Caring For Your New

Cat or Kitten

Cat and Kitten Care

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Thank you for adopting a cat from the Taupo SPCA. Becoming a new “cat parent” is a wonderful experience, and your cat will provide you with many years of companionship. It is also a big responsibility, but one that has endless rewards as you watch your cat play, learn and grow. This booklet is full of useful tips on how to care for your new companion.

On arrival

We recommend you keep your new cat inside for a minimum of fourteen days (longer for kittens and older cats), to give it time to adjust to its new environment. Cats are territorial creatures, and will sometimes try to make their way back to their previous home if let out too early.

In the event your cat may go missing, you can register it on petsonthenet  as well as calling your local vets and doing flyer drops around your neighbourhood.

Even after your cat has settled, it is advisable to keep it inside at night, when there is a higher risk of being injured or getting involved in fights with neighbourhood strays.

Kittens should be kept indoors at least until ten days after completion of their vaccinations. Thereafter they can be allowed to venture outside under supervision, as they could not defend themselves on their own against any stray cats or other potential threats.

Once established, cats appreciate having access to and from your house on their own schedule. Installing a lockable cat door is a convenient solution, and cats usually learn how to use them in a very short amount of time. For a playful cat, it often helps to pull a string or other toy through the door flap, enticing it to follow suit.

Introduce your new cat to your house in a step by step process, starting it off in a small, quiet room, which will make it easier for it to oversee the new territory. This room should be cat-proof, i.e. have no hazards, precious carpet, or couches waiting to be scratched. Set this room up with fresh water, food, a bed, toys, litter tray, scratch post and a cardboard box (with an entry hole and bedding inside) as a safe haven. Do not place the litter tray near the bed or food.

Your cat may hide for the first few hours. This is no reason for concern; it is normal for cats to be upset by changes in their environment. Allow your new friend to settle in, waiting for it to come out towards you instead of coercing it to interact.

Be prepared for one or two “accidents” during that first phase. When cats move to a new home, stomach upsets and diarrhoea sometimes occur. Don’t change your cat’s diet suddenly because of this – minor upsets are usually a result of the changed environment and should calm down within 24 hours.

Feeding cats & kittens

It is paramount that your cat is fed the correct diet, as this will determine its energy levels and its overall health and happiness. It is best to feed a premium quality biscuit as the main part of the diet, occasionally supplementing with some soft food as a treat. Biscuits clean the cat’s teeth as it crunches through them, and have a higher density in nutrients compared to soft foods, which contain 70 to 80 per cent water and are usually high in fat. As a main diet this would not adequately cover your cat’s nutritional needs. Provide a safe, familiar feeding location, and give each cat its own bowl.
Always provide fresh water for the cat to drink, preferably in different parts of the house for easy accessibility. Most cats and kittens are lactose intolerant and cannot digest milk, which will trigger mild diarrhoea.

Cats are carnivores, and cannot be fed dog food. Dogs are omnivores, being able to gain nutrients from animal as well as plant matter, and a great part of the calories in commercial dog food is derived from plant sources. Cats are unable to digest this kind of semi-vegetarian diet properly and will not thrive on it. Avoid human food as well, since this usually contains salt, spices or additives. These will be harmful for the cat’s body, which is not adapted to deal with these substances.

Cats should not be fed bones. These can splinter and get stuck in the gut and, in the worst cases, necessitate a trip to your veterinarian. If you want to treat your cat to a piece of fish, make sure that all bones are removed.

What should I feed my kitten?

While your kitten is growing, it is essential that it receives a special high energy diet. Kitten food is concentrated to provide the right amounts of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins, to support bone growth and a healthy immune system. What you feed your kitten now will affect its development for the rest of his life. The best way to ensure your kitten’s nutritional requirements are met is to feed a Premium kitten food, available from the SPCA Shop, or from vets and good pet shops. Some good brands to look for are Hills, Eukanuba, and Iams. Supermarkets do not usually stock Premium pet foods. (If you do need to economise, one of the more nutritious brands is Purina One.

Refrain from giving your kitten any strong tasting treats such as tuna or cheese. During the first year of its life, the cat’s taste buds are still developing. Feeding strongly flavoured foods may cause it to develop a preference, leaving you with an adult cat who would rather starve itself than eat anything but tuna.

What should I feed my cat?

Once it reaches about twelve months of age, your cat’s dietary requirements will change. At this stage, we recommend moving onto an adult cat or maintenance food, staying with the accustomed brand. This will maintain your adult cat’s ideal bodyweight and composition. It is best to gradually introduce the new food over one or two weeks to avoid stomach upsets, mixing a few of the new biscuits in with the old, and slowly changing the proportions.

