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Complete Guide To Owning A Cat in 2021

Have you got a cat but don’t know the first thing about caring for one?

There’s a lot of advice on the internet about what to feed a cat and how to keep them healthy.

Unfortunately, we don’t speak cat, so it’s hard to know what our feline friends are thinking and saying.

Let me help solve that for you with this complete guide to owning a cat.

Guide to owning a cat

In this article, I’ll go into detail about all areas of the cat-owning department.

I’ll talk about cat topics such as what food to feed your cat, exercise, play, weight control, flea management, and other cool cat facts.

My name is Derrick, and I write for Simply Cat Care. Our goal with this website is to help cat owners learn more about taking care of their cats.

I am not a veterinarian and I recommend seeking the advice of a vet for any further questions relating to your cat’s health.

Let’s get into the article.


1. Guide To Owning A Cat: Feeding Your Cat

Not sure what to feed your cat?

I’ll give you everything you need to know to get started with your cat’s food in this primer.

I’ll talk about what cats need for health, how to find the best product for your budget, preparing homemade cat food, and solutions for common problems such as allergies and hairballs.

Let’s go!

1.1. What Do Cat’s Eat?

Cat’s are obligate carnivores.

This means cats must eat meat to survive in the wild.

Cat’s eat a diet based on animal foods including muscles, organs, and bones. In the wild, cats eat a diet of small prey such as birds and mice.

Without the intervention of man (i.e. providing supplements or synthetic nutrients), a cat cannot live.

Cat’s aren’t able to meet their nutritional needs from plant-based foods such as grains, fruit, and vegetables.

1.2. What Makes A Cat Different From A Dog?

Dogs are omnivores whilst cats are true carnivores.

A common mistake is feeding cats a diet designed for dogs.

Being omnivores, dogs eat a diet of both meat and plant-based foods such as grains and vegetables.

They are able to digest the nutrients from these foods with more ease than cats.

For example, dogs can get Vitamin A from beta-carotene, a nutrient high in pumpkins and carrots.

On the other hand, cats must eat animal sources of vitamin A (e.g. liver, egg yolks) otherwise they develop a deficiency without the intervention of man (i.e. synthetic vitamin supplements).

1.3. What Should I Feed My Cat?

There are three main types of cat foods on offer:

  • Wet canned cat food
  • Dry cat food (kibble)
  • Homemade cat food

The best food in most cases is commercial wet canned cat food.

The main reasons for this are:

  • Higher moisture for healthy kidney and urinary health
  • Fewer hard-to-digest plant ingredients
  • Higher quality protein sources for muscle strength and mobility
  • Complete range of nutrients for optimal growth and health
  • Less calorically dense than dry cat food which helps with weight control

Dry cat food is lower in moisture and higher in calories compared to the same weight as wet canned cat food.

If your cat only gets dry kibble they may be at risk of painful urinary health blockages because cats don’t tend to drink enough water.

When looking for quality canned wet cat food, look for the following in the tin:

  • Animal based protein sources (e.g. chicken, fish, turkey, beef, duck)
  • Preferably no animal by-products (e.g. meat by-products)
  • A moderate amount of fat (25% on a dry matter basis)
  • A low level of carbohydrate (<10% on a dry matter basis)
  • Calcium carbonate or added bones for calcium balance
  • High moisture content (75-85%)
  • AAFCO approved for all life stages
  • No carageenan
  • Preferably no gums

1.4. Is A High Carbohydrate Diet Bad For Cats?

It might be.

In the wild, a cat does not eat carbohydrates.

This is because they eat small prey such as rodents and birds. These animal sources are high in protein and fat from the muscle, organs, and bones.

Wild and undomesticated cats consume a macronutrient intake of 52% protein, 46% fat, and 2% carbohydrate getting the majority of moisture from prey.

When offered a range of dry and wet foods simultaneously, cats will regulate their food intake towards a diet that reflects their typical carnivore diet.

