of speaks for itself, just make sure you don't shine the laser into the cat's eye.
2: Toy on a String!
Another fun and simple game. Wiggle the stick holding the string and toy. Voila! Fun for hours!
Believe it or not, some cats love playing tag. Some cats prefer chasing while others like being chased. Anna, one of our cats, just loves it when we chase her around the house. If we won't chase her when she wants us to, she will run up to us, run a little ways away, come back, and do it again until we give in.
4: Play Fight!
This one will only work on certain cats. It works best if you and your cat have a good bond. First your cat needs to be standing still, sitting, or, preferably, laying down. Approach her from the back or side then, slightly crouching down, walk around her in a circle. Some cats will roll on their side and push themselves in a circle, which is very amusing to watch. Other cats will paw at your legs or stand on their hind legs and bat at you which is also very funny to see. Still others will look at you like you are crazy and walk away. Sarah loves this game.
5: Hand Wrestling!
Only do this with an adult cat, as kittens will likely think that this behavior is acceptable at all times. If you aren't sure if your cat is old enough to hand wrestle with, don't do it. Remember, any scratches or nips you get while playing this game aren't my or your cat's fault. Cats sometimes nip or scratch each other when play wrestling, so when you hand wrestle with them, expect to get a little roughed up, but you should never have to leave a hand wrestling match bleeding.
Remember, even cats will draw the line when play gets too rough, so make sure your cat knows just how far she can go. Don't hit the cat if she gets too rough, just pull your hand back and maybe let out a little squeak to let her know that what she did hurt you. If your cat has your finger or hand in her mouth and won't let go, don't pull your hand back, you will get a cut. Instead, push your finger or hand into the mouth a little, or, if you can't, use the index and thumb fingers of your other hand to push at the corners of the cat's mouth and she will let go. If your cat is a good kitty, you won't have to worry about these things.
6: Mouse Under the Rug/Blanket!
Almost all cats love this. All you need is a large piece of fabric, such as a blanket or a rug, a hand, foot, or toy on a stick, and a cat. Wiggle the object of your choice under the fabric and watch your cat turn into a kitten again!
Step 11: Bonus: How to Speak 'Felid', the International Domestic Cat Language (incomplete)
Meaning: what?/huh?/hmm?/what did you say?
Used most often when: awakened from sleep or confused
Accompanying body language: n/a
Description: A short mew, sometimes used in the form a question.
Used most often when: greeting
Accompanying body language: tail up, ears forward
Description: A short, perky, high-pitched mew.
Meaning: Come here, I want you
Used most often when: Trying to find someone
Accompanying body language: none that I know of so far
Description: A bit longer than rawh, some cats roll the 'r'.
Meaning: Where are you?/help!
Used most often when: lost or scared
Accompanying body language: Ears perked in alertness, often swiveled to the side, eyes wide and dilated
Description: A very quick, but often loud mew sometimes used by kittens to find their mother.
Used most often when: begging for food/asking to be pet
Accompanying body language: sometimes used with the head tilt
Description: A medium to long mew, usually said in a high pitch that gets deeper towards the end of the mew.
Meaning: Exactly what it sounds like
Used most often when: protesting something the cat doesn't like, such as being picked up when eating
Accompanying body language: twitching or thrashing tail
Description: Nothing much to say here, so, mno!
Movement: head tilted up and slightly nodding with eyes half closed
Meaning: I want more or I like that (I'm not 100% sure about this one)
Used most often when: begging for food, wanting to get pet, and when the air conditioning turns on (I'm not sure why, but all of my cats do it when the AC kicks in).
Additional thought: Now that I've done a bit more research, I'm beginning to think that one of the main ways that cats communicate with other cats is with head movements. If this is the case, Felid may be much more complex than I once thought.
Movement: slow blink or a wink
Meaning: I love you/I'm not a threat
Used most often when: looking at an object of affection.
This is all I've got so far, but as I learn, I'll add more. Have fun talking to your cats! Remember, each cat has a slightly different voice, which may give these slight alterations.