This is not a lecture because like anybody else I’ve made all the mistakes in the world regarding cat caregiving. But I made them many years ago and through consistent application have eradicated them (correction: not quite ?). As long as we strive to improve, people can’t be criticised because we all make mistakes; we are all fallible. But here are 10 mistakes that cat caregivers can make. It’s better to be proactive and avoid them rather than making the mistake and then reacting to repair the consequences. This list is not comprehensive.
- Dogs and babies. Relating to your cat as a dog or a baby is a mistake ?. Cats are not dogs and neither are they babies. Dogs were first domesticated to be working animals whereas the domestication of the wildcat was one of mutual benefit. Dogs want to please their owner whereas we know that domestic cats don’t quite have the same mentality! If you relate to your cat as a dog, you are liable to have a less than ideal relationship. You might become irritated because your cat doesn’t do what you think they should do or want them to do. This is not ‘bad cat behavior’ but misplaced expectations (see below). It’s important to allow a cat to be themselves and a good cat caregiver supports this objective by ensuring that the environment in which their cat lives facilitates the expression of their natural desires and motivations. There’s also the issue of expectation management.
- Expectation management. The way you relate to your cat affects expectations and vice versa. It’s important that cat owners employ expectation management. It’s important that cat owners have the right expectations. They need to be realistic and they need to know what to expect in relation to their cat’s behaviour and all aspects of cat ownership. The mistake of misplaced expectations can lead to disappointment and a weakening of the human-cat bond. For instance, there’s the cost of keeping a cat which is about $15,000 over the lifetime and the equivalent in pounds in the UK (much cheaper in developing countries). And depending upon how connected you are to your cat, owning a cat can prevent you going on holidays and it can affect every aspect of your life. When you buy a new house and move are you factoring in your cat’s lifestyle? You don’t buy a house near a main road when you own a cat. I’m using the word “own” for convenience. People can make mistakes about expectations and is important to be realistic before adopting a cat. One last point about false expectations: it can lead to punishing your cat. This is wrong.
- Litter trays/boxes. Many domestic cats needed a litter box because they are full-time indoor cats. Litter boxes are about poop and pee; two topics which are slightly unpleasant but you get used to it when you live with a cat. Cat owners need to be emotionally resilient about dealing with poop and pee. This will help them to place the cat litter box in the right place and not hide it away where it is difficult for a cat to use. Also being realistic about these things should encourage a cat caregiver to clean the litter box daily and not put it off. The litter tray shouldn’t be over-cleaned and it shouldn’t be scented to mask the natural odours because cats rely upon those odours to feel at home and to understand that this is their toilet. The general advice is not to use covered litter boxes (I disagree with this as I think they are useful) and to make sure that the litter substrate is acceptable to your cat. This probably means trying different types. And not to use scented litter substrate. The other issue regarding cat litter is dust. Some litters are dustier than others and it can be inhaled. Indeed, it will be inhaled which can cause serious health problems. Lightweight cat litters can have dust problems. I have talked about one such litter product in a previous article. Please read it.
- Indoor hazards. Some people make a mistake about ensuring that their home is free of domestic cat hazards. A lot has been said about toxic indoor plants. I don’t need to go over that. Some indoor plants are acceptable and non-toxic to cats and you can read about those by clicking on this link. There are hidden hazards in the home such as reclining chairs which can kill cats and dogs and chemicals in furniture and carpets. These won’t kill a cat but they may poison them. I think it’s better to not have carpets in homes when you have a cat. And mistakes can be made about buying furniture with fire retardants. I think it’s important to check the product with the salesperson before purchase as to whether it contains a fire retardant (obligatory in many places) and what type it is and whether that type is poisonous to a cat. Mistakes can be made in this regard.
- Kitten time. The next mistake is about adopting kittens and not using that time to make their lives better. In addition to the usual critical period of socialisation during the first weeks of life of a kitten when they learn to live with people and other pets, you can acclimatise them to having their claws trimmed gently and being flea combed. In other words, one mistake is not to use these early weeks to get your cat used to being handled for maintenance purposes. It makes things much easier when they’re adults. And it’s important not to play with your kitten with your hands as it can train them to think of your hands as toys. There are other aspects to living with a cat that can be ameliorated when they are kittens. You can get them used to going in a carrier to the vet. You can get them used to walking on a leash. Leash training is particularly important currently because many local jurisdictions are thinking about ordinances (USA) and local laws to restrict the freedoms of domestic cats. For example, Canberra (ACT) in Australia has confined domestic cats to their homes. And Perth’s City of Bayswater Council has proposed to ban cats from 42 natural areas in a bold move designed to protect native wildlife. If you want to stimulate your cat under the circumstances you can take them out on a lead. The best time to train your cat to accept a lead is when they are kittens. So, one mistake is to pass up the opportunity to train your cat when they are kittens.
- Veterinarians. It is common knowledge that between cats and dogs, cats get a raw deal on health visits. They don’t get taken to the vet enough whereas dogs are taken more often. The reason is probably because dogs are more compliant and easier to take to a veterinarian. It is troublesome taking your cat to the vet and this leads owners into the mistake of putting it off. The treatment of some illnesses cannot be put off. I have a page on that which may help.
- Multi-cat homes. Mistakes can be made when adopting new cats into a home where there is already a resident cat. It’s understandable. Some cat owners love cats a lot and they want to adopt another cat. And, in general, it is believed that two cats that get along are better than one cat because they can entertain themselves which takes some of the responsibility for cat stimulation away from the owner. But you can’t just dump an incoming cat with a resident cat. You might be able to sometimes but often times it won’t work out very well. And therefore, the introduction should be gentle and how to do it should be researched beforehand. The problem comes down to the fact that domestic cats have their own home range. Home ranges overlap in multi-cat homes and indeed between neighbourhood cats but owners should respect the need to allow a cat to have their own home range no matter how small it is.
- Enrichment. I’m convinced that 99% of human homes are not modified enough to accommodate the vertical-travelling needs of a domestic cat. I am a culprit. People live horizontally, on the ground, whereas cats live both horizontally and vertically. To enrich a home from a domestic cat’s perspective means to create vertical spaces and places well above the ground either through the purchase of cat trees or runs near the ceiling. That is what we see but I suspect that very few people will want to do that. It alters the interior environment and from a human perspective it looks aesthetically less attractive. It’s a mistake to push this issue out of the mind. The need to enrich the home environmentally is an important factor in cat contentment.
- Cat food. Perhaps another mistake is failing to provide the highest quality cat food possible. The general agreement I would argue among cat experts is that wet cat food is better than dry cat food but there is a place for dry cat food. However, a cat should not be fed dry cat food exclusively because it’s too dry and domestic cats are poor drinkers due to their wild cat inheritance. And there’s too many carbohydrates in dry cat food. It is too unnatural. But it can be useful to supplement wet with dry. This is my personal viewpoint. People make the mistake that they can simply use cheap dry cat food as a permanent source of food for their cat. In my opinion they can’t. It can lead to ill-health.
- Declawing. The last on the list is the mistake of declawing your cat. It should actually be the first on the list but it’s a slightly sensitive topic (excuse the pun) to discuss because millions of Americans still declaw their cats even while knowing that it is the wrong thing to do. There is so much information on the Internet nowadays about the barbaric nature of declawing as it mutilates the paws of domestic cats for the convenience of their owners. Non-therapeutic declawing is immoral and it can severely affect a domestic cat’s behaviour for the rest of their life. There are ways around declawing. There are many ways to avoid it. There are many complications of declawing and there are many botched declawing operations. Never declaw your cat – PLEASE.
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