Cats 101 - Remedial Stream
January 10, 2016 11:05 AM   Subscribe

So, we are getting a cat. I have never owned a cat before, and the last time my partner did was a decade ago when he lived with his parents. I feel like I have a handle on how much this will cost but pretty much nothing else. I need, like, some really basic information. (A book? Is there a cats for dummies?)

The details:

- We want to adopt a single, female, adult cat from a shelter.
- Single because we live in a 1.5 bedroom apartment and 2 cats (and two litterboxes) seems like a lot.
- Female because our landlady said that there's a tom in the neighbourhood and it would be better for neighbourhood harmony if we got a lady cat (our cat will be indoor-only, but somehow they will know?)
- Adult because we're only getting one and if it was kittens it should be two, right?
- We have some time (and no photos) because we were at the shelter yesterday to check things out and they were out of cats! (except for a couple very sleepy elderly kitties.) Apparently this city has a high adoption rate and this is a thing that happens. They are getting a shipment from California in a couple of weeks (how's that for a visual), or there are other shelters we could check out.

My specific questions:

1) Is there a list of what stuff we need? Litter box, litter, food and water dishes, food, ...? Should we buy a carrier straight off? Do we need to get our cat a scratching post? Is there a basic guide anywhere?
1a) How do we know what kind of X to buy? (I know 'what should I feed my cat' is a huge rabbit hole but...) What if our cat doesn't like the X we buy? Are we going to need to buy 10 types of litter to test them all?
2) How do we find a good vet? Ask around?
3) How do people navigate cat ownership when carless? We currently get around by bike, bus, and carshare. I am assuming the bike is a non-starter :)
4) Do you feed cats once or twice a day? (I said this was remedial...) What time? I've heard "not right after you get up" to avoid them waking you up early in the morning.
5) The bathroom is probably the best place for the litterbox. Kitchen is low on floor space, and everywhere else is carpet. Does that seem reasonable?
6) Is there a list of houseplants that are toxic for cats? I believe the poinsettia is going to need to go. What else should we be thinking about in terms of cat-proofing our apartment?
7) I'm not too precious about the furniture but I'd like to keep the cat off the kitchen counters if possible (at least as far as I know...) Will that be possible? How should we go about it?
posted by quaking fajita to Pets & Animals (36 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You are actually pretty well informed.

I'll not write a comprehensive answer right now, but will start with a couple of ideas.

First, have you tried Craigslist for adoptable cats? You might get less mystery that way, plus a cat that hasn't been in a shelter (getting exposed to shelter viruses, etc.).

Second: I personally like having the litter box in a carpeted area, because it leads to the litter not being tracked as far and lets me avoid stepping on litter with my bare wet feet.

Look into litter box cabinets, if you'd like to avoid having the litter box visible. Odor is a thing to consider -- there are a lot of ways to mitigate this.

Some cats are great about not jumping on counters. Some cats, not so much. If you get an adult cat, you can ask about its personality (especially if you adopt from a current owner). Note: even if you end up thinking the owner is inconsiderate and getting rid of the cat for a not-great reason (Wants to do semester abroad for fun! Cat can't come, oh well!), the _cat_ might have sweet personality.

Which is more important to you: sweet docile kitty, super affectionate kitty, or hilarious smart adventurous might-get-into-things kitty?
posted by amtho at 11:23 AM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also: there are a _lot_ of resources for you on the ASPCA's web site:

Avoiding toxic stuff, including foods and plants (weird page design, scroll down for main links for foods and plant lists)

General cat care main page including grooming, nutrition, behavior, and some health info. You may know most of this already, but it's somewhere to start. This section also has a supply checklist at the end, but it's pretty minimal.

I also like to have: some towels to put on the bed and other places for the cat to sit on (most cats will sit on anything new and clean; don't depend on them _only_ sitting there, but if you provide nice clean towels you could reduce amount of ambient fur).

New cat hiding places - either plan for the cat to spend some time under the bed and furniture (clean under there and make sure you can get to it), or block those areas and provide a very cozy enclosed box or two.

Lots of scratching places.

Plan what you want to do if the cat wants to scratch your couch, especially if it's an expensive couch. Maybe you're OK with the cat scratching it, maybe you want some deterrent spray, maybe you want to cover it with a cloth or some wood. Make a plan so you don't react emotionally in the moment and yell incomprehensibly at the cat. Never scare your cat (you can let it know you're annoyed, but know how you're doing this).

Lots of places for the cat to eventually perch close to your head/hands/petting area - next to you on the couch (could put a towel there), on a tall cat tower near the entry door, a spot on your desk.

Also, I went looking for new cat checklists, and found this one that looks good.
posted by amtho at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

This book will be helpful, as well as entertaining.

