10 things you should never do to your cat

Monty (A495388) is a bit shy at first, but he’s working through it! His ideal home would be somewhere he can climb around and explore so he can build confidence. Monty is looking for an adopter who is patient and able to provide a steady daily routine of play, meals, and cuddle time.

A friend of mine on the east coast called me this morning to let me know that she adopted a kitten. Never having had a pet before, she is understandably a little nervous about what she has just gotten herself into. This is how our conversation went:

“Now that you work at a humane society, you’re like…an expert on dogs and cats now, right?” she said, wasting no time with useless pleasantries like, “hello! How are you?”

Gawd I love East Coasters.

“I suppose you could say I know a thing or too.” I responded with a chuckle.

“Ok, so I just adopted this kitten, and I need to know everything you know about how to keep cats alive,” she said, matter of factly. “Oh, and I named her Hello.”

“You named your kitten Hello?” I asked, unsure if I heard her correctly.

“Yeah, she’s a kitty, and her name is Hello.” she replied, “Get it? Hello Kitty?”

I laughed. “Yes, I get it. That’s either the dumbest name to ever name a cat, or it’s genius.” I said, “I can’t decide.”

“It’s genius.” she confirmed.

We went through some of the basics, and it was clear that she’d obviously done her homework about cats and cat behavior before plunging in. She even taught me a thing or two. She’s one of the most Type-A personalities you’ll ever meet, so I assumed there was a spreadsheet somewhere she was keeping to project manage her new life with Hello.

She started throwing me rapid fire questions about everything from nutrition to specifically how much play time she should schedule per day.

Now, thanks to my Type-A friend and her new kitten Hello, I had a great idea for my column this week! Without further ado, here are 10 things you should never do to your cat:

You should not force attention on cats.

Though cats enjoy human attention, they like it in smaller doses than dogs, and on their own terms. You should respect this basic need of your feline friends and never force attention on them, such as holding them against their will.

Don’t bring plants into your home before checking that they are safe for cats.

Lilies, which are often found in flower bouquets, are highly toxic to cats and consumption of any part of this plant can lead to kidney failure and death. In fact, lilies are so toxic to cats that even sipping the water in a vase containing them can lead to kidney damage.

For a more complete list of plants that are poisonous to cats, check the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center site.

Don’t let your cat play with yarn or string.

Ingesting yarn or string can cause what veterinarians call a linear foreign body. Intestines become scrunched and knotted as they attempt to pass the yarn. This results in the death of sections of the intestines that must be surgically removed. Toys that have been certified as cat-safe are a far better option for feline fun. Consult your vet if you’re unsure about the appropriateness of any of your pets’ toys.

Don’t teach cats to “hand play.”

Whether it’s a laser pointer or a light cord, cats love to bat at things that move their way.

But during playtime owners should avoid using their own hands as lures. This is because cats are hardwired to chase and hunt prey. When humans teach their cats that hands are appropriate objects to be hunted, the outcome is generally unpleasant and potentially dangerous for both the human and the cat. A more appropriate way to play with your cat is to use an inanimate object (usually a toy) as the go-between.

Never directly punish your cat, whether you plan on tapping their butt or using a loud sound.

Longtime dog owners who adopt a cat for the first time may be shocked to learn that training a cat to behave isn’t as straightforward as with their canine cousins.

Directly reprimanding your cat could have unwanted consequences. Cats are highly sensitive to loud noises and raised voices, finding them scary. They can perceive the person making these noises as a threat, and will begin to avoid them.

Avoid feeding your cat only dry food.

Cats are adapted to live in dry environments and can get all of their water from their food if they are served the right diet. And since cats do not have a strong urge to drink water when they are thirsty, keeping them hydrated using food is super important.

Even cats who seem to drink a lot of water don’t drink nearly enough. Chronic dehydration too often leads to tooth decay, bladder stones, and urinary tract infections. Many health issues can be prevented simply by adding a daily meal of wet food to your cat’s diet.

Don’t “free feed” your cat.

“Free feeding” means leaving food out for your cat to graze on whenever it desires. The problem with it is that it very often leads to obesity. Instead, make sure to only provide the appropriate quantity of hard food and wet food your vet recommends to avoid weight issues.

If your schedule doesn’t allow you to return home for regular feedings, you may want to consider purchasing an automatic pet-food dispenser that will release pre-portioned amounts of dry food at timed intervals throughout the day.

Don’t feed your cat milk.

Cats tend to like the sweetness of milk, but you should avoid indulging them with a saucer of the stuff. Most cats are actually lactose intolerant, so giving them cow’s milk can cause significant health issues.

Never give your cat animal bones to chew or eat.

Contrary to what cartoons often depict, house cats have no business gnawing on fish skeletons or any other animal bones.

Poultry bones, in particular, are very dangerous because they can splinter and get stuck in a cat’s throat, stomach or intestines.

Never leave your cat alone for more than 24 hours.

Many people opt to adopt cats over dogs because they are under the impression that cats essentially take care of themselves. But even though cats are generally more independent than dogs, they’re not self-sufficient loners.

If you can’t arrange for a friend or relative to swing by your place while you’re away, it’s often possible to arrange overnight supervision or scheduled playtimes with a qualified pet sitter.

If you’re new to being a pet parent, and have questions, we now offer virtual behavior consultations! A Virtual Behavior Consult is a one-time, 30-minute, one-on-one, online consultation with one of our Animal Behavior Specialists via Zoom or other virtual communication platform.

Find out more by visiting us at pasadenahumane.org/training.