Chris's Guide to Cat Ownership

Last Update NOV-29-2006

I love cats!  This section just might grow  to a whole book some day.  (It actually did, but was lost in the great disk crash of '99)  For now, some basic advice.

This is more basic information on how to pick out, live with, and enjoy a cat -- not for medical advice or advice about problems -- I'll just try to help you avoid the problems.

I'll give a few links at the bottom for more information about cats, including medical advice.

Do You Want a Cat?

If you want another child that has to be fed, washed, diapers changed, housed, entertained, walked, and just can't survive 10 minutes without your attention -- and you live out in the country with a whole farm to run around in -- get a dog!  If you want someone to share your house with you, keep itself clean, entertained when you can't be around, give you more affection and attention than you could ever want when you want it -- get a cat!

Note that dogs are forced by their pack mentality to form some relationship with you, and since you are bigger they will be subordinate.  Don't confuse this with affection.

Your cat was on nature's path to leading an almost solitary life.  If kittens are raised in the wild, they become "feral" cats, and will never let a human get near to them, no matter anything you do, no matter how long.  Mom tosses them out, and they become loaners.

We trick them while being around when Mom losses interest, and we become their new Mom.  They get stuck in this kitten mode for the rest of their lives.  However, they are prepared and quite capable of going off on their own and taking care of themselves.  A cat stays around and shares your company because it likes you -- not some pack mentality.

What Type of Cat?

Females are always a much better idea unless you like urine sprayed everywhere in and on your house.  Short-hair cats tend to have better dispositions than long, make less of a mess shedding, and are more active in the summer.  Then again, if you live in the Arctic, a Maine Coon Cat may be best.

Make sure you're really into the whole purebred breading scene before you get a purebred.  If not, you'll waste money and likely get a cat with a poorer disposition.  My favorite type of "mongrel" is a Calico cat -- any cat with three fur colors.  The are beautiful and almost always female.  (Looking for three-colors is easier than looking at a kitten's backside and trying to sex it.)

Inside vs. Out, Claws vs. None

Let the cat go outside.  Yes, odds are it would last longer if you kept it in.  But don't make a cat the new furniture with plastic covers that no one is allowed to sit on.  Cats are born to be outside in Nature, it runs deep into their souls.  Outside cats very rarely have eating or weight problems, rarely have behavioral problems.  They are much more healthy, and will actually live much longer if they can avoid the hazards of the world.  My first love Cleo was 22 when she was hit by a car.  And, yes, if it is just too dangerous outside due to traffic where you live, I guess you just have to keep them inside.  You'll still be giving a cat a nice home, it will still be happy.

Please, leave their claws alone, especially if you have the wisdom to let them go outside.  If they go out, they likely won't want to claw that much in the house.  Vet's do not just remove their claws -- the cut off the end of each "finger", just like if he chopped off each of your fingers at the first joint.

Do get or make them a scratching post. Carpeted posts are junk and do not work.  A nice piece of soft pine (such as a furring strip) tacked up somewhere so that the cat can stretch out full length when clawing is ideal.  If they claw anywhere else, gently pick them up and bring them to the post while talking kindly and affectionately, gently drag their claws on the post.  Wjem they scratych the post, praise them.  They will actually get a kick out of it if you approve of them scratching, they are not only sharpening their claws, it involves some sort of territory marking.


Contrary to what you might think, cats don't like soft, "fluffy" beds or places to sleep, or groom themselves, or even sit.  They like flat, smooth, hard services.  Put an album cover (if you're young enough to know what that is) out on the carpeted floor and the cat will be sitting on it immediately.  They love cardboard boxes, their perfect bed being a open cardboard box with three walls about 6" high, just big enough to fit them.  Outside, a hot flat rock surface or piece of slate heated by the sun is heaven.


I suggest giving a cat all the water it wants (obviously) and all the dry cat food it wants.  Dry food is vital for a cat's dental health.  A study showed that feeding a dry diet reduced the buildup of plaque and tartar, resulting in improved dental health.

