What I would’ve done differently if I was to pet a new cat all over again
For first time cat owners, READ THIS.
Being a first-time pet owner seven years ago (I was only 12 years old), I really didn’t have much experience in pet husbandry at that time. I was amused and overwhelmed. It’s not until I started my Vet degree journey and went to cat husbandry units for internships that I noticed certain habits I wish I could change when it comes to taking care of my pets.
Both of my cats are currently seven years old. Although they aren’t in their elderly years, it is still difficult for them to change the habits that they grew up with at this stage. This is because changing a habit requires a long time and a whole lot of training. This is even more challenging for me who studies in the UK (and my parents wouldn’t do so without me being physically here). Therefore, I now understand why training your cats from the very start is fundamental to how they will develop their habits as they grow.
Things I would’ve done differently:
#1 Brushing their teeth daily
I used to brush their teeth once a week in the beginning and I realized later on that I should’ve done it more frequently. When left unbrushed, they could develop bacterial plaque that accumulates on their teeth, which could give rise to serious periodontal diseases (such as gingivitis). According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), ‘By three years of age, most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease’. Yes, this does sound basic, but when it comes to the execution part, not every pet owner carries out the task.
At around the time where one of my cats (Keikei) was spayed, she became super reluctant to touch. She would growl and hiss whenever we approached her. Every time when we tried to keep up with her regular hygiene routines, it just left her extremely terrified. In the end, we gave up cleaning her teeth since nobody knew how to do so and we didn’t want to traumatize her. What’s left was the option of brushless oral care like using dental gel, mouthwash products (add to drinking water), diets, and dental treats.
If I was to start afresh, I would’ve continued to try (or maybe have done more research when the situation comes up). I could’ve trained her instead of letting her get used to not being brushed at all. Now I’m aware that I can try to let her guard down by desensitizing her — letting her get used to having ‘things’ near her mouth by using treats or other forms of reward, which is actually a common method of training pets.
#2 Trimming their nails once a week
I used to trim their nails once a week. Again with Keikei’s behavior, it was really hard to work with her. She didn’t trust us after bringing her to the vet. Whenever we held her paws she was trembling in a defensive mode. With an attitude of ‘not wanting to petrify her anymore’, we stopped trimming her nails.
The problem with untrimmed nails is that there’s a chance for their nails to overgrow and curve into their footpads, which can cause extreme pain. It is recommended by veterinarians that ‘cats should have their nails trimmed every 10 days to 2 weeks’, particularly for indoor cats. Luckily, Keikei uses the scratchpad frequently enough that her nails don’t seem to cause a problem, except that she gets trapped easily when she scratches the furniture.
I had the same reflection as above with brushing her teeth. If I was to start all over again, I would’ve used the same method I mentioned above to train and let her get used to being touched, and then slowly work from there.
#3 Control their intake of food
The ideal weight for most domestic cats is 4–5kg, and slightly heavier for larger breeds. Yet at the age of 4, Keikei and Mocha were weighted for 5–6 kg and 7–8 kg respectively in the clinic. Whilst some may say that both of my cats look so much cuter when chubbier, it is not the healthiest for them. According to VCA hospital, obese cats experience a reduced life expectancy, not to mention the list of diseases they can develop because of it.
The images above speak a thousand words. You can tell that Mocha has been eating well.
Weight control measures:
I had tried various ways to control their daily intake, but as you could see I failed miserably.
When they first arrived, I fed them by having their food bowls out with food in it 24/7 so they could eat whenever they wanted. Therefore, the two of them had been used to eating non-stop since small. I noticed the rapid changes in their sizes later on, so I started using some measurements to control their food consumption amount: I switched to weight loss feeds and I stopped allowing them to eat whenever they want.
Yet, this wasn’t effective at all. Keikei grew impatient and angry every time when food wasn’t available for her. She would yell non-stop — at 5 a.m in the morning and during midnight hours until someone fed her. As a result, she was fed whenever she cried for it. Whenever there’s food available, Mocha would join to eat as well.
