I'm intending to move out of my mom's by fall, but I have two cats, and idk much about how to care for them on my own. I want to do it right, but I'm not very good with figuring out vet info or other care stuff for them.
Okay, so I’ve just spent the last two hours writing this post for you, in the hopes that you will change your mind. It’s way longer than I intended, but I tried to be thorough and comprehensive. Know that I have strong opinions about how to raise cats because they’re a huge part of my life. You might not agree with what I have to say, but this is what’s worked for me. I urge you to try different things and find out what works best for you! Before I get into it, let me talk about my cats…
I have a four year old orange tabby (Mason) and a sixteen year old tortoiseshell cat (Gretel) pictured in Appendix D. They have completely opposite personalities (Mason is super confident and talkative, Gretel is more standoffish) and they did NOT get along for the longest time. I’ve been with Gretel since she was three years old, so we’re very close and she’s very protective of me. After we moved into our current apartment, my boyfriend and I bought Mason to keep Gretel company. He was a rescue cat that had been previously returned after being adopted once, because he was “fresh”. He gave me the runaround when he first moved in, so I understand what it’s like to have a difficult cat.
It’s taken two years for them to both be comfortable with each other, but last week they fell asleep on the bed together (see Appendix D) and it was so beautiful. These cats have brought so much joy into my life, and I don’t know where I’d be without them. All these experiences, good and bad, have taught me that I never want to live without cats in my life.
Please feel free to direct message me if you want to talk about what taking care of cats on your own will mean for you. I am here for all your cat needs!
The Complete Guide to Living on Your Own (With Cats)
Phase 1: Your New Apartment
Before moving into your new home, follow these steps to make the process as comfortable as possible for your cats. You need to understand that they will be upset and act strange for the first few days, and this is absolutely normal and expected. Give them time- they’ll adjust.
1. Move the cats last. Move everything else you own into your new apartment, and get it set up as much as you can before moving your cats. Make sure there are plenty of places for them to hide that are easily accessible, like under your bed or in the back of a closet. Initially your cats will be very shell-shocked, and it will be easier for them to adjust if they smell familiar furniture and are able to find a secure place to hide.
2. Feliway. Buy yourself Feliway and spray it on walls and around doorways at your kitty’s eye level. I can’t tell you what it is or why it works (Science Side of Tumblr please explain), but your cats smell it and will feel much calmer. Feliway also helps when your cat starts peeing on everything, see Phase 2: Tantrums.
3. Moving your cats. If you have two cats, make sure that you move both cats at the same time. Even if they’re not the best of pals, a familiar face in a time of stress will soothe them. In the car ride they will cry, drool, pee, and sound like they’re dying. This is horrible to hear, but no that it’s only temporary. If you were in their situation you would act the same way!
Hyperventilating. If you hear your cat start to hyperventilate, move them out of the carrier and comfort them immediately. I was transporting a cat with a high fever to the vet once and he started to do this, so I literally pulled over and drove with the cat in my lap the rest of the way. Once in my lap, he relaxed and started to breathe normally. The vet told me that I was lucky I did this, because the cat could’ve had a heart-attack.
4. In the new apartment. Open your cat carrier and allow your cats to explore their new home at their own pace. Depending on your cat’s confidence, they might make a beeline for your bed and hide under it for the next two days. This is absolutely fine. Your cats may not want to eat or use the bathroom during these first few days, and this is normal. You often won’t eat if you’re stressed out, so understand that when they’re hungry, they’ll eat. If one of your cats is very upset, place their food and water bowl in the room they’re hiding in, so that they won’t feel threatened while they eat.
5. Give it time. This could be less than a day or over a week, but your cat will come out from their hiding space of their own accord. They will walk around their new home and take everything in, and they’ll make themselves comfortable. Be there for your cat during this time, offering encouragement and love as they need it. It’s okay if they come out and retreat back to their safe hiding space, tell yourself that they will come out again.
Phase 2: Tantrums
Cats are mostly independent animals, but they do require lots of love and attention. Expect at least one or all of these tantrums to be thrown when you move them into your new home. Your cats are in a new environment that they are not wholly comfortable with, so it’s important to be patient and help them through this difficult time.
1. Pooping. Your cat has an excellent sense of smell- they know where their litter box is. If they’re choosing to poop outside of the box, they are most likely looking for attention. Make sure that the poop has no blood in it (see Phase 4: Veterinarians + Common Diseases) and spend time making your cat feel special. This includes treats, playtime, combing, whatever they like best.
2. Peeing A. Peeing is a form of scenting, which is essentially your cat being like “this is mine”. Your cats will probably do this a lot when you first move in, so make sure you have the proper cleaners ready (see Appendix A). Clean the spot thoroughly, and spray Feliway all over it. Your cat will smell the Feliway and think “Okay, I peed there already” and walk on. I’m not kidding.
