Lessons For A First Time Cat Owner

Lessons For A First Time Cat Owner

by Michael
(London, UK)

Lessons for a first time cat owner through observation. Finn Frode is a role model for us in respect of the enjoyable work of cat caretaking. A first time cat owner could do a lot worse than observing how Finn goes about caring for his two cats, Snow White and Milly.

I was prompted into writing this article by some photographs that Finn showed me. We are currently going through very cold weather across Europe (Nov. 30th 2010). Finn lives in Copenhagen, Denmark and the weather there is bad at the moment – icy cold and lots of snow.

This does not stop Finn going out for a walk with Snow White. Here they are:

cat on a leash walking in the snow

cat on a leash walking in the snow
These photos are copyright Finn Frode.

How nice is that?! Hands up all the people who find the time, patience and care to go out with their cat like that, under those conditions?

What can a first time cat owner learn from these photographs? Giving up sufficient time for our cat, patience and safety are three things that come immediately to mind – the foundation stones of a good human/cat relationship. Snow White is safe despite being outdoors in a built up environment because Finn has taken the time to leash train her. I say “leash train” but I suspect that Finn just put a leash on Snow White and, gradually, she got used to it, which is made more easy if she is doing something that interests her when she is wearing it (Finn might correct me on that). There is an association between wearing a leash and going out for a walk. Apparently Snow White leads Finn around.

“If by chance we meet a dog while out walking, I always pick her up, but even if she becomes scared, she won’t ever bite or scratch me. She never panics, just growls a little. But what really amazes me is that she actually seems to have learned that I am not able to follow her under bushes, parked cars and other cat shortcuts, so now she leads me around them instead of under. It’s always a pleasure walking with her – and she obviously enjoys it too. And contrary to our Norwegian Milly, Snow White doesn’t mind the snow at all.”..a quote from Finn

The concept of respect for our cat companion is also shown in Finn’s cat enclose (please read about it: Our New Cat Enclosure or Catio). I think that Finn bought his house with a cat enclosure in mind. I think he bought the house on the basis that is was good for human and cat. That is a lesson for a first time cat owner! It is one I can sympathise with as I am currently in the process of deciding whether to move or not and the biggest factor in my search for a new home is, you guessed it, my cats! Is the garden safe? Can I build an enclosure? Is the home big enough etc.?

constructing a cat enclosure
Finn’s cat enclosure under construction. Photo: copyright Finn Frode.

A cat enclosure is the best compromise, I feel, between keeping a cat safe while allowing him or her a degree of natural living sampling the outdoors; seeing, hearing and smelling the sights and sounds of nature. This must be good for a cat. Not everyone is in a position to build a cat enclosure but if it is possible in terms of space and finance I would do it. You can see Snow White looking out from Finn’s enclosure in this picture by Finn:

cat in the snow in an enclosure
Photo: copyright Finn Frode.

A first time cat owner should obviously prioritise cat safety. Finn sets a perfect example of this in the two examples mentioned. One of the major difficulties new cat owners have with cats is their “claws”! People “want a cat” but not necessarily the claws. You gotta accept the claws – sorry. One way to help with that process is to allow a cat to do what is natural with its claws – scratch. This is best carried out on a scratching post and once again Finn sets the right example – a good lesson for a first time cat owner. Maggie asks the question: Will my cat use a scratching post? and Finn provides some very useful tips in a comment.

OK, our cat is safe and can act naturally – the basics are in place. The remaining things that a first time cat owner needs to take care of are:

  • Feed the best cat food that within your budget – obvious, yes but what is the best? These pages might help American visitor: Best canned cat food and best dry cat food.
  • Groom your cat. The cat flea is an ever present danger no matter how clean etc. the home is (cat flea treatment). A regular check with a flea comb is beneficial and pleasant for cat and human. Grooming generally is too.
  • Play – play is something that is sometimes overlooked. Giving time and having patience towards our cat is what our cat desires. This is about “expectation management“. The first time cat owner should have the right expectations about cat caretaking before adopting a cat – cat games to play
  • Lastly the cat litter…Excellent cat litter management will pay dividends. The right place, correct size and daily cleaning are all essential. This page might help: My 12 year old cat doesn’t use the litter box properly as it has some excellent comments.
  • Gentleness towards our cats counts for a lot. We, the human, are louder, bigger, and more dangerous than our cat. We should curb some of our worst instincts – cats live in a land of giants.

Michael Avatar

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Lessons For A First Time Cat Owner

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Dec 03, 2010 The raised tail
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

Hi Ruth. Thank you for telling us about Monty’s walks. Don’t feel bad about not walking him every day – main thing is that he gets out from time to time and that both parties enjoy it.
Here in the cold my princess has shortened her walks considerably, and sometimes if it gets really bad, she does not want to go out at all. I can’t blame her – it must be cold walking on bare paws in the snow.

