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Cat Care Sheet

Cat Care Sheet

Felis catus

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Cat

Overview

Cats are among the most popular pets in America, but the decision to add a feline companion to the family must be carefully researched before a successful adoption or purchase can occur.

Before deciding to purchase a cat, consider adoption. Millions of cats of all ages are in need of forever homes. Your local Petco Pet Care Center associates will be able to provide you with additional information about how to find a new feline family member.

Typical appearance and behavior

  • Alhough they are commonly thought of as solitary creatures, cats are typically social companions who require regular interaction with a loving pet parent. While not true of all cats, many are comfortable living with and being social with other cats or pets in the same household
  • Even though they sleep most of the day, cats, especially kittens, are playful and need regular playtime with their pet parent for exercise and mental stimulation. Without regular interactive play, cats can become destructive by finding an outlet for their instinctual need to stalk, chase, chew and claw. As cats age, their exercise needs may decrease, but even at an old age most cats will still want daily play interaction
  • Cats have a variety of fur textures and lengths. They can range in color from one solid color to tri-colored (such as calico)  
  • Meowing, chirping, purring, growling, hissing and chattering are all noises that cats can make. Meowing can mean a variety of things and can range from a quiet squeak to loud yowl. Some cats may meow or chirp at their pet parents as a greeting or for attention. Other meows may indicate stress or that they do not want to be touched. Purring in cats can have a variety of meanings but is most commonly associated with relaxation and comfort. Some cats, however, may purr to self-soothe when they are stressed, scared or in pain. Growling and hissing are vocalizations a cat normally makes when they are scared or uncomfortable. Some cats may make a chattering noise when they are excited, such as when watching a small animal or bird
  • Rubbing against pet parents and objects with their faces or bodies is a normal and usually affectionate behavior for cats. Rubbing against objects is a way that cats spread their scent as well as collect information. Another behavior usually associated with affection is kneading. Kneading is when a cat pushes their front paws against and then away from an object—or pet parent—repeatedly

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Intermediate
Average Life Span Up to 13+ years with proper care
Average Adult Size 8-13+ lbs. depending on breed
Diet carnivore

Home

Housing for cats

  • All cats need a shelter with a quiet, warm, dry place to sleep. It is recommended that cats remain indoors for their safety and the safety of wild animals, including songbirds
  • When introducing a cat to their new home, start with a small space set up with everything they need. When the cat is ready, slowly introduce them to additional rooms, one at a time. Cats can usually learn to roam freely around a pet-proofed home, however, all valuables should be inaccessible to your cat
  • Cats enjoy climbing and feel comfortable up high, so it’s important to set up a cat's environment with multiple levels where they can jump, climb and rest

Building their home

  • Cats naturally like to dig and bury their urine and feces, so usually adapt well to using a litter box. The general rule is to always have one litter box per cat, plus one extra, with at least one litter box on each level of the home
  • Cats have a natural instinct to scratch and claw, which can also help shed and sharpen their nails. Cats should always have access to scratch-appropriate objects, otherwise they can become destructive and scratch furniture, door frames and carpet. Cat trees are a great option for both scratching and creating multiple levels for your cat to use
  • Fresh water should be available at all times, and fresh food should be offered per your vet’s and food manufacturer’s instructions
  • Cats are playful creatures and should be given plenty of toys to play with in their environment
  • Most cats will enjoy a soft place to sleep, such as a pet parent’s bed, furniture, a blanket or a pet bed
  • It is recommended that cats wear a collar and ID tag as a precaution in case they escape outside. Microchipping is another excellent way for a cat to be identified and find their way home if the collar and ID tag fall off

Cleaning their environment

  • Scoop your cat's litter box daily, preferably multiple times per day. Change the litter completely and clean the box as needed, but at least every two to three weeks
  • Wash bedding in hot, soapy water as needed to disinfect and remove odors
  • Vacuum floors and furniture and dust as needed
  • Food dishes should be washed after each meal. Water dishes should be washed daily or as needed, but at least weekly

Feeding

What to feed your cat

  • Cats should be fed a nutritionally balanced and complete commercially available cat food that is appropriate to their life stage and any underlying health issues
  • In general, “homemade” diets containing a variety of people food are not recommended, as they cannot provide the complete balance of nutrition found in commercial diets that are approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), as indicated on the food label
  • Your veterinarian can advise you on the best choice for your new pet
  • While cats can be offered an occasional healthy treat such as a small amount of lean cooked beef, chicken or turkey, in general, table scraps are not recommended, as they can throw off nutrient balance in your cat’s overall diet and contribute to obesity
  • Treats, including people food, should make up no more than 10% of a cat’s total diet.
  • Clean, fresh water should be provided daily