Older cats over seven years need to be fed special senior cat diets. These are calorie reduced to accommodate their less active life style. Senior cat foods are also lower in proteins. This helps prevent kidney diseases, which older cats can be more prone to.

How much & how often?

Kittens have very small stomachs and usually prefer to graze throughout the day and night, eating only tiny amounts each time. Always have food available for young kittens. Some cats remain grazers throughout their lives, while others need to be limited once they grow up.

You will be able to determine which type your cat is by watching its body shape. If it remains naturally slim, you can let it graze. If it starts gaining weight, limit it to two meals a day, adhering to the daily feeding guide on your packet. Calculate this on the cat’s ideal weight, not the current weight. With normal levels of exercise, this should restore a healthy body shape. If the problem persists, put your cat on a “light” formula, and also talk to your neighbours – they might be giving your cat treats without your knowledge.

An overweight cat faces the same discomfort and potential health problems as humans. Ideally, the cat should look athletic without a pouch on the tummy. Although there are differences between breeds, seen from above, a cat should have a slight waist. Please consult your veterinarian if you are at all unsure about your cat’s ideal weight.

Introducing your new cat to resident pets

Some cats are more social than others. For example, an eight-year-old cat who has never been around other animals may never learn to share its territory with other pets in the household. But an eight-week-old kitten separated from its mother and litter mates for the first time might be glad to have a cat or dog companion.

Cats are territorial, and they need to be introduced to other animals very slowly so they can get used to each other before a face-to-face confrontation. Slow introductions help prevent fear and aggression from developing. Here are some guidelines to help make the introduction go smoothly.

1 Confine your new cat to one room with its litter box, food, water, and a bed. Feed your resident pets and the newcomer on opposite sides of the door to this room, so that they associate something enjoyable (eating) with each other’s smells. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until your pets can eat calmly while standing directly on either side of the door.

2 Swap the sleeping blankets or beds used by all the cats so they each have a chance to become accustomed to the other cats’ scents. You can even gently rub a towel on one animal and put it underneath the food dish of another animal.

Once your new cat is using the litter box and eating regularly while confined, let it have free time in the house while confining your other animals to the new cat’s room. This switch provides another way for the animals to experience each other’s scents without a face-to-face meeting. It also allows the newcomer to become familiar with it new surroundings without being frightened by the other animals.

3 Next, after the animals have been returned to their original designated parts of the house, use two doorstops to prop open the dividing door just enough to allow the animals to see each other, and repeat the whole process over a period of days – supervised, of course.

4 It’s better to introduce your pets to each other gradually. You can expect a mild protest from either cat from time to time, but don’t allow these behaviours to intensify. If either animal becomes fearful or aggressive, separate them, and start the introduction process once again with a series of very small, gradual steps, as outlined above.

5Try to keep your resident pets’ schedules close to what they were before the newcomer’s arrival. Before bringing a new pet home, check with your veterinarian to be sure all your current pets are healthy. You’ll also want to have at least one litter box per cat in separate locations. Make sure that none of the cats are being “ambushed” by another while trying to use the litter box, and be sure each cat has a safe hiding place. If small spats (hissing, growling, or posturing) do occur between your cats, you shouldn’t attempt to intervene directly to separate the cats. Instead, make a loud noise, throw a pillow, or use a squirt bottle with water to separate the cats. Give them a chance to calm down before reintroducing them to each other.

6You’ll need to be even more careful when introducing a dog and a cat to one another. A dog can seriously injure and even kill a cat very easily, even if they’re only playing – all it takes is one quick shake to break the cat’s neck. Some dogs have such a high prey drive that they should never be left alone with a cat. Dogs usually want to chase and play with cats, and cats usually become afraid and defensive. In addition to using the techniques described above to begin introducing your new cat to your resident dog, take these steps:

7 If your dog doesn’t already know the commands “sit,” “down,” “come,” and “stay,” begin working on them right away. Small pieces of food will increase your dog’s motivation to perform, which will be necessary in the presence of a strong distraction such as a new cat. Even if your dog already knows these commands, work to reinforce these commands.

8 After your new cat and resident dog have become comfortable eating on opposite sides of the door and have been exposed to each other’s scents as described above, you can attempt a face-to-face introduction in a controlled manner. Put your dog’s leash on and have it either sit or lie down and stay. Have a second person offer your cat some special pieces of food. At first, the cat and the dog should be on opposite sides of the room. Lots of short visits are better than a few long visits. Repeat this step several times until both the cat and dog are tolerating each other’s presence without fear or aggression.