3. Peeing B. Peeing can also be an cry for attention, slightly different from scenting. Here’s how to tell the difference- does your cat only pee when you’re around? Typically this will only be done in areas that you frequent, like your bed or your couch. If so, then this is a cry for attention- see “Pooping”.
4. Peeing C. Is your cat declawed? I sure hope not, because that’s inhumane. But anyways, if it is… declawed cats require a different type of litter than the normal Tidy Cats brand. Call your local vet and consult with them about the best types of litter to use.
5. Attacking. Is your cat attacking people/places/things? Get toys and play with them. Cats are evolved from fearsome predators, they need to be stimulated or they’ll get bored and start hunting whatever they can find. Here are some great toys to buy your cats so that they can “hunt” on their own, there’s something in there for every cat type.
Phase 3: A Place For Everyone
Jackson Galaxy is the Cat Guru, and you can find episodes of his show “My Cat From Hell” on Netflix. Whenever Jackson enters a home of a troublesome cat, he always looks at the environment in terms of how “cat-proof” it is. Your cat needs to have their own stuff, and whether this is a cardboard box or a $150 piece of cat furniture, it needs to be there.
1. Bush vs. Tree dweller. I have a bush dweller and a tree dweller! Bush dwellers are the cats that like to hang out under tables and under beds, and they’re thought to be cats with less self-confidence. Tree dwellers like to climb and look down on their surroundings, reconnecting with their ancestors in the jungle. Cater your apartment based off of your cat’s needs. See Phase 6: Miscellaneous to learn more about different cat personalities.
A word on bush dwellers. I was initially very upset to learn that Gretel is considered a low self-esteem cat. I kept trying to think of ways to make her more comfortable her surroundings, in the hopes that she would one day want to climb things and perch up high. Since getting Mason, she has slowly become a bush/tree dweller. She now climbs to the top rung of her cat furniture, and asks me to help her up on the kitchen table (it’s tall so she can’t jump). What I’m trying to say is that cats will gain confidence as they get more comfortable with their surroundings, and having a second and way more confident cat has helped her come into herself, even in her old age. So proud of my baby.
2. Cat furniture. I’m not going to lie to you, cat furniture is hella expensive. But it’s life-changing. Your cats recognize that its a piece of furniture for them, and they will run right over to it and begin exploring. If your cat is wary about climbing to the higher platforms or levels of the furniture, entice them with treats or a toy. The general rule is one piece of furniture per cat, because they will fight over them. If you have a very active cat, I’d recommend getting a multi-leveled piece.
3. Cardboard boxes. The rumors are true- cats love cardboard boxes. Just open it up and leave it in the middle of the floor, and allow your cats to explore. If you’re not ready to drop $$$, place a warm blanket in the box and allow your cats to curl up.
4. Windows. If you leave for work, leave your blinds open for your cats to peer out. If you don’t, they’ll peer out anyway and wreck your blinds. In the summer time it might seem like a nice idea to leave your windows partially open, but always make sure that your window screens are secure. If they’re not, add masking tape around the sides of the window until you can press on the screen and it doesn’t collapse.
5. Food and water. I like to keep a bowl of water in each room for the cats, and I refresh this daily. I like to add ice cubes in the summer so that the water isn’t that awful room temperature. If you feed your cats dry food, make sure that they’re drinking lots of water after eating.
6. Litter box. Yeah, I know- it’s the worst part of being a cat owner. I keep mine in my hallway closet, and I leave the door partially open so that the cats can get in and out as they please. I’ve seen people with litter boxes in their bathrooms, their hallways, behind chairs in their living room, etc. The general rule is to have one more litter box than there is cat. I’m sorry, that’s crazy talk. I have a one bedroom apartment and I’m not having three litter boxes. One has worked fine for my babies, I just have to be vigilant about cleaning it.
As far as choosing a cat litter brand, most cats are not picky. Some, however, are. Tidy Cats is expensive so I use whatever is on sale at CVS. I prefer scented because I have the litter box right by my front door. Find what works for you, but listen to your cat’s needs.
Be wary of any brand of “lightweight” cat litter other than Tidy Cats. One time I bought Stop & Shop’s “Companion” lightweight litter and it hardened and stuck to the bottom of my litter box and I literally had to rehydrate it to remove it. DISGUSTING.
7. Wall furniture. If you don’t have a lot of room on the floor of your apartment, consider putting up wall furniture for your cat. This can be anything from an expensive piece like this, or a simple wooden board for your cats to walk on.
8. The floor is lava. Confident cats like to be up high on tables, window sills, cat furniture, etc. This is because back in their ancestral days, they had to peer down from the treetops to hunt their prey. Allow your cat this luxury, and try not to freak out if they walk on your kitchen counters or sit on your dining room table. Your cat is programmed to do this, the fact that your cat wants to be up high is a sign of confidence, a sign that your cat is comfortable with their surroundings.