In response to your specific questions:

1) A list of items is in the book I linked above, but really the only must-haves are litterbox and scoop, food dish, water dish, and carrier. A scratching post or board is good, although it's never really prevented my cats from scratching the furniture. One or two catnip toys is also a nice idea.

2) Check Yelp, ask your friends, look for one in your neighborhood. Shorter car trips are better. Our cat makes truly unholy noises in the car and we live 5 minutes away from our vet. I can't imagine listening to her for longer than that.

3) Before we had a car, we used a taxi to get where we needed to go. Just be sure to alert them that you will have a cat in a carrier when you call to order one. If your cat is basically okay in a carrier, you may be able to get away with taking her on the bus. Unfortunately, there's no way to know how the cat will feel about the carrier until you try taking her somewhere in one. Remember: we learn by doing!

4) Feeding frequency depends on the cat. We have always left out kibble from which our cats "free feed" throughout the day, and provided wet food once a day. If your cat puts on too much weight this way, however, you may need to adjust. This is a good topic to discuss with your vet, but again, you might have to do trial and error on this one.

5) Agreed that the bathroom is the best choice. Don't put the box in the kitchen, you don't want her tracking litter and germs around the room, particularly if she turns out to be the kind of cat that jumps on counters (see below).

6) I believe the book I linked above has such a list.

7) My first two cats (now sadly pining for the fjords) were counter jumpers, but my current two cats have no interest. You can get a squirt bottle or a squirt gun and spritz her if she does jump up in your presence, or if you're standing at the counter when she decides to visit, just pick her up and put her down on the floor, and continue to do that every time. My cats got the message and stopped doing it when I was there.

One last thing: DO NOT USE SCENTED LITTER. It just makes things smell worse and none of the cats that I have known have ever tolerated it. Unscented is genuinely fine. Also, avoid a covered litter box unless you are prepared to clean it out every day or so. It gets to be an ammonia gas chamber in there, even with the charcoal filters, if you let it go too long. Unpleasant for everyone!

Have fun and please come back and post a picture of your adoptee when you choose her!
posted by That's Numberwang! at 11:42 AM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Catproofing: if you have hopper windows, like this one, make very sure the cat can't get to them. I'd install screens of some kind, no matter how high the windows are.
Cats tend to try to get outside sooner or later, if only out of curiosity, and any opening will do... they often manage to get stuck in the triangular side opening of such windows, resulting in nasty injuries to their spines.

Thank you for homing an adult shelter cat! *purrs in your general direction*
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:51 AM on January 10, 2016

1) carrier: you'll need a carrier to get the cat home from the adoption place. As you don't have your own car, go with a hard sided case (airline style carrier). The ones that have doors on the top and on the side are nice because it gives you more options while trying to stuff a cat in there.
scratching post: Cats gotta scratch. Some cats prefer vertical surfaces, others prefer horizontal but an inexpensive cardboard tray scratcher will hold you over until your cat expresses her preferences.
food/water dishes: Ceramic or metal, which if kept clean will keep chin acne away. Separate bowls rather than the cojoined kind (cats often dislike having their water next to their food). Consider getting her a fountain, especially if you're planning to mostly feed her kibble.
litterbox: I'm a fan of automated boxes (because I have more cats than I should) but they take up a lot of space. For non-automated, top entry boxes really cut down on the litter she will otherwise kick out of the box.
1a) Litter: buy whatever brand she's been using (ask the person you are adopting her from). Once she's settled in, you can switch her to another brand/type by cross mixing.
2) Yep. Or Yelp. Practices that are open on at least one weekend day are handy if you work 9-5
4) Mine get fed 2x/day. Before we took in a cat with eating issues who doesn't stop eating until everything is gone, we would just free feed (leave a bowl out).
5) Bathroom is fine. Often, your cat will come in there and do her business while you are doing your business and you can use that time to discuss weighty topics. It also means you'll have to learn to not close the bathroom door while you're using the bathroom.
6) A list. Be advised that some cats find the soil of any houseplant an irresistible substitute for a litterbox and the leaves of any plant fun to chew into shreds.
7) Hahah! OK. Well, you can try using an Sssscat.
posted by jamaro at 11:56 AM on January 10, 2016

The Cats' Protection League have some good faqs and downloads that cover a lot of the basics.

Having owned cats for a number of years, I would suggest the carrier is a must as soon as, if only because the pesky things sometimes need transporting somewhere Right Now and the only way to do so is via carrier.

Re: litter, we've always gone for biodegradable paper-based stuff for environmental reasons and a hard surface for the tray has been our preference for sweeping up / clean-up reasons - we have a couple of cats at present who feel that the litter tray is there more for general guidance than as a specific end in itself, as it were.

