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Caring for your cat

Cats are wonderful pets and our feline friends can make excellent companions. It is important to think carefully about the responsibility of cat ownership before you adopt or purchase a cat or a kitten however. A cat's average lifespan ranges from 15-20 years, so needless to say, owning a cat is a long-term commitment . Speak to your local veterinarian and other cat owners to gather as much information as you can to help you make a responsible and well-informed decision.

Carefully consider the following checklist before adopting or purchasing a feline companion. Either click your way directly to your area of interest below, or study our entire page for an exhaustive summary of all that you need to know to properly care for your feline friend!



Considerations
  Choosing the purrfect cat
  Caring
  Health
  Desexing   Boarding
  The law
 

Should I adopt a cat?

Owning a cat is incredibly rewarding. As the cat's owner it is your responsibility to:

  • Microchip and register your cat.
  • Vaccinate your cat annually.
  • Consult a veterinarian if your cat gets sick or injured.
  • Maintain a proper worming and flea regime (please advise your vet before administering any medication).

In addition to this, it is necessary to provide your cat with a well balanced diet, quiet, comfortable areas to sleep as well as toys and scratching posts to encourage play and exercise. You must also take the appropriate measure to prevent your cat from wandering off the property.

While cats generally require less care than other domestic animals, the RSPCA strongly recommends that prospective cat owners consider the time, finances and the commitment to provide the standard of care a pet will need.

Before acquiring your cat it is also a good idea to check with your local council to find out about any restrictions on cat numbers and housing requirements.
 


Short or long coat?

All cats moult or lose hair throughout the year. Short haired cats such as the Russian Blue, English Shorthair or Domestic Shorthair moult less frequently than longhaired cats, so they will benefit from a weekly brush to remove excess hair.

Medium haired cats such as the Ragdoll, Balinese and Domestic medium-hair, all benefit from a brush every two to three days to remove extra hair. Long haired cats need daily grooming to maintain their long coat and breeds such as Persian, Maine Coon, Birman and Domestic long hair, need extra attention to ensure that the coat doesn’t become matted and painful.

While all cats will groom themselves, medium and long haired cats require help to maintain a coat that is free of tangles or matts. A matted coat will be painful for your cat and may require the attention of a vet who will have to sedate the cat in order to remove tangles properly. This is an expensive procedure and an unpleasant experience for your cat, so routine grooming will prove favourable.

Purebred or crossbred

While some prospective owners know precisely what they are looking for, having fallen in love with a particular breed, its temperament, look, and specific traits, others simply let themselves be won over by a cheeky grin. Regardless of whether you purchase a crossbred or purebred cat though, your new addition to the family will no doubt prove a loving and faithful companion for years to come.

Crossbred – RSPCA Adoption Centres have both purebred and crossbred cats. Crossbred cats are a nondescript breed that have resulted from a natural breeding between cats of different breeds. Crossbred cats come in many different colours, coat lengths, and temperaments.

Purebred – There are over 40 recognised cat breeds in Australia. Purebred cats are available at RSPCA Adoption Centres and breeders. Breeders can be researched online and can be met in person at cat shows. Purchasing from a breeder can involve significant costs as well as waiting lists for most breeds. It is important to ensure that your breeder is registered through a cat club as a registered breeder. The RSPCA also strongly advises against the purchase of animals through pet shops, as these businesses are often more concerned with profit rather than the long-term welfare of the animal.

Male or female

Once cats are desexed, little differentiates the male from the female. Like people, cats have their own temperament and character traits, which is prone to become more distinct after they have been desexed. Failing to desex your cat, either male or female, will prove troublesome to you, your cat and your neighbourhood. An entire tomcat will display many unwelcome habits such as spraying, calling, fighting and increased aggression. An entire female will call incessantly when she is in heat and will be very difficult to control.