The science suggests that cats are adapted to eating low carbohydrate diets.

For example, their livers convert more protein into energy than dogs or humans.

Hughes and colleagues suggest a ‘carbohydrate ceiling‘ of 300kj (around 17g of carbohydrates) per day.

This may cause a cat to want to go outside and hunt food, or beg for additional food (e.g. meat) to top up.

1.5. What is the main difference between wet canned and dry cat foods?

Wet canned foods are lower in carbohydrates and higher in moisture than dry kibble.

Cat’s tend to eat a diet that reflects the nutrition of wet canned cat food (i.e. animal-based foods).

As a general rule, it’s easier to find good quality wet canned cat food even on a budget.

On the other hand, most budget dry cat food is loaded with grains and other carbohydrate-based foods such as legumes and potatoes.

Budget dry cat foods also tend to use more plant-based protein such as corn or soy protein instead of animal protein.

Most dry kibble choices do not reflect the diet composition cats eat in the wild.

1.6. What Is The Best Cat Food to Buy On A Budget?

I recommend wet canned cat food if you are on a budget.

You’ll be giving your cat more moisture which is important for kidney function, and reduce the risk of weight gain.

Cats may find wet canned foods easier to digest due to the higher quantity of animal-based food sources.

Budget cat foods tend to use more animal by-products which may contain various body parts, but it’s a misconception these foods contain egregious things such as feces and hooves.

By-products are mainly offcuts of meat (offal) that are less attractive as a food source. They still contain protein and nutrients your cat needs for health.

Here is a run-down of my top budget wet cat food choices:

  • Purina ONE
  • Sheba Perfect Portions
  • Fancy Feast Gourmet
  • IAMS Perfect Portions

Check out my article on the best budget cat food choices for more.

1.7. What Type of Food Do Cats Prefer: Wet or Dry Cat Food?

Research finds that when given a choice, cats prefer wet canned foods over dry kibble.

Hughes and colleagues tested this by offering cats dry and wet foods in a series of tests.

When left to their own devices, cats chose wet foods 80-85% of the time.

Cats opted for this ratio of wet to dry foods regardless of the number of bowls of each food offered (e.g. three dry plates vs one wet cat food plate).

The dry food with the highest concentration of carbohydrates (52% on a dry matter basis) was the least preferred food.

I recommend avoiding a 100% dry cat food diet for this reason, and opting for at least 50% or more wet canned food in the diet.

Additionally, selecting a lower carbohydrate dry cat food is a better option for cats.

Most dry cat foods range widely in carbohydrate content, so take the time to compare the dry matter basis carbohydrate of dry kibble and look for one on the lower side if using this food option (e.g. Nulo Freestyle is 20% carbohydrate on a dry matter basis, whilst similar competing brand Blue Buffalo True Solutions is 30%).

Research finds that cats prefer a macronutrient sweet spot of 52% protein, 36%, and 12% carbohydrate.

This arrives at a dietary intake of 26g/day protein, 9g/day fat, and 8g/day of carbohydrate.

If you give your cat a diet of mostly wet canned cat foods, this should fall around this range.

Keep in mind, cats have neophobia which means they need time to warm up to new foods. If you are feeding your cat a 100% dry food diet, it might take time to introduce wet foods into the diet.

Take a slow gradual approach by increasing the amount of wet food over the course of 1-2 weeks for best results.

1.8. Can I Give My Cat Milk?

Yes, but only in small amounts.

Cat’s can tolerate only small amounts of milk (up to 85ml).

Milk has a couple of benefits to a cats health:

  • High in calcium for strong bones
  • High in moisture for kidney health
  • High in essential amino acids to maintain strength
  • Fats for palatability and energy

Cat’s have a reduced ability to digest lactose as well as other carbohydrate foods because they lack enzymes.

Enzymes are what break down foods into nutrients for the body.