We feed our cats three small meals a day - early morning, when whoever gets back from work first gets through the door and suppertime. They are healthy and not at all overweight, although they have a cat flap that is open during the day for exercise. Of the three, one is 19 this year and resolutely indoor only, one is mostly indoor with a few forays outside and one is an idiot who sits in the pouring rain until called. If yours is indoor, lots of toys / structured play and DEFINITELY a scratch post - it's a basic cat instinct and without access to trees, fences etc outdoors their happiness will come at the cost of your carpets / sofas and wooden furniture.

We have always shut our cats away at night - we've not had problems with noise or disturbances, although we've had the space to do that so we're lucky in that respect. At present the two younger cats share a spare room (with beds, litter trays and food / water bowls) and the older cat gets a kitchen to herself (again with a bed under the table, provisions and a litter tray in the adjacent utility). No being woken at stupid o'clock.

Lillies are bad, onions are bad, dried fruit is bad - on preview, amtho has provided a link I see.

We had four girls and one boy at one point. Now we have two boys and one girl. All the girls loved us and hated each other. The boys are / were more boisterous with each other and were generally better to handle than the girls, who could be highly pointy.

Vets - you might ask the rescue who they use, if you felt comfortable with the standard of care they appeared to be giving the cats. Otherwise I would ask cat-owning relatives, friends and co-workers for their suggestions. You might also look for a practice that offers cat-only clinics, on the chance that your cat is uncomfortable around other species.

We've adopted adult cats and they've all been lovely and characterful, so good for you for looking at a more mature pet. Good luck, and feel free to MeMail if you have questions.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 12:06 PM on January 10, 2016

Cute poster showing basic cat body postures and moods. May be known by you, but if you have kids (visiting), maybe it would be instructive for them.

One more item: about cat personalities.

ASPCA's site seems to have hidden this information, but I _love_ it and I wish every new adopter could know about it.

Cat personality matrix with two axes: independent-social (how people-focused is the cat) and low/high "valiance" (how brave is the cat), resulting in nine personality types. This is just to get you thinking about what kind of cat you want. Nobody else will know these personality types, but you should be able to ask some basic questions of a cat owner and find out what kind of personality the cat has. If an owner is loud, domineering, and/or has other dominant pets (e.g. a rambunctious dog), a shy cat might eventually become more bold after living with you.

Questionnaire. You've probably thought of most of this already, but it might be fun. As you can see, it's made for some sort of scoring system -- just look through the questions to see if there's anything interesting for you.
posted by amtho at 12:10 PM on January 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

One thought on how many cats to have: if you plan to be away for multiple days at a time, maybe consider going ahead and getting two adult cats (maybe an already bonded pair). Some cats might be fine all by themselves for several days, but I always felt bad about leaving a cat alone with no company for that long -- cats can't watch videos, play WarCraft, do crafts, or anything that usually relieves days-long boredom and loneliness. We'd have a cat sitter who would play with the cat, and then another friend who would come over and let the cat sit on her lap for an hour or so. (plus leave the radio playing).

With a friend cat to keep things at least a little interesting, it's not so bad to leave them alone for a few days. Something to consider.

FYI, I have had two cats and one very large litter box. I get the largest litter box I can (this one, with the door removed, for example), put in a decent depth of litter (I used clay, which is bad if the cat is likely to eat it, but absorbs odor very well - Swheat Scoop non-clay litter is great for preventing odor also), and didn't have odor problems as long as the cats were healthy -- even with the litter box door removed. (The door would make the _inside_ of the litter box rather intense, which is hard on the cats.)
posted by amtho at 12:18 PM on January 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

A couple quick recommendations:

- Our cat loves this inclined scratching post.
- We use this litter box in the bathroom.
posted by merejane at 12:30 PM on January 10, 2016

Hopefully you won't need this anytime soon, but Is it an Emergency? is an excellent, sanity-saving resource when your kitty isn't well, so you can tell how quickly you need to get them to a vet.

Have fun with your new feline friend when you do find the right one at the shelter!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:30 PM on January 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do you get the Animal Planet channel? Their show "My Cat From Hell" is terrific, lots of great insight on cat psychology from the host, Jackson Galaxy, and it will help you to see the cats-eye view of your apartment to figure out if anything should be re-arranged.

I don't think I agree about the landlady's reasoning on outdoor/feral tomcats sensing your cat's gender. If you end up with a very territorial female cat, she may be more upset by tomcat invaders in the yard than a more mellow male indoor cat. But there are things you can do to deal with that if it becomes a problem. And a female cat may be happier being the lone apartment cat than a male cat anyway.

1, 1a - You will need a carrier to get the cat home from the shelter. Some cats are good with carriers, some freak out and will scratch their nose up by madly trying to poke their face through the cage door. I would get the cheapest soft-sided carrier to start, and get a sturdier hard shell carrier later on. With litter, I would also start cheap and experiment later if you need to. I've been lucky that my cats have always been fine with the brand Costco carries.

