Caring for a Cat

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve lived with cats pretty much my entire life. The longest period I ever lived without them was the four years I served in the Navy. You can see my current and past cats here:

https://ericsweeten.com/2022/02/12/my-cats/

The following sections cover declawing (onychectomy), neutering, diet, going outside, cost of maintenance, cat doors, new cats & moving, training, fleas, and love & trust.

Declawing

Cats never use their claws to get even or for the sake of destroying furniture. They use them to remove items from their paws, mark territory, stretch their muscles, to kneed, to show affection, and to defend themselves.

Declawing a cat is a quick fix to stop them from scratching, but it’s anything but harmless. The full truth behind declawing isn’t well-known. Not only are the claws removed, but so are the last bones in each toe. If done to a human, it would be the equivalent of cutting off each finger and toe at the knuckle. This can leave them in pain the rest of their lives. Once a cat is declawed, it causes a permanent change to their personality and can leave them depressed. Moreover, they lose the ability to effectively defend themselves, meaning the world will be much more dangerous to them from:

  • Other animals (such as dogs or other cats with claws)
  • Children (some can be cruel to animals)
  • The outdoors (they can no longer go outside without serious risk)

In regards to animals or children inside of the house, they may soon find out the cat is declawed, and it’s easier to harm it because they can’t fight back (except with their teeth, which isn’t nearly as effective a defense).

Neutering

This involves the removal of reproductive organs. Male cats are castrated and females are spayed. There are common misconceptions about what this really does to a cat. One common belief is that it’s as cruel to cats as it is to humans. On the contrary, cats benefit from the process both emotionally and in terms of health, and they are happier because of it, even when it’s done after reaching maturity.

The best time to neuter a cat is when they are very young (between the ages of six to eight weeks and five months). If it’s done when they are young enough, they are highly unlikely to spray. Females will no longer go into heat after they are spayed regardless of their age because spaying involves the removal of their ovaries and uterus. Females do sometimes spray, but less often as males. When fixed, only 5% of female cats and 10% of male cats continue to spray.

Interestingly enough, some people consider declawing a cat to be comparable to neutering a human being because of the cruelty.

Diet

There are different opinions about the best food to feed your cat. Some say it’s wet food, some say it’s dry food, and many will recommend certain brands. Some brands of cat food are definitely healthier than others. However, cat food is mostly made to be cheap and easy. It’s not necessarily the best food to feed your cats.

Back in 2010, the oldest cat ever recorded was one by the name of Creme Puff who lived to be 38 years old. One might call this a fluke if it wasn’t for the fact that his owner, Jake Perry, had a different, unrelated cat by the name of Granpa Rex Allen, who lived to be 34 years old.

The following is what he fed his cat (among other things):

  • Bacon
  • Eggs
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Coffee w/heavy cream

Whatever you do feed your cat, check a credible source online or ask your vet to find out if it’s safe. The way it’s prepared matters as well. The diet Jake Perry gave his cats is highly criticized and many recommend against it, so I can’t guarantee it, but he was clearly doing something right.

Going outside

A lot of people (including experts), will tell you that you shouldn’t let your cat outside because of the dangers they can face. It’s true that cats are more likely to get hurt or die outdoors, but this shouldn’t be the only consideration a cat owner has. Cats are happier when they’re allowed to go outside. The logic behind not letting your cats outdoors for their own protection can apply equally as well to your kids. They’ll be safe, but they won’t be as happy or as healthy.

The biggest consideration you should take when deciding whether or not to let your cat outside is where you live. I’ve always lived in suburban neighborhoods and have never had any problems letting my cats outside. This might not work for every house in every suburban neighborhood because of things like the population density, kinds of people, and traffic. My dad lived in rural neighborhoods for most of his last couple of decades and also never had any problems, but he did not let his cats outside at night because of coyotes, and so whenever the his came home and it was late, he never let them back out.

My dad eventually moved back to a suburb, and during that time he did lose a cat to whom he suspected was an owl. This cat was almost 15 years old at the time and had enjoyed a wonderful life going outside, but he was a rather small cat. Otherwise, if you live in a neighborhood with a lot of owls and your cat is normal size or bigger, you probably won’t have to worry about an owl getting it.

When I was a kid, my parents went through several cats and let them all outside whenever they wanted. One time someone poisoned two of their cats and my dad strongly suspected it was a neighbor who didn’t like them. My dad confronted that neighbor with his concern, and despite no admission, never again was a cat of theirs poisoned.

To sum this up, the biggest danger your cat will face is other people. Know your neighbors and keep an eye on them. Put up cameras outside if you can afford them. If there are mean kids in the neighborhood that you catch hurting them, tell their parents. If it doesn’t stop, file a police report and consider getting a restraining order (if the kids are coming onto your property to do this). Pets are family and you don’t have to put up with that.

Cost of maintenace

Taking care of a cat doesn’t have to be expensive. If you let them outside, then you won’t have to worry about using a litter box. If you don’t let them out when they need to go, they’re pretty good about holding it for a few hours. I have three cats and they don’t even use my lawn to do their business (I don’t know where they go), so I don’t have to worry about cleaning up after them at all. If you get a cat door, then you’ll never have to worry about letting them in or out and they won’t wake you up with their meowing.

My three cats cost me less than $70 a month in food total. I mostly give them a combination of wet and dry food mixed, but sometimes other food. I can’t afford the diet Jake Perry gave his cats, but I can assure you they are very happy.

In regards to water, they are fine with tap water. If you are going to buy cat litter, then there’s the option of single cat and multi-cat. I recommend getting one that clumps and has baking soda and a fresh scent. For a cat scooper, I recommend buying a metal one because plastic ones can break. They last forever and they’re very cheap. You can find one on Amazon for less than $10.