Things to remember when feeding

  • Feed kittens three to six times daily and adult cats two to three times daily. In general, the younger the kitten, the more frequent the feeding
  • Use recommendations on the manufacturer's label as a guideline for how much and how often to feed your cat; discuss your pet's individual needs with your veterinarian
  • Cats can easily become overweight when they do not receive enough exercise or mental stimulation. Wet food can provide additional hydration for your cat, but be sure to feed an appropriate amount often so that food stays fresh
  • Using a pet fountain to provide fresh, clean, moving water for your cat may stimulate them to drink more and help them stay hydrated

Care

Grooming and hygiene

  • Even though cats groom themselves regularly to naturally stay clean, all cats can benefit from pet parent or professional assistance with their grooming needs to help support their overall health
  • Cat fur has a variety of textures and lengths, so grooming needs may differ from cat to cat
  • Short-haired cats should be brushed weekly and as needed to help remove loose hair and decrease the chance of hairballs
  • Medium- and long-haired cats need at least daily brushing and detangling/dematting as needed
  • Some cats require professional grooming and trimming to keep their coats healthy. An occasional bath may also be needed
  • While cats naturally shed their claws, regular nail trims are recommended to help keep them from becoming sharp and overgrowing into their paw pads
  • Partner with your veterinarian to determine the best way to manage your cat’s dental health
  • Myth: A female cat should only be spayed after her first heat or first litter. Partner with your veterinarian to choose the best time to spay or neuter your cat. Allowing a cat to have one litter of kittens prior to being spayed does not provide any health or behavioral benefits to the cat
  • Myth: Cats are aloof, independent and not very time-consuming. Although cats may be more independent than the average dog, most cats are exceptionally social creatures. Cats who do not receive regular interaction with their pet parents, such as time to play together, can become destructive, overweight or insecure. Some cats enjoy the company of other cats or pets in the household, as well as social time with their pet parents
  • Myth: Putting a bell on my cat will prevent them from catching birds and small animals. While adding a bell can assist in creating additional noise when your cat moves, a lot of cats can learn to move in a way that keeps the bell from making noise while they are in motion. Adding a bell can also cause stress to a cat who relies on their quiet abilities to move freely around perceived threats
  • Myth: Declawing is a simple procedure. Declawing a cat involves amputating the last bone on each of the cat’s toes, which also removes the claw. Declawing is not a necessary surgery for the health of a cat, is illegal in many cities, and is usually done only to stop or avoid inappropriate scratching behavior. Behavior modification can help teach cats to only scratch appropriate objects. Talk to your veterinarian about any inappropriate scratching behavior concerns you may have

Where to adopt

Some Petco Pet Care Centers have adoption centers or adoption habitats and most  regularly host adoption events. Talk to a Petco associate to learn about adoptable cats on site, timing of adoption events or recommended rescues with cats available.

Supplies

Home mates

Some cats do well in homes with other cats or pets, but others may not. Some pets, such as dogs or large rabbits, may have a greater chance of socializing and cohabitating well with a cat whereas others, such as birds or small animals, are more likely to not socialize or cohabitate well. When adding a new cat or pet to the family, some cats may have an easy transition while others may take additional time and training to adjust. Some cats may not accept a new cat or pet at all. Always research and prepare before bringing home a new family member regardless of species. Work with a certified behaviorist, veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to help you introduce a new cat or pet into your home if you already have one. Never leave two unfamiliar pets together without supervision.

Health

Signs of a healthy cat

  • Is active, alert and responsive
  • Has smooth skin without scabs or itchiness
  • Walks normally with an even gait, without obvious lameness or discomfort
  • Has clean, unmatted fur without signs of fur loss
  • Has clear, unlabored breathing
  • Has clear eyes and nose free of discharge or inflammation
  • Eats and drinks regularly
  • Regularly urinates and defecates; stool is solid and well formed
  • Free of fleas, worms and other parasites

Vaccination and preventive care information

Your kitten requires a number of vaccinations including:

  • 6-8 weeks - First series
    • Feline rhinotracheitis
    • Feline calicivirus
    • Feline panleukopenia
  • 9–11 weeks - Second series
    • Feline rhinotracheitis
    • Feline calicivirus
    • Feline panleukopenia
    • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • 12 weeks+ - Final series
    • Feline rhinotracheitis, Feline calicivirus, Feline panleukopenia, FeLV
    • Rabies required at 12-16 weeks (varies by state law)
    • Annual vaccinations to include rabies, HCP, FeLV and others as advised by your veterinarian