2) Vet - ask the shelter for a recommendation to start. But, yes, ask around, and start with the ones most geographically convenient. My nearest ones were all useless, but I eventually found a cats-only vet who is great and worth the extra distance.

4) Feeding - I feed mine one little can of wet food, half in the morning & half in the evening, and always leave out dry food. But, it all kind of depends on the size of the cat and what their ideal weight should be; my cat's ideal weight for her size is about 8.5 pounds, and I've actually had to put her on an appetite-enhancing pill to keep her from getting underweight. So, the shelter and your vet followup can advise on what's the best plan for your particular cat. Generally, all-dry diets can lead to kidney/urine issues, but I find that having the dry food out overnight has always kept my cats from being hungry morning pests.

5) Litterbox location - yes, I find bathroom is the easiest. Scatter is inevitable though, so if you're not already slipper-wearing people, it's probably time to start. This is also helpful when it comes to not stepping in surprise hairballs in your bare/be-socked feet.

7) Counters - some cats love high places. If you have a 'tree' cat and the counter is the highest spot, you may be able to get them not to jump on it in your presence but you're unlikely to train them out of doing it when you're away without investing in 'booby traps' like scat-mats and motion-detecting devices. But offering an alternative higher spot like a cat tree with a nice view out a window would probably be easier for everyone.

And, on preview, I agree with amtho about two being fine sharing one litterbox and living space if they're already bonded or known to get along with other cats. I used to have two cats who adored each other and always shared one litterbox. My third & current cat seems perfectly satisfied with being the lone cat; I keep hoping that she'll mellow out enough for me to be a two-cat cat lady again, but at this point I'm just leaving it up to luck as to when my 4th cat will appear.
posted by oh yeah! at 12:36 PM on January 10, 2016

This may seem obvious, but no one has specifically mentioned it, so I will. Please get your cat spayed or neutered as soon as possible. I'm not sure about your landlady's advice regarding neighborhood harmony. My indoor-only spayed female goes nuts whenever she sees any cat outside. Her neutered brother (who has since passed on) was much more laid back.

I've had cats for over twenty years, and in my opinion, the absolute best water dish is a kitchen loaf pan. I have yet to see a cat tip one over (and I have a cat who likes to play in the water).
posted by FencingGal at 12:46 PM on January 10, 2016

Here are a few quick thoughts:

1. At first, try to limit your cat to one or two rooms when you first get him/her. After a few days, they can explore happily but the smaller space will help them feel safer and more comfortable at first. (This was great advice that people gave me!)

2. We ended up getting two brothers who are littermates and are really glad because they play together and cuddle constantly. I agree with amtho that a bonded pair can lead to happier cats but is certainly not a requirement.

3. Cats may not be expensive in the long-run but the initial set-up with adoption fees, litterboxes, and more can really add up. With two kittens and no supplies at first, we spent hundreds of dollars that first month. It's OK and now fine but was a shocker at first!

4. Our vet told us that the fancy, expensive food (gluten-free! organic! brands like Blue Buffalo, etc.) is not necessarily better. We ended up sticking to Purina and are very happy. (Our cats seem to like all food though!) We feed them a little wet food in the morning and then refill their dry food throughout the day. No "human" food because we don't want to beg, although there are some that are fine. The amount we feed them is not an issue because they seem to monitor themselves well. They always have fresh water!

5. Try to choose a cat that both you and your partner feel strongly about: it may take awhile but is worth it. My partner and I went to the shelter multiple times over a few weeks until we found the "right" match. (It ended up being two brothers who were fostered at a pet shop but officially adopted through the SPCA.) A shy cat at the shelter may not be shy at home but you can get a preview of their behavior for sure. (Ours seemed shy but sweet, and they're no longer shy but have stayed sweet!) Like FencingGal, I'm not sure where your landlady is coming from since most cats are territorial. Neutering/spaying will certainly help, of course.

6. We leave our cats with a trusted family or friend if we're gone more than a night. Some cats can do well alone but ours are used to a lot of attention and are very curious, i.e. they do best with a lot of human contact.

7. You can try to catproof your place as much as possible but a lot of it is just seeing what happens. Ours will knock over plants and have a few they like to chew on: we removed the poisonous ones but did not do a complete sweep. However, we did have to remove fluffy fabric and do not have them sleep with us because one will pee on fluffy comforters. (Ugh!) It's too bad but really OK in the end because they have each other at night.

8. Toys! No need to stock up at first as you will see their likes and dislikes over time. Just one or two to start is surely OK. Ours love boxes!

9. Vets: we got some recommendations and shopped around. We had one vet that was amazing (great people, high quality service) but kept suggesting more expensive stuff. We will go back to them for check-ups and as needed but went to a low-cost neuter/spay place for many of the basics.