By desexing your cat, you are preventing it from contributing to the very serious over-population of kittens and cats. Entire male cats run the risk of testicular cancer, abscesses caused by fighting, being hit by a car while roaming, FIV (Feline Aids) and FeLV (Feline Leukaemia virus). Entire female cats have a greater risk of breast cancer and can develop pyometra (infection of the uterus), and can contract FIV and FeLV from an infected male. Some entire females will often go off their food when they are in heat (which happens several times a year). Entire males will roam the neighbourhood looking for a female to mate with. When your cat has been desexed, its mind is no longer set on finding a partner and will consequently display more interest in taking part in the family.

If you already have a cat at home - it is recommended you choose a cat of the opposite gender to your own, since cats of opposite genders will generally get along better and be less inclined to display territorial behaviours such as spraying.

Cat or kitten

While kittens, playful and exuberant by nature, are a lively addition to any household, cats, more independent and self-sufficient, are equally loving and can be perfectly suited to those in search of a more relaxing companionship. In order to find a suitable match to your own individual needs and lifestyle, the choice between purchasing a cat or kitten should take into consideration a number of points:

Kitten
  • Benefits
    Kittens are playful, energetic and provide excellent companionship. Having a lifespan of generally 15-20 years, they can grow up with your children as exceptional playmates. They are adaptable to new environments and can be easily trained to become indoor pets.

  • Diadvantages
    While kittens can be allowed outdoors at five months of age, they must be supervised to avoid injury until 10 months old. Owning kittens requires much patience, time and commitment. They must be litter-trained, supervised around young children and other animals (to avoid bites and scratches), and require company, attention and playtime. Before they are properly trained, kittens can also be destructive to household furniture; so if you are looking at owning a kitten, it is important to anticipate and prepare for these basic requirements. Also to consider is the fact that as kittens are still developing, their personality can change as they get older.


Adult cat

  • Benefits
    Adult cats generally settle into new homes much quicker and are great for families with young children as they are less likely to scratch or bite. Best of all, because they already have formed personalities they are ready to start giving you love the moment you meet them. It is much easier to match adult cats to varied lifestyles.

  • Diadvantages
    While kittens can be trained, it may prove more difficult to correct behavioural problems in an adult cat and it may also take longer for the cat to adapt to a new environment. If you chose to adopt a cat from an RSPCA Adoption Centre, we may not have background information and it may take you a little while to set new daily routines. That said however, though it may take a bit more time for the cat to become accustomed to its new environment, with love and care it will no doubt flourish into a faithful and indispensable part of the family.

Which breed?

With over 40 recognised breeds in Australia, it is about finding a cat that best suits your lifestyle.

If you want an outgoing chatty cat, then an oriental breed such as Siamese, Tonkinese, Burmese or the newer Bengal is probably what you are after. If you prefer a quieter cat, then the Birman, Ragdoll, British Blue, Russian Blue or Scottish Fold would suit a quieter household. If luxurious long hair strikes your fancy, and you have the time for grooming, then you will definitely love the Persian, Chinchilla or Maine Coon.

Crossbred cats can have characteristics of many breeds and come in many different colours. When choosing your cat, it is important to take into consideration the cat that bonds with you most. While you may want the black smoke Maine Coon, it might be the tabby that chooses you instead!
 




Bringing your cat home

Before you bring your cat to its new home, there are a few items you need to acquire in preparation for its arrival.
These include:
  • Selection of food (wet and dry).
  • Water and food bowl.
  • Basket or bed.
  • Grooming brush.
  • Scratching post.
  • Litter tray with litter.
  • Toys.
  • Housing.

It doesn’t take much to make a cat happy. All they need is a comfortable chair, box or basket in a place where they feel safe and protected. They will usually find a corner that suits them best no matter how carefully you plan. Before you bring your cat or kitten home, it is necessary to consult your local council and enquire about its regulations regarding housing restrictions. Some councils have introduced restrictions on cats such as night curfews, compulsory containment within a property and compulsory desexing. It is important that you find out what these requirements are before you bring your new cat home.

