Why have cats and humans lived together for centuries? Scientists now say that while dogs, cows, and other farm animals were domesticated by humans, cats on the other hand, domesticated themselves! Yes, they decided to adopt us humans because we could supply their basic needs — which are actually quite simple:
TO EAT – TO SLEEP – TO TOILET – TO HUNT/PLAY –
AND TO LOVE!
So as Pet Owners (or humans owned by cats) what do we need to provide for basic cat care?
BASIC CARE: regular food, clean water, vaccination, flea and worming treatments, and sterilization (spay/neuter).
BASIC PET CAT STARTUP: A Carrier, water, food, bowls or feeders for water, wet and dry food, toilet tray, cat litter or newspaper (or both) for toilet tray, scratching pad (cardboard works), cat bed, toys. A cage can be useful, too. Cleaning Supplies – pooper scooper, dish soap, bleach. Grooming supplies – flea comb, cat brush. Monthly deflea and worming treatments.
TO EAT & TO DRINK The #1 responsibility of all animal lovers is to provide fresh clean drinking water. If you ever see a cat – or any animal – unable to get water, stop everything you are doing and provide water!
WHAT TO EAT? Cats nibble. They like to eat a little, walk away, maybe take a nap, then nibble some more. Yes, they also like meals. But many cats survive fine by “free-feeding” on bowls of commercial dry kibble. This is what most feeders of outdoor cats and most shelters can afford to provide.
But for really good cat care based on scientific research gives cats both dry and wet food options. Cat Nutrition has been studied in recent years and the debate goes on about the proper foods to feed for healthy cats. Cats notoriously do not drink a lot of water. Studies say that in Nature, cats get 80% of their water from wet food. Cats fed only dry food for years all too often are seen to have kidney, urinary tract and intestinal problems as they get older. Getting water into cats’ diet is crucial to their health.
And PROTEIN. Cats are obligate carnivores – they must eat meat to live. While carbohydrates may have some benefits, cats do not need them. Rice, corn, wheat and other carbs can be edible and boost calories but are not necessary foods. And no cat should be forced to be vegetarian or vegan. Outdoors, cats will hunt and eat small mammals, notably mice and rats, as well as birds and reptiles. Fish have been a cats’ favorite for centuries and most commercial cat foods include fish in some form. There is evidence that a fish-only diet may be harmful. While cats can be finicky and like one kind of food one day and refuse it the next, basic cat nutrition includes good quality proteins — chicken, fish, beef, rabbit and other meat proteins.
SLEEP – Cats choose soft beds and safe hiding places. The average cat sleeps 16 hours a day — another great reason to have a cat! Provide your cat with a cat bed but know it may want to sleep on the couch or in bed with you.
Giving cats a “cave” for when they need to hide away is a good idea. You will need to have a CARRIER for transporting the cat to the vet and on trips. Keep the carrier in a quiet out of the way spot and let the cat use it any time. It will get used to the carrier as a safe space and you will have less trouble when it is time to go to the vet.
TOILET – Cats are the cleanest animals on earth and clean themselves daily and quickly learn to use toilet trays. They want their toilets to be as clean as humans do. Some cats will even use human toilets! But all indoor cats need at least a simple tray. We suggest lining it with newspaper or a plastic bag, then pouring some cat litter on top of that. Then it is easier to remove the dirty litter and keep the tray itself cleaner. At Cat Beach, we use newspaper which is changed several times a day and may sprinkle some cat litter on top for the cats to scratch. For homes with one or a few cats, commercial cat litter can be loaded into the trays 1 to 2 inches deep and be good for a week with daily pooper scooping.
HUNT & PLAY – It can be easy to forget that cats are predators. Their basic instinct is to search and hunt — curiousity. They are intrigued by things that they can chase and capture. Give your cats toys — practice “enrichment.” Play with them. Cats can get bored without enough stimulation. Indoor cats love to watch the action outside the windows. Give them some success in their play hunting. Let them finally catch the laser light or the feather teaser.
BOND & LOVE – A recent study tested cats as to whether they would choose their owner (their person) or food — and cats most often chose the human! Petting and stroking obviously feels good to most cats. The bonds between people and cats can be deep and lifelong. It is important to remember that cats normally live 10 to 15 years, sometimes much longer – so adopting a cat is a real commitment. Then also it is important to make a plan for when you can no longer care for it for any number of reasons. Cats can feel abandonment very deeply. They are usually stressed by changes of environment or routine – so please try to keep stress levels low by providing consistent, reliable loving care
There are cats that refuse to bond with humans and will prefer to live wild as “ferals.” They almost never would be happy living indoors. You can usually tell a feral because it will run or hide from humans. If confined, a strong indicator is that it will not look you in the eyes. These cats deserve good basic care as well — including regular food, clean water, vaccination, flea and worming treatments, and sterilization.
Please do whatever you can to help your neighborhood Community Cats – abandoned strays and ferals. Provide basic care. Keep them from harm. They benefit your community — keeping pest rat and mice populations down, chasing away stranger dogs and cats, even trapping reptiles. Take away the cats and you may find more pests of many kinds, even more cockroaches. Negotiate and even fundraise with neighbors to get cats to a vet for basic care. And notice that even the most feral cats do bond with each other into cat colonies, caring for each other.
Cats care — and we should, too.
Many good cat care websites are out there for you to learn more about cats. We particularly like:
Alley Cat Allies
The Kitten Lady www.kittenlady.org
Cornell University Feline Veterinary Dept
UC Davis Veterinary School
Petco, Smartheart, Royal Canin and other cat food companies have lots of great information to share.