10. If you have good intentions (and it sounds like you will be great pet caretakers!!), it's hard to mess up too much with cats. Some of it is live and learn but things will most likely turn out just fine. As I wrote to AskMeFi a few months ago, our kitties showed a weak positive for feline leukemia. It was scary at first but they've been doing well: if things get bad, we will weigh our options and decide. Ideally, a long, happy and healthy life with a cat is nice but even a short time together is special.

Our cats bring us so much joy and are well worth the work and cost. We had waited a long time to get ours and don't regret it but also now can't imagine our daily lives without them. Adjusting can be hard at first but cat care generally gets much easier with time. You sound like a caring, conscientious person and I hope you and your partner are very happy with your new cat!
posted by smorgasbord at 12:54 PM on January 10, 2016

If you get a bonded pair of cats, specifically family-members, you can have one litter box, as long as you patrol it frequently, it's not an issue.

I like the Breeze box. It's very low maintenance, odor-free and the cats took to it instantly. We also use a Litter Genie.

As for food, ask your vet. We settled on high protein kibble for snacks, out of this Catch dish, which is enriching and fun for the cats (according to the box). The cats seem to enjoy it. They also share a can of Fancy Feast twice a day. YMMV, but they're happy and have beautiful coats.

Every cat is different and it's fun to learn about your cat and her weirdness. Ours were very outgoing and settled in without any fuss at all. I love them so much!

Here's the requisite photo.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:11 PM on January 10, 2016

3) How do people navigate cat ownership when carless? We currently get around by bike, bus, and carshare. I am assuming the bike is a non-starter :)

We use a membership based service much like zipcar. A prime advantage is not having two stressful waits for two unknown drivers.

This may not be a concern for areas and systems with a high quality of service.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:36 PM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you feed cats once or twice a day? (I said this was remedial...) What time? I've heard "not right after you get up" to avoid them waking you up early in the morning.

I feed twice a day. If you can get your little friend trained to an alarm when you wake up, though, you don't need to be so concerned about them waking you up too early in the morning to eat. They will sometimes wake you up because they are bored, or because you look funny, or because they are a cat.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:43 PM on January 10, 2016

I used some ramekins for food dishes

Many cats won't eat as much out of high-walled containers that press their whiskers back.

At chat-eau sebastienbailard, we use dollar-store plates and a broad shallow bowl.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:38 PM on January 10, 2016

Catproofing checklist:

Chocolate of any kind/grapes and raisins (can be fatal if enough is ingested)
Many house plants (especially lilies, ivies, cactus)
Cigarettes (including butts, matches)
Bread wire twists ties/plastic fasteners
Hair ties/ponytail holders (can cause intestinal blockage if not passed; consult vet ASAP)
Rubber bands
Staples, paper clips, thumb tacks
Milk jug rings (choking hazard) and bottle caps
Thread, yarn, any string, dental floss (if ingested, do not pull out. Consult your vet)
Garlic, onion, salt, grapes, raisins, alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea
Essential oils used as fragrance or air fresheners (can cause liver damage)
Cooked bones (can splinter easily and be swallowed)
Recliners (check to make sure kitty is not under chair or inside of it)
Plastic bags and paper bags with handles (cut the handles off and use with supervision)
Cleaning products and room fresheners (use sparingly, keep locked up, use child and pet safe products)
Medications including vitamins (human and pet meds)
Saran wrap and aluminum foil (choking hazard)
Electrical cords
Mini blind cords (strangling hazard)
Toilets (drowning danger)
Washers and dryers (check before each use, and do not allow cats to play in them)
Sewing needles and pins, buttons, etc
Cheaply made or very small cat toys
Hot stoves and burners, wood stoves, refrigerators (check before closing door)
Candles left burning unattended
Very tall cat trees (attach firmly to wall or ceiling and use padding and/or carpet underneath)
Children's small toys (legos, lite-brite pegs, etc)
Styrofoam/packing peanuts
Rubber mats with plastic backing used as beds for very young kittens (causes suffocation)
Mesh hampers
Outdoor pools
DAP caulking products (contain antifreeze ingredients)
Artificial sweeteners and foods or toothpaste made from it
Oven and stove knobs can turn on easily and cause fires. Replace, remove, or cover knobs with child safety knobs. Keep items off stove top burners and out of oven when not in use.
Silica packets (small white pockets with silicone beads; commonly found in new shoes, electronics and many medications)
Superglue and other adhesives

posted by sebastienbailard at 2:41 PM on January 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Start now by moving anything breakable away from the edges of shelves or tables, and make a habit of it. A lot of cats really do this. (Please excuse the bad music.)
posted by zadcat at 2:46 PM on January 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

7) I'm not too precious about the furniture but I'd like to keep the cat off the kitchen counters if possible (at least as far as I know...) Will that be possible? How should we go about it?