Cat doors

I personally bought the Microchip Pet Door Connect & Internet Hub for the cat door that goes in and out of the house. The door scans the pet’s implanted RFID microchip to let them in or out. This is a good idea because it keeps unwanted animals from coming in your home. Not only this, but the internet hub connects to your router and will notify you via an app when any of your cats go in or out. You can also program it to set curfews, specific to each cat. The door will not open to let them out after curfew, but if they’re out and haven’t yet come back in, it will let them in. This is good if it’s dangerous for them at night due to coyotes, or for whatever reason at all you don’t want them going out at night.

Cat doors don’t have to be expensive, either. I have three inside my house that I got from Home Depot for less than $20 each.

Before you install a cat door, keep in mind the material of the door. I found out after I bought the one going outside that the door had metal in it. Not only will the door be harder to cut, but it can potentially cause problems when one has electric components like mine. I was very happy to find out that there was a setting in it designed to account for the metal in some doors.

Other than this, I highly recommend the doors you do get have a feature to lock either way one-way or both ways. The doors inside my house all have this and I am able to switch between these options by turning a switch. This is good when I want them to stay out of (or stay in) a certain part of the house.

If you want a cat door on the door going into your garage, then keep in mind your insurance provider may have a problem with this because these doors tend to be fire-rated. I called my homeowners insurance provider, USAA, and specifically asked them this question and they told me it’s not a problem with them. But don’t take my word on it. If you plan to install a cat door on a fire-rated door, get approval from your insurance provider first and take down their name, employee number, and case number (or whatever you can). This is what I did and I kept the information in case there’s ever an issue.

If you are renting your home, then a cat door might still be an option. The worst they’ll make you do is pay for a new door. You should get permission from your landlord. I rented a house for two years, did this without asking, and they took the cost of installing a new door out of my security deposit. It was worth it to me for two years of convenience and making my cats happy. (But I don’t recommend you do it without asking.)

Another option I’ve never done myself but I’ve seen done is letting them outside in an area they can’t leave, such as a cage. This will allow them to get some fresh outside air. You can hook up a tube to your window so they can go outside through the tube to the cage and back whenever they want. You can also just get a large cage and bring them to it, and when you want them in, grab them and bring them in. You can also take them outside on a leash so they don’t spook and run off, but don’t expect them to walk with you. Cats aren’t like dogs – they do what they want.

New cats & moving

Whenever a cat goes to a new home, you shouldn’t let it outside for at least a month. That’s because unlike dogs (who are loyal to their owner), cats tend to stick to their home, and if they’re not used to that place as home, then they will run off and try to find their old home (where they think they still live). I’ve heard the time quoted to leave them inside as two to three weeks, but I’ve always kept them inside for at least a month to make sure and I’ve never had any problems.

You’ll need to have a litter box during this period. When you start letting it outside, don’t get rid of the litter box right away so they can get used to doing their business outside. When you do put away the litter box, clean the area very well so they won’t smell the scent they left there, otherwise they might still “go” in that area.

Training

You shouldn’t hurt your cat. Dogs are very forgiving, but a cat’s trust you have to earn.

The only way a cat will learn to not do certain things is if you “punish” them in the act. The most effective way to do this is to spray them with a water bottle because it doesn’t hurt them, but they don’t like it. If you do anything after the fact, they will not understand why you’re doing it. You can’t “rub their nose in it” like a dog. They will think you’re hurting them and they will fear you. My cats are very good about staying out of the kitchen because of the water bottle trick. If I so much as grab it, they’ll run.

Cats are smart in a way unique to dogs. They will know if you hurt them by accident or on purpose. I have observed this personally. I’ve lived with a kid who was mean to cats and the cat learned to stay away from him. At the same time, I’ve accidentally hit a cat a couple times (e.g. turning too fast or stepping on its tail) and it knew it was an accident and forgave me right away (it might scream and run when you step on its tail, but as soon as it cools off, it’ll come back to you for affection if it wants).

Fleas

Cats are known to have fleas on occasion. None of my cats have had them for over five years. A good way to prevent yourself from getting them is to get them flea collars. The good ones can cost up to $60 but they’ll last about eight months. Flea traps and flea bombs are rather inexpensive.

Fleas are normally a nuisance to just pets, but they can get so bad that they become a nuisance to everyone living in the home. This happened to me once. If you ever get to that point, I recommend saving your money on products and getting an exterminator that offers a guarantee. While the exterminator’s doing his job, keep your cats outside until you give them a proper flea bath. You can get one professionally done at pet grooming places. I once took a dog I had to PetSmart and you’d be surprised how many fleas they have on them.

Love & trust

Some say that cats don’t love people. I disagree with this. Love is the most basic of all emotions, and if cats are capable of other emotions, they’re capable of love. I suppose this then depends on what love means to you.

The best way to earn a cat’s trust is to:

  • Never hurt it
  • Never chase it
  • Never yell at it
  • Don’t be aggressive with it.
  • Don’t pick it up when it doesn’t want to be picked up.
  • Let it down when it wants down.

It goes without saying that sometimes you have to pick a cat up and you can’t let it down, such as when you’re putting it in a carrier to take to the vet. It also goes without saying that sometimes you need to be a little aggressive, such as when you give it certain medication (like prescription eye drops) or putting a flea collar on.

References

Cat Spraying: Why It Happens and What to Do About It

The oldest cat who ever lived ate THIS everyday… crazy!

What Age Should You Spay or Neuter Your Cat? | PetMD