Practical advice for the first time owner.
So you've just got a cat or kitten! You've never owned one before!
Here's some simple advice to ensure both you and your new found friend have a happy relationship.
Can you afford to keep a cat? You may have received the cat from a friend at no cost but it still needs feeding, it needs cat stuff, and it may need a vet. Have you considered insurance or occasional cattery fees. it all adds up, and remember a kitten will grow into a cat that may live 20 years, so I say again can you afford your cat?
It would be nice to think you'd obtained your cat from just about anywhere except a pet shop. That way you will almost certainly have been given at least some information on how to look after your new friend properly, and hopefully at least some history about the cat. Sadly most pet shops just want your money, and are frequently clueless themselves about looking after animals.
A kitten should be at least twelve weeks old when you obtain it, at least that's what breeders say. In the real world however that is more likely to be only 6 weeks old or even younger. I was handed a kitten of only 5 weeks old once, she grew up into a beautiful cat, but her first few weeks with me were touch and go.
The younger the kitten the more likely you are to have problems.
It can be very tempting to take on that tiny little bundle of fur, but leave it with it's mother for a as long as possible. If you know the owner of the mother, try not to have the kitten "pushed" at you too soon after birth. But,in the real world of course, you may have no choice in the matter.
Your new cat may be scared when you get her home. Try to arrange for any children, particularly young excitable ones, to be elsewhere for the first few hours. Allow your new cat to explore it's new surroundings at its own pace, and ideally, when you first release it, do so in the same room as the litter tray, the sooner it finds that, the better. Most cats, even young kittens are litter trained by the time they join their new home and even those that aren't are easily trained.
Put some food down and show your cat its feeding area. Try to feed it the same food that it was eating before you took delivery, but obviously if that was the wrong type of food start thinking immediately about the right type. In the case of kittens they should be on good quality branded kitten food for the first 5 or 6 months after weaning. Water should ALWAYS be available.
Allow it to eat as much as it wants and then allow it to look around it's new surroundings if it hasn't already done so. Make sure that young children do not disturb it during feeding, or during the time it uses the litter tray or you may end up with a nervous cat instead of a confident one. Start as you mean to continue.
If you get past this stage with no problems then most of your problems are probably over. Your new cat will soon want to go to sleep. When it wakes up is when it will go for it's first really good look around your house.
If your new cat however is already a nervous cat, you must work to gain it's confidence. This can sometimes take quite a long time. A nervous cat will normally hide somewhere and be very wary of you whenever you try to be friendly towards it. If it looks as if it is not going to come out of its hiding place when you are there then use some common sense and go away, allow the cat time to relax a little. A simple trick here is to leave some food in a spot where it has to emerge to get at it. That way it will take a look at it's new surrounding while it is eating. At this time you should also consider moving the litter tray to where the cat is. Both these items can be gradually moved to the proper area in time as the cat grows in confidence. I have now had two relatively nervous cats and one very nervous cat, and I used this simple method each time, they all ended up full of beans after a few days. Be warned though, it could take much longer.
Your new cat should not be allowed out of the home until at least 3 weeks after you get it. During this time it will get used to its new surroundings completely, it will get used to regular food and a safe place to sleep. In most cases no special precautions are needed, the cat will often just stick it's head out the door and then come straight back in. The simple fact here is that if the cat wants to leave and you give it the opportunity it probably will. If it wants to stay it probably will. It knows where its next meal is coming from and happily most cats hang around for life.
The occasional older cat may try to look for it's old home. If you think this may happen, keep the cat indoors for a longer period, so that it becomes even more settled down in its new home. I've never heard of a "brand new" kitten running away, but I suppose it may have happened. Most kittens though are a little nervous on their first outing and generally dash back inside at the first sight of anything that moves, this strengthens the bond to it's new home. Whether it's a new kitten or an older cat, allow it to keep you in sight when you first allow it out, obviously if it can see you it is more at ease. My most nervous cat wanted nothing to do with the great outdoors, until one day when I was sitting on the doorstep months after getting her, she just popped her head out , had a look and went on a quiet walkabout, with me watching every move she made. My most recent cat was an 8 month old ginger tom, when I got him, he had already obviously left one household, so I kept him in a bit longer than I normally would, when I let him out for the first time, he was into everything and all the neighbour's gardens, but he could always see me and he came straight to me when I called him. Finally although I've never needed it , the old trick of letting the cat out before feeding time is probably a good idea, the cat is almost certain to return if it's already hungry and it hears a can being opened.
Your new cat should see a vet as soon as possible, they will check him over and advise you on any problems he may have and also advise you on inoculations. At this stage with luck, the cat won't need to visit the vet again until the annual booster is due, but this would be a good time to also ask the vet about neutering the cat (see Lifestyle) if you do not intend to breed. See the vet as soon as possible after you get your cat, even straight from picking him up if possible. Get it out of the way so your cat can, as stated above, start to relax in it's new home. In a normal cat this is not such a problem, but if you have just got a nervous cat calmed down, after 3 or 4 weeks, taking it to the vet at this stage could upset it again. It's always best to see the vet as soon as possible, get it over with. Also, what the previous owner of the cat said about him or her should not be taken as the gospel truth, even if it was your best friend. Its now up to you. The cat is relying upon you now.
This advice may all sound a little simplistic, but looking after cats is more common sense than rocket science. If you have any problems with your cat then there are thousands of people to help you out. There are your neighbours who already keep cats. There is the vet. There are several usergroups on the World Wide Wait and there are several very good books. And there are people like me who are always willing to offer advice gained through experience. The simple act of working your way through this website will give you most of the information you need to give you all of the knowledge you need to give a cat a happy home for life