Not happening. Cats do what they want, especially behind your back. It is the reason I have so much bleach on hand.

Cats are bossy, whiny, demanding, and stubborn. They hold grudges and are big supporters of payback. They are also loving, sweet, and are wonderful pets to cherish...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 2:51 PM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cats are our alien overlords. Are you sure you want one in the house?

The cat will take over your home, will definitely jump on counters, and will probably ruin your couch. If you are cool with all of this, go for it.

You may be able to mitigate some of the worst behaviors with lots of scratching posts for the cat, plus a water sprayer for discipline.
posted by jbenben at 3:15 PM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Re: cats on kitchen counters.

I have no idea how to keep cats off of kitchen counters. Three of mine have no interest in being up on the counter; one does and he's a jerk about it.

Or he was, until he jumped up onto the stove and burned his paw (the burner was on the highest setting and red hot; I had briefly pulled the pan off to add ingredients). Since then, he's been very, very wary of jumping up on the counters and will no longer jump up on the stove at all.

This can also be a data point on 'don't panic, cats are hard to break'. I panicked and dropped what I was doing (not literally) to rush after the cat and make sure he wasn't severely wounded. He wasn't - one paw pad was just barely red; later, it developed a blister.

So, sometimes live and learn and let them live and learn, too.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 5:19 PM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Re: cats on counters - I actually made a way for a couple of our (very acrobatic) foster cats to climb onto the top of the refrigerator, which they really preferred to the counter. It worked well.

Basically, I built a kind of latter out of 2x2 lumber wrapped in burlap, which I attached to the wall next to the refrigerator. It was slim enough that it didn't prevent the refrigerator door opening (althoug it would have had it been thicker). The cats _loved_ climbing that ladder. There was also a heavy, large, high stool near the refrigerator, so that when they wanted to jump down, the could land on the stool easily. (Had to be heavy so it wouldn't move when the cats landed on it).
posted by amtho at 5:25 PM on January 10, 2016

My dear neighbor has motion-sensing aerosol-can-propellant cat scarers.

They work; neither the cats nor I are comfortable on his couch.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:26 PM on January 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you're worried that your apartment is small, look into "catification" - there's a lot of info out there about mounting shelves and making spaces for cats to be at home.

There's also info about blocking views of outside cats, which can help house cats feel less threatened.
posted by amtho at 5:27 PM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one thing that some folks might not think about: Magic Erasers or similar scrubby pads. I've found MEs to be great at removing the facial oils that cats like to rub on every wall corner and door jamb in the house.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 5:29 PM on January 10, 2016

I've heard "not right after you get up" to avoid them waking you up early in the morning.

I fed my first cat wet food around dinner time and kept dry food out and he never woke me up. same for new cat.

7) I'm not too precious about the furniture but I'd like to keep the cat off the kitchen counters if possible

That's one of my biggies. With both cats I just said Down! and went over to shoo them away. Sometimes I used a water bottle. It took some time but it worked with both cats. This cat is a little naughtier but you can't expect total compliance from a cat. Keep at it, it will work!

Here's what you need to look for in a litter box set up:

1) will the cat use it?
2) will you clean it?

The best way to eliminate the litter odor is to keep the box as clean as you can. After reading all the litter box questions here I settled on the Omega Self-Cleaning Box. I find it extremely easy to clean so I do it; there may be other styles with other good features but think about whether you will get sick of fiddling with lids and bags and whatnot.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:34 PM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, that Omega litter box is the anti-tardis; it's quite a bit smaller inside than it looks. I didn't have room for the big one and I'm just lucky the cat isn't a little bit bigger or more finicky.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:39 PM on January 10, 2016

I have a lone cat in a small apartment. I keep the litter in the bathroom, with a litter genie on one side of it and a dust buster style vacuum on the other. Because the litter always gets out (though getting one with high sides helped). I strongly recommend keeping a handheld vacuum right there.

I think some cats are super picky about cat litter and food and some aren't. Mine isn't, except for not eating pate style food. I really like the last litter I tried, Purina Tidy Cats 4in1. It

I don't have a car. I got one of these backpack style cat carriers, but I always carry her on my front so we can see each other. She doesn't love it. But it works and it's not too heavy for me to carry. (She's on the small side for a cat but it seems like they have different sizes). Her vet is walking distance, but I would also feel comfortable taking her on transit with that.

I give her her wet food on the super cheap paper plates and re-use them a couple of times until they get gross. Because I don't like doing dishes and she doesn't care. She has a thing like this for the dry food. It doesn't work great because I have to shake it for more food to come out, but an actually motivated cat could handle it.

