How do I care for my cat?

19th Jun, 2023

Written by Anneke Malan – Chairperson National Cat Action Taskforce (NCat), Spokesperson Cats of South Africa (CoSA)

If you’re a first-time cat mom or dad, or you’d like to make sure that you’ve been treating your feline child in the manner he or she deserves to be treated, this feature is for you!

Aside from feeding, which your veterinarian will be able to advise you about as each cat is different, here are some of the things you may never have considered when caring for your feline family member.


Most of us are at the highest risk of injury in and around our own homes. This applies to our cats too. Keeping our cats safe in and around the home is therefore very important.

There’s a myriad of potential dangers in and around your home. Watch out for the following examples – and you’ll probably be able to add some of your own:

  • Hot stove tops

  • Open toilet seats

  • Bath water (a kitten could burn or − worse − drown in a bathful of water)

  • Poisonous plants or food your cat might nibble on (lilies and chocolates can be extremely detrimental or even lethal to cats)

  • Chemical or insecticide sprays on surfaces

  • Empty poison bottles

  • Chicken or other fine bones that could lodge in your cat’s throat

  • Plastic bags that could smother a kitten

  • The washing machine or tumble drier, both of which cats love to climb into

  • Buckets and other containers filled with water that a kitten could drown in

Don’t forget!

Make sure that you inspect your car each time before you drive off. Your kitten or cat could be sleeping on or under a wheel or even in the engine itself.

Check spaces such as cupboards, garages and tool sheds before locking up for the night or when you leave the house. Make sure you don’t inadvertently shut your pet away for hours (or days) without food or water.

Also remember that very small children don’t always know what might hurt an animal. A child’s passionate (but unwittingly rough) stroking or patting could harm your cat. So keep an eye on kiddies who want to “play with the kitty”, for their sake as well as your cat’s. A good idea is to make it a rule that your kids may only hold your kitten or cat while they themselves are seated. This will protect your pet from being carried around too much and possibly being hurt.

Stay or go?

A common concern is whether your feline family members should be confined to the property, or not. See the feature published in May “How do I find a missing cat and how do I keep my cat safe?” to help you decide.

As mentioned in the feature, you could fortify your fencing by means of a solar-powered electrical unit or physical barriers such as the Oscillot. Check out the internet or chat to a company such as Pet Safety Solutions.

Alternatively, use overhead netting or have a “catio” erected in your garden. To prevent cats from climbing trees and thus scaling a wall, wrap plastic bottles that have been cut open lengthwise around the trunks.


We’ve looked at how to keep our cats safe in and around the home. Now let’s take a closer look at what bedding, loos and toys we should provide to them inside the house.


As you know, cats enjoy sleeping just about anywhere and will choose their own favourite spots. In fact, they sometimes sleep in the oddest places and positions that we think can’t possibly be comfy! And of course we could provide the most attractive (and expensive) cat cave or cat bed, and they’ll prefer the cardboard box we haven’t thrown out yet!

All we can do is to place soft bedding materials in baskets or cat caves in secluded, cosy corners and cross our fingers that our pets will use them. What does help immensely is sprinkling some home-grown valerian root around any new bed or igloo to lure our cats into them.

You’ll find there are thousands of cat beds and cat caves to choose from, in shops and online.

Of course, cats love sleeping off the ground, and there are numerous ways in which you can satisfy your pets’ need for height. The internet has many wonderful examples of hanging or wall-mounted cat beds, many of which you’ll be able to make yourself quite inexpensively.


Cats are clean and neat by nature, so it’s important that we make sure our pets always have a clean litter box − at least one per cat and one extra.

For a kitten you’d need one in every room, as your fur baby may not be able to hold out if there’s no litter box nearby. Even once your pet has started using the great outdoors, it’s a good idea to keep at least one litter box indoors for rainy days.

There are different kinds of litter, from wood shavings to “clumping” litter, and litter made from clay or other materials. Choose what you feel most comfortable with, but avoid very fine litter for kittens, as they tend to want to eat it. Fill the litter box to a depth of about 7cm, and keep it clean by removing solids twice a day and either removing moist or clumped litter or mixing it in with dry litter.


