You've brought home a cat (or two); you've given it a dignified name worthy of its ancestral regal status - now you can really begin the best and most rewarding relationship you are ever likely to experience ...  

'We all feel somehow released by the simple honest relationship with the cat.' (Desmond Morris)

It really doesn’t matter if you live in a house or an apartment - cats are very adaptable animals as long as you cater for the specific needs of indoor/outdoor life. It is worth taking into consideration your own lifestyle needs first to see if you have room for a cat.

When acquiring your cat or kitten, see if it has a litter mate that you can take home as well because two cats are twice the fun and good company for each other. If you are out of the house for long periods at a time, leaving a cat by itself is not an ideal situation. Far better to get a companion so they can be by themselves together! Most cats curl up and sleep for hours at a time; this is interspersed with grooming, eating, and going to the toilet.

Whether your cat is an indoor or outdoor cat it needs a certain amount of stimulation. In an unused corner, I have a piece of upturned carpet hessian side upwards, which I sprinkle catnip on and all the cats go crazy on it. There is nothing funnier to watch than a cat high on catnip.

A scratch post is essential. I have 3 placed in various rooms which all my cats visit each morning stretching themselves out and having a good old scratch. This saves the furniture and kittens can be trained from a very early age to use scratching posts. Older cats will also accept them if they are shown carefully and patiently how to use them.

Using scratching posts is vital to help the cat not only to have a really good stretch after hours being curled up asleep, but helps to slough off the claws and keep them trim revealing new points beneath the old outer covering. The practice of declawing cats just to save the furniture is both barbaric and inhumane and I cannot understand why anyone would stoop to such a disgusting act. Declawing cats leaves them defenceless and unable to fight back if a dog or any other threat came into their ‘space’. They also lose the ability to grip surfaces - a cause of many accidents for the cat. Also the pleasure of just being able to have a scratch if they have an itch is now lost to them.

It is well known that puppies chew everything in sight but would they have their teeth removed because of this? Certainly not! The sooner that declawing can be outlawed the better - I know that vets in the UK refuse point blank to carry out such barbaric torture on cats - and rightly so. No one who even thinks of having such a barbaric operation carried out should keep a cat: it is cruel and quite unnecessary. If someone is more worried about their furniture then maybe they should buy something which doesn’t actually make the house a home instead - something like fish in a tank!

Toys needn’t cost the earth for cats. I have seen a great many sophisticated toys and then watched as the cat played with the wrapping paper or the box itself and left the contents to one side! Screwed up pieces of foil or tissue paper all make exciting toys and thrown up and down the stairs not only exercises your cat but you as well because when your cat finally tires of this game, he will change the rules so that you have to run up and down the stairs. Cats think this is hysterical and will happily watch their ‘humans’ play this game for hours!

Ping-Pong balls (table tennis balls) are also excellent cat sized toys and they love running after them, chasing them and playing football. Usually the ‘goal’ is under a sideboard, dresser or something big and heavy which requires brute strength or the assistance of all your neighbours to move - then as soon as the cat has retrieved it and all the neighbours have gone, it scores another ‘goal’!!

Indoor cats and kittens need a litter tray, with a good brand of litter. You may have to try several types first - well, not you exactly, but the cat! - because some do hurt the paws and some cats refuse to use the litter tray if the litter is unpleasant. Think how you might feel if you had to use sandpaper on your bottom and then think of how your cat might feel.

Cat beds come in all shapes and sizes and range from just a furry circle to actual 4-poster beds complete with bed linen and drapes. Cats are contrary creatures and will find the spot that makes them happiest to sleep on. Usually a comfortable chair or sofa, bed or in some cases trainers. One of my little kittens, Joey, used to sleep with his head in my trainers - perhaps this was a contributing factor to the time it took for him to learn his name! I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to sleep with my head in my trainers - yuk!

Kittens need to be fed every few hours - up to 5 or 6 times a day when they are about 8 - 10 weeks old. Their stomachs are the size of a walnut so heaping a mountain of food in a dish to keep them going between meals is a waste of time and food. Putting down just a few spoonfuls at a time and topping it up if necessary is all that you need to do. It is a myth that cats love milk - most cats are lactose intolerant and giving them milk to drink can cause them to have diarrhoea so water is perfectly safe and natural for them to drink. 

If your cat is going to be an outdoor cat then he needs to be able to access the great outdoors while you are not around unless you are going to provide him with his own on-site doorman. Cat flaps are the ideal choice and much safer than leaving a window open all the time. If you wish to discourage other cats from the neighbourhood using your house as a feline ‘McDonalds’ then it is best to fit an electronic cat flap which allows your cat to come and go by wearing a collar with a special magnet on it.

It can be an amusing past time to watch the bewilderment on the faces of cats trying to gain unauthorized entry through this type of cat flap and not being able to. Cats are so used to going where they want to go - and gaining entry - that to not be able to get in is tantamount to being barred from the best clubs in the city!

If you live in a first floor apartment you can rig up a walkway from the cat flap to let your cat have access in safety to downstairs, short of giving it its own front door key and instructions on how to use the lift. I have seen two types of walkways leading out from first floor cat flaps in windows down to ground level. The first was a scary construction made in stainless steel and was like a chute straight down. I wondered if the cat laid on its back, paws across its chest and coursed down rather like the water chutes you get in some swimming baths landing on an inflatable raft to break its fall.

I suppose if it was a daredevil cat it might, for a change, decide to go down head first and I imagined it wearing a little safety helmet in case it landed too abruptly!

My main area for concern with this chute was that in winter it would be extremely cold underfoot and likewise in summer, it would be incredibly hot. Both extremes would be unpleasant for the cat. And I wondered whether or not it could be struck by lightening. Imagine the fright for your cat if he is just heading back home and he is struck - he comes through the cat flap looking like he has just been plugged into an electric socket.

The second walkway I saw was much better and made of wood with little strips placed every so often like steps to help the descent. It didn’t come straight down to ground level either, it veered off the right where it met up with a shed roof, then from the shed roof there was a bit more leading down to the garden. This was much more feline friendly and actually looked better in the garden than the ‘in your face’ stainless steel structure.

Under no circumstances should any cat be left out on a balcony - even at first floor level. Cats can have horrific accidents suffering with broken legs leading to amputations, broken or fractured pelvis, split lips and palates, and broken jaws. Cats usually do land on all fours but it is not advisable to test this theory out by seeing whether it can or not.

It is important that when you come home after an absence of any length of time (a day at work for example) to spend time interacting with your cat. Cats are very social and sociable creatures and they love human contact - if their humans are kind to them. Grooming them, by gentle brushing and the use of a flea comb, can strengthen that bond and that is time well spent getting to know your cat. 

Playing with them is also another great time that you can have with your cat. Sam, my lovely black cat who came from a neighbour’s house, used to bring me a toy mouse which he would lay at my feet. My part in the game (he made up the rules as we went along) was to throw it upstairs for him to rush up after and retrieve. By the time I had sat back down again he would be sitting by my feet with the toy mouse once again waiting for me to do it all over again.

So you have made the choice to have a feline companion (or two); you have chosen a sensible, dignified name as befitting its ancestral regal status and now the rest is up to you. You and your cats can have a wonderful life together - your cats will love you unconditionally - all they expect from you is food, water, toys, decent bed, (preferably yours, with you in it) and heaps of love. If you can manage to supply all those requisites of the cat, then you are in for a treat.

'When you’re special to a cat, you’re special indeed ... she brings to you the gift of her preference of you, the sight of you, the sound of your voice , the touch of your hand.’ (Leonore Fleischer) 

© Pauline Dewberry 2003

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