CARING FOR YOUR FELINE THROUGHOUT HIS 9 LIVES
Bringing home a new pet is one of the most exciting things you can do. It's so thrilling to have a precious, cuddly new pet to bring joy to your home. And kittens? They're pretty much the best. But getting a kitten isn't just for a week or a month. It is a lifelong commitment, and cats can live up to 18 years when well cared for at home. Cats are famously easy pets, but there's still much to know about caring for your new cat through his life. Here are some of the highlights you need to know to keep your cat happy for life.
Some kittens are adopted as early as 6 weeks old, but it's better to get one that-s 10-12 weeks old. This ensures your kitten has that extra time with his mother, learning life skills and really getting ready to be weaned.1 If you've got one younger than that, you will just have to do extra work to ensure your kitten learns to be socialized, gets along with others, and has the confidence to be a good, healthy addition to the family.
First, kittens need a lot of sleep. Up to 18 hours, in fact. Making sure your little one has a safe, comfy spot to curl up day or night is important for his growth. If you have children, make sure they understand they can't play with their kitten for hours endlessly. They need to give him a chance to rest, and to sleep so that he grows up healthy. You also need to provide some litter box training. For more on this, please see our articles on litter box training for your cat.
Although they may not seem harmful, objects such as rubber bands, the strings from window blinds, balloons, and dental floss can be deadly to your kitty. He will be drawn to play with these sorts of objects, but if swallowed or tangled, your little one could get seriously injured. Be sure to keep dangerous materials put away, and just remember that if it's potentially harmful to a toddler, it's harmful to your kitten.2 Another tactic to keep your new kitten from getting into trouble is to provide a good amount of kitten-friendly toys.
Veterinarian visits are important to maintain that first year with a kitten. Just like children, he will need regular booster shots, with a rabies shot being required by law. He will also need testing for feline leukemia and other diseases. You can get a kitten spayed or neutered as early as 8 weeks old, and doing so can reduce the risk for cancer and infections, not to mention the problem of cat overpopulation. Additionally, he will need heartworm and flea prevention medicines. Even indoor cats need these precautions so they can stay healthy.
As your kitten grows into a cat, he should become a confident, curious, fantastic member of your family. Cats, being independent creatures, give a lot without expecting much in return. However, your grown cat will still have needs: safe shelter, food, water, attention, and veterinary care are all essential to your cat's well-being. Then there's the question of Indoor? Outdoor? Both?
The best wisdom on the subject comes from The Humane Society when it says, "Keep your cat safe by keeping him indoors, safely confined to your property, or walked on a harness and leash. Doing so is best for you, your cat, and your community."3 Cats left outdoors can kill mice and birds, and also run the risk of being injured themselves, especially if they're declawed. Keeping your cat securely indoors is the most effective way of ensuring he has a long, healthy life. While being kept indoors, your cat will need plenty of exercise. You can read about proper exercise tips for your cat here.
Any cat over 7 years old is considered a senior cat.4 After this age, some changes will start occurring that you should be aware of.
Roughly 90 percent of cats over age 12 show some signs of arthritis, and when it sets in, cats will begin to have some pain and mobility issues.5 If you notice your cat becoming less mobile than he used to be, make sure his food and water sources are on the ground and that he has a litter box that doesn't have edges too high. See more information about proper litter training in our "Herding Cats: How to Potty Train A Cat" article. You will also want to schedule periodic trips to the vet to make sure your cat is properly cared for and comfortable in his advanced age.
If your cat has gotten annual vet checkups, dental disease will be less of a problem because your vet has likely recommended teeth cleanings for your cat over the years. Dental disease can be very painful and lead to lost teeth, difficulty chewing, and ultimately to an unhealthy weight loss. If you notice your older cat is getting thinner or showing an unmaintained coat, taking him to the veterinarian is important. Regular teeth cleanings are even more essential for senior cats to keep them pain-free.
As cats age and become less active, it can be easy for them to put on weight. Even a couple of pounds can be a lot for your feline, and diet changes may be needed. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, nearly 59 percent of cats are overweight.6 Keeping your cat close to optimal weight is important since overweight cats are more prone to liver disease, feline diabetes, even cancer. If you notice weight gain, again, a trip to the vet is crucial (notice a theme here?). Your veterinarian can recommend a diet to suit your cat, one that is lower in calories but still nutrient-rich. Avoid vegetarian or vegan diets for cats – they are carnivores, and a lot of protein is necessary for their bodies to function properly.
Getting a cat is a commitment, one that can bring much joy for years to come. Taking good care of your kitten from a young age can protect him from a myriad of problems later on in life, and can ensure he remains a family treasure throughout your years together.
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