As more councils introduce compulsory containment and night curfews, increasingly more people are turning to the use of cat enclosures to keep kitty safe. These enclosures are not cages, but safe and enjoyable areas where your cat can play all day and night without danger to themselves or the wildlife. There are many companies which build both custom and flat-pack enclosures and they are easy to set up and maintain.

The cat uses its claws for climbing and to defend itself, and usually keeps them in immaculate condition. Cats with access to the outdoors sharpen their claws on trees in the garden. Some however, prefer household furniture to tree trunks, and the resultant damage can be severe. To prevent your favourite sofa being scratched, it is best to provide them with an alternative. A scratching post can be purchased from a range of outlets (including RSPCA Adoption Centres) for your cat to use. If you do see your cat scratching furniture, it is a good idea to pick him up with a firm 'no’, place him on the scratching post and reward him for scratching on the post. Animals learn through positive reinforcement, so rewarding them for using the scratching post will soon change their habit of using the sofa. If this method proves unsuccessful, some cats respond well to attractant sprays and deterrent adhesive tape which attract the cat to scratch (attractant sprays) or not to scratch (deterrent tape) in a particular area. In general, a cat should have access to the house and its sleeping quarters at all times, day or night. A cat door fitted into an external door of the house is a very useful aid, and if properly installed is burglar-proof. The cat should always be contained indoors, or in an enclosure, at night. It is also important to note that cats who spend more time outdoors are increasingly likely to become injured or become a nuisance. Indoor cats in fact have longer life spans and lead healthier lives.

Litter

Cats are the most fastidious of animals, liking to be clean at all times. As a consequence, cats are easily house-trained to a litter tray filled with dry earth, sand, or cat litter.

Litter trays should be placed in a secluded area that provides some privacy for the cat when toileting; the laundry is often the area of choice. The litter tray should be cleaned daily (removal of faeces) and the litter changed frequently. Depending on a number of variables (such as the type and amount of littler used, how many cats access the tray, whether the cat is an indoor cat or one who toilets both indoors and out), the frequency the litter should be changed will vary according to each individual households particular needs. Cats will not toilet in an unclean tray, so keeping it clean will reduce the chance of inappropriate toileting in the rest of the house.

Exercise

All cats need to exercise. If your cat has access to the outdoors, they will have multiple opportunities to exercise (on trees, fences, etc). If you have an indoor cat, a large scratching post or ‘kitty gym’ will be the best way to go. Cats naturally like to be up high and commonly enjoy perching themselves on tables, benches, backs of chairs and occasionally the tops of doors. A cat tree can however prove an effective alternative if you're not keen on having your cat lounge on the furniture. Cat enclosures also create a great opportunity for your cat to be up high and safely away from neighbourhood cats. Placing cat runs in high places, such as under eves and on top of garages, allows your cat to survey its territory while in the safety of its enclosure.

Grooming

Almost all cats require grooming assistance from their owners. Grooming time can be an enjoyable bonding time with your cat and is something that you should start when the kitten first comes home. Short haired cats are able to groom themselves adequately, except at moulting time when assistance from the owner by brushing may be necessary. This usually means weekly grooming to remove excess hair, which would normally litter the house or could contribute to fur balls/hairballs.

Long haired cats require daily grooming by their owners. This can be time-consuming, but a routine should be established as soon as the kitten comes home. By maintaining a good grooming schedule you will have a happier cat and will not need a vet’s assistance with matted or tangled fur.

