The Domestic Cat

Even after thousands of years of living with humans, the domestic cat maintains an independent manner. The cat can be a playful, affectionate pet, but it retains its dignity and cannot be subdued by punishment. With praise and gentle supervision, however, a cat can be trained into forming good habits.

The Scottish foldThe Scottish fold is a domestic cat with a natural mutation to its ears.

Domestic cats may weigh from 6 pounds (2.7 kg) to more than 30 pounds (13.6 kg). They may live for more than 20 years. Cats can be any one of various colors or combination of colors. Many cats have tabby patterns, characterized by dark stripes on a lighter background; black and gray tabbies are especially common. Solid colors include black, red, white, silver, blue, gray, orange, and cream. The eyes may be yellow, green, hazel, orange, copper, or blue. Some cats have eyes of two different colors.

The young are born about two months after mating. There are usually four or five kittens in a litter, but there may be as many as nine. The young are completely helpless at first, with their eyes tightly closed. The eyes open within 8 to 10 days after birth. The kittens are nursed for about two months. Kittens can be taken from their mother when they are 10 to 12 weeks old.

Most veterinarians recommend that both kittens and adult cats be fed commercially prepared cat food, which is more nutritious for cats than food meant for humans. Dry cat food is generally more nutritious than moist (canned) food. Kittens should be fed a high-protein, high-calorie food two or three times a day. After a cat is about 12 months old, it should be fed only once a day, with regular cat food. Many cats like to nibble at food periodically throughout the day; these cats should always have some dry food available to them. Fresh, clean water should always be available to a cat.

Cats not intended for breeding purposes should be neutered. If the cat is to be kept indoors, it should be provided with a litter box, a tray containing a sandlike material (litter) in which the cat deposits and buries urine and feces. Kittens should be confined to the litter box area until they begin to use the box. Most cats older than three months use the litter box readily. A fixed, padded post for the cat to scratch on will help to keep it from scratching on furniture.

All cats shed to some extent. They should be brushed and groomed often to keep them attractive and comfortable. Grooming is also important to minimize the amount of hair cats swallow when they lick their hair to clean themselves. Most experts agree that cats should not be given a bath unless they become extremely dirty. Cats, like other animals, are subject to a number of diseases and disorders. These are best treated by a veterinarian. Attention to diet, however, will prevent many disorders.

Why Does a Cat Twine Itself Around Your Ankles?

Your cat sometimes acts as if it is trying to trip you up. As you are walking, your cat won’t stop twining itself around your ankles. At other times, your cat keeps bumping your face with its head. It seems as if your cat is just trying to tease you.

But a cat is actually doing something important as it circles your ankles or bumps you. These behaviors are called bunting. When a cat is bunting, it is marking you with a scent made in glands in its face. You can’t smell it, but cats can. A cat does this to claim you as its property, or territory. Your cat is saying, “You belong to me.”

How Can You Make Your Home Safe for a Cat?

Some things in or around your house that seem perfectly harmless can be a danger to a curious cat. Here are some tips to keep your feline friend safe:

Keep windows closed or screened so your pet is kept safe inside.

Keep the doors of cupboards, appliances, and closets closed to prevent your cat from getting shut inside. If you have an aquarium, make sure the hood is closed on it at all times.

Keep electrical wires hidden—some cats may chew them.

Never leave scraps of ribbon, string, dental floss, tinsel, or thread where a cat can reach them—cats may eat them and these items can badly harm a cat.

Keep all medicines and chemicals out of reach.

Don’t grow plants that are toxic to cats in your house.

What Basic Equipment Is Needed for a Cat?

Your cat needs a litter box and litter. If you have more than one cat, you need at least one litter box for each. You will need a litter scooper.

You need food and water dishes for your cat. You may also want to get your cat a bed, though many cats prefer to sleep on a comfy chair, in a cozy corner, or on your bed.

A scratching post or scratching pad is essential. A nail trimmer and a grooming brush are also necessary items.

Your cat should have a collar (with a quick-release catch) and an I.D. tag. You will need a cat carrier for travel and veterinary visits.

Finally, a basic cat first-aid kit can be purchased at most pet stores.

What Are Some Common Signs of Illness in Cats?

Any obvious pain or distress is a cause for concern. Also, any behavior that is not normal for your cat may be a sign that it is not feeling well. For instance, if your cat growls at you or bites at you without reason, it may be unwell. Or if your normally friendly cat hides from you, it could be ill. When in doubt, call your vet’s office to discuss your concerns.

Here are some of the common signs of illness:

Diarrhea or repeated vomiting in a cat. (All cats occasionally vomit, especially after eating grass, but repeated vomiting is not normal.)

Wheezing sounds when breathing, or any other sign that a cat is having trouble breathing.

A cat excessively scratching itself, especially if the scratching has caused sores.

A cat refusing food and/or water.

What Routine Veterinary Care Is Needed?

Routine visits to the vet will help your cat to stay healthy and live a long, happy life. Cats need immunizations (shots) against viruses, including rabies and feline leukemia virus complex. They should also have a checkup at least once a year. Older cats usually have checkups more often; if your cat is 10 years or older, ask your vet about this.

Parasites can be a problem for cats. Your Siamese may develop internal parasites, such as roundworms or tapeworms. Or it may develop external ones, such as fleas or ticks. Your vet can diagnose and treat these conditions.

Regular, monthly medication is often recommended to prevent heartworm infections, caused by a type of parasite.

What Are Your Responsibilities as an Owner?

As an owner, it is your responsibility to make sure your cat gets routine veterinary care. You should also watch for any signs of illness so that problems are promptly brought to the vet’s attention. In addition, you should have your cat spayed or neutered.

You must feed your cat at regular times and make sure it always has fresh water. You should not leave your cat alone for long periods.

You must guard your cat’s safety. If you plan to let your pet outside, make sure it is in an enclosed area from which your pet cannot escape. Your cat needs a collar and I.D. tags, as well.

Finally, think carefully before you have a cat declawed. Many humane societies feel the operation, even on just the front paws, is cruel and unnecessary, and it leaves a cat defenseless should it ever escape from its home.