9 Next, allow your cat some freedom to explore your dog at its own pace, with the dog still on leash and in a “down stay.” Meanwhile, keep giving your dog treats and praise for calm behaviour. If your cat runs away or becomes aggressive, you’re progressing too fast. Go back to the previous introduction steps.

11Although your dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with your cat is unacceptable behaviour, it must also be taught what is appropriate and be rewarded for those behaviours, such as sitting, coming when called, or lying down. If your dog is always punished when your cat is around and never has “good things” happen in the cat’s presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat. Never allow the dog to chase as once this behaviour is initiated by the dog it changes from play to hunting and the outcome can be very unpleasant.

12 You may want to keep your dog at your side and on leash whenever your cat is free in the house during the introduction process. Be sure that your cat has an escape route and a place to hide. Until you’re certain your cat will be safe, be sure to keep the two separated when you aren’t home.

13 Kittens are in more danger of being injured or killed by a young, energetic, or predatory dog. A kitten will need to be kept separate from an energetic dog until it is fully grown, except for periods of supervised interaction to enable the animals to get to know each other.

Seek professional advice immediately from a veterinarian or animal-behaviour specialist if introductions don’t go smoothly. Animals can be severely injured in fights, and the longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve. Punishment won’t work and could make things worse. Most conflicts between pets in the same family can be resolved with professional guidance.

Cat training and behaviour

Cats are fairly complicated animals with a large range of behavioural patterns and a language of their own. There are numerous interesting books on the market that elaborate on cat behaviour, and will enable you to better understand and communicate with your new friend. In many respects, the domesticated cat is still a wild animal sharing our homes. Wild cats evolved to live on their own, not in packs. Consequently, they don’t know the concept of hierarchies, and won’t understand demonstrations of authority such as physical punishment.

Never smack or swat a cat, shake it or rub its nose in it if it toilets inappropriately. This is cruel, and will only teach it to avoid doing the offending behaviour around you. More importantly, it will make it stressed and scared of you, which will in turn exacerbate the problem.
The only acceptable way of “punishing” a cat is by remote means, which do not allow the cat to associate you with it, making it appear as if the act itself is creating the negative consequences. Examples for remote punishment are noises or water spray bottles. The water has to appear magically: don’t give your cat advance warning by shouting first, don’t squirt more than twice, and don’t look at it while, and immediately after the squirting. These negative consequences have to occur during the offending behaviour, as even a second later the cat will not connect them to the previous action.

A much better way to train a cat or kitten is to teach it to do the right thing. Until it has learned what’s right, eliminate opportunities for it to get into trouble. During the initial stages of training, when you cannot supervise the cat, it is always best to confine it to its first, safe room. If left alone with full access to your house, your kitten may develop unwanted toilet and scratching habits, or be injured while exploring.

Cats cannot be physically forced or manipulated to do what you want. Instead, try to get the cat to produce the desired behaviour on its own. For example, drag a string up the side of a scratch post for the kitten to follow – once in scratching position, the kitten will most likely take the opportunity. Reward and praise profusely.

Children need to be closely supervised when with your cat or kitten. Young kittens are fragile, and cannot take rough handling. They usually only like to be held for short periods of time, and should not be forced to stay in laps. This will make it associate you or your child with a negative feeling, your lap becoming a trap, and may prompt it to avoid you. While kittens are in the crucial phase of socialisation, having their first encounters with the world and people, one bad experience can do lasting damage.

Biting and scratching

Cats rarely bite or get rough out of anger. Usually, when a cat bites or scratches, this happens out of fear. In this case efforts should be made by the owner to eliminate the cause of fear. Be patient, and don’t force your cat into cuddles. Contact an animal behaviourist if the problem persists.

Kittens often bite for sheer playfulness and over excitement, if they haven’t yet learned that hands are not appropriate toys. The best way to avoid this is never to use your hands for playing, but to offer appropriate toys instead. If your kitten does get rough, you can correct this the way its mother or its litter mates would. You can utter a high-pitched yelp, which will make the kitten freeze for a second, allowing you to extricate your hand, and immediately end the play session. Wait for at least three minutes before resuming play.

Scratching furniture and destructive behaviour

Scratching is instinctual, natural behaviour for cats, sharpening the claws by stripping off the old sheath. It is also a means of scent-marking and exercising the claws and paws.

If a good, big scratching post is purchased at the same time as the cat, the cat will usually prefer this to any furniture. If not, one way of trying to dissuade the cat is to use the water spray bottle as described above.