Phase 4: Veterinarians + Common Diseases
Your cat’s health is so important! There are lots of things you can do to maintain your cat’s health on your own (see Appendix B), but know that you will need to take one or both of your cats to the vet sometime this year. Remember to consult medical professionals if your cat is visibly ill. I am not a medical professional, but here are some of the things I’ve dealt with as a cat owner.
1. Hospitals vs. Doctors. My biggest expense as a cat owner is taking my babies to the vet. I have a Veterinary Hospital literally two minutes from my home, and Gretel hates the car so much that I always just take her there to get her to calm down. In general, hospitals are WAY more expensive than regular vet’s offices. Like, I’m talking over $100 difference. The expense is worth it for me, but it might not be for you. Find your closest vet office and put their number into your phone ASAP.
2. Making an appointment. If your cat is having a crisis, you can call during normal business hours and bring your cat in right then and there, but it’s going to cost you extra money. If your cat is not in imminent danger, call and make an appointment for the next day.
Theoretically, you’re supposed to bring your cat(s) or yearly check-ups and make sure they get all their vet shots. I’m gonna level with you- I don’t do this. I wish I could afford to do it, but I live paycheck to paycheck and can’t. You need to be able to take care of yourself, so if you’re poor like me, I’d advise saving vet visits for emergencies only.
3. Vet insurance. Obviously- I do not have vet insurance. This means that I pay for all my vet visits out of pocket, and vet offices do not allow you to pay in installments, you have to pay all at once. My downstairs neighbor once had her cat held by a vet’s office because she didn’t have the money to pay for the vet bills. She had to get an emergency loan from her bank to be able to pay and get her cat released. Yikes. The one person I do know with pet insurance says that it saves her about 75% of her vet bill, but she’s a grown ass woman with a house. It’s okay if you don’t have vet insurance, there are still things you can do to improve your cat’s quality of life for reasonably cheap (See Appendix B).
3. Flea medication. Flea medication can be expensive, especially if you have two cats. Unfortunately, Advantage is the only medication that I have found effective. I’ve tried several different knock off brands, and while they worked, they didn’t last nearly as long as Advantage. I don’t worry about fleas that much in the winter, but I put it on my cats during the summer because there are lots of stray cats where I live.
4. Vomit. An occasional puke pile is nothing to be concerned about. There are lots of reasons why cats throw up, but 99% of them are digestion related. The worst part of puke is having to clean it up. As disgusting as it may be, the best way to clean up puke is to allow it to dry and to then clean it (see Appendix A). Lots of cats have food allergies (Mason, for example), so if your cat is throwing up multiple times in a week, change their diet (see Phase 5: Cat food). If your cat throws up blood, take them to the vet immediately.
5. Feline Respiratory Virus. Cats do not get colds like humans do, so be very wary if your cat has a runny nose, watery eye discharge, is sneezing or acting lethargic. These infections can kill cats if left untreated. If your cat is showing these symptoms, take them to the vet immediately. The vet will prescribe antibiotics that you will have to give your cat, and your cat should be feeling better within 24 hours. Once a cat gets an FRV, they are more susceptible to it. Cats can infect other cats, so keep your cats separated and give them separate food and water until your infected cat is visibly better.
6. Bloody poop. Bloody poop (while disgusting) does not always signify illness. Sometimes it means that your cat is having trouble digesting, but other times it means that your cat has worms. Keep an eye on your cat’s poop, and if it’s still bloody after two additional days, take them to the vet and bring a sample of the poop with you. This stool sample will be tested by your vet, and if you don’t have one they will send you home and wait for you acquire one before testing anything.
7. Lumps. My cat Gretel currently has a lump on her face. I noticed it a couple months ago and took her to the vet. If your cat gets a lump suddenly, see if you can move the lump around with your fingers. If the lump feels solid and causes your cat pain, make an appointment ASAP. Gretel’s lump moves around freely and doesn’t cause her pain at all, so my vet told me not to worry about it. Cats grow non-cancerous tumors on their faces and bodies, as well as excesses of fatty tissue that cause bumps. Feeling a bump does not guarantee that your cat’s life is in danger.
8. Bottom line. Wondering if something is wrong with your cat? Ask yourself this simple question- Is your cat eating and drinking water? If your cat is not eating or drinking water, then something is wrong. Make an appointment and take them to the vet.
Phase 5: Cat Food
Spend some time researching different brands before deciding what to feed your cat. Here are some guidelines to help you.
1. Wet food vs. Dry food. It’s a scientifically acknowledged fact that wet food is much better for your cats than dry food. Unfortunately canned food can be up to three times as expensive per pound as dry food, and I can’t afford that on my budget. If you feed dry food, make sure that your cat is properly hydrated and drinking lots of water after they eat.