I think the raised tail can mean a number of different things, but broadly speaking I’d say it signals confidence. When out walking Snow White has her tail raised as a sign of concentration and allertness, but also in order to tell the World that this is her turf.

On the page ‘Cat’s Tail’ you’ll find a picture of our old Norwegian Milly with her bushy tail raised in a great arch when she encoutered a new mechanical toy. I don’t think she was very happy in that situation, but her tail signaled confidence and strength.

p.s. Stay tuned for my upcoming article ‘Walking my cat in the snow’ with more snow pictures.

Finn Frode avatar

Dec 02, 2010 Happy Cats
by: Ruth (Monty’s Mom)

Monty wanted out yesterday and didn’t get his way, and we didn’t even have any snow. I just was tired after work and didn’t feel like monitoring him out there. Finn is an awesome pet owner to take Snow White out despite the snow. Her tail is straight up in the photographs and that’s how Monty’s tail is most of the time. Does that really mean a cat is happy if his tail is straight up? I had read that the cat’s tail is a barometer of his feelings. Do other cat owners notice this too?
When I feed Monty or when he gets to go outside his tail is usually straight up– until he starts stalking something, then he gets his whole body low to the ground.
Finn’s cat sure doesn’t seem to mind the snow. Monty would never sit in it like she is in the picture of her in the enclosure. Even walking around outside in it he stops frequently and shakes his feet and meows at me like I’m supposed to do something about it. Then he comes and stands on top of my feet. I remember being almost unable to wait for snow to see Monty frolic and play in it. He had other ideas and just tries to avoid it as much as possible. We have to love our cats for what they are, not what we would like them to be.

Dec 02, 2010 Good Advice
by: Michael

Good advice Finn especially the bit about being able to afford to keep a cat properly. Thank you for adding to the page.

I am sure many people don’t fully appreciate the expense and I am also sure that a good number of relinquishments are due to money issues.

People need to budget in the long term – many don’t, it seems.

Michael Avatar

Dec 02, 2010 Common sense and kindness
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

First of all I have to thank Michael for portraying me as some kind of “model cat keeper”. I do my best, but really I’m probably no better than most of this site’s regular users. I’ve learned so much from PoC – and still do. 🙂

When it comes to going for walks in all kinds of weather, my commitment is actually no greater than if I had a dog. Snow White doesn’t have to go out in the same way, because she much prefers her indoor litter tray to the garden, but still she wants out for her round of the neighbourhood and “getting the news”. And she is the one to tell me when it’s time for that. The leash is best trained from kittenhood, but even older cats can learn it as described in the article ‘Walking an Old Cat on the Leash‘.

My wife and I have been fortunate enough to find an affordable house with a small garden so that now our cats have access to an outdoor enclosure. And yes, the house was chosen with that in mind. But cats can live happily as indoors only too – our Milly lived on the third floor for the first 16 years of her life. She was born into that so until we moved she never knew anything else. But be aware that indoor cats need extra activation. Playing a lot with your cat helps – and is great fun for both parties.

I quite agree with the “Anonymous” that it is up to us humans to read the cat well enough to avoid being scratched. There’s some good advice in that comment.

Talking with the cat is also something any new cat keeper should practice. Maybe it feels silly at first, but it really helps the bonding. Doesn’t matter what you say as long as you use a calm and reassuring voice. Cats too need to feel appreciated.

One final thing that has to be said is: Don’t ever get a cat unless you can afford it! Good quality cat food and cat litter will cost you and also there will be inevitable expenses to the vet. Check out in advance the charge for an annual checkup at your local clinic – and be prepared for more in case the cat gets ill. Remember that ignoring your cats health constitutes animal abuse.

That said, all cats are wonderful creatures and a great joy living with. It doesn’t take a master degree, just some common sense and kindness. And the cat will instinctively know how to pay you back with it’s affection.

Finn Frode avatar

Dec 01, 2010 Claws are for control and defense
by: Anonymous

Claws! Cats use them but don’t seem to know how sharp they are on human skin. If your cat uses it’s claws to control your hand (as in getting the big human to pet you in the way you desire) then it is up to you, the human, to learn how to avoid being scratched.

One of my cats has a dominent personality. Sometimes she wants to sniff my hand before she allows me to pet her. Other times she can be moody and just doesn’t want to be touched.

Together we have a routine that works to communicate to me if she wants or doesn’t want me to pet her. I approach her with some soft and friendly words. I raise my hand toward her head but stop short and hold my hand still about a foot away from her. If she wants to be petted, she lowers her head. If she doesn’t want to be touched, she raises her head, stiffens up and widens her eyes. I back off.

Just try the gesture of raising your hand but stopping short of touching the cat. Watch for it’s reaction. You will eventually learn the signs and will know when you can pet safely and when to expect a scratch if you do.

By the way, most of the time when the cat scratches you, it’s not to hurt you but to control your hand. Never, ever, punish the cat for having scratched you. Remember, you are the human in this relationship.

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