Cats are fastidious about cleaning. Through this cleaning, the loose fur is swallowed and goes through the internal system as food would. Regular brushing helps to reduce the amount of hair being swallowed by the cat during grooming. However, as medium and longhaired cats have so much hair, it is common for the formation of a hair mass to occur. This usually happens in the oesophagus and often is seen as an elongated cylinder of matted fur, usually referred to as a fur ball. During the moulting season it may be necessary to give a teaspoonful of paraffin oil mixed with food, or a proprietary product once a week to prevent this. There is also dry food designed specifically to assist with the reduction of hairballs (which can be purchased at RSPCA Adoption Centres). It is important that if you have a medium or longhaired cat that you are aware of hairballs as they can cause appetite and weight loss, and in a worst case scenario, result in surgery.

Unlike dogs, you should not need to bath a cat. However if you do, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • With the exception of some breeds, most cats do not usually like water or baths.
  • Bathing a cat is a two-person activity which should be done in a warm room (bathroom or laundry) using warm water and cat shampoo (or baby no tears) and it is advisable to wear gloves.
  • If you have a short haired cat, you can give them a bran bath, which is a non-water-based bath.
  • Simply take, 170g plain bran (found in the health food section of the supermarket) and warm thoroughly in a moderate oven. The bran should then be rubbed with your fingers onto the coat of the cat in the direction of the natural growth; left on for a few minutes and then gently brushed out with a slicker wire brush. White or light-coloured short haired cats may benefit from a little talcum powder rubbed through afterwards (and removed).
  • Cats may be bathed when dirty, but gentleness must be used to prevent them from being frightened.
  • Flea control when required, is best achieved using the “spot on” product applied to the skin at the base of the neck. Again, consult your vet to obtain the most suitable product for your pet.

Feeding

Diets for cats are very demanding because of their high protein and fat requirements. Cats can easily become food fad animals, which leads to diet deficiency diseases. Cats are creatures of habit and naturally suspicious of new things, including food. However, accustoming your cat at an early age to a variety of foods can have the adverse effect of creating a fussy eater. Instead, it is recommended you accustom your kittens to a well- balanced diet, consisting of an appropriate commercially-made dry kitten food, with the inclusion of wet kitten food offered several times a day. Raw chicken wings/necks should also be given regularly to promote good dental health. In addition, it is suggested that you:
  • Feed your cat a range of wet, dry and raw food, which will ensure that all nutritional needs are met.
  • Feed little and often - most cats are grazers. It is a good idea to provide a small breakfast and dinner while allowing your cat to have access to a daily dose of dry food throughout the day. However, while allowing constant access to food, it is important to be wary of not over feeding your cat.
  • See that bowls are scrupulously clean. Also remember that if your cat is leaving food in its bowl, then you are probably feeding it too much - most cats will eat their fill in the first few minutes.
  • Don't feed cow's milk - while a lot of cats love to drink cow's milk, it's not recommended. Many cats are lactose intolerant and giving them milk will result in an upset tummy. This is especially dangerous for kittens that will dehydrate quickly. If you must give your cat milk, it is recommended you purchase special cat's milk which has been specifically formulated for cats to drink.
  • Don't feed liver only, as it leads to skeletal problems.
  • Don't feed raw meat as the sole diet; again, skeletal problems can occur.
  • Don’t feed cats dog food - feeding your cat dog food is extremely dangerous. Dog food lacks the essential nutrients taurine and arachidonic acid. Taurine deficiency can lead to blindness, and arachidonic acid deficiency can lead to dry, scaly skin. Cats require a higher protein and fat content in their diet.

Most canned and dried foods are formulated in line with your cat’s dietary requirements and the RSPCA recommends Hill's Science Diet (available at RSPCA clinics and shelters) which is well balanced and better for your cat's health. Cats must have access to fresh water at all times especially if they have a dry food diet.




Indicators of a happy and healthy cat

  • Demeanour: watchful - even at rest; quickly responsive to sounds;
  • quiet and contented.
  • Movement: free movement and agility; no lameness.
  • Appetite: good; no vomiting or diarrhoea.
  • Breathing: even and quiet.
  • Coat: clean, well-groomed and glossy; free from parasites and dirt.
  • Ears: pricked to catch sound; no discharge or irritation.
  • Eyes: clear; no discharge or inflammation.