Then give it one of those small tins of wet food once a day as its "special treat".  A good time for this is whenever they are due back in in the evening.  One of my cats would get it when she came in at 11:00 PM -- nothing if even a minute late.  She'd pop in each night somewhere between 10:55 and 10:59 each night.  Make the amount small enough that it is a snack -- make sure they still eat a lot of dry food too, or cut the treat back.

Cats eat grass all summer long if they are outdoor cats.  It's actually very good for them.  During the Winter months in the North when all the grass is gone, a cat will crave greens.  It will chew on your house plants, sometimes will eat them.  If you have one of those inside herb gardens, they will eat it whole.  There are "kitty greens" available that you water and they grow green, tender wheat or alfalfa sprouts the cat will love -- and will leave the plants alone.  Just keep it watered and the cat will keep it trimmed.  Also note that some house plants are poisonous to cats and should be kept out of their reach.

What Do Cats Do?

They sleep.  Sleep and sleep and sleep.  Domestic cats spend about 17 hours of each day sleeping, 3.5 hours each day grooming.  The other 3.5 hours they actually do something -- or are at least awake.   Inside cats eat and then sit around for this time.

The first thing in the morning an outdoor cat would like to do is tour his/her territory,  There is a specific boundary and they have a certain route that they like to follow in order to look it all over.  There will be certain trees that they will claw each time, places females will rub their cheeks on to mark with scent, males will pee on to mark.  They'll take there tour, remark all the boundaries, and then sit and soak in some nature for a bit.  Then they'll come in, get a snack, groom for a bit and go back to sleep.  A tough life.  They'll do the same before they turn in for the night.

A cat just loves to run around outside and get an appetite worked up, come in, eat a good meal, lay down and groom for a while (preferably in your lap), then fall asleep -- they just love it.  This makes the 11:00 PM special treat (above) work out very well.

The average life span for a neutered cat who is housed inside is estimated to be from 12 to 14 years. The maximum life span is said to be 35 years.


A cat will eventually explore every last nook and cranny of your house.  Be careful to block off any areas they might really get into trouble in -- like a hole in the wall under a sink where a pipe goes through, the entrance to a crawl space.   They will jump up to explore everything within their reach.  A cat can easily jump on top of a refrigerator or onto a top bunk with one leap.  (That would be like you jumping 40 feet in the air!)  There are few places they cannot reach.  They will crawl inside furniture, behind the drawers in a dresser, up inside a box foundation on a bed.

One place they will insist on jumping to is on top of each lampshade.  They won't find out it is open on top till they jump.  They will likely break a few lamps, or at least knock them over.  It's simple enough top show them the top of each lamp at some point, try to put them there -- they will wiggle and not want to go.  This will save your lamps.  (I'm 100% serious about this).


If you are moving to a new home with your cat, it's a very good idea to have the cat stay with someone till the whole move is over, all the chaos is over.  (On the other hand, it is hilarious to watch a cat when a piece of furniture is suddenly gone.  They'll walk into the room casually, see the item is gone, and stop dead in their tracks, amazed.  They walk over to where it was, stop and sniff the floor.  Then, invariably, they will walk around where it used to be, sit down right in the middle of the area, and try to puzzle things out.)

When you bring the cat to its new home, or bring  a cat home for the first time, try to have the place quiet and peaceful.  Perhaps even just you and the cat.  Bring it in and sit it down, let it look for a little bit.  Then walk around and give it a quick tour of the house, all the rooms,  It will follow you around, perhaps with a bit of encouragement, room by room.  Just stop for about 15 seconds, then on to the new room.  Make sure you go by the litter box -- stop and draw the cat's paw in the litter.  It will likely go right away.  Then end the tour wherever the cat's bowls will be, give it some water and nice food.  If the cat didn't use the litter box 1st pass, try bringing it back to it every now and then and gently pawing the litter with its paw.  Once it uses it, that will be set for life.