You and I know all too well that cats love toys. You can buy all kinds of weird and wonderful toys from shops or your vet. Cats love soft balls or “mice” filled with catnip. I’ve always found though that cats enjoy the home-made balls made from crumpled paper or foil best! Make sure the toys are too large to swallow. Balls of wool or string aren’t a good idea. They can become lodged in your pet’s throat or tangled around his or her neck. And, of course, you should check that furry toys aren’t covered in real fur.


Should I groom my cat?

Fortunately, your cat will groom themselves every day, but you could help them by brushing them regularly to prevent their hair from matting. This will also stop them from ingesting hair balls.

And if your pet’s nails become too long and hook onto everything, cut only the tips of the rounded nails using special clippers or sturdy human nail clippers. Make sure you do this where you can see well enough that you don’t cut into the quick of the nails.

Keeping the nails fairly short will minimise damage when your cat “sharpens” her or his nails (but is actually depositing their scent) on your furniture. You could also get your cat a scratching post. The least expensive ones are available in the pet departments of most supermarkets. Vets and pet shops usually keep the more elaborate (and more expensive) scratching posts.

Should I train my kitten/cat?

Yes, you can train cats – if you do it gently and consistently. Never raise a hand to your pet, as you will lose his or her trust. I used to use a manual pump spray bottle for training until I learned that it could also have negative side-effects, such as damaging your bond with your cat.

Positive training methods are best as they’re effective, gentle, and don’t create fear. For example, put double-sided tape over areas the cat likes to claw at and provide a handy scratch post alongside, so they get the idea that it’s more comfortable to scratch the post instead. Check out this fascinating video by renowned cat expert Jackson Galaxy about training your cat:

How do I transport my cat?

Always transport your cat in a sturdy pet carrier such as those that are widely available from supermarkets, vets and pet shops. This will ensure that you don’t lose your beloved feline family member should they panic for some reason.

Keep your pet in their carrier even while travelling in your car to ensure their safety just in case you have an accident. There should be enough ventilation in the car but no draught, and if you have to let your cat out of the carrier, be careful not to open any window wider than about one centimetre, as a nervous cat can escape through the narrowest of gaps.

I also know from experience that it’s a good idea to keep some paper towelling in your car in case the stress of the journey causes an upset tummy.

Most importantly: Never allow your pet to leave the car anywhere except at home!


We know that our cat’s health is of paramount importance. But how do we make sure our pet remains as healthy as possible for as long as possible? I’m no expert, of course, so I’ll only provide you with some of the guidelines that I’ve found helpful over the years.

Probably the most important thing you can do to keep your pet healthy is feeding them quality food. This one thing will go a long way towards ensuring that your pet visits the vet as seldom as possible.

It’s generally recommended that a kitten should receive their first vaccination and deworming at eight weeks. Give them boosters a month later, and then every three years until the age of seven.

Consult your vet for the best vaccination programme for your kitten or cat.

Ideally you should take your pet for a veterinary check-up every six months, and consult them about anything out of the ordinary. Look out for signs such as repeated sneezing, runny eyes, congested nose or loss of appetite. In fact, look out for any change in your cat’s demeanour or behaviour. If you notice anything, take your cat to the vet as soon as possible; quick action could prevent serious illness.

Keep ticks and fleas at bay with the help of one of the excellent products available from your vet. Many vets recommend deworming at least twice a year, while others recommend deworming only when you’re sure your cat actually has worms. Your vet will be able to advise you best as this may depend on where you live, whether your cat is an indoor or outdoor cat, what they eat, and their age, among other things.

And lastly: speak to your vet if you’re worried! Many vets will allow you to consult with them provisionally over the phone. This would mean that you don’t have to take your cat to the clinic immediately. That can be a big help if finances are tight, as they are for most of us.

Now all that remains is for me to wish you happy cat loving, now and always!

(First published at

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