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Not sure what to do when you first get a cat? We asked cat owners the things they wish they knew before getting a cat to help you prepare for your new feline friend

Welcoming a new cat into your life is an exciting time, but if you’ve never owned a cat before, it can be nerve-wracking too! Taking care of any pet is a big responsibility so it’s important to think carefully about whether a cat will fit in with your lifestyle before you get one.

If you decide that you do have the space, time and money to dedicate to a feline friend, the next step is to think about what sort of cat you should get; kitten or older cat; pedigree or moggy, male or female? Find advice on choosing the right cat for you.

long-haired brown tabby kitten with blue eyes

Of course, we’d always recommend adopting your kitty from Cats Protection as we’ll be able to match you with the perfect companion to suit your circumstances, but if you do decide to buy, we have lots of helpful advice on how to buy a cat responsibly.

Whether you’ve already made up your mind, or are still not sure whether a cat is for you, here are some things to consider before getting your first cat...

1. They need time to settle in

When you first bring your new cat home, they’ll need some time to adjust to their new environment as it will be a big and stressful change for them! Every cat will adjust at their own pace, for confident cats it could be a few hours, and for more nervous cats it could take weeks. Don’t expect them to be playful or cuddly right away, as it’s normal for cats to hide away a lot when they first come home. Make sure you give them space, somewhere to hide and get up high and leave them alone until they are ready to approach you in their own time. Also avoid having lots of visitors over to meet them right away. Even cats who appear confident and keen to explore may easily be spooked by new sights, sounds and smells, so it’s important to be patient and not rush them. Find more advice on settling your new cat in and what they need.

2. You’ll need to keep them indoors for a few weeks

long-haired ginger cat sitting on grey doormat indoors next to glass door

Even if your new cat seems ready to explore their new territory straight away, it’s a good idea to keep them indoors for the first three to four weeks after you bring them home. This will give them time to feel safe, become familiar with their new home and make it smell like them by rubbing their pheromones around, so they will be more likely to return once they do go outside. During those first few weeks, consider all the possible escape routes your cat could use to get outside and make sure they are kept closed off. Find out how to introduce your cat to the outside world.

3. They can be fussy eaters

While some cats will happily guzzle down any food you put in front of them, others can be fussy about their meals. It’s a good idea to find out what type of cat food they’re already used to eating before you bring them home, and give them that, at least to begin with. If you do decide to give them a different cat food later on, switch their food gradually as a sudden change in diet can upset their stomach. Also, only buy a small amount of the new food to start with, to make sure they like it before you buy in bulk! Cats will enjoy their food more and drink more water if you keep their food bowl, water bowl and litter tray in separate locations to prevent cross-contamination. Find more advice on feeding your cat and what to do with unwanted cat food.

4. They might be an early riser

If you enjoy a nice lie-in in the mornings, then be prepared for that to be disrupted when your new feline friend arrives. Cats are typically at their most active at dawn and dusk, especially young cats and kittens, so they’re usually awake in the early hours of the morning and may decide you should be too. Miaowing, a paw to the face or the sound of your four-legged friend running around the house could all become your new alarm clock, but once you’ve fed them, given them a fuss or had a play, they might just let you go back to bed. Find advice about night-time waking.

5. They’ll need a scratch post

brown tabby cat scratching the side of a grey sofa

Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats, so all cats will need something to get their claws into. Cats who go outdoors may find trees and fence posts to scratch, but if you want to protect your sofas, table legs, carpets and wallpaper, it’s a good idea to provide them with a scratch post indoors too. Never tell your cat off or punish them for scratching, as this will likely make them stressed and want to scratch more. Instead try to cover over the furnishings they like to scratch and get them a sturdy scratch post as a suitable alternative. Find out how to prevent your cat from scratching the furniture.

6. They might bring you ‘presents’

As well as scratching, hunting is also an in-built behaviour for cats, so if your cat likes to explore outdoors, they may attempt to chase and catch some of the local wildlife. If they’re successful, they may also bring their prey into the house, dead or alive, which isn’t ideal, especially if you’re squeamish. Rather than bringing you a ‘present’, they actually bring their prey indoors because it’s their core territory where they feel safe and other animals won’t steal it from them. Never punish your cat for this behaviour, instead find out how to deter your cat from hunting.

7. They need enrichment

long-haired black kitten holing fluffy fishing rod toy in their paws

Cats have a reputation for being a ‘low maintenance’ pet, happy to be left alone to their own devices for most of the time. However, while it’s true that cats enjoy their own space, they do still need plenty of care and interaction from you. You should take them to the vet at least once a year for a check-up, and speak to your vet if you notice any changes in their health and behaviour that indicate something could be wrong. Playing with your cat using toys and feeding puzzles is also important for their physical and mental health, encouraging exercise and staving off boredom, plus it’s a great way to develop a bond with them! Find out how to play with your cat.

8. They might not want a feline friend

One thing that many people don’t realise about cats is that they don’t need other cats as friends, usually preferring to have their own territory all to themselves. If you think you might want more than one cat, it’s better to get siblings or an already bonded pair instead of introducing a second cat later on, as they will be more likely to get along. However, even if they are bonded, there’s always a chance they might fall out in the future, so you’ll need to give each cat their own space and resources in the home to avoid any conflict. Find out more about introducing cats to other cats.

9. You’ll fall hopelessly in love with them!

From the first head bump, purr or lap snuggle, you will be absolutely smitten with your new kitty and won’t know how you ever lived without them! Your phone will soon fill up with photos and videos of their adorable antics and you won’t be able to stop talking about them to family, friends or anyone who will listen. The constant company and unconditional love of a cat will transform your life for the better, and make all those 5am wake-up calls worth it!

Find more advice for getting your first cat. 

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