You have decided to adopt an adorable spawn from hell otherwise known as a cat (I kid!). Cats are amazing, but also very complicated. Many people obtain cats through friends or rescues, but may not truly know what goes into cat ownership.

As veterinarians, we often only see cats for end of life care. Many times we don’t get to guide owners regarding behavior, vaccinations, abnormal habits, etc. It’s tough to see an animal that could have been helped sooner, but the owners were unaware of the options. If you are thinking of adopting, know someone who is adopting, already have a cat and are concerned about its quality of life, or just want to learn something new then this article might be for you.

Cats are not small dogs. Let’s say it again – cats are not small dogs. Once people realize this it makes it easier to acknowledge their differences and what goes into cat ownership. If treated like a dog, you might have some behavioral issues to deal with or even miss out on the subtle way cats show you they aren’t feeling well. While a dog can easily miss a meal and recover quickly, one missed meal for a cat can mean a variety of things and needs to be acknowledged in a timely manner. While dogs crave attention from their owners, cats can be more independent and need more space to do their own thing – think hiding spaces and cat trees. Dogs enjoy walks outside and sniffing new things while cats… well, sometimes they enjoy that too.

The first few months of a kitten’s life are an ideal time to bond with you and with the veterinary clinic of your choice. Many people skip this step entirely and wait until they can take their kitten to a spay/neuter clinic to have them altered and a rabies vaccine given. Although this is a great option for people who cannot afford regular care, it doesn’t help much with socialization and fears that can become ingrained at an early age.

We typically like to see kittens for the first time at eight weeks of age to start on vaccinations, deworming, and general socialization. For the next couple of months the kittens will come in for visits to get used to being in a carrier, being around other people, and will be monitored for health issues. This is also the perfect time for us veterinarians to discuss the lifestyle you plan on giving your new kitten – outdoor, mixed or indoor only. Many people do not realize that even indoor cats are at high risk for fleas, mosquitoes, flies, and roaches, which can carry some nasty diseases.

If you plan on obtaining a kitten or cat, identification is a good idea. Many owners do not realize that their little bundles of joy can escape and more than 90-percent of cats in the U.S. do not have identification whether it be collar or ID chip. Starting early it is always a good idea to get a kitten or cat used to a collar and making sure it is a safe quick-release collar is key. If your cat or kitten will not accept a collar then permanent ID chips can be done during spay/neuter. That way if they get lost it is easy to ID them. Even if you plan on keeping your cat indoors they might have other plans and go rogue so make sure there is an easy way to identify them if they get lost.

More than half of shelter-surrendered cats are surrendered because owners’ expectations do not line up with how the cat is acting. Owners think that cats are being spiteful when they urinate on their bed when in reality it might be a behavioral issue or medical problem. Many times these cats do not get spayed/neutered at the appropriate time and can start having aggression issues or urination issues. The more cats you put into a household the more it can create a hostile environment that may also start to create more issues at home.

If you have multiple cats, but only one litterbox you are setting yourself up for frustration. The usual rule is one litterbox per cat, plus an additional litterbox. If your litterboxes are in places your cats do not like going into or are guarded by the other animals in the house then your cats may start peeing or pooping in inappropriate areas. Also think about your older cats – do they have to go down into the basement to use a litterbox? If so they might have a hard time due to arthritic issues.

I am often brought cats for euthanasia where the owners state, “she just got sick for the last month and it’s not fair for her to live anymore.” While this statement may be true and I don’t want to see animals suffer, the first part is avoidable. Half of the issue is veterinarians can sometimes blow off how important healthcare is to cat owners – it isn’t that we don’t care, but a lot of owners aren’t as receptive to it since it’s “just a cat.”

We as veterinarians need to be better at explaining how important yearly checkups are for your feline friends. But the other half is your responsibility to get your friend to the clinic when it is sick. There are many “dying” cats that could be saved if they were brought in for regular checkups. We don’t want to just see you for end of life care. We want to help you, and your cat, have the best life experience possible.

Cats can be complicated creatures but are overall rewarding to own. If you take the appropriate steps many abnormalities or issues can be avoided. If you have a cat, or are thinking of getting one, make sure you have a veterinarian you know and trust to discuss cat ownership. Your vet can help you make sure you are providing the best care available so your little feisty devil can give you years of joy. And don’t forget, the stupidest questions are the ones that are never asked, and we always welcome educating owners on their pet care needs.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.

NicolePaumbo_FiorioABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school, where she currently is still employed. She works with small animals, exotics, and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.