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A Guide to Understanding Your Cat’s Basic Needs: Tips & Tricks

Cassidy Sutton

By Cassidy Sutton


Trying to be the best cat owner you can possibly be? Then this guide is for you. We’re exploring seven principles of cat care so you can go from an OK cat owner to the cat’s meow. Let’s take a dive in learning some of the most essential basics that every cat owner should know.

The Basics of Cat Care

Caring for a cat revolves around these seven principles:
  • Socialization
  • Food and Water
  • Litter Boxes
  • Enrichment
  • Grooming
  • Veterinary care
  • Body Language

If you can earn an A+ in most of these categories, your cat will be a happy, healthy kitty. You won’t score a perfect 100 because the perfect cat owner doesn’t exist. However, knowing what areas you can improve in will help you be a better cat owner overall.

Young male vet doctor holding cute black and white tuxedo cat
Photo Credit: ViJpeg, Shutterstock


The 7 Principles of Cat Care

1. Socialization

Socialization is a continuum rather than a label. Cats can move in and out of socialization degrees based on previous experiences.

Proper socialization for a cat means exposing a cat to human touch, smell, sounds, and sights in a positive way. A well-socialized cat is comfortable around most humans and human spaces and enjoys companionship. Of course, personality comes into play. Some cats are more social than others. Regardless, all cats should have some exposure to human activity.

The critical period of cat socialization is 2 to 7 weeks old. That’s a much shorter window than dogs who reach social maturity around 2 years old. This makes socialization tricky if you’re adopting a cat without knowledge of its past. With patience and respect, you can teach your cat to trust and love you in a way that suits their needs.

2. Food and Water

All cats need fresh food and water at all times.

How much you feed your cat largely depends on these three things:
  • Breed
  • Activity level
  • Food brand

Large breeds like Maine Coons require more food than a petite Domestic Shorthair. Outdoor cats are typically very active and therefore will want to eat more, but food brands vary in caloric density.

There’s a lot that goes into feeding an animal, but generally, ¼ cup twice per day is the norm for a cat to avoid the lurking housecat obesity. Regardless, you should be looking at the feeding guidelines on the packaging of the food you buy.

For water, a big bowl of fresh water offered daily will do. If you want to go the extra mile, cat water fountains are great options since cats are attracted to moving water, enticing them to drink more and minimizing bacterial growth.

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3. Litter Boxes

british shorthair cat in the litter box
Photo Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Litter boxes are the worst part of cat ownership. They’re stinky and difficult to clean. Plus, what if your cat chooses to not use the box?

Here’s the truth about cat ownership: You will, at some point, deal with a cat that won’t use the litter box. It’s something every cat owner must make peace with.

Unfortunately, litter box issues are the number one reason people surrender their cats. Litter box issues will drive you mad, but often, there’s an underlying reason, and your cat is trying to communicate this to you.

Here are some golden rules for litter boxes to help make the process easier:
  • Scoop daily
  • Try different litters (sometimes cats are picky about texture)
  • Keep litter boxes away from loud, high-traffic places
  • Pay attention to your cat’s waste
  • Offer more than one litter box

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4. Enrichment

The purpose of enrichment is to minimize fear and panic in a cat. Your home may be a loving, peaceful place, but your cat needs avenues to scratch, climb, run, and hunt. These are natural instincts hot-wired into your cat’s DNA, and they need to be able to enjoy them.

Enrichment involves these necessities: cat trees, cat-friendly plants, toys, windows, and hideaway spots. Additionally, you can take your cat on walks and build a catio so your kitty can enjoy the fresh air.

Above all, remember to play with your cat. This will strengthen your relationship, help them burn energy, and ultimately improve your cat’s overall well-being.

5. Grooming

Cats are excellent with hygiene, so you won’t have to intervene much. Still, some cat breeds require more grooming than others, such as senior cats, obese cats, and cats that participate in cat shows.

Overall, grooming care should include:
  • Brushing teeth
  • Cleaning ears
  • Trimming nails
  • Brushing fur

You can opt to do the work yourself or hire a professional groomer to do a stellar job. Veterinarians will also do nail trims for a small fee and can even teach you how to properly handle your kitty.

Note: Outdoor cats use their nails for protection and should not have their nails trimmed.

6. Veterinary Care

Veterinary doctor measuring heart rate of cute cat
Photo Credit: Denys Kurbatov, Shutterstock

Cats should visit a veterinarian once per year for vaccines, flea and tick treatment, and a nose-to-tail examination. You won’t need to update vaccines every year. However, animals age much faster than humans, so a wellness check will give you insight into your cat’s current state of health.

You can also opt for blood work for a more thorough examination. Sometimes blood work is required for certain medicines, illnesses, or surgeries, like spays, neuters, and dental cleanings.

If veterinary care is too costly, you can pay for a pet insurance premium that will cover emergencies and accidents, and potentially wellness checks, depending on the provider.

7. Body Language

Understanding your cat’s body language helps you better understand your cat’s needs and what they want at any given moment. People always talk about how cats are hard to read; that’s because people are trying to read cats like dogs.

Cats are very different from dogs in how they show their emotions. They don’t have expressive faces. Rather, cats use their eyes, ears, tails, and entire body to express how they feel.

For instance, a dog who is relaxed and happy may wag their tail, roll over on their back, and lick you. On the other hand, a cat will rub against your legs, sit in the same room with you, and perhaps sit on your lap. Often, the affection is reserved, or at least less energetic, but the same amount of emotion is still there.

Cats also use the litter box as the fifth “body language.” A cat that urinates or defecates outside the litter box is telling you that something is wrong. The problem could be medical or behavioral, so it takes some investigating, but we assure you it’s not out of spite.

Wrapping It Up

Owning a cat has its perks. No walks, potty breaks, or intense exercise and training need to take up your time. Still, just because cats are low maintenance doesn’t make them no maintenance.

After reading this guide, did you see any areas where you’re lacking? If you did, don’t worry. Caring for a pet takes practice. The important thing is you’re here and ready to improve an animal’s life.

Featured Image Credit: Andriy Blokhin, Shutterstock

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