Guide to owning a cat

Millions of owners think cats make the purr-fect pet, but there's still a lot to know before you bring one home...Cat

Cats are independent creatures and it's easy to think they can take care of themselves.

But whilst they might be less reliant on you than, say, a dog, cats are nevertheless a big responsibility and owning one needs careful consideration.

Cats can live for a very long time, not only costing a lot of money in food, litter and pet insurance but also potentially needing added care if they become ill or get injured.

But in return cats will give you a lot of affection and can be just as loyal as dogs - even if they do think they're in charge!

How much does owning a cat cost?

There's no simple answer, but you should factor in several things when adding up the cost of owning a cat.

Items such as food, bedding and toys are essential. Cats are carnivores and so should not be given a vegetarian diet, but 'dry' cat food can be a good option.

Dry food is meat processed into biscuit format and has the advantage of staying fresh if left in your cat's bowl throughout the day. It can work out cheaper, too.

But remember that cats on a dry food diet will need more water than cats who are fed 'wet' meat and fish, as dry food contains far less moisture.

Cat owners also need to factor in the cost of routine vet care such as annual health checks, vaccinations, de-worm and de-flea treatments and dental care - not to mention the vet bills incurred if your cat becomes ill or is injured.

Having adequate pet insurance in place can save hundreds or thousands of pounds when it comes to making sure your cat gets the treatment he or she needs.

Yet almost three quarters of cat owners aren't covered. Research by data analysis group Datamonitor shows that, whilst almost half of dog owners took out insurance for their pooch in 2012, only 27% of cat owners did the same.[1]

If you think the monthly premium for cat insurance is too expensive, think again about whether you can afford a cat.

You might get a better deal than you think by using Gocompare.com's price comparison service and it could save you a small fortune if your cat uses up one of its nine lives.

Pet prosperity

As with other animals, cat owners have a duty of care to provide five welfare needs to their pet. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, you must take reasonable steps to make sure they have:

Cats are very clean animals by nature and will become distressed if they don't have their own space to go to the toilet
  • A suitable environment
  • A suitable diet
  • The chance to display normal behaviour patterns
  • Suitable housing with, or apart from, other animals as appropriate
  • Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease

Again, think in the long term. It might seem easy to meet these needs in the case of a small, cute kitten, but you might decide it's a different matter to provide the same care to an older cat with health problems.

Health and safety

By the time you bring your new cat home, you'll probably have a good idea about whether he or she will be used for breeding.

There are thousands of unwanted kittens and cats in the UK, so think carefully about allowing your cat to have a litter.

If you don't want this to happen, it's wise to get your cat spayed or neutered before letting him or her outside, if this hasn't already been done.

Grooming can be a lovely experience for your cat and can increase the bond between you

Your kitten will also need vaccinations against common cat diseases at about nine and 12 weeks, as well as boosters once a year.

And although some people think that microchipping is only for dogs, it's a good idea for cats, too, and will make it much easier for you to be reunited with your kitty if he or she becomes lost.

Litter training

Cats are very clean animals by nature and will become distressed if they don't have their own space to go to the toilet.

Many owners prefer their cats to go outside, but litter trays are a common sight in cat-owning homes for several reasons.

If you buy a kitten, you'll need to train him or her to use a litter tray until they are old enough to go outside and they've had all the necessary injections.Cat

You may have a 'house' cat that lives solely indoors, or maybe your cat is kept in at night. If so, a litter tray in a quiet and clean corner of the house, away from the food tray, is an essential requirement for your pet.

Encourage your cat to use the tray by gently placing him in it after a meal, when they wake up and every time you see them scratching or crouching in a corner.

Cats can be very fussy about seemingly small details such as the type of litter you buy, so be prepared to try a few before your cat is happy.

Make sure the tray is cleaned and fresh litter put down at least once a day.

Pregnant women should avoid this job due to the risk of toxoplasmosis infection, which can harm an unborn baby. At the very least they should wear disposable gloves and wash hands thoroughly afterwards.

Work, rest and play

According to the RSPCA, domestic cats sleep for up to 18 hours a day.

If they lived in the wild they would need a lot of sleep in readiness to go hunting, so it's in their nature to sleep even though the only thing your cat might hunt nowadays is the odd crisp packet or leaf!

You should provide lots of toys for your cat, particularly things which swing, climbing frames and cardboard boxes, as well as a scratching post.

Cats can be quite solitary but some do prefer company, particularly a brother or sister who they have been brought up with from kittens.Dog and cat

Many cats will also socialise with other pets, such as dogs, so long as they are introduced slowly and not put in stressful situations, such as being chased!

Groom for improvement

Cats spend a great deal of time cleaning themselves and have tiny 'hooks' on their tongues to help them groom their fur.

But even shorthairs could do with a helping hand and if your cat has semi-long or long fur, regular brushing is essential in order to prevent tangles and get rid of fleas.

Apart from the hygiene benefits, grooming can be a lovely experience for your cat and can increase the bond between you!

For more information to help you be a great cat owner, take a look at our pet insurance guides.

And if you're crazy about cats, don't miss Covered mag's heart-warming feature about some of the UK's most fantastic felines!

See also:

By Rebecca Lees