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First Time Cat Owners - 3 Biggest Mistakes

A few years ago, a recently divorced gentleman adopted a cat at my shelter. He wanted a companion but couldn't risk a pet that might bark, since he lived in an apartment, so he opted to adopt his very first cat. When I visited him a few hours later, at his request, to see if he had things set up correctly, I had to stifle some laughter. He had made some basic mistakes with his cat, but nothing serious that couldn't be fixed immediately.

The first thing I noticed was that everything was over-full. The litter box had sand up to the rim. The water and food bowls also were filled to the rim. At least it was obvious he wanted to be a good provider. But clearly he'd had no education in basic physics!

I'm sure the cat would have made its first mess after using that litter box, and the new owner might have been annoyed. So the first thing I did was to remove more than half the litter, explaining that cats need to bury their waste and do so by pawing the sand. Too much sand, and most of it will end up on the floor. Even a fastidious cat would not be able to avoid that.

Filling food bowls too full might not lead to a mess, but could lead to some weight gain, or vomiting, or spoiled food, since cats don't always eat whatever is in their bowl, as a dog would. The second thing I did, then, was to put half the food back in the bag. Then I emptied some of the water out, too, since that could cause a mess if someone bumped it.

These, then, are the 3 most common mistakes first-time cat owners make and how to fix them:

1. Over-filling bowls and pans. There really only needs to be no more than 2 inches of sand in the litter pan. It's not only easier for the cat, but easier for the human to scoop out the solids, and there is less chance of strewing sand everywhere.

Filling food bowls isn't even necessary. According to many pet nutrition experts, cats only need about one half to one cup of food, twice a day, depending on their size and age. Kittens need to eat more often, of course, since they are growing, and senior cats need less, because they have lower energy needs. Also, many experts advise against leaving food out all day to allow "free feeding." Cats like routine, so take advantage of that and keep a meal schedule. Keep only fresh food in the bowl to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and attracting insects.

Plenty of water is no mistake; however, cats don't drink large amounts of water, so a bowl with one to two cups of water is sufficient for the day. Just be sure to change it often enough to keep it fresh... at least daily. Never expect your cat to drink from a slimy bowl with days-old water.

2. Not providing the cat its own bed. Many new cat owners expect kitty to either sleep on the bed with them, or to simply find a quiet corner somewhere for the night. A new cat is not going to be in love with you on the first day, so forget about sharing your bed for now. There are exceptions, but don't insist on it. If it happens, just appreciate it. Always give kitty some time to make the decision to join you, if that's what you want.

Be sure to let him see where he is allowed to sleep. Set up a box, a basket, or a shelf with a towel or fluffy mat for comfort. Sprinkle a little catnip on it to help create some interest, and place the bed in a low-traffic location in your home. Cats value privacy, quiet and security. Even a "wild and crazy" cat needs to get away from the excitement now and then to relax and feel safe.

3. Not providing identification. Many people believe their indoor cats do not need an ID tag. That's true... most of the time. However, many cats have escaped from the house without a collar, tag or any means of identification. Most of them come back inside in a little while, but once in a while, one becomes lost or injured, or frightened, and does not come back.

There is a saying in the rescue community: "Ninety-five percent of pets with no identification are never returned, but ninety-five percent of those with ID are reunited with their owners." It's a loose "statistic," but the concept is valid. Another sad fact is that more effort is made to return a dog than a cat. To be safe, cats should have some identification, even if they are strictly indoors.

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