This Is What Veterinarians Want Every First-Time Cat Owner To Know

Thinking about getting a cat for the first time? Know this: It's a big commitment! Whether you grew up in a house full of pets or are ready to share your home with a fuzzy animal for the first time, we want to help you prepare for cat parenthood.
So, in celebration of International Cat Day, we've partnered with VCA cat expert, Veterinarian Dr. Kelsey Nannig, to share her best tips for future cat owners.
Another way to celebrate with us is by catching the latest episode of R29 and VCA’s new original series Pet Friendly. “Tonya” follows a newly adopted stray cat who leads a married couple on an adventure through their eclectic neighborhood, getting them out of their comfort zone and helping them make new friends as they connect to their community.
Ready to get your own Tonya? Read ahead for everything you need to know first.
How do you know you’re ready to become a pet owner?
“That decision should be based on if you’re ready to be a responsible owner. I always like to refer people to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s guidelines for responsible pet ownership. Understand that you're making a lifelong commitment to a cat. A cat’s lifespan is 15 to 17 years, but I’ve seen some live up to 20 or 21 years. Make sure you’re choosing a cat that is suitable to your lifestyle. Ask yourself the following questions: Are you able to be with your cat? Spend time with them? Are you financially prepared to cover the expense of feeding, environmental enrichment, medical care and more?”
What type of cat should a first time cat owner get?
“There are so many different breeds to choose from, and the age of the cat is important to consider, as well. If you're looking for a pet that is self-sustaining, or may not be as active as a young kitten, an older cat is a good choice. Some breeds are more active, like Bengals, who like to interact with people. If you’re looking for a lap cat, a Ragdoll is much more sedentary. A lot of shelters will let you go and interact with cats, and you can learn different types of cats’ personalities. You can also learn a lot on reliable websites like the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
How can you best prepare your home for a cat to live in?
“Environmental enrichment is really important. When you leave for the day, to go to work or the grocery store, your cat is just sitting inside of your home. You need to provide entertainment for them with toys, food puzzles for mental stimulation, cat trees, hidey holes, and more interactive playthings. Vertical space for your cat is really important. too. Also, make sure your house is free of toxic plants, food or medicines are ever left out. It’s really important to find a veterinarian who you like and trust, a veterinarian who will spend time with you and be a reliable source of information.”
What are some of the daily responsibilities involved in caring for a cat?
“I suggest one litter box for every cat in your house, plus one additional litter box to prevent resource guarding. It shouldn't be hidden away in a basement, but in public areas, where you can monitor your cats behavior. You should also scoop and clean the litter box daily. You should also put out lots of water bowls and cat fountains, cats aren’t great water drinkers but they like to drink from running water. Unless your veterinarian advises otherwise, you should give your cat good quality wet food, so they eat their water too.”
How can humans prepare for some of the notorious messes that come along with cat ownership?
“For shedding, I recommend brushing cats daily. People also worry about cats scratching furniture, so having lots of scratching posts is important. Get both vertical and horizontal ones, putting them in public places where your cat may want to scratch, like by the furniture they are scratching, so that it’s part of their territory and they release some pheromones on the scratching posts. I also recommend clipping their nails every four to six weeks.”
How can you tell if your cat is happy?
“Cats are notorious for hiding any problems, health issues, unhappiness, so watch for subtle changes; small changes in behaviour like decreases in the amount of food they eat, not going to perches or places they used to go to or if your cat sits in one place a lot. If your cat runs and plays and has a good time, they’re probably happy.”
Can you share any tips to keep your cat safe?
“Microchip your pet, and keep up to date with the online registry every time you move or change your phone number. You can also get a cat GPS tracker. Make sure your cat is up to date on vaccines, as well as monthly preventatives for fleas, heartworms and ticks. If your cat goes outdoors, they should be wearing a breakaway collar with an ID tag, plus a bell on its collar. I encourage people to keep their cats indoors, it’s a lot safer. There are a lot of risks for outdoor cats, including diseases, risks of trauma, and environmental impacts to think about, too. In fact, the American Bird Conservancy estimates that U.S. cats kill over a billion songbirds every year, and that’s a huge number.”
If you have further questions, be sure to check out the VCA website.

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