2. Junk food vs. Health food. Some cats are finicky eaters, mine are not. They do not care what type of food it is, they’re just happy to eat it. Meow Mix is super inexpensive and filling for cats, but it’s not healthy. It’s essentially like eating McDonalds every day. As a young adult, you probably can’t afford to spend large quantities of money on cat food. So compromise. Buy a bag of high quality “healthy” cat food, and a bag of cheap cat food, and give your cats a mixture of this.
3. Grain intolerance. Allergies are a real thing with cats. If your cat is having a hard time keeping food down, switch them to a grain free diet. I buy Rachel Ray cat food off of Amazon because Mason has a delicate stomach.
4. Proteins. Switch up the proteins in the food you’re feeding your cats. Spend a few months with salmon, then switch to chicken, then back to salmon, etc. I don’t remember why, but studies were done and this proved to be more healthy for cats.
5. How much food? Current studies say that cats should be feed about a half a cup of cat food per day. PER DAY. Cats also should have definitive feeding times, and should not be allowed to “graze” or eat all day. I feed my cats a cup of food in the morning (2 cats, half a cup each) and that’s all they get. One of the most common problems that cat owners have is over-feeding.
6. Fast eaters. Mason has this problem where he gobbles down food super fast (he doesn’t even chew it half the time) and then throws up a few minutes later. You can buy special plates online that force cats to eat slowly like this one.
8. Changing food. Remember that you can’t just feed your cat one food one day and a different food the next day. If you do, they’ll throw up. If you need to switch your cat’s food, do it gradually. Here’s how:
- First day of switch: 95% old food, 5% new food
- Second day: 75% old food, 25% new food
- Third day: 75% old food, 25% new food
- Fourth day: 50% of both foods
- Fifth day: 50% of both foods
- Sixth day: 25% old food, 75% new food
- Seventh day: 25% old food, 75% new food
- Eighth day: 5% old food, 95% new food
- Ninth day: 5% old food, 95% new food
- 10th day: 100% new food!
Phase 6: Miscellaneous
1. Cat types. I’m a big believer in the ASPCA feline-alities. ASPCA employees essentially give cats a personality test to see how they perform under stress. They have something wonderful to say about even the shyest of cats, it really puts everything in perspective. Check it out here. Points if you can guess my cat’s personality types based off what I’ve written here.
2. Bathing. Generally speaking, cats and water do not mix. I don’t bathe my cats because they don’t really get gross enough to require bathing. The one time I did try to bathe Gretel was an absolute disaster, so barring her overcoming her fear of water, I’m never going to do it again. She’s old and sleeps next to my head every night, so sometimes I have to help her clean up a bit. If your cat steps in poop or dirt or whatever, use baby wipes.
3. “My Cat Doesn’t Like to Play”. Bullshit. All cats like to play, you just haven’t found the right toy. Mason responds to strings that are waved in circles above his head, squeaky toys, and things that are thrown so that he can run and “catch” his prey. Gretel likes crinkly things like candy wrappers, and will only chase a string if it’s dragged on the ground. Mess around and figure out what makes your cat tick. After playing your cat will:
- Have a snack
- Clean themselves
- Take a nap
4. Reprimanding cats. I found a great post on Tumblr a year ago explaining this phenomenon, but I currently can’t find it, so I’m going to paraphrase. Essentially, cats don’t have great short-term memory, so you have to be careful when yelling at them. If your cat pees on your couch, and you don’t discover it until three hours later, yelling at your cat will accomplish absolutely nothing. They won’t understand why you’re upset, and they won’t understand what they did was wrong. You have to reprimand your cat’s either while they’re in the act of being naughty (i.e, peeing on the couch) or directly afterwards.
Appendix A. Cleaners
- Carpet cleaner (I recommend Resolve)
- Hardwood floor cleaner (I recommend Bona)
- Plastic gloves (I recommend whatever is cheapest)
- Bleach (or a tile cleaner you feel more comfortable with)
Appendix B. Caring for your cat.
- Cat lax (for those with hairballs)
- Flea medication (you can buy Advantage in bulk on Amazon)
- Brush (brushing decreases the risk of hairballs, fleas, and your clothes looking like shit. It can also be a way to bond with your cat)
- Toys (get an assortment like this one)
- Supplements (if you have an old cat, check out elder cat supplements on Amazon)
- Ear cleansers like Epiklean (Did you know that you’re supposed to clean your cat’s ears every month? I didn’t! Gretel had an ear infection because her ears hadn’t been cleaned in 15 years)
- Baby wipes (Gretel is very old, and sometimes she has a poopy butt. I recommend baby wipes for elder cats)
- Multi-purpose treats (buy treats that are beneficial for your cat’s health, like treats with calcium or treats that help with hairballs)
Appendix C. Cat behavior.
Appendix D. Mason and Gretel