Other destructive behaviours, such as chewing and digging up pot plants, or pushing objects off tables, is almost always caused by boredom. It is especially common in indoor cats that don’t get a lot of stimulation or exercise, and is easier to prevent than to correct. It often helps to provide your cat with regular play sessions at least twice a day, using an array of toys to get it running, leaping and pouncing to the point of exhaustion. Also leave some independent toys (such as table tennis balls) out for the cat to amuse itself during the day. Another idea is to get two kittens instead of one, to keep each other company and provide more play opportunities.

Litter training and spraying

Unless you have been otherwise advised, your adopted cat or kitten has been using a litter tray for toileting while in our care. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible, it is a good idea to start your new friend off in a small room, which will make it easier to find the litter tray. Cats have a natural inclination to bury their waste, and will normally prefer a nice clean litter tray over any flat surface. Initially, place the kitten in the tray after you have seen it eating or drinking, and at random intervals throughout the day. Praise it profusely if it does its business, and/ or give a little treat. Take care not to interrupt it in the act though – wait until it has finished.

Never punish a cat that has soiled outside its litter tray; this will only make it feel insecure and make matters worse. Clean up any soiled areas thoroughly, using an enzymatic cleaner designed for this purpose. If you see your cat preparing to toilet outside of the litter tray, you can distract it (refraining from shouting or appearing upset) and quickly take it to its tray. If the cat is already in the process of soiling outside of its tray, wait until it has finished and then take it to the tray, praising if it still makes any signs of scratching in there. If, on the other hand, you pick it up yelling, and throw or push it into its tray, it will associate the tray with punishment and avoid it even more.

When familiarising your cat with the garden as its new toilet, start by throwing a few handfuls of earth in with its litter, to help it associate the smells and textures. Initially, provide a dug up patch of loose earth close to your exit door, so that the cat doesn’t have to search your whole garden. Again, praise it if it does its business in there. Later you can provide different patches around your garden. It still pays to keep a litter tray inside as well, in case your cat has to toilet during the night. Do not remove the tray until you are sure that your cat is using the garden confidently.

Sometimes urination outside of the litter tray may be a sign of an illness, such as cystitis or bladder stones, especially if it happens in bath tubs, sinks, or on tiles, and there is blood in the urine. If a sudden change in toileting habits occurs, please take your cat to your veterinarian immediately to rule out any physical causes. Also if a cat squats repeatedly as though trying to urinate but passes only a small amount or nothing at all, this can indicate a potential blockage and needs to be seen by a vet urgently.

There can be numerous other reasons for cats soiling the house:

  • The litter tray is wrongly positioned.
  • Cats do not like to toilet where they sleep or eat.The tray may be also placed in too public an area of the house.
  • Many cats want total privacy – always place the litter tray in a quiet corner.
  • The tray is dirty. Cats are very clean animals, and may feel the tray is dirty even after one use. Remove any waste as soon as possible. You have changed the type of litter.
  • Cats are creatures of habit and must be eased into any changes.
  • In a multi-cat household, one cat may be ambushing another while the victim is in the box, causing it to search for a more remote spot.

Occasionally you may come across a cat that persistently soils in places other than its litter tray. This may happen where the smell of its owner is especially strong, such as on beds, when the owner is away on holiday, or if a new person moves into the household and the cat is jealous. Even a very slight change in daily routine can upset a sensitive cat enough to trigger a stress-induced response.

After eliminating any psychological causes, may be worth trying to prevent access to the favoured areas. You can make the soiling areas unattractive to the cat by placing a plastic sheet or some aluminium foil over them, as cats do not like the feel of these under their feet, or by placing food there.

Spraying is usually associated with sexual behaviour in non-desexed cats, but can also be seen in desexed males and occasionally females as a way of scent-marking territory. The cat will direct a small amount of urine backwards against any vertical object, such as a tree, or a wall indoors.

Normally a cat will have no need to spray indoors, as the house is the cat’s accepted den, so no further enforcement is necessary. However, spraying may occur if the cat feels insecure or threatened in any way; for instance because of the arrival of a new pet, or in a multi-cat household. Sometimes an increased challenge from a cat outdoors can trigger the problem. Areas to be sprayed may include door mats if the owner’s shoes have brought in alien smells, such as the scent of a strange cat.

If spraying does occur, proceed in the same way as you would with soiling – cleaning, eliminating causes, retraining. If it is felt that the cat sprays because of an outside threat, such as the neighbour’s vicious tom, boarding up any cat flaps in the house may be enough to reassure the cat that the house is its den and therefore secure. A bad sprayer can be confined to one room only, preferably a warm room where it can sleep next to a source of heat such as a radiator. The cat will probably feel secure in this room and so will not spray. If spraying ceases, the cat can be allowed access to the other rooms in the house one by one, under careful supervision.