Heartworm, as well as flea and tick prevention, may be needed to support your cat’s overall health and wellness, especially if they have access to the outdoors. Consult your veterinarian for the vaccination schedule and preventives that are right for your cat

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)

  • Missing fur
  • Itchy or scabbed skin
  • Diarrhea or dirty bottom, vomiting
  • Bloody stool
  • Uneven gait/obvious lameness or discomfort walking
  • Distressed breathing
  • Eye or nasal discharge or inflammation
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination or difficulty urinating
  • Repeated coughing, hacking or sneezing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Presence of fleas, worms or other parasites
  • Unexpected changes in behavior or normal routine

Common health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Diarrhea Symptoms or Causes Loose stools caused by inappropriate diet, infection with parasites/viruses/bacteria, stress, unclean housing or other underlying illness. Suggested Action Consult with a veterinarian to determine cause and treatment.
Health Issue Hairballs Symptoms or Causes Coughing, hacking or vomiting. Suggested Action Regular use of hairball preventive, regular grooming and diet. Contact a veterinarian if persistent or if cat is losing weight.
Health Issue Inflamed, scabbed or itchy skin. Symptoms or Causes May be due to infection with parasites (mites, fleas, ticks), bacteria or viruses or underlying allergy. Suggested Action Use skincare products specially designed for cats. Consult a veterinarian.

FAQs

  • Why does my cat lick me? While a little bit of licking can be a sign of affection, excessive licking may indicate an underlying issue such as anxiety, fear or boredom. If your cat starts licking you obsessively, they should be checked by a veterinarian.
  • What does it mean when a cat purrs? Purring in cats can have a variety of meanings but is usually a sign that your cat is relaxed and content. Purring is also thought to be a way that a cat comforts themselves, so purring can occur when a cat is stressed, anxious, fearful or in pain.
  • Why does my cat bite me? Soft nibbles and bites can be a way that a cat shows you affection. Biting can occur during play as a natural play behavior for cats. Biting while being pet may be your cat trying to ask you to stop, even if they were enjoying it prior to the bite. Biting, hissing and growling are signs that the cat is fearful or in pain and asking for additional personal space.
  • Why is my cat sneezing? Sneezing can be a normal way for a cat to expel irritants in their nose. The occasional sneeze or two is not usually something to be concerned about. If your cat is sneezing repeatedly, excessively, in conjunction with eye or nasal discharge, or you have any concerns about your cat sneezing, contact your veterinarian.
  • How often should you take a cat to the vet? Healthy cats should have an initial checkup at the veterinarian when they are first adopted and then annually after that for a routine checkup and annual vaccinations. Young kittens will require additional vet trips for their first rounds of shots. If cats develop chronic illness or are geriatric, they should be examined more often. Your veterinarian can provide guidance for your cat’s specific health needs.
  • Why does my cat stare at me? Cats generally stare eye-to-eye with their pet parents to express affection. Staring releases a hormone called oxytocin that is involved in feelings of love and trust. Sometimes staring, especially in conjunction with “freezing” or a stiff body, hissing, growling or spitting, can be a sign of an uncomfortable cat asking for additional personal space.
  • Why is my cat meowing so much? Meowing can mean a variety of things and can range from a quiet squeak to loud yowl. Some cats may meow or chirp at their pet parents as a greeting or for attention. Other meows may indicate stress or that they do not want to be touched. Some cats are more vocal than others, but if you notice a sudden increase or decrease in vocalization, contact your veterinarian to discuss.
  • Why is my cat throwing up? Always contact your veterinarian about any vomiting that occurs unrelated to hairballs. Note that while it is not uncommon for cats to throw up the occasional hairball, you should contact your veterinarian if your cat throws up multiple hairballs over a short period of time or the hairballs are mixed with a lot of bile or blood.
  • What does it mean when a cat wags their tail? While cats use their tails to express themselves for many reasons, a wagging tail usually does not specifically mean a cat is happy. Cats often wag their tails when they are concentrating, playful, frustrated, upset or in pain. You will want to take in the rest of the cat’s body language to try and decipher what your cat may be trying to tell you since many cat tail wags can be similar. Fast and rapid swishes of the tail can mean your cat is uncomfortable and wants more space or it could mean your cat is feeling particularly playful. A quick flick of the tail may mean your cat is feeling playful or that they are concentrating particularly hard. A slow swish of the tail can indicate a cat asking for additional personal space or could be a sign that they are in pain.

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all cats are potential carriers of infectious diseases, always wash your hands before and after handling your cat or their supplies. Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before adopting or caring for a cat and should consider if a cat is the right choice for their family. Go to cdc.gov/healthypets and petco.com/caresheet for more information about cats and disease.

The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.