NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 9, 2012

Paw Prints: Take care when welcoming a new cat

Paw Prints Heidi Bassler
veterinarian

---- — There comes a day when every feline fancier finds a new furry friend. Whether Fluffy is a kitten or an adult cat, welcoming this kitty into your home is a special experience for both of you.

For the new family member, this can also be an intimidating time. Your Fluffy is lucky to be adopted into your loving home, but everything is new to him. Put yourself in his paws and think like a cat. That will help him adjust to your home and bond with you.

Does the age of your new feline friend matter to you? Little kittens are cute, but they are also rambunctious and full of energy. Kittens need lots of play time and can be more destructive at home than adult cats. The first few months of life are important for socialization. These little felines benefit from gentle guidance with new experiences and lots of human contact.

Adult cats can make terrific companions. They are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be your pet. Adult cats can be calmer. But they also come with their preferences. If they haven’t already had positive social experiences with children or pets, they may not be willing to be a good sport about this in your home. Adult cats are also more likely to come with pre-existing health issues, so be sure to get whatever medical history you can and take this to your veterinarian.

Your new cat will need and seek social time with you every day. That includes all the fun stuff, like holding, patting, snuggling and playing together with toys.

Will Fluffy go outdoors or will he be indoors exclusively? Statistically, indoor cats live longer, healthier lives. But indoor cats need creative mental stimulation. Placing big cat furniture at windows with a bird feeder outside can help.

Outdoor cats can have a blast with their hunting games. But the tables can turn, and kitty may become prey for a coyote. Other constant risks are cars, fleas, cat fights and infections such as feline AIDS and feline leukemia.

Decide which environment is best for your new pet. Once a cat becomes accustomed to the great outdoors, it can be difficult to teach him to stay inside.

Do you have other cats at home? You may think Miss Whiskers would like a buddy, but predicting which cats are going to get along can be difficult. Some cats prefer to be loners or may like one cat but not another. Forcing a relationship can lead to long-term behavioral problems.

Other pets, such as dogs, can create a different dynamic. Some cats get along with dogs but not cats or vice versa. These preferences are usually shaped early in their lives.

Shortly after adoption, it’s time to take your new cat to meet your veterinarian. Bring any medical history, so that Fluffy’s doctor can make sure that everything is up-to-date. Vaccines should be current, feline AIDS and leukemia statuses known and a parasite prevention program started.

Some cat worms can also spread to people, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends regular deworming to help protect the humans in the house.

Ask your veterinarian to recommend an appropriate diet for your cat. There is a lot of information available on the Internet and from pet stores, some of which may be more marketing hype than beneficial for your animal. Your veterinarian is trained in pet nutrition and should be able to guide you to sensible food choices for your cat.

Cats are easy to litter train, but may have potty preferences. Some prefer one kind of litter over another. In general, clumping and unscented litter is most readily accepted. Have the box in a handy location. The basement might be convenient for you, but Fluffy may not want to go into the scary basement with the noisy furnace. Think about it from the cat’s perspective. Make the litter fun and easy to use in order to minimize accidents.

Some cats also prefer uncovered boxes, while others like their privacy. Have one more litter box than there are cats.

Plan to train Fluffy to tolerate basic healthy handling. Regular brushing will minimize shedding and enhance your bond. Everyone can learn to clip their cat’s nails. If you need guidance, your veterinary team is happy to oblige. Even daily tooth brushing is something Fluffy can be taught.

Last but not least, cat-proof your home. Remove strings, ribbons, rubber bands and crafts. Kittens love to play with these items and may accidentally eat them. Cats may even swallow sewing needles that are attached to strings. Be careful with poisonous plants. Lilies are extremely toxic and should be avoided in cat-friendly homes.

With careful planning, your new feline friend will be a happy companion for years to come.

---

Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital (www.BasslerVet.com). She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on AM-1450 WNBP. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to heidibasslerdvm@comcast.net.