I always feel bad leaving her alone. This is kind of me. But my neighbors come and feed her and play with her a little and she seems fine.

She LOVES this brush. If your cat doesn't you can use it for actual cleaning. Her other favorite toy is the cat dancer and she also likes those little catnip mice a lot. Also chasing the shadow of the refrigerator door as it opens and closes . Toys (and most other things) were really a trial and error thing.

I'm excited for you! Have fun!
posted by Salamandrous at 6:06 PM on January 10, 2016

A book? Is there a cats for dummies?

Yes (literally):
posted by Jacqueline at 6:09 PM on January 10, 2016

Adult because we're only getting one and if it was kittens it should be two, right?

Also because kittens, although cute, are little furious curious demanding balls of energy. Our two are 6 months old and still rampaging around the place and finding trouble to get into. Adult cats are more mellow.

Lots of good advice above. The carrier is a must-have because you don't want to be stuck in a VET, NOW situation -- or in a EVACUATE NOW situation like a fire -- without one.

Scratching post: yes. You want to set a habit of using one instead of your furniture. Try a cheap-and-cheerful corrugated cardboard scratcher first, but ours never, ever took to it; they do use a sisal row-wrapped post.

Bedding: cats notoriously sleep in strange places and can be sniffy about suggestions, but new cat will probably appreciate a place that is clearly "hey, you can sleep here undisturbed"; can improvise with old towels, t-shirts or similar in a low cardboard box until cat lets you know what she likes. Ours have a couple of cheap small dog beds that they like to curl up in.

Toys: cats like play, try a wand toy to see if she likes it -- ours go nuts for the kind that have a stuffed rodenty toy on a string. But ours also like chasing after paper balls we throw for them; batting ice-cubes around the floor; boxes, especially boxes they can hide in; brown paper that we can tent up for them to pounce on or in.

Cat furniture: some cats are climbers and like being up high. Ours like racing up and down their cat trees, sitting on them to watch birds outside, sleeping on them. But wait and see what your cat likes.

We've found that pet bedding and furniture is significantly cheaper at discount stores -- Marshalls/TJ Maxx/HomeGoods etc -- than at pet stores. (Also, you can buy flat-packed cat trees from Amazon etc -- our big one is an Amarkat which got good reviews and is a lot of fun for the kittens -- and assemble at home; easier than lugging a huge bulky thing home from a pet store.)

Learn cat body language: happy tail vs. angry tail vs. scared ears. Cats like attention and food as rewards; and they don't understand -- but do remember and resent! -- punishment. You want to build trust with the cat; to have her feel that she in a safe place where bad things won't happen to her. Cats sometimes don't want to be disturbed or their space invaded: let her come to you, or talk to her as you approach, and extend a finger for her to sniff and decide if she wants to be petted right now. (We have an understanding with our kittens that the two highest levels of their big cat tree are Do Not Disturb sleeping spots.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:23 PM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Unspayed female cats go into heat which will attract outdoor toms to serenade her outside your windows every four months or so. Unneutered toms spray a foul smelling urine-like substance on your stuff and walls. Get your cat fixed. Then it won't matter which gender you get. Females do tend to be more bossy than males because cats are matriarchal.

You don't have to get two kittens. You can have an only kitten or get a friend in a year or two. I just found homes for four kittens. Two went to be only cats, two went together. OTOH getting an adult from the shelter would be a wonderful thing to do. Older cats have a very tough time finding new homes.

Cats won't use scratching posts that fall over when pulled on. It's like swinging on a shower curtain rod. Embarrassing and not effective.
posted by irisclara at 9:03 PM on January 10, 2016

Don't go crazy buying cat toys until you know what your cat likes. Mine have very strong preferences and will totally ignore anything else. I guess this worked well for the rescue group I donated the rejected toys to but jeez did I waste some money.
posted by kitten magic at 12:48 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice in this thread. My two cents :

On the subject of Cat Toys, no toy has ever had the lasting appeal of crumpled/balled/twisted pieces of a brown paper bag. Or receipts. Or this stuff. For that last one, cut an 8" length and then tie a couple of rough knots in the center of the strand. This way the cat can grab at the knot-bulb in the middle and simultaneously bite one end while kicking the other. You can also cut larger lengths to tie around other toys, giving you the ability to drag & wiggle them while you're hidden around corners or under doors, a favorite prey activity.

Having said that, our particular weirdo does really enjoy cat toys that chirp when he smacks them. This guy has been a perennial favorite. As a side note, cat opinions vary but ours strongly prefers toys he can pick up in his jaws and walk around with, specifically so after smacking a thing viciously for a few minutes he can then clamp it in his jaws while jumping up to the window sill to show the world the thing he so bravely vanquished.

Oh yeah, one more toy thing : buy a couple of these. I promise you they will be HUGE hits.