Cat’s may be able to digest small serves of milk. Do not give your cat more than 85ml of milk (about 1/4 of a cup) as this may result in digestive upsets.

Check out my guide to milk for cats for more.

1.9. Should I Feed My Cat a Homemade Diet?

I don’t recommend a homemade diet for most people unless you use a carefully constructed recipe.

There are a few dangers of homemade diets.

Young cats are prone to developing a condition called hyperparathyroidism if fed a meat-only diet.

This results in movement difficulties, confusion, bone growth abnormalities, and at worse euthanasia.

Cat’s with the condition recover if fed a commercial diet. This problem is caused by a lack of calcium in the diet, which is a mineral found in bones and eggshells.

Can I Use Homemade Cat Food Recipes Found Online?

Probably not.

Based on research, most homemade cat food recipes online are not nutritionally balanced for cats.

In an evaluation study, 113 of 114 homemade cat food recipes failed to give enough instructions and 46 don’t provide enough feeding directions at all.

2 vets recommended feeding garlic and onion which are toxic for cats.

Most recipes are complicated with ingredients cats don’t need (e.g. rice) and missing key nutrients such as copper and zinc.

Check out my guide to homemade cat food for more help.

1.10. Should I Take Pet Nutrition Advice From a Vet?

Vets are trained professionals with a high skill set to work with animals of different shapes and sizes.

However, they may lack nutrition education in their veterinary training.

This may lead to less ability to provide pragmatic steps to clients in providing their cat an optimal diet for health and provide general recommendations.

70% of US veterinarians surveyed between 1989-1992 reported a lack of nutrition education, and 50% felt the training wasn’t sufficient.

I recommend speaking with a vet about all issues related to health but understand the limitations.

Some vets may have more nutrition education than others which depends on location and course taken.

1.11. Why Is It Difficult To Introduce New Foods to My Cat?

Research suggests cats fear new foods (this is called neophobia).

This is an evolved trait in animals and humans.

New foods may represent toxicity so animals approach new foods with caution.

What does this mean for you?

When you introduce new tastes and textures into your cat’s diet you may get rejection.

You might conclude this is a sure sign your cat hates the food and this food belongs in a shelter.

Yet, repeated exposures may help give your cat a chance to warm up to the food and grow to enjoy it.

This is why it’s important to cycle in new food slowly:

  • Start by adding a small amount of new food into the usual diet
  • Increase the amount of 1-2 weeks
  • Transition to 100% of the new food once your cat is accepting it

1.12. Should I Give My Cat A Variety of Food Choices?

Yes.

A cat experiences something called neophilia.

This is where cats get bored of eating the same things and desire new foods (I know this contradicts the neophobia).

If you eat the same meal three times a day every day of the week would you get bored?

Probably – and your cat thinks the same.

This is why you want to rotate different flavors of food to maintain interest and avoid ‘flavor fatigue’.

Variety boxes with multiple choices are a good option (remember, you’ll have to slowly introduce each new flavor to reduce harsh pushback).

1.13. Can I Feed My Cat a Vegan Diet?

Yes, in theory.

This does require a lot of care though.

Keep in mind that almost all internet homemade cat food recipes fail to give cats enough nutrients and that’s with a cat’s natural food sources.

If we can’t get that right then what are our chances with homemade vegan cat food diets?

This was highlighted in a case study of one owner’s vegan cat suffering recurring painful urinary obstructions following a homemade plant-based diet.

I don’t think a homemade cat food diet is worth attempting. There are commercial wet canned foods that may work.

I haven’t done enough research to recommend a choice so I advise you to speak with a vet about the topic.

One thing I advocate for is giving your cat a choice. If you do wish to attempt a vegan cat food diet, give your cat the choice to eat vegan and/or animal-based foods rather than give a cat no choice.

1.14. What Should I Feed My Cat With Diabetes?

Diabetic cats appear to benefit from high protein and calorie-controlled diets.

A high carbohydrate diet increases insulin insensitivity and may lead to poor sugar control.