“Try hiding the food bowl so the cats would have to pay more effort in order to eat.”
I heard people mentioning to me different methods to reduce their appetites. I even tried changing their food bowls to those specially designed for weight loss.
This was effective — only for the first few weeks. Right after they got used to the slow feeder bowl and learned “tricks” on how to reach the food, everything just went full circle.
Currently, we use a feeding machine that will pour out a certain amount of food when it is the scheduled time. However, they seemed to have already “cracked the code” within a few weeks' time.
Helping my cats to lose their weight isn’t an easy job especially when they are big eaters who hate exercising very much. Research from the Frontiers in Veterinary Science has shown that ‘97% of veterinarians reported pet obesity as an owner-driven issue’. Portion controlling is also especially critical when it comes to obesity. What I wish I had done before was restricting their food intake before eating non-stop became their habit.
#4 Exercise — walk them regularly
Here in Hong Kong, letting your cat wander outside of your house isn’t a popular trend. Usually, cats are kept indoors 24/7. Before realizing that this is an actual thing in places elsewhere, my two cats are also kept inside our home throughout their lives and have not been out at all.
Whilst many studies suggest owners should keep cats indoors because of different dangers, I’m not here to encourage people to keep their cats outdoors and allow them to roam around. I understand the risks involved in letting your pet wander outside. What I’m saying is I wish to walk them only for specific hours throughout the day, on a cat leash under my supervision, just like our fellow canine friends.
This idea is very much inspired by Suki the cat. Suki and her owner often travel to work together. As I’m personally an active and adventurous person, I wish I had developed such a lifestyle together with my cats.
With that being said, I’m aware that certain breeds are less suitable than others for such an adventurous lifestyle and not all cats can endure the amount of stimulation received when being outside. I also know they should only go outside after being completely vaccinated. This is why my main message here is just that I wish I had considered the choice of my lifestyle beforehand because this influences the way they will be brought up. I would’ve trained them in a way that could allow me to experience more with them.
If I was given the chance to pet a cat all over again, taking them out for a regular walk would be my biggest dream come true. One major reason that my cats are obese is that they never move. They are not a fan of laser pens or any kind of toys that require them to exercise in the house. Basically, they just lie around all day (still love them very much). But perhaps if they had grown up with the habit of going out for a walk regularly and had greater physical activities, they might not be as lazy and overweight as they are currently.
If you’re a first-time pet owner, please do consider your lifestyle before having pets, are you an outdoor or indoor person? Does your job require you to travel for work? These are important factors to consider before bringing a new member to your house.
#5 Bathing my cats once in a while
I used to bath my cats when they were small, but I then stopped because my cats were kept indoors and they don’t get dirty easily. There are studies that suggest bathing cats may stress them out adversely. However, bathing occasionally does help remove remnants of saliva and dead skin flakes (dander) that carry allergens. From The Human Society of the United States, for those who are allergic to cat hair like me, bathing cats do help remove cat allergens in the house. Moreover, as mentioned above, if I was to bring them out regularly, there would be a reason to bathe them since they would have a higher risk of picking up germs and dirt from the streets. According to PetPlan, ‘just because cats wash themselves regularly as part of their self-care routine, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re clean.’ Bathing isn’t bad for cats, given that it is done appropriately. Here are some advises from Purina that first-time cat owners can refer to.
All in all, bathing is indeed a habit that requires cats to get used to since a kitten. I wouldn’t dare to start bathing my cats at this stage of their life because they were never used to being all wet and then dried using a hairdryer. What I usually do was grooming them regularly or wiping them thoroughly with a towel soaked in shampoo water to avoid terrifying and stressing them.
Having a pet comes with responsibilities and it may be overwhelming for first-timers. If you’re in doubt, you can always seek professional advice from your vet or from someone who is experienced. Yet, with great care and love, our furry friends will usually do well! Remember, we are all learning by experiences.
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