If your cat appears unwell for any reason, consult your veterinarian.

Vaccinations

It is critical you vaccinate your cat from six to eight weeks of age to ensure it is protected from serious diseases including Feline Enteritis, a viral disease which is usually fatal. Feline Respiratory disease is instead rarely fatal and occurs as a result of infections of bacteria and viral infections and causes typical flu symptoms. Neither of these diseases affect humans.

Booster vaccinations are required and you should consult your veterinary surgeon for advice on the proper schedule.

Worming

Worming is important to keep your cat in good health. Kitten Roundworms and Tapeworms can infect cats - please consult your veterinarian for advice on a worming schedule.

Fleas

Fleas are a common external parasite of cats. They cause severe itching and inflammation of the skin leading to dermatitis. Their occurrence will vary depending on the cat's lifestyle, the number of animals in the household, and the time of the year. Preventative programs are best achieved using “spot on” products that have a prolonged residual effect; usually 30 days. If fleas are a problem, it is necessary to treat all animals, both cats and dogs, to clean the environment. You may also want to ‘flea bomb’ the house to remove any eggs and to stop the flea-egg cycle.

General illness

Cats and kittens can become ill quite rapidly - this is usually characterised by lethargy and a failure to eat or drink. If this occurs, seek veterinary advice.
 


Desexing

Female cats are desexed to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the associated problem of finding adequate homes for the kittens. Also, additional health benefits for your cat will result from desexing. Generally, desexed cats will also acquire a less temperamental disposition.

Tom cats are desexed to prevent fighting and wandering, as well as other undesirable habits such as spraying urine to mark territory.

The RSPCA supports early-age desexing, from the age of eight weeks, when the surgery is simple and the recovery is immediate. Female cats cannot be desexed when in season.

The RSPCA advocates the desexing of all cats not kept for breeding purposes.
 


Boarding your cat

When holiday time comes around it may be possible to arrange for a friend, neighbour, or relative to visit your house two or three times a day to tend to the cat. Provided such regular attention is guaranteed, this is acceptable since cats prefer to remain in their own home. It is not a good idea to move the cat to someone else's home from which it will immediately attempt an escape.

The alternative is to place your cat in a good boarding cattery. Cat owners are urged to call and inspect the cattery of their choice well beforehand so as to assess its suitability.

When choosing an establishment it is important to check the following:

  • Staffing: are there enough staff to ensure more personalised attention for your cat?
  • Feeding: what times are the cats fed during the day and if your cat has a special diet, are they able to provide that diet?
  • Security: are adequate measures taken to secure against the possibility of escape?
  • Hygiene: is there evidence of cleanliness and no smell?
  • Accommodation: is it dry, clean, and sheltered, with heating provided for cooler months?
  • And does it have an ample supply of, and access to, fresh air?
  • Exercise: are there facilities (preferably with some climbing capacity) that allow for exercise?
 

The law

It is important to contact your local Council and enquire about the full range of duties and obligations you are required to fulfil as a responsible cat owner before bringing your furry friend home.

Specifically, it is advised to enquire about cat curfews or any specific housing requirements your local council may have set, as most councils require cats to be kept indoors at night and some now require that cats be confined indoors or, when let outdoors, restricted to cat enclosures.

Any prospective cat owner should also be aware of the offences (punishable by law) proclaimed by the Victorian Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

These offences include but are not limited to:

  • Abandoning a cat.
  • Conveying a cat in circumstances involving cruelty.
  • Failure to provide drink, food or shelter for a cat.
  • Failure to provide veterinary treatment for a cat that is ill or injured.
  • Ill-treating, injuring, tormenting or torturing a cat.
  • Killing a cat in a cruel, unlawful, or malicious manner.
If you suspect animal cruelty, report it to the RSPCA or Victoria Police immediately.
 


 
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