Cats fed a high protein low carb diet may help diabetic cats not need treatment.

One randomized controlled trial compared a moderate carbohydrate (Hill’s prescription w/d canned) and a low carbohydrate (Hill’s Science Diet Feline Growth) for diabetes control.

The study recruited 63 cats in total and followed the 16-week feeding trial.

The cats were divided into two groups getting either product (low carb vs moderate carb).

Researchers ensured each cat received 60-65 kcal/kg/day.

Participants were told to feed their cats their respective food allotments in two feeding sessions at 12-hour intervals along with their insulin. If cats experienced hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), their insulin dose was decreased 1 unit at a time.

The results?

Both foods improved diabetes control but the low carbohydrate diet was more effective.

68% of low carbohydrate-fed cats discontinued insulin compared to 41% of moderate carbohydrate-fed cats.

What’s interesting about this study is the low carbohydrate food was a kitten food and the moderate carbohydrate food was a prescription product marketed for diabetes control.

In other words, kitten food performed better than food marketed for diabetes.

Why did the kitten food get better results?

A lot of cat food is marketed with labels.

What matters is the nutrients and ingredients in the tin.

In the above study, the kitten food had a better nutrient quality (fewer carbohydrates).

This is one peculiarity about the cat food market – labels don’t mean a lot.

For example, kitten food is often a better choice for senior cats than the marketed senior cat food.

This is because senior cat food is low in digestible protein and fat (which seniors have a harder time digesting in old age) and fiber (which impairs digestion) whilst kitten food has a lot of protein and also important minerals such as calcium for kidney health (which is important for senior cats).

Check out my guide to the best senior cat food choices to learn more.

1.15. Do Functional Foods Benefit A Cat’s Health?

Functional foods aren’t beneficial to cats.

A few substances have been studied, whilst many others haven’t been researching in cats and are speculative at best.

Some functional foods don’t benefit cats:

For example, rice bran (26% on a dry matter basis) to a cat’s diet reduces the absorption of taurine in the diet.

Taurine is an essential amino acid. A deficiency in taurine leads to heart and eye-related health issues.

1.16. How Do I Treat Constipation in Cats?

Constipation is a difficult medical problem that may be treated with diet.

However, sometimes cats need medical attention as there are a variety of reasons for constipation.

Constipation is characterized by your cat having a harder time defecating in the litter box and producing a harder-to-pass stool.

You may also see a reduced frequency of litter box usage.

Note: This is a good reason why it’s important to keep track of your cat’s general toileting habits so you can update your vet if you notice any changes.

What is constipation?

Constipation is a problem where motility is reduced.

Motility is the process of stool moving through the small intestine and colon through the rectum.

This process is performed via the smooth muscles of the intestinal wall.

Think of your gut like a toothpaste tube and motility being you squeezing the tube up to try to get out some of the toothpaste.

When stool moves slower it tends to dehydrate making the stool drier and harder to pass.

Since this process is controlled by automatic muscle contractions, anything interfering with the nerves may shut down motility.

Dietary therapy involves substances intended to try to stimulate muscle contractions by increasing the size of the stool (bulking agent), soften stools for easier passage.

Why Do Cats Get Constipated?

Here are some reasons your cat is constipated:

  • Previous constipation
  • Ageing
  • Obesity
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Medication
  • Hairballs

Older cats fed fiber-rich diets that are low in energy may experience constipation.

This might be due to age-related changes in motility and the fiber increasing size of the stool.

What Are Some Dietary Solutions To Constipation?

One solution to constipation is beet pulp.

Beet pulp contains pectin (20% by weight) which is fermentable soluble fiber.

Soluble fibers increase the water in the intestine after being fermented.

This leads to more water entering the stool and softening the stool for passage. Another benefit of beet pulp is it creates a gel-like consistency which basically lubricates the stool for easier passage.

Adding 10% dry matter beet pulp to a cat’s diet increases the water content of feces from 55 to 76%.