Our cat's play can be divided firmly into a couple of camps :

1. Runny-chasey, where he wants to either chase (you) or be chased (by you). The terms of the arrangement can switch rapidly.
2. OMG IS THAT THING HIDING FROM ME, where you simply get his attention with a toy (or whatever you've deemed "a toy") and then slowly move it out of his field of vision. This is absolutely intolerable and will result in immediate interest followed by pouncing.
3. Throw things!, where the goal is similar to #2 above except that before the pouncing occurs, you should throw the thing somewhere else. Shake the thing, then hide it, then make some scritching or shaking sound while out of view... then reveal it again briefly, waiting for the ME GUSTA face and associated butt-wiggles, before tossing it. If you don't get the wiggles, repeat until you do.
4. Wrestling, which is the implicit expectation when he approaches and flops on his back revealing his belly. NOTE : If you encounter an exposed belly in the wild, e.g. one that has not been huffily presented to you, this belly is probably not looking for attention.

[SIDE NOT ABOUT THROWING THINGS : Generally speaking, cats engage with toys by chasing them. Throw the toy perpendicular to the cat (if room allows), parallel and AWAY from the cat, or AT AND ABOVE the cat (high enough that he can hop in the air to bat it down). Cats do not engage with toys rolled directly at them very much; they aren't expecting their fun to run bounding to them. Also speaking generally cats prefer their prey-toys to move along the ground, so unless you're doing the "bat it out of the air" game, keep the prey-toys low to the ground when throwing.]

Regarding cat behaviors, cats huff and sigh. These, at least in the case of our little shitpaws, are roughly analogous in terms of emotion expressed as when you make these sounds. Other cat owners confirm this, but it is not universal to all cats. Ours also stands his tail straight up in the air and vibrates it from the base at mealtimes. This means he is very excited. Sometimes he also does this when he walks into a room and encounters us. We have not yet sussed out whether this means he likes us or whether he is trying to be cute so we feed him. Again.

It took a couple of years for our crabasaur to actually want snuggles, but once that threshold was reached we were treated to new kinds of bullying such as jumping into our laps without asking, taking up valuable real estate at the foot of the bed, and looking annoyed when there are too many pillows on the ottoman.

Also this whole "cats hate water" thing is debatable. Ours splashes in the bathtub on the regular when we encourage it. The water is very shallow in these instances, usually no higher than ankle-deep.

Introducing a second cat later is a serious gamble. There are previous Ask.Mes about this. TL;DR - sometimes they get along like long lost lovers, sometimes they will resent you until the day they die that you would dare introduce another feline into the GOOD THING WE ALL HAD GOING UNTIL YOU RUINED IT GEEZ.

Regarding feeding, an interesting thing to note is that cat's bellies are empty a couple of hours after feeding so if you have a particularly food-motivated cat you may find more frequent smaller feedings are more conducive to domestic harmony than one or two larger feedings per day. We're at four (half a small can 4x per day, a small portion of krispies served with the wet food at the first and last feedings per day. This schedule and allotment IN THEORY lets him eat the wet food and still have krispies to graze on during the non-meal times, but IN PRACTICE he'll hoard like 5 krispies and then bitch that it isn't enough for a mid-day snack on the regular... "tough, fatso", we say, and then he jumps onto the counters until we chase him off. See playstyle #1 above. This can also be read as "Please don't forget that you have a cat who needs to be fed!" behavior; a gentle reminder that you live with a trash tiger who needs your thumbs.

As with anything, the amount of effort you put in will determine the amount of joy you get out of it. We know our cat pretty well at this point. He asks to play, asks to eat, tells everyone they've stayed up too late and should go to bed now, lets you know when it's time to sit cross-legged so he can curl up in the gap, etc. It just takes learning the cues. It also takes a firm hand in NOT encouraging the wrong behaviors. Walking into the room with a squeaky mouse in his jaws, dropping it, smacking it a few times so that it squeaks, and then looking pointedly at you is a fine way to invite playtime and I'll step away from the internet to frisk with him when this happens. Digging his claws into the couch and raking them down the sides is also asking for play, but we instead shoo him away and don't engage. My wife pointed out, too, that you can't shoo him TOO enthusiastically (actually shoo-ing him into another room, for example) because then it immediately turns into Runny-Chasey.

Obligatory Captain Tightpants (aka Malcolm Reynolds) link. You will see some "at play" videos in here, too.

He's staring at me now. He wants some kind of attention. Good luck!
posted by radiosilents at 12:40 PM on January 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the advice! We brought home this lovely lady (and her giant ear floofs) last night and she lost no time getting comfortable.
posted by quaking fajita at 9:35 AM on January 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

She's beautiful! Have fun with your new kitty!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:17 PM on January 24, 2016

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