Talk to your cat!  No, they won't understand a word -- but they will understand your every tone.  Try to pick 10-20 words that they will recognize after a while.  Say them each in a different distinct way.  If you think they want to go out side, ask "wanna-go-out?" and let them out,  they'll get the connection.  Christy Sue knew the word "Special-Treat!" so well, one just had to hiss "Spppppp" and her eyes would go wide open.  I'd swear I can hear a rustling from her grave when I say "Chicken!" real loud. :)  Don't forget the most important word of all to teach - "No!".  When they are young you will have to get up and stop them from doing things they shouldn't.  Always say "No!" firmly when you do.  After a while it's all it will take.  I can't believe so many people have cats that don't pay attention to the word "no".

Make cats talk to you too.  The way to ask to go out is to walk over to the door and give you a meow, not by scratching.  They should walk over to the door and meow.  You say "wanna-go-out?" and they'll meow again -- open the door for them.

Training and Discipline

For the most part, your cat is going to train you, you won't be doing that much training. :)

With my current cat I was successful with something many parents think is impossible -- I only gave her positive reinforcement, never negative.  I praised everything she did that was desirable, ignored any action that I didn't want her doing.  For a tiny little mind, cats can do the very sophisticated action of knowing they are being praised or approved of, and they seek it out.  I think it how mother cats train kittens.  They love the approval -- and look quite puzzled when they don't get it.

So using just the positive I have one of the most well mannered cats with high self confidence.  People are fascinated when they meet her, she has such poise and confidence (parents take note).  But, if you must use "discipline", I'd suggest saying "No" in a firm voice and giving them a gentle tap, perhaps one finger on the top of their nose.  Now, this little brain that understood praise of of what it was doing -- it will have no idea why you swatted it.  It will never associate being swatted when it jumps up on the kitchen counter as you are saying keep off the counter.  After a while, they will figure out that if you are in the room and they jump on the counter, they get swatted.  They will just wait till you are not around.


Cats get bored very shortly by just about any toy.  Even a toy that you use to play with them will get old after a while.  But they do enjoy them while they last.  I suggest Hartz Mountain's Busy Balls for a toy.  A piece of yarn is all you need if you want to play with them.

Some cats go totally nuts over Catnip -- some don't.  Give it a try, nothing quite as silly as a cat "stoned" on Catnip.


At first this topic seemed dumb, but since I have no idea how a dog wants to be petted or treated, why should people know what cats want?  This will give you a starting point -- cats will very quickly train you to pet them as they prefer.

Always pet a cat's fur in the direction of from head to tail.  This is extra important in short-hairs that are really long-hairs with fur laid down flat.  All cats love to have their necks massaged, reminds them of when Mom would pick them up.  They love to have their cheeks and chin stroked, but try to avoid the whiskers, they rarely want them touched.  Some cats don't like to have their tail touched -- some love it.   When laying on their side, none want their upper rear-leg touched, they are protecting their soft tummy with it.  (You can see how relaxed a cat is by how much of its tummy is exposed or guarded -- laying on their back with four paws in the air is 100% relaxed.)   In general they don't want paws or ears touched -- but my current cat loves for me to play "piggies" with her toes.

Tail Brain

A cat's tail is not hooked up to the regular part of its brian.  There is sort of a "tail brain" that runs independently and moves the tail.  If a cat consciously thinks of something it needs to do, like tuck the tail out of harms way, it can.  But most of the time the tail is off in its own world.  Sort of like your lungs.  They breathe on their own, but you can take control if you need to.

Normally a wagging tail shows disapproval.  You can even get one swat of the tail every time you make a sound and disturb its sleep.  When a cat is outside, its tail will likely wag as sits.  This is not disapproval -- it is a lure to any predator that might attack from the rear, a lure to attack a non-vital part.


For a wealth of  information on cats see the Feline Information Page

Purina CatChow has a nice site at

And please, please, please -- do get them spayed or neutered.

How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You?

Comments? Questions about cats?  He's not an expert, but he does know about relationships with cats.