A low residue diet is may help reduce the size of the stool for easier passage. Foods containing less insoluble fiber (bulking fiber) help to reduce the size of the stool.

Too much cellulose (over 10% on a dry matter basis) may lead to mild constipation due to drying out the stool and making it too large and hard to pass.

A smaller amount of cellulose may help ease hairballs, so for constipation cellulose is probably best avoided but may be worth trying for hairballs and vomiting.

Check out my cat food guide for hairball control and my guide to the best cat food for constipation for more.

1.17. How Often Should I Feed My Cat?

In the wild, cat’s hunt down and eat 12 small animals (mainly rodents) to meet their nutritional needs.

This suggests that cats would benefit from smaller and more frequent meals as opposed to a couple of big meals during the day.

Some sources suggest a human-like meal plan of 2-3 meals a day, but there’s no evidence to support this claim.

That said, it’s reasonable to give meals similar to human times to make them easier to remember.

I recommend feeding your cat as many small meals as practical without exceeding dietary calorie needs.

Check out my guide to how often to feed your cat for more.

1.18. How Do I Get a Fussy Cat to Eat More?

Getting a fussy cat to eat more is hard work but let’s fix that.

One thing you can do to improve your chances is to heat your wet canned foods.

Try to heat the food to around 35-40 degrees celsius to increase smell and taste.

Cat’s have a strong sense of smell which they use to sniff whether the food is good to eat or not.

You might notice your cat start the meal by sniffing the food to check it for smell approval.

Cats being averse to off-smelling meats. A dead carcass produces chemicals which cats are sensitive to and put off by.

This is why fresh meats get tend to get better smell results and thus taste approval.

This is also why cooking a big steak or chicken that leaves a strong aroma might send your cat into a meltdown.

Taste and texture influence dietary intake as well as particle size.

Check out my guide to the best-wet cat food for picky eaters to learn more.

1.19 Which Brand of Cat Food Do You Recommend For My Cat?

There’s a lot of great commercial cat food brands, but the best choice for you depends on your budget and needs.

Here are some cat food reviews to look at to learn more:

2. Guide To Owning A Cat: Learning About Cats

Want to learn more cool stuff about cats?

Learning more about cats will help give you a better understanding of your cat.

Check out my guides below to learn more about all things cat-related.

3. Guide To Owning A Cat: What Can I Do About Fleas?

Does your cat have a flea problem?

Fleas are an annoyance for many cat owners and the bane of their existence.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of things that solve the problem.

3.1. What Is The Best Way to Kill Fleas?

The best way to kill up to 96% of the adult cat flea population is to vacuum every surface of your house thoroughly.

Dusting and changing bedding frequently also help control the flea population.

This is the first step to controlling fleas and comes before topoical flea medication.

Check out my guide to stopping fleas in their track here.

3.2. Can I Use Home Remedies To Kill Fleas?

Most home remedies don’t help get rid of fleas.

This includes essential oils, which are potentially dangerous for cats.

Home remedies seem like the ideal solution for many people as a ‘non-toxic’ way of keeping fleas at bay.

There are a lot of natural flea treatments that promise to get rid of fleas in a natural way.

The problem is they don’t have the research to support their usefullness and safety.

Check out my guide to home remedies for fleas to learn more.

3.3. What Flea Collar Helps Get Rid of Fleas?

A cat flea collar for your cat is an aggressive strategy for treating fleas.

I recommend this after trying to solve the problem with vacuuming, cleaning, and combing treatments.

If you still can’t help the fleas under control, then a flea collar is worth looking at with the help of vet.

The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Cats is one of the best choices for flea control on the market.

The active ingredient of imidacloprid with a combination of flumethrin is a powerful treatment for killing fleas and ticks.

This is a controversial option as some cat owners report contact dermatitis along their cats neck.

This is a pricier option to try, however the product has ingredients proven to work.

