There are more than 95 million pet cats in the United States, many living in multi-cat households. If you're a proud cat owner you will want to give your pet the love and care that he or she deserves. We spoke to Los Angeles veterinarian Jeff Werber, who himself owns eight cats, for the most up-to-date advice on keeping your cat content. "It's crucial to get off on the right foot with cat care, " he says. "Good daily habits are where it starts."
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Brush your cat every day
Brushing or combing your cat daily will cut down on the hairballs that can develop in the digestive tract. Because cats spend so much time grooming themselves, some owners may not realize that brushing is something that can help their pet by removing loose hair. Werber says that the key to getting a cat to cooperate with brushing is connecting brushing with happy events. "Maybe you always brush before a meal," he says. "Then your cat will associate it with something delicious."
Unlike dogs, cats cannot be vegetarians, even for short periods of time. They rely on meat as the foundation of their diets, and the main meal of the day should always be meat, says Werber. Dry food, which contains a hefty amount of carbs, can be bad for cats in large amounts. "We see cats developing type 2 diabetes and growing obese from too much dry food," the vet explains. If you own both dogs and cats, it can be tempting to treat them the same, but dog food is not good for cats, nor can a cat's system tolerate carbohydrates the way a dog's system will.
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Pay attention to your pet's thirst
Today's domestic cats evolved from desert-dwelling forefathers, and they don't have the same thirst-drive as dogs. They need to get most of their water from food. A mouse, a cat's normal food, is about 70% water, while canned food is 78% water. Dry food is only 5% to 10% water on average. Give your cat access to fresh water at all time, and you may notice cats drinking more when they are eating more dry food. Elderly and nursing cats can be more prone to dehydration than others, so watch them carefully for such symptoms as sunken eyes, lethargy, and panting.
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Provide a sufficient number of litter boxes
The rule of thumb, says Werber, is one litter box per kitty, plus an additional one. So if you have three cats, you should set up four boxes. You'll want to think carefully about where those boxes go. While humans love to tuck the boxes in out-of-the-way places, like in a basement or a dark corner, cats may not be willing to use them there. "Think about how it is in nature," explains Werber. "The animal is in a vulnerable position when performing those functions. They want to be able to see around them." For the same reason, your pet may not be willing to use a box with a cover.
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Don't assume you know why a cat is peeing outside the box
Nothing frustrates a cat owner more than when Kitty eschews the box and pees elsewhere in the house, invariably on a favorite throw rug or new armchair. What would prompt a cat to do this? "There can be a lot of reasons," says Werber, "and you want to rule out illness first." Take your cat to the vet to check for a urinary tract infection or other sickness that could be to blame for this new behavior. Once illness is ruled out, make sure that litter boxes are to your pet's liking. Experiment with different types of litter to find our if there is one brand your pet prefers. Be scrupulous about keeping the box clean: scoop every day. Try changing the location of the litter box to somewhere quieter (away from noisy appliances), or easier for your cat to access.
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Train your cat to use a scratching post
Don't want your new sofa covered with ripped threads? Teach your cat to use a scratching post so they won't end up clawing valuable furniture. The mistake many owners make, says Werber, is not knowing that they have to give the scratching post appeal. "Put it in the center of the room to start," he explains. (Too many people place it in a corner far from the social action in the household, making it easy for a cat to ignore.) Sprinkle the post with catnip when you first bring it home, the vet advises. You can move it gradually to a less trafficked spot and skip the catnip after you have gotten your pet into the habit of using it.
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Spay or neuter your cat
There is nothing more beneficial to the cat long-term than having them spayed or neutered, Werber says. "Female cats are very uncomfortable when they go into heat," he adds. Some people feel that it's "unfair" to deprive females a chance to have a litter before they are fixed, but this a projection of human values onto an animal who will be just as content without offspring. Hundreds of thousands of unwanted cats have to be euthanized every yeardon't add to the population.
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Travel safely with your pet
Even if your cat seems to prefer it, do not let him or her travel unrestrained in a car. It's distracting to the driver and in the case of an accident, a cat can become a dangerous projectile. "And never, ever leave your cat alone in a parked car," Werber warns. Even in cooler temperatures, and even with the windows cracked, a car quickly becomes uncomfortable for a fur-wearing pet. It takes mere minutes for a cat to perish in a warm car. Leave your cat at home if you do not plan to bring him or her inside.
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Choose a cat-friendly vet
Some veterinary practices are dominated by a canine clientele, and that can be scary for a cat who has to spend a good chunk of time in the waiting room with dogs all around. "Look for a vet who has separate waiting areas for cats and dogs," says Werber. While that's the ideal, not all practices have the space for that kind of accommodation. If your favorite vet doesn't have two waiting rooms, at least ask to be called into the exam room quickly, Werber advises.
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Let them show off!
When a cat loves you, he or she wants to demonstrate it, sometimes by presenting you with the results of a successful hunt. Werber suggests accepting the gifts with grace (even when sort of grosshello, partially chewed mouse!). Your pet will also show you love by head bumping, purring, or kneading you with his or her paws. Sit back and enjoy.