Cat health

Vaccinations

Disease prevention is one of the most important parts of responsible pet ownership. This includes having your cat vaccinated regularly.

What diseases are cats vaccinated against?

Cat Flu is a respiratory disease of cats similar to the common cold or flu in people. For young kittens and senior cats this disease can be life-threatening, and even for healthy adults it can become a serious, drawn out illness. The Felocell3 vaccine will help to protect the cat against the two different viruses that cause snuffles. Please refer to the info sheet stapled to your cat’s health record card for more information on recognising symptoms.

Panleucopaenia is a viral disease causing very severe vomiting and diarrhoea, which can be fatal. It is an important disease for your cat to be protected against.

There are three other vaccines cats can receive in New Zealand. One is against Chlamydia, which is another cause of flu type symptoms in cats. The other is against the fairly uncommon Feline Leukaemia Virus, and the third against Feline Aids, which is carried by a number of stray cats. Discuss these with your veterinarian if you would like more information.

When should my cat be vaccinated?
All cats should receive an initial course of vaccinations as a kitten. If your cat missed out on kitten vaccinations, it will receive its initial vaccine here as an adult. After the initial course, cats need just a single shot per year to keep the immune system up to speed. Discuss your cat’s future vaccination requirements with your vet. There are some boarding catteries that require your cat to have received a flu vaccination 6 months or less before it enters the cattery. Please clarify this with the cattery that you choose.

Flea Treatment & Prevention

An important part of keeping your cat happy and healthy is regularly treating it for parasites. Fleas become a particular nuisance in the warmer months when they become active. A severe infestation can spread to your home as eggs drop off the cat. Prevention is better than a cure, but if you do have a problem with fleas already, you will have to “flea-bomb” your home to break the cycle of re-infestation.

How do I tell if my cat has fleas?

 

  • The cat may be itching and scratching at itself a lot, or groom excessively and compulsively.
  • It may appear depressed and grumpy.
  • You may be able to see the fleas in the pet’s coat by parting the hair and looking carefully.
  • You may see “flea dirt” in the pet’s coat. This is the flea’s excrement, and it looks a little like ground coffee – small, black crumbly material.

How do I get rid of fleas?
There are several products on the market to treat fleas, and they vary greatly in their efficiency. Do not be tempted by cheap, but ineffective supermarket products. Purchase your flea treatments from a vet, who will also be able to advise you on which product is best for your circumstances. The best flea treatments are applied to the skin on the back of the neck, and this can be done by the cat owner.

  • ‘Advantage’ and ‘Frontline’ are very effective products, which control fleas only.
  •  ‘Advocate’ (previously called ‘Advantage Multi’) works against roundworm as well. With this product we recommend giving an All Wormer (eg; Drontal) once a year to flush the system in case your cat eats mice, which may also carry tapeworm eggs.

Worm treatment & prevention

Why do I need to worm my cat?
There are two types of worms that cats can get in New Zealand – roundworm and tapeworm. The worms live in the gut, feeding off the cat’s food. They can cause malnutrition, making the animal feel tired, have a dull coat and a pot-bellied appearance. Young kittens with severe cases of worms may die from the effects.

When should I worm my cat?
A general rule, kittens should be wormed every two weeks until they are three months of age. After three months of age cats should be wormed every three months for the rest of their lives.

What should I use to worm my cat?
Drontal, an oral pill, is a good All-Wormer, covering both types of worms. There are several other brands available; our staff or your vet will be able to advise you on this, and will be able to sell you good worming tablets without a consultation.

Profender is an easy option if your cat refuses swallowing pills. This topical worming treatment is applied to the skin on the back of the neck. Used three monthly like a normal wormer, it will also prevent roundworm and tapeworm.

When Your Pet Is Sick or Injured

If at any point you are concerned about the health or well-being of your cat, contact your local veterinarian. All animals should see their vet for a check-up once a year. This generally can be done at the time of the annual vaccination, and is important so that any health problems can be detected early.

NEVER give a cat human medicine such as Panadol or Aspirin, as these are potentially harmful or even fatal in animals.

Legal obligations to care for your animals

Under the animal welfare act, as the person in charge, you are legally required to provide the following:

  • Proper and sufficient food and water
  • Adequate shelter
  • The opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
  • Protection from, and rapid diagnosis of, any significant injury or distress