The active ingredient in this flea collar targets the nervous system of invertebrates (fleas and ticks). In other words, the ingredient targets fleas and ticks by disabling them.

Speak with your vet to learn more about the best options for your cat and read my article on the best cat flea collars to learn more.

4. Guide To Owning A Cat: What is The Best Cat Litter For My Cat?

The best cat litter is one your cat likes using.

Cat litter is your cats way of using the toilet.

This is an essential tool for an indoor cat to have the ability to relieve themselves without needing to go outside and alerting their owner.

It also prevents you from having poos littering your backyard, and kept in a tray.

There are a lot of types of cat litter on the market which include:

  • Clumping clay litter
  • Tofu cat litter
  • Pine cat litter
  • Crystal cat litter

Many litters promise benefits over the others, but at the end of the day a cat litter is a cat litter.

The quality of litter depends on the brand as well as the type.

Generally, clumping clay litter is fine as long as you don’t have respiratory problems.

Some people get better results with tofu or pine cat litter because the larger pieces track less.

However, pine and tofu litters need a sifting cat litter tray to remove the ‘sawdust’ waste after urine contact. Clumping clay litter works with any basic cat litter tray which saves costs.

Check out my guide to the best tofu cat litter to learn more about whether this option helps with tracking.

4.1. How Do I Train a Kitten To Use a Litter Tray?

Training a kitten to use their litter tray isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Here are my top tips for kitten litter training:

  • Get two or more litter boxes and place them in convienent locations
  • Encourage your kitten to use the toilet with food treats
  • Use attractive smells like catnip to further encourage litter box usage.
  • Clean the litter box daily to make it easy to use
  • Track your kittens usage and report to the vet if you have any problems

Read my short guide to training a kitten for the litter tray to learn more.

4.2. What Type of Litter Tray Do I Need For My Cat?

A basic cat litter tray usually gets the job for basic clumping clay cat litter.

A simple box with four sides works fine as long as your cat has enough room to move and climb into their tray.

Consider an elderly cat that might need a ramp or lower sides to access their tray.

There’s a couple of alternative options for cat litter:

Sifting Litter Tray

A sifting litter tray, as the name suggests, sifts bad from good litter.

Sifting litter boxes make cleaning cat litter easier and cleaner.

The most basic sifting litter tray is a three-pan system. The middle tray is a corrugated plastic insert that sifts out the litter dust and leave the clumps (waste).

The plastic insert is then disposed of and the good litter remains.

Sifting litter trays aren’t necessary but they aren’t that expensive so might be useful for some people that don’t want to get hands on with scooping out feces.

Also:

Sifting litter trays are necessary for large pellet litter like pine litter. This is because the litter breaks down into dust with urine contact and needs separation from the remaining litter.

Check out my article on the best sifting litter box to learn more.

Automatic Cat Litter Tray

This is a litter tray which is automated (as you may have guessed).

How it works is your cat uses the litter box and the waste is periodically filtered out from the good litter.

This option is quite a bit more expensive than a regular bog standard litter tray and sifting litter trays.

Automatic cat litter boxes may be useful if out of the house for extending periods (e.g. weekend work meetings).

4.3. What Is The Best Non-Tracking Cat Litter For My Cat?

Sometimes pieces of litter stick to your cats paws and spread around the house.

This is a nuisance and you may want to choose a litter that sticks less.

Results vary from cat to cat and brand to brand.

Larger cat litter options like pine litter tend to track less due to being harder to stick to the paws.

Small litter like crystal litter tend to track more.

One thing that helps reduce tracking is a litter mat which picks up litter particles around the tray.

Check out my non-tracking cat litter guide for more.

Conclusion: Guide To Owning A Cat

In this guide I’ve covered a range of topics to help you care for your cat.

This guide will help you with your cats diet, litter, fleas, and more.

With this information you’ll be able to gain confidence with your cats health and wellbeing.

After more things cat-related